Race in the Renaissance

Katherine Gregory
Feb 20, 2013 8:29PM

On February 16, the exhibition “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” opened at its new home at the Princeton University Art Museum. Born at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Joaneath Spicer, the museum’s curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, aims to explore how Africans have been quietly yet unceasingly captured in European art from the 15th through 17th centuries. The show has been met with high critical acclaim, as even the stoic New York Times critics have deemed it a “high-fiber, convention-rattling” exhibition that vitally poses more questions than it answers. Holland Cotter writes, “it takes a prized piece of art history, one polished to a glow by generations of attention, and turns it in an unexpected direction, so it catches the searching, scouring rays of new investigative light.”

At Princeton, the show has been expanded to include objects in the University’s permanent collection, such as a recently acquired oil on canvas landscape completed by African American artist Robert S. Duncanson in the 1850s. All in all, the exhibition contains over 65 works that have traditionally been accepted as paradigms of Renaissance beauty, and when these stunning paintings are reframed under Spicer’s auspicious curatorial interrogation, they take on new meanings and are opened up to more challenging contemporary debates of race. The show is open in Princeton through June 9th.    

Katherine Gregory
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