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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Odds, Ends, and Things We May Have Missed (Morning, 6/16/17)

  • An Enchanted Land

    Slide Notes

    “An Enchanted Land” celebrates the centennial of the MFA’s collection of Indian art with a display of some of the most extraordinary examples of Indian painting anywhere in the world. Made in the Rajput kingdoms of North India between the 17th and 19th century, they represent a type of art that was totally unknown in the West when they entered the Museum’s collection a century ago. Even in India, Rajput painting was then little recognized.

    This exhibition celebrates 100 years of Indian paintings at the MFA, highlighting the contributions of the figure who brought them to Boston, and to the attention of the world: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947). Curator at the Museum from 1917 until his death in 1947, Coomaraswamy collected these paintings during his travels in India and sold them to MFA benefactor Denman Waldo Ross. A pioneering philosopher and historian of Indian art, Coomaraswamy was also a staunch nationalist, working to end British colonialism in India and elsewhere. He put Rajput painting forward as a proto-national art form of the highest quality, a visual manifestation of what he called “the great ideals of Indian culture.” For him the struggle for independence was nothing less than a fight to keep these ideals alive.

    The end of colonialism in India has reframed the ways we approach the study of Indian art, but many of Coomaraswamy’s observations and arguments about Rajput painting remain incisive. The works on view in this exhibition—organized around his own words, reflecting some of his keenest insights—also retain their power and their ability to delight.

      

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  • Botticelli and the Search for the...

    Slide Notes

    Perhaps more than any other painter, Sandro Botticelli (about 1445–1510) exemplifies the artistic achievement of Renaissance Florence in the 15th century. “Botticelli and the Search for the Divine,” organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary and Italy’s Metamorfosi Associazione Culturale, explores the dramatic changes in the artist’s style and subject matter—from poetic depictions of classical gods and goddesses to austere sacred themes—reflecting the shifting political and religious climate of Florence during his lifetime.

    At the height of his career, Botticelli was supported by the powerful Medici family, headed by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Botticelli’s instantly recognizable style, characterized by strong contours, lyrical poses, and transparent flowing drapery, was influenced both by Antique models and the courtly preferences of his patrons. Two paintings from this period on view in the exhibition, Minerva and the Centaur (1481, Uffizi, Florence) and Venus (about 1490, Galleria Sabauda, Turin)—Botticelli’s reworking of his famous Birth of Venus—are life-size and display the painter’s skill in depicting elegant figures from classical mythology.

    In his later years, Botticelli became a follower of the stern Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who by 1494 had established a theocracy in Florence following the exile of the Medici family. Personal conduct came under harsh scrutiny, and in 1497 all manner of worldly goods—including cosmetics, mirrors, fancy clothing, musical instruments, and paintings with nudes and pagan subjects—were burned in a notorious “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Under Savonarola’s sway, Botticelli’s graceful manner gave way to a newly austere approach, and secular subject matter disappeared. Severe religious paintings dominate the artist’s later production, and such moving masterpieces as the Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John (about 1495, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence) demonstrate the striking departure from his earlier sweet style. The exhibition also includes paintings by Botticelli’s teacher Filippo Lippi, his student Filippino Lippi, and other contemporaries.

    The exhibition, the largest and most important display of Botticelli’s works in the United States, features 24 paintings from international lenders and the MFA’s own Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (about 1500) as well as important loans from Harvard and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

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  • Japanese Garden, Tension-En

    Slide Notes

    Dedicated in October 1988, Tenshin-en, or the “Garden of the Heart of Heaven,” is a contemplative Japanese garden. Named for the Museum’s curator of Chinese and Japanese Art, Kakuzō Okakura (known in Japan as Okakura Kakuzō and also as Okakura Tenshin), who worked at the MFA from 1904 until his death in 1913, Tenshin-en was designed as a viewing garden in the karesansui style by the late Professor Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto.

    As described by Professor Nakane, “the goal of a karesansui garden is to suggest magnificent scenes from nature by forming the shapes of various landscape elements such as waterfalls, mountains, islands and ocean … thus the garden expresses the vastness of nature in miniature, within a strictly limited space.” Tenshin-en is anchored by more than 200 stones including a dry waterfall (takiguchi), tall stones representing Mount Sumeru, and two of the Mystic Isles of the Immortals: the Tortoise Island (kamejima) and the Crane Island (tsurujima). The garden is also home to more than seventy species of plants—1,750 specimens in all—drawn from America and Japan, providing color and texture to the landscape. Cherries, Japanese maples, and pines serve as symbols of the changing seasons.

    Representing a unique merging of two cultures, Tenshin-en combines the profound symbolism of a Japanese garden with a feeling that evokes the rocky coastline and deep forests of New England.  

    Tenshin-en’s much anticipated reopening in April 2015 marks the end of an extensive yearlong effort to preserve and renew the garden, generously underwritten by Nippon Television Network Corporation, which provided the original funding for Tenshin-en’s establishment through former Chairman, Mr. Yosoji Kobayashi. During these renovations, existing shrubs were significantly pruned and new vegetation planted in keeping with the garden’s original design. Paving, irrigation, draining, and lighting systems were all updated; the garden’s granite plank terrace was reset; and truckloads of new granite gravel were brought from North Carolina and distributed throughout. These renovations culminated with the replacement of the kabukimon-style entrance gate, incorporating simple design innovations to extend the gate’s anticipated life for the next quarter century and beyond to ensure that future visitors to the “Garden of the Heart of Heaven” can continue to experience the truth of Kakuzō Okakura’s words: One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if one were far away from the dust and din of civilization.

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