From 16 October 2022 to 22 January 2023, the Denver Art Museum and the Phoebus Foundation present the exhibition “Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks“.
Source: Denver Art Museum (DAM) · Image: Jan Massys, Rebus: The World Feeds Many Fools, about 1530. Oil paint on panel; 20 1/4 × 24 3/8 in. © The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp.
The exhibition presents, for the first time in the United States, the interesting collection of Flemish art of the Phoebus Foundation, which includes medieval, Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculptures and other objects from the 15th to the 17th centuries. From religious images by Hans Memling and Jan Gossaert to portraits and mythological scenes by Peter Paul Rubens or Jacob Jordaens, the exhibition hopes, in the words of Christoph Heinrich, Director of the Denver Art Museum, “to create parallels between the social history of 15th- to 17th-century Flanders and our world today“.
According to the Denver Art Museum it is organised into six sections. The first, “God is in the Details,” “introduces religious subjects as a principal focus for the artists of the time. Works including Hans Memling’s ‘Birth of Christ’ and Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s triptych showcase the extraordinary attention to details and devotional imagery artists and patrons favored at the time. Holy figures were now presented as flesh-and-blood human beings in familiar, contemporary settings”. The next section, entitled ‘From God to the Individual’, “aims to show the rise of individual awareness and confidence, resulting in the creation of ambitious portraits celebrating the sitters’ wealth and status in society”.
Image: Peter Paul Rubens, A Sailor and a Woman Embracing, about 1615–18. Oil paint on panel; 39 3/8 × 31 1/4 in. © The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp.
The third section, “The Fool in the Mirror“, “presents images and compositions popular at the time: whimsical, sarcastic and, at the same time, poignant in their critique of human presumptuousness. These scenes, often hilarious, full of jokes, pranks and witty double meanings, were meant to shine a light on the greed, lust and other follies of human life and, ultimately, discourage from a sinful existence. The section ‘The Discovery of the World’ centers on the belief, embraced by Flemings at the time, that to understand the mysteries of the divine, one had to explore the wider world. Every detail of creation deserved to be examined, smelled, described, and studied and, therefore, countless scientific disciplines developed.”
The final section, titled “The Pursuit of Wonder“, “intends to recreate a ‘Wunderkammer,’ or ‘Room of Wonders:’ Shells, corals, rare animals, scientific instruments and precious gems, fashionable art and rare antiquities: collectors sought to gather and organize these ‘curiosities’ as objects representative of the known world, as well as the unknown, proving their success and showing off their newly achieved status. These objects will be presented as an immersive experience, which is also the culmination of the visitors’ journey through the exhibition.”