The Art Institute of Chicago’s newly opened “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe” is a visual feast of delights and a romanticized look at this time period. The galleries present hundreds of the museum’s holdings from the European Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ranging from architecture to altarpieces, and armor.
From objects as large as a knight on a horse to small golden jewelry, there is something for everyone in this opulent display. The unfolding galleries immerse viewers from the start, ushering visitors onto a path through bigger rooms with church-like ceilings and massive artworks, and small, intimate rooms with precious items.
ADAM AND EVE
Part of the illustration of the spiritual life in this time, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (1533/37) is both recognizable and foreign. The long, slender figures wave upwards in an idealized and unrealistic manner, making these figures look otherworldly. The ethereal forms reveal courtly standards of beauty and insight into the religious images of this period.
Even domestic life was full of sumptuous images. This graceful plate features gorgeous, rich colors: deep Mediterranean blue, golden yellow, and soft white. Swirling to fit the edges of the dish, the forms and central woman face the viewer. It is as if a canvas painting has been imprinted on the dish, combining fine art with dining. Looking at these dishes, viewers are given intimate insight into the domestic realm.
The energetic crescendo comes in the form of two armored knights. In the center of one of the final rooms, two suits of armor sit on rearing horses, both of which are life-size and lifelike. These two knights raise long implements that shoot out into the room, in effect, pointing towards the walls of shining armor for warriors both large and small.
Tucked behind the knight room, old, ornate weapons are displayed in glass cases and wooden drawers. Decorated in twisting patterned metallic lines, this decorated sword handle again is another moment where artistic delight is combined with an object. And the display of arms can be unexpectedly intimate. Looking at this sword, we can gaze at the handle and think about who may have held this weapon and for what purpose, as well as who or what may have met the sword from the other end.
This opulent exhibition maintains a sense of intimacy through its smaller nooks where viewers can get close to all manner of precious images and objects. The display covers the expansive religious, domestic, and chivalrous history of this time period, offering a uniquely absorbing experience. These works may have been completed centuries ago, but in this display they are given new life. The ideas and ideals surrounding depictions of saints and heroes, beauty and pride, remain resonant today—the exhibition's bustling audience makes this clear.
Top Pick For: History buffs, families, and those interested in craftsmanship
Not recommended for: Those not interested in art from the Middle Ages
Now through December 31, 2020.
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60603
$25 for General Admissions Adults
$19 for General Admission Seniors
$19 for General Admission Students
$19 for General Admission Teens
Online at artic.edu
By phone at (312) 443-3600