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MAG Curators Showcase Wine and Spirit

By Nancy Norwood, Curator of European Art

Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James Aquavella.

From January 30 through April 10, 2011, MAG will celebrate Wine and Spirit: Rituals, Remedies, and Revelry, an exhibition that delves into artistic depictions of the transformative effects of wine—for better or for worse—since its invention eight millennia ago. Since time immemorial, wine has been the elixir of the gods and the tonic of choice for ordinary mortals. In life and legend, its capacity to enlighten dark spirits, heal the sick, and liberate consciousness has been nothing short of magical.

Extraordinary temporary exhibitions like Wine and Spirit offer curators of the permanent collection the pleasure of looking, sometimes anew but certainly from a different perspective, at the museum’s own rich holdings. We can then gather together and showcase a diverse and, in this case, eclectic group of works that both complements and anticipates the larger exhibition in the Grand Gallery.

The works on display here represent the breadth of the museum’s holdings within the context of wine; subject matter ranges from Bacchanalian revelry, portraiture, and the importance of wine to the daily lives of rich and poor alike. Others manifest the artist’s desire to create beauty that answers to functionality—how, for example, can one drink wine, or any spirit, without a vessel that contains it?

Whether because of the need for conservation, light sensitivity, or lack of exhibit space, many of these works have emerged after years in storage. New acquisitions on display for the first time include an elaborate and delicate Renaissance wedding cutlery set, a large 17th-century Dutch Roemer, and the striking portrait of a woman in the guise of a bacchante—those mysterious female companions of the god of wine.
 
We hope you enjoy this “teaser” exhibition as much as the curators enjoyed assembling it!

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