CHAMPAGNE, Ill.—A Krannert Art Museum exhibition of prints depicting sacred and supernatural imagery will showcase modern-day treasures from across campus, including the growing collection of historic European prints in KAM’s collection.
“Sacred/Supernatural: Religion, Myth and Magic in European Prints, 1450-1900is visible from January 27 to May 15. The 44 prints in the exhibition depict Christian imagery; devils, demons and monsters; and mythological subjects.
The works come from the museum’s collection, including half a dozen new acquisitions never presented at KAM; loans from the Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Spurlock Museum of World Cultures and Ricker Architecture and Art Library; and loans from a private collector.
“This exhibit is a great way to show off the wealth of collections across campus. We are truly fortunate to have so many prints from the modern era,” said Maureen Warren, curator of the exhibition and curator of European and American art at KAM.
A famous work by French engraver Claude Mellan depicting Véronique’s veil is one of the highlights of the exhibition. An 8-foot-tall enlargement of a detail of the print stands at the entrance to a group of prints depicting Christ. “The Face of Christ” is a recent acquisition of the museum.
“Mellan did the whole image with a single line. It starts at the tip of Christ’s nose and swirls outward. He varies the thickness of the lines and the distance between them to create shape and shadows,” said Warren “This exhibit is not just about sacred and supernatural subjects, but about the kinds of marks, lines and technical features that printmakers use to represent something otherworldly. This print is an example virtuoso printmaker, one of the most technically impressive prints ever produced.
Another new acquisition is a beloved Rembrandt print of Saint Jerome. “Saint Jerome next to a pollard willow” depicts the scholar saint – who is known for his Bible translation and is almost always shown at work in a library, Warren said – working outside under a gnarled willow with a single leafy branch shading his desk. A lion watches from behind the tree, referring to the story of the saint removing a thorn from a lion’s paw.
The print shows Rembrandt’s skill in using a variety of marks to create meaning in the image, Warren said. The tree is remarkably detailed, while St. Jerome appears more like a sketch. A few curvy lines at the top of the image represent a mountainous landscape dotted with trees.
“He pushes abstraction into these naturalistic prints in a really playful and imaginative way,” Warren said.
A pair of prints by engraver Jan Sadeler raise the question of whether God should be depicted in human form. The first version of “The Fall”, made in 1585, shows Adam and Eve huddled in the Garden of Eden as God appears before them in the form of a bearded old man.
The second version of the print, dating from 1643, was printed by a Dutch artist who purchased the copper plate from Sadeler. At that time, the Dutch Calvinist republic did not believe that God should be represented as a person, Warren said. The second artist hammered the image of God from the copper plate, polished it to smooth the lines and re-engraved it with the image of a tetragrammaton, with the Hebrew letters for God, a-t -she says.
The exhibit’s depiction of otherworldly beings includes a 17th-century Witch Hunter’s Handbook that assumes the serious existence of witches in the world, as well as an 18th-century escapist fiction pamphlet in which witches are mischievous pranksters who punish greedy creditors and unfaithful husbands. .
The themes of the exhibition fit perfectly with a graduate course taught this semester by Mara WadeProfessor of Germanic languages and literatures. His students read the first version of the Faust legend, written in 1587.
“It allows my students to see what the social imagery was at the time and what images surrounded the person who wrote this text and the people who read it,” Wade said.
Students will see how people of the time imagined the devil, demons, hell, salvation, God and heaven, she says.
Wade takes his students to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library every semester. She said it is important for them to see physical objects such as books and prints at RBML and KAM.
“When students interact with the materiality of these things and can see the text and the images, and how they can sometimes contradict each other, they are much more engaged and learn more,” she said.
“Partly, they get to know the university too. They have no idea, as they trudge to class, that we have Dürer and Rembrandt on the street. It opens up to them the richness of the university, but also new intellectual and visual worlds.
Krannert Art Museum will open the exhibition from January 27 to 29 during its Spring opening days. Admission is free, but timed reservations are required. Tickets can be reserved online at go.illinois.edu/KAMreservations.