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Scholars, Explorers, Priests: How the Renaissance Gave Us The Modern World To Open At The Godwin-Ternbach Museum

-- Work by Such Masters as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Dűrer Show
How the Pursuit of Inspiration Changed Art; Exhibition on View Feb. 2 – March 27 --

FLUSHING, NY, January 21, 2010 –A richly detailed account of how Renaissance art bequeathed modern values to succeeding generations is on view in Scholars, Explorers, Priests: How the Renaissance Gave Us the Modern World.  Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Hogarth are among the artists whose work appears in this exhibition, which opens Tuesday, February 2 and closes Saturday, March 27. The curator, Professor James Saslow, will give a gallery talk at the opening reception on February 2 from 5:30–7:30 pm.

Seventy objects—paintings, prints, sculpture, and decorative objects from the museum collection—demonstrate the zest for realism, scientific inquiry, individual expression, and spiritual renewal that marked the Renaissance, which began in Italy and swept across Europe from the 1400s to the 1700s. Kings, witches, dwarfs, games, family portraits, bacchanals, Greek gods, the Whore of Babylon, and the Golden Calf are among the subjects that stoked the creativity of the artists whose works are on display.


 Erasmus of

During this artistically fertile period, people looked backward to antiquity and, for the first time, to the world around them for new sources of inspiration. This sense of inquiry is apparent in such works as Albrecht Dürer’s portrait engravings of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1526) and Philipp Melanchton (1526); anatomically accurate renderings in St. Jerome Reading by José de Ribera, ca. 1624; Hawks and Owls by Wenceslaus Hollar (1663); Crouching Atlas with Lamp, a bronze objet d’art by Severo Calzetta da Ravenna (ca. 1500); and Madonna and Child, from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1611-1640. Peasant Scene, Adriaen Jansz van Ostade’s painting of a rowdy, untidy 17th--century interior, shows real life with unvarnished truth. 

The pursuit of inspiration plus a devotion to traditional religious subjects changed art, according to Saslow, a professor of Art History (Queens College) and of Theatre and Renaissance Studies (CUNY Graduate Center). Landscape, portraiture, scientific illustration, and genre scenes—paintings of ordinary life—emerged while religious art became a new platform for innovation. Professor Saslow selected and co-curated the artwork on view with graduate students enrolled in his fall 2009 seminar on Renaissance art. He is also the author of The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation (Yale, 1991).

The artwork in Scholars, Explorers, Priests is organized around six themes:

● Religion: From unity and faith to pluralism and reason
● Awakening interest in earthly life: Landscape, genre, and empiricism
● The Individual: Portraiture and new opportunities for women
● The Revival of Greek and Roman Antiquity: Expanding knowledge across time
● Exploring the Globe: Expanding knowledge across space
● Science and Technology: Printmaking and paper


“The Renaissance period,” Professor Saslow notes, “is often called the early modern period because many innovations from that time laid the groundwork for what we think of as the modern world. For instance, the revival of ancient Greek culture opened us up to a new idea: that history is an ongoing evolution and not static religious truth, which allowed Europeans to develop technology and the printing press. Art was no longer restricted to the rich. Ordinary people could be represented in art.” And, thanks to the printing press, he says, “ordinary people also had the possibility to see representations of the world.”


One of Professor Saslow’s favorite works in the show is Rembrandt’s Jews in the Synagogue (1648).  “What I like about it is that it is one of the first scenes of ordinary Jewish life. It’s very homey and ordinary. These are just a group of old men standing around the synagogue praying.  It’s obviously drawn from real life because Rembrandt lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Holland was the first country to offer tolerance to the Jewish people.”


The Artist’s Family, a 1771 etching by Daniel Chodowiecki, a Czech artist working in Berlin, is another of his favorites. “It’s funny and sweet. The artist did a print of himself and his family in his own studio and sent it to a family member abroad. It’s really a family snapshot. The father is in the background writing away.  It’s a perfect example of how, in the Renaissance, art became a vehicle for personal and individual expression, not just glorification of divine, kingly figures,” he says.


Amy Winter, director and curator of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, cites the painting Madonna and Child, ca. 1611-40 from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, as emblematic of artistic innovation during the Renaissance.  The work depicts a robust infant Jesus standing in his mother’s lap. “If you go back just a century,” Dr. Winter said, “you still have images that are flat, abstracted icons, with the infant Jesus sitting on his mother’s lap, staring straight ahead. Here, a baby standing and taking its first step, as his mother fondly looks on, gives us a sense of human and maternal tenderness and a new understanding of how to create a three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional plane.”


 Madonna and Child

Scholars, Explorers, Priests has been funded by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Queens College Department of Art, the Queens College Office of the President, and Friends of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum.

Exhibition hours are Monday–Thursday, 11 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm. Please call 718-997-4747 for further information on the exhibition or visit

In addition to the curator’s talk, the museum will host two other illustrated lectures by Queens College faculty who specialize in Renaissance art. There will also be a Family and Children Printmaking workshop and a film screening. For further details and schedules, visit the museum website or call the museum office.

Travel Information:
By car, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum is 40 minutes from midtown Manhattan.  Directions are at

The Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College is the only comprehensive collection of art and artifacts in the borough of Queens, housing over 3,700 objects that date from ancient to modern times. The mission of the GTM has grown over time from serving as a teaching museum for the benefit of art and art history students to embracing all disciplines and an increasingly diverse and engaged community. All exhibitions are free, as are their related lectures, symposia, gallery talks, workshops, films, concerts, and tours.





























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