Museum  March 5, 2018  Megan D Robinson

Cleveland Museum of Art gives Historical Perspective in 'Eyewitness Views'

Courtesy the Cleveland Museum of Art

Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark, 1711. Luca Carlevarijs (Italian, 1663–1730). Oil on canvas; 135.3 × 259.7 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 86.PA.599.

Now at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Eyewitness Views; Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe uses 40 dramatically staged masterworks to present time-capsules of historical experience. Including work by 18th Century Italian Masters Panini, Canaletto and Guardi, Eyewitness Views is the first exhibition to concentrate on view paintings—faithful depictions of a given locale— as snapshots of historic reality. “Eyewitness Views provides our visitors with a wonderful opportunity to experience history as it was being made,” says WIlliam Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The large-scale, vibrantly detailed paintings in the show will transport viewers to eighteenth-century Europe, immersing them in the most elaborate celebrations, festivals and historical events of the time.”

© National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

The Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin, 1751. Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1691–1765). Oil on canvas; 168 × 132 cm. Waddesdon (Rothschild Foundation) 80.2007.2.

The exhibition is grouped into four thematic sections. 'Memory and Manipulation' examines whether the paintings are faithful historic chronicles or aesthetically staged creations. 'Civic and Religious Ritual' presents important religious feast days and public rituals. 'Festival and Spectacle' showcases the pomp and circumstance of Venice and Rome, including ceremonial regatta and elaborate royal birth and marriage celebrations. 'Disaster and Destruction' chronicles natural disasters and instances of political turmoil.

“The level of detail in these paintings can be astounding. To please their patrons—who had often paid for both the celebration depicted as well as the painting of the event—artists like Panini and Canaletto precisely documented the most minute elements of personality, costume and décor. Other artists excelled at conveying all the energy and atmosphere of an important festival or ceremony. Sometimes artists were confronted with the challenge of painting an event that they did not personally attend. This exhibition helps viewers understand the various ways artists addressed such challenges,” said curator Marjorie E. Wieseman.

The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day, about 1745. Canaletto
Courtesy the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day, about 1745. Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) (Italian, 1697–1768). Oil on canvas; 115 × 163 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art: The William L. Elkins Collection, 1924 E1924–3–48. 

A Night Procession in the Piazza San Marco, about 1755. Francesco Guardi
Courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, UK / Bridgeman Images

A Night Procession in the Piazza San Marco, about 1755. Francesco Guardi (Italian, 1712–1793). Oil on canvas; 48 × 84.5 cm. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by Mrs W.F.R. Weldon, 1927 WA1927.1.

The Interior of St. Peter's during the Visit of the Duc de Choiseul, 1756–57. Giovanni Paolo Panini
Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art

The Interior of St. Peter's during the Visit of the Duc de Choiseul, 1756–57. Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1691–1765). Oil on canvas; 164.3 × 223.5 cm. The Collection of the Boston Athenaeum, Purchase 1834 (UR12).

Co-organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the exhibition includes works from a number of museums. The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day, from the Philadelphia Art Museum, depicts the finely costumed doge (ruler of Venice) and senior government officials proceeding to board a gilded state barge known as the Bucintoro, described by one visitor as “without doubt the finest ship in the world.” A Night Procession in the Piazza San Marco, from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, presents a rare nocturnal view of Venice. It showcases Guardi’s virtuoso talent in depicting the jaw-dropping beauty of the Piazza San Marco, lit entirely with wax candles. The Interior of Saint Peter’s during the Visit of the Duc de Choiseul, by Panini, focuses on the awe-inspiring architectural of Rome’s St. Peter’s basilica, while commemorating Choiseul’s accreditation to the Holy See.

Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe is on view through May 20, 2018. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.clevelandart.org/

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.