In 1517, Pope Leo X appointed Raphael the first Superintendent of Antiquities. In his new post, the artist was responsible for ensuring that looters stopped plundering Rome’s classical past and that the city’s ancient buildings and sculptures were preserved for future generations. Raphael’s position coincided with a turning point in attitudes towards the decaying artifact and monument. Around this time, contemporaries ceased to regard ruins as eyesores or objects of purely utilitarian use, imbuing them with a new significance as objects of antiquarian study, artistic inspiration and reconstructive endeavor.
The exhibition traces evolving attitudes towards timeworn buildings and sculptures in prints from the early sixteenth century to circa 1800 and includes works by well-known artists Stefano della Bella, Hieronymus Cock, Canaletto, Jean Honoré Fragonard, Georg Pencz, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Marcantonio Raimondi. As images, symbols and visual motifs, ruins have sustained the artistic and popular imagination throughout the early modern period and into the present: they provide reminders of the accomplishments of the ancients, evidence of the fragility of human and artistic achievement, as well as instances for the contemplation of caprice, the picturesque and even the occult.
This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.