Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Encounter the Mysteries of Byzantium at the Princeton University Art Museum

Encounter the Mysteries of Byzantium at the Princeton University Art Museum

*Princeton, N.J. — *This spring the Princeton University Art Museum
is proud to present the major international loan exhibition
/Architecture as Icon: Perception and Representation of Architecture
in Byzantine Art/. The first of its kind, this exhibition explores
the visual splendor, the rich subtleties, and the spirituality of
Byzantine art and argues for a new way of understanding icons through
its representation of space in a pre-Renaissance world view.
Co-organized with the European Center for Byzantine and
Post-Byzantine Monuments in Thessaloniki, Greece, /Architecture as
Icon/ is the culmination of many years of research by guest curator
Slobodan Ćurčić, professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton
University. The exhibition travels to Princeton following its premier
showing in Thessaloniki and will be open to the public from March 6
through June 6, 2010. Supplementing objects from the Princeton
collections will be nearly seventy works including icons,
manuscripts, ivories, metal sculptures, stone models, and gold,
silver, and bronze works. Many of these extraordinary works come
from seldom-seen public and private collections across seven
countries including: the State History Museum in Erevan, Armenia; the
Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece; the State Hermitage Museum in St.
Petersburg, Russia; the Procuratoria della Basilica di San Marco in
Venice, Italy; and the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, Romania.

“The variety of works exhibited illustrates the richness and scope
of artistic output of a cultural tradition that spans over 1500
years,” notes Ćurčić, “and the variation among the objects on
view underscores one of the main tenets of the exhibition—that the
meaning of symbols is not affected by their medium or physical
size.” Objects range in size from small coins and delicate rings to
immense paintings such as a large /proskynetarion /or monumental icon
of the Holy Land, from the National Museum in Warsaw.

In addition to presenting beautiful and spiritual works, the
exhibition is devoted to new scholarship on the important but
previously unexplored topic of Byzantine architectural
representation. /Architecture as Icon: Perception and Representation
of Architecture in Byzantine Art/ challenges long-held assumptions in
Western art history and provides new ways of understanding Byzantine
art and architecture from A.D. 300 to the early nineteenth century.

“Teaching Byzantine art at Princeton has given me many
opportunities to reflect on how little is broadly known about the
ways in which great Byzantine icons work visually and the absence of
any serious consideration of the representation of architecture in
Byzantine art,” says Ćurčić. “This exhibition aims to
demonstrate that architecture was not merely background ‘wall
paper,’ but an active symbolic ingredient of the scenes in which it
is depicted.” Supported by illustrative materials and explanatory
texts, the works on view reveal the spirituality that marks Byzantine
art and architecture; the richness in its interpretation of
architectural forms and space; and the emphasis on the imagination in
two-dimensional depictions of reality. The exhibition encompasses art
from the entire Byzantine world, including Greece and lands that were
once part of the Byzantine Empire as well as Armenia, Romania, and

“The original planning for /Architecture as Icon/ dates back many
years,” notes Museum director James Steward. “In its fresh
scholarship, its proposal of a new way of thinking about great art of
the past, its presentation of visually compelling works of art rarely
seen in this country, and its internationalism, it is a brilliant
incarnation of what we feel a great university-based museum should be

Accompanying the exhibition is a major scholarly catalogue published
in English and Greek editions and featuring essays by Greek and
American scholars taking a probing look at the questions raised by
the exhibition. Individual object entries, full-color illustrations,
and comparative works of art make this volume a significant addition
to the canon on Byzantine art. A keynote lecture to be presented in
Princeton on March 6, 2010 by Professor Ćurčić—who retires from
Princeton University in June—will further illuminate this new way
of looking at Byzantine art by focusing on the representations of
architecture in context. Additionally, a series of public programs,
including a performance by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, will
speak to the implications of art and architecture for Byzantine life
and culture.

*About the Museum*

Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the
finest art museums in the country. Its collection features 72,000
works ranging from ancient to contemporary art, and concentrating
geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China,
the United States, and Latin America, with particular strengths in
Chinese painting and calligraphy, art of the ancient Americas, and
pictorial photography. The Museum is committed to serving the local
community, the region, and beyond through innovative and dynamic
programming, original research and new scholarship, an active loan
program, and the organization of touring exhibitions of its works. By
collaborating with faculty, students, and staff, and through direct
and sustained access to original works of art, the Museum contributes
to the development of critical thinking and visual literacy at
Princeton University.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the center of the
Princeton University campus, a short walk from Princeton’s Nassau
Street. Museum admission is free and open to the public. Hours are
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.;
Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Free highlights tours of the collection are given every Saturday and
Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.
For information, please call (609) 258-3788 or visit the Museum’s
website at

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