Italian Master Drawings: Exhibition goes beneath the surface

Michaelangelo picture

On display will be an architectural sketch depicting a floor plan for an unrealized chapel (bottom). It was only through the use of infrared reflectography in the mid-1990s that the sketch, located on the reverse side of a study of profile heads (top) that had been tentatively associated with the artist, was confirmed as the work of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, Bust of a Youth and Character Head of an Old Man, 1520s. Black chalk on tan laid paper. Gift of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (Photos courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum)

A new exhibition, 500 Years of Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum, on view from Jan. 25 through May 11, 2014, explores the mental process behind creation through nearly 100 rarely seen highlights by such masters as Vittore Carpaccio, Michelangelo, Luca Cambiaso, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Guercino, Salvator Rosa, Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, and Amedeo Modigliani.

The creative process is captured in the Italian word disegno, which translates as “drawing” or “design.” But the term is far richer, said Laura Giles, the Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Princeton University Art Museum. She defined the term as “encompassing both the mental formulation and the physical act of creation,” a construct that was, she added, “embedded into the Italian drawing process by the 15th century.”

The exhibition represents the culmination of more than 35 years of scholarship on the museum’s Italian drawings, including the acquisition of more than 125 works that have entered the collection through gift, bequest or purchase.

Many of the drawings have benefited from new insights concerning attribution, iconography, dating, function and provenance. Among the many noteworthy findings is the discovery, first made in the 1990s, of an architectural sketch by Michelangelo on the reverse side of a study of profile heads that had been tentatively associated with the artist. The drawing, depicting a floor plan for an unrealized chapel, is obscured from view by an 18th-century collector’s mount. Only through the utilization of infrared reflectography was the floor plan revealed.

The exhibition celebrates the publication of a new scholarly catalogue, Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum, authored and edited by Giles, Postdoctoral Research Associate Lia Markey and Renaissance art specialist Claire Van Cleave, with contributions from many leading scholars.

Laura Giles

Laura Giles, the Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings, is curating the exhibition. (Photo by Henry Vega)

The catalogue is the first academic exploration of the collection since 1977. The research for the catalogue received significant support from The Getty Foundation’s Cataloguing of Museum Collections Grant Program.

In tandem with the publication of the exhibition catalogue, the museum will add updated research and high-resolution images to its online collections catalogue, allowing global access to the Italian drawings collection.

The museum’s collection of over 80,000 works includes more than 1,000 Italian drawings from the 15th through the early 20th century, encompassing the history of Italian art from the early Renaissance to early modernism.

–By Erin Firestone

Language expert explores the art and science of translation

Bellos

(Book cover image courtesy of the publisher)

Translations never produce quite the same phrasing, feeling or meaning as the original, according to Princeton professor David Bellos. In his 2011 book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, Bellos, a professor in the departments of French and Italian and comparative literature, explored how people understand — or do not understand — each other in various situations and settings.

Bellos charted the complex, fragile beehive of translators who keep the United Nations operating; explored the mental state involved in translating into and out of one’s native tongue; and delved into online translation — technology that actually dates back to Cold War-era efforts by the United States to quickly unscramble Russian — among other topics.

“There’s this idea that a translation is just not as good as the original,” said Bellos, director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. “Why does it annoy me so much? Well, a translation is different from the original. It can never be the same thing. But it’s not worse.”

In the end, Bellos said, one must put faith in a translation. “A text and its translation are two different objects, and they always will be,” he said. “So we must grant the translator authority in a language we do not know. We don’t like to do that. But we have to come to terms with it.”