Bartholomeus Spranger Splendor and Eroticism
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
November 4, 2014-February 1, 2015
When one thinks of mid-16th century art done at the courts of Popes and Emperors, a whole lot of groping isn’t necessarily what comes to mind. But that’s Bartholomeus Spranger for you. A successful artist during his time, Bartholomeus Spranger (1546–1611) served under the patronage of a cardinal, a pope, and two Holy Roman Emperors. His technically exact paintings are filled with an erotic presence, making the combination of his fine and luxurious style with the sensual posing, bodies all intertwined, a highly indulgent experience. The title, “Splendor and Eroticism,” should also appeal to a wide audience.
At the beginning of his career, Spranger was apprenticed under obscure Netherlandish, where he learned the traditions of landscape painting. He then traveled into Italy to study under Guilio Clovio (who was also El Greco’s mentor), and that was where he gained the attention and patronage of both Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Pope Pius V. His Italian time most likely influenced his later erotic style and extensive use of religious and mythical subject matter.
Later heading north, he reached Vienna, where he was appointed court painter by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, and when that was cut short by the Emperor’s death in 1576, Spranger went to Prague, where he became the court artist for another Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II. This was where he really became established. His Italian Mannerism style of painting figures had a great influence in the North, generating a style of Northern Mannerism.
The Met’s is the first major exhibition of Spranger’s works, which include many of his rare paintings, drawings, and etchings, most of which are on loan from international museums and private collections. The exhibition will also include a kunstkammer, which is a chamber of wonders specially created for the exhibition. It was a tradition for Rudolph II to display his paintings (which included many of Spranger’s) along with other rare and beautiful curiosities; “stuffed birds, musical instruments, and skeletons.” Works of other artists who were influenced by Spranger will also be shown. So this will be a multidimensional exhibition, looking at how the art is produced, how it is displayed, and the effect if has on other artists.