German Baroque shines at Saint Vincent


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Most people know that there are exciting discoveries yet to be made in the ocean and in deep space, but few realize there is similar potential in the art world. Artist and collector estates, historical societies, regional museums and college and university collections are among the places where artworks continue to resurface, complementing a larger body of knowledge or introducing something new.

"German Baroque Master Drawings: From the Saint Vincent Art Collections" is an exhibition of such works at the Saint Vincent Gallery. Subjects include mythology, landscape, figure studies and religious works such as depictions of saints and of the Holy Family.

The 42 drawings from the late 16th to early 18th centuries have not been exhibited publicly before. They were collected in Europe by Saint Vincent College founder Archabbot Boniface Wimmer in the 19th century, most probably for use in art classes, and have been in storage for more than four decades.

Brother Nathan Cochran, who curated the exhibition and wrote the handsome catalog (complimentary at the gallery), is gallery director and curator of the art collections. He regards the show as "a work in progress, not definitive" because many of the artists are not yet identified.

During the early stages of organizing the exhibition, Brother Nathan showed the drawings to scholars at regional arts and educational institutions for their input. He's also sending copies of the catalog to scholars in the U.S. and overseas, hoping that will lead to more identification. The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., has expressed interest in sending a curator to look at the drawings.

While the art, architecture and music of the Baroque Era continue to receive considerable attention, Brother Nathan suggests that scholarship of German Baroque drawings has lagged because the comparative isolation of Germanic lands kept artists from becoming as well known as those of countries like Italy, the style was at one time not considered worthy of study, and attention was dominated by other media like painting.

Even so, other aspects of the drawings may be enjoyed. Several 18th-century figure studies are masterful; drawings of "Christ at His Baptism" and "Head of an Old Man Praying," rendered on two sides of a sheet, are sensitively executed and moving; lushly detailed 17th-century landscapes with waterfalls are described "in the manner of Johann Heinrich Roos," and it is hoped an attribution may be confirmed.

As with most art, the works are also fascinating windows into what we as a species privilege culturally, and how we strive to make sense of the vast universe we are a part of.

An image of "Angels Adoring the Eucharist," which is displayed in an ornate monstrance perched atop an earth floating in heavenly space, seems unusual, and Brother Nathan points out that such depictions were the result of the reaffirmation of traditional Catholic teaching on transubstantiation by the 16th-century Council of Trent. A less official component of the clergy was responsible for the state of a drawing of the martyred "Saint Sebastian," the lower part of which was removed.

"It appears that a group of prudish monks in the 1920s or '30s decided that the nudity found in the art collection must be destroyed to preserve the morals of young students," Brother Nathan writes in the catalog.

The catalog and exhibition are dedicated to Archabbot Boniface Wimmer in recognition of the 125th anniversary of his death on Dec. 8. A small adjacent exhibition honoring the archabbot, including personal possessions, continues through Dec. 9.

"German Baroque" continues through Oct. 7 in the Robert S. Carey Student Center, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. Information: 724-805-2197 or http://gallery.stvincent.edu.

artarchitecture

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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