Review of ‘The Early Modern Image: Patronage, Kings and Peoples’ Exhibition

On Thursday 5 June was the private view for the University of Southampton Special Collections current exhibition: ‘The Early Modern Image: Patronage, Kings and Peoples’. Upon visiting the exhibition visitors are greeted with an arrangement of composition drawings on the level 4 gallery, for a set of tapestries of ‘Love and Folly’. Such drawings showcase ‘Folly putting out Cupid’s eyes’ and ‘Folly guiding Cupid to the Garden of Love’. In contrast, the other side of the level 4 gallery displays figure and drapery studies from the album of tapestry designer Francis Cleyn, which feature coloured and tinted drawings focusing on different parts of the human body, and on different species such as fish.

Page 6 of Francis Cleyn's album of sketches, figure and drapery studies  MS 292

Page 6 of Francis Cleyn’s album of sketches, figure and drapery studies
MS 292

As I entered the exhibition gallery, I had already heard comments relating to the intricate detail of tapestry fragments and drawings, enticing me in further. The first object that greets the visitor is the album of Cleyn. Displaying two figures from a tapestry design, the album presents potential links to the Bible: the drawing of an old crone is suggested by art historian Professor David Howarth to be a study for the figure of Falsehood seen on the tapestry St Paul Preaching in Athens.

As well as featuring prints and drawings, tapestry fragments are also displayed so that visitors can see the designs of Cleyn in their final form. Such fragments include parts of the reproduction of the finished Perseus and Andromeda tapestry from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This fragment has been kindly loaned from the Victoria Albert Museum. Other drawings relating to classical literature include a grey wash brush drawing of ‘The Council of the Gods’, which is from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 10. Another part of the exhibition focuses on the works of Luca Cambiaso, which are mostly of a religious theme. An example includes a drawing depicting four evangelists each reading his gospel.

To complete the exhibition, a series of engravings and rare books are displayed. As well as depicting biblical images, such as the Holy Spirit descending as a dove to the Virgin Mary, other images take on a warfare theme. One example is the engraving by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglion titled ‘Battle scene with a shield on a lance’. Possibly dating from around 1537, the item catalogue suggests that the engraving may have been a rejected idea for Raphael’s Battle for the Milvian Bridge. The rare books largely include works by Dante Alighieri, which again take on a religious theme. Intricate illustrations are displayed on the pages, depicting the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge, and Dante being guided through Hell by Virgil.

My favourite item was the image displayed by the rarebook Comento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la Comedia di Dante Alighieri poeta fiorentino by Dante Alighieri. The image depicts souls being drawn out of Purgatory on carts pulled by griffins.

Page 32 of Francis Cleyn's album of sketches, figure and drapery studies MS 292

Page 32 of Francis Cleyn’s album of sketches, figure and drapery studies
MS 292

The exhibition is on display Monday-Friday 10am to 4pm until Friday 27th July, on level 4 of the Hartley Library.

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