Grand patrons of art since the 16th century, the Princes of Liechtenstein have recently exhibited the finest items from their collection in Japan (Tokyo, Kochi, Kyoto), Singapore, China (Beijing, Shanghai) Taiwan (Taipei), and Moscow. In autumn 2015 these masterpieces will pay a visit to the Caumont Art Centre in Aix-en-Provence for a prestigious exhibition.
The collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein are among the most important currently held in private hands, and they are also one of the most vibrant since the actual reigning prince, Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, is steadfastly continuing a policy of regular acquisitions. The selection presented at the Caumont Art Centre illustrates the artistic tastes of this family of Princes, with approximately forty paintings from the 16th to the 19th century.
Introduced by a presentation of the royal family, from the founders of the collection to their present day descendants, the exhibition will bring to life the works of the great masters in the collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein in a chronological and themed itinerary.
Highlights of the exhibition
The birth of the portrait
The exhibition first seeks to present different aspects of human portraiture from the 16th century up to the early 17th. Humanist thought, which developed in the 16th century, shifted the focus from the divine towards the human. The greatest Italian artists painted portraits that were no longer ideals but which reflected reality: Portrait of a man (circa 1502-1504) by Raphaël, Portrait of a man with a black hat (circa 1514) by Rosso Fiorentino, Portrait of a man (1517), by Francesco di Cristofano , known as Franciabigio. In the Nordic realm, Lukas Cranach the Elder was still hesitating between the aesthetics of the Middle Ages and the new humanistic approach as can be observed in his portrayals of Saint Christopher, as well as Venus (1531).
Rubens, vividness and power in portraying the great myths
In the early 17th century, Peter Paul Rubens painted monumental works based on religious or mythological themes. A room is dedicated to these bravura pieces, with two works of very large format: Mars and Rhea Silvia (circa 1616/17), the couple who gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, and The discovery of the child Erichthonios (circa 1616), in which three young women are looking at the child, half-man and half-snake.
The exhibition continues with an exploration of the following decades. During the baroque and rococo periods, mythological and religious motifs continued to inspire the Italian artists, in a profusion of acid-coloured draperies and rugged landscapes.
As an interlude in this lavish journey through the masterpieces of the royal collection, an audio-visual commentary allows the visitor to situate the works in the context of their natural surroundings, the castles of the Princes of Liechtenstein. Thanks to the depictions of ceilings by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1702) and by Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654-1730), as well as the ceremonial carriages of Princes of Liechtenstein emblazoned with the decors of François Boucher, visitors can imagine the splendour surrounding these masterpieces of the history of European art.
Hals, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, the Dutch Golden Age
In the 17th century portraits became more intimate. Rubens painted his daughter (Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens (1611-1623), circa 1616) as well as a man (Study of the head of a bearded man, circa 1612) in tight framing. The freshness of the child and the malice of the man shine through in these portrayals of a great psychological finesse. The portraits by Anton van Dyck exhibited here, commissioned to act as status symbols, demonstrate the same psychological acuity: Portrait of Count Johann VIII of Nassau-Siegen (1583-1638), circa 1626/27, Portrait of Maria de Tassis (1611–1638), circa 1629/30. The importance of portraits in the collection is also epitomised by the great Dutch masters such as Hals and Rembrandt.
Landscapes and still life paintings, the "new taste" of collectors
The exhibition next pays tribute to two genres that returned to popularity in the 17th century: still life and landscape. Although in the past human portrayals were favoured by art critics, the fashion changed in the 17th century. Still life gained respectability, particularly in Northern Europe, as is well illustrated by Jan van Huysum with works such as Flowers in a terracotta vase (circa 1725) or Jan Davidsz de Heem with his highly esteemed Still life with fruit and cup with lid (second half of the 17th century). The depiction of ancient edifices acquired additional importance during the following century, an indication of time passing, giving rise to a veritable "aesthetics of ruins" with Giovanni Paolo Panini (The Interior of the Pantheon at Rome, 1735) or Hubert Robert (Caprice with the Pantheon and the Porto di Ripetta, 1761).
The Liechtenstein dynasty
Finally, the exhibition rightfully pays homage to the Liechtenstein family, through several portraits by masters: Portrait of Princess Karoline von Liechtenstein (1768-1831), born Countess von Manderscheidt-Blankenheim, as Iris, 1793 by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Portrait of Princess Marie Franziska von Liechtenstein (1834-1909) at the age of two, 1836 by Friedrich von Amerling.