All posts in “italian room”

Object of the Week: Door from the Ca’Rezzonico, Venice

It’s a fait accompli that countless works of art from cultures across the world can no longer be seen in their original contexts, and the works’ relationship to their original surroundings, including their connection to related pieces, has been forever changed. In SAM’s collection, consider ancient fragments like the Achaemenid Relief from Imperial Reception Hall with servant bearing wine: to whom does he offer his honorary libation? Or, think about the ladies greeting visitors at the top of the escalators on our third floor, in Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas: Their nude counterparts are striking poses in the collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina. When related works end up separated, the relationship between them is not severed but altered. When the landing spot for related works is an art museum, new relationships blossom: between an artwork and its new surroundings, and between its new home and the homes of its fellows.

blog-ootw-door-from-venice-detail

SAM’s Door from the Ca’ Rezzonico has starred in the decorative arts collection since shortly after the museum’s move downtown—originally as a long-term loan, and eventually as part of the permanent collection. This lacquered and gilt wooden door features chinoiserie designs, elements that reflect the merging of Asian and European aesthetics. The upper panel pictures a figure on horseback with noticeably Caucasian features, donning flowing robes and a turban in a confluence of diverse cultural associations. As it is currently situated in a gallery focused on Venice as a site of exchange, the Door from the Ca’ Rezzonico exemplifies, and symbolizes, a portal to mutual understanding.

blog-ootw-door-from-venice-detail-2

Aside from the visual interest it carries, the door has established for the museum a special connection to its original site and the site of its sister. The door comes from an opulent palace along the Grand Canal in Venice, the Ca’ Rezzonico. At one point an extravagant private residence, the Ca’ Rezzonico now serves as a museum for the decorative arts, and its collection features a lacquered door in the same design scheme as SAM’s door. Another bond exists between SAM’s door and one in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Adolph Loewi, an antiques and decorative arts dealer based in Los Angeles—who also handled SAM’s Italian Room—was responsible for splitting these doors, at one point joined together in the Ca’ Rezzonico, into two.

As artworks shift context over time, silver linings do emerge, and one of them is the persistent hope that separated pieces might one day be reunited again.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Door from the Ca’Rezzonico, Venice, ca. 1760, Italian, wood, oil lacquer, gilt, 110 3/4 x 56 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Richard Louis Brown, in honor of Julie Emerson, 2014.17, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Share

Object of the Week: Italian Room

A powerful quality exclusive to older objects is their ability to spark our imagination as we reflect on where in the world these things have been before they arrived in front of us. It can be totally captivating. The display of historic artworks in our galleries at SAM is only the latest chapter in a long story for each of these pieces. The period room installed on the fourth floor—called the Italian Room a bit anachronistically but not without reason—is a great case study in the life of an art object.

The wood panels hang in a metal stud framework erected during SAM’s expansion in the 2000s, but they are installed at the exact angles and dimensions of the historic room’s specifications. About 145 original pieces comprise the installation. How and why did they come here?

Details of the Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum

An Italian art dealer named Renato Bacchi acquired the room in the 1920s from its original installation in a building scheduled to be remodeled, perhaps “saving” it. The building was located in Chiavenna, a town in northern Lombardy, in a breathtakingly beautiful mountainous region. In the mid-1930s the room, in boards, passed from Bacchi to the German-born antiques dealer Adolph Loewi, who installed it in a Venetian palazzo that served as his gallery space. The Jewish Loewi was persecuted by the Fascist Italian government and moved, with his paneled room, to the U.S. in 1939. Loewi had become one of the most successful international dealers in period rooms, and he proved successful once again, finding a buyer in the notable Northwest architect John Yeon, who had encountered Loewi and his paneled room in Los Angeles. The room enjoyed another interesting chapter as Yeon’s dining room in the architect’s San Francisco flat. This custom installation was a highlight of Yeon’s renovation of the once-rundown building that housed it. Ed Hardy later rented that apartment.

After Yeon passed away in 1994 the building was sold, but Yeon’s partner, Richard Louis Brown, saw that the room was professionally de-installed that it might have another life somewhere else. From his own home in Portland, Brown set about finding a new home for the paneled room, and with SAM, he had a taker. The timing was just right; the museum, in plans for its expansion, would finally have the space to consider a permanent display for such a period room. In 2000, Brown officially donated the Italian Room, doing so in memory of John Yeon. Folks were invited to view the conservation and installation of the room in progress, and since the grand reopening of the expanded SAM in 2007, the Italian Room has been a focal point of the collection.

Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum

In the same year that he brought SAM’s Italian Room to the U.S., dealer Adolph Loewi imported another of the period rooms he would end up dealing: the Gubbio Studiolo now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See, old things have wonderful stories—not just about where they’ve been, but about who and what they’ve encountered along the way.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Italian Room, ca. 1575-1600, spruce, willow, and fir, 171 9/16in. x 200 5/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Richard Louis Brown in memory of John Yeon, 2000.218, Photo: Nathaniel Willson. Photo: Collin Shulz. Photo: Collin Shulz. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
Share
Share