A Good Draw

Baroque exhibition has attracted more than 35,000 people to the McMullen Museum since February

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Entering its final month, the McMullen Museum of Art's Baroque exhibition has drawn critical praise and high attendance beyond the museum staff's wildest dreams.

Museum Director Nancy Netzer said last week that more than 35,000 people from the Boston College community and around the world have visited the museum since "Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image" opened on Feb. 1. Special events organized around the exhibition, including a symposium, lectures and a film series, have also been well attended, she said.

"It's probably one of the most successful exhibitions ever hosted at any university-affiliated museum," Netzer said. "We've had all ages come here: public and parochial school classes from second grade through high school, students from BC and other colleges and universities, and groups from retirement communities. Other museums, including the High Museum in Atlanta, have sponsored visits, too."

In addition, the exhibition - which ends May 24 - has received considerable coverage from US and international media. Among those featuring "Saints and Sinners" have been the Associated Press, Boston Globe , Boston Herald , New York Times , Chronicle of Higher Education, Christian Science Monitor , Irish Voice, Yankee magazine, National Public Radio, RAI/TV of Italy, Boston TV stations WBZ, WGBH, WHDH and WLVI, and even the in-flight magazines for British Airways and Al Italia.

Groups like this one regularly file through the museum on docent-led tours of the exhibition. (Photo by Lauren Pringle)

Word-of-mouth and favorable publicity have helped bring in the crowds, Netzer said, but it is the exhibition's centerpiece, "The Taking of Christ," which has been the major catalyst for the popularity of "Saints and Sinners." The painting by 17th century Italian master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland for its North American debut, gets the lion's share of attention from visitors and reviewers.

"It's a fascinating, gorgeous painting in and of itself, but it's also a great story," said Netzer of the work depicting Judas' betrayal of Jesus, thought to be lost for 200 years until its discovery in a Jesuit residence in Dublin.

"For a variety of reasons," she continued, "people have been struck by the painting, whether from an artistic or historical perspective, or because of the religious, spiritual themes it represents."

"The Taking of Christ" may get the most raves, but Netzer reiterates that the exhibition as a whole has been well-received. The 30 paintings comprising "Saints and Sinners" provide an insight into Catholic religious art in Italy during the Baroque period from 1580 to 1680, and the work of Baroque artists like Guido Reni, Domenichino, Ludovico Carracci and Pietro da Cortona, as well as Caravaggio.

"People like the way the exhibition builds up to the Caravaggio," she said. "There is a structure to the display, and it makes the experience enjoyable as well as educational."

In fact, Netzer adds, the educational potential of "Saints and Sinners" has been utilized considerably, not only by local schools but by departments including Fine Arts, History, Romance Languages and Theology. A trio of Romance Languages graduate students also created an interactive World Wide Web site [/artsi] that uses the exhibition as a multi-purpose learning tool for elementary school, high school and college foreign language classes.

Netzer praised the enthusiasm within the BC community for the exhibition, and the corollary events and projects it has sparked. These included a Baroque film series and gallery talks on such subjects as the historical depiction of Judas' kiss of betrayal. Other events were a day-long symposium, "Religious Culture in Caravaggio's Italy," and a talk by Princeton University history Professor Theodore K. Rabb on "Rome in the Age of Caravaggio," sponsored by The Lowell Lecture Humanities Series.

"Once again, the University has seen the possibilities an exhibition like this offers," she said, "and produced wonderful results."

The last of the exhibition-related events takes place tonight at 8 p.m. in St. Mary's Chapel, with the Ensemble Abendmusik presenting a concert, "Splendors of Italian Music in the Age of Caravaggio."

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