IU Art Museum’s 18th-century masterpiece originally created for royal wedding

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

An upcoming exhibit at the IU Art Museum will take you inside the bedroom of European nobility while highlighting an 18th-century masterpiece.

The exhibit “Francesco Solimena: Picturing the World for an Eighteenth-Century Royal Wedding” focuses on the IU Art Museum’s “Allegory of the Four Parts of the World,” painted by Italian artist Francesco Solimena. The piece was originally commissioned for the wedding of Charles III and Maria Amalia of Saxony and was placed on the ceiling for King Charles’s studio, adjacent to his bedroom.

A 13-minute documentary will also accompany the exhibit during its opening on April 6. Guest curator Louise Arizzoli traveled with filmmaker and journalist Giorgio Cappozzo to the royal palace to interview experts about the time period in which Solimena created his painting.

"Allegory of the Four Parts of the World"

Francisco Solimena’s 18th century masterpiece “Allegory of the Four Parts of the World” is the focus of the IU Art Museum’s upcoming exhibit.

IU Art Museum director Heidi Gealt said in an email that Solimena’s painting was a gift from the museum’s first director — and namesake for IU’s fine arts school— Henry Radford Hope, who had bought it from a New York dealer in the early 1970s.

Gealt said the 18th century witnessed a handful of major royal weddings. “While lots of portraits of these royal brides and grooms survive, very little survives of the actual nuptial chambers. The rooms of Charles and Maria Amalia are now gone,” she said. “So to have such a major relic from their marriage chamber here at IU is really remarkable.”

Arizzoli, who now teaches at the University of Mississippi, researched the history of Solimena’s painting for her thesis while earning her PhD in Art History from IU Bloomington. Arizzoli, originally from Paris also holds a master’s degree in art history from IU.

Solimena was one of the leading painters in 18th-century Naples, known for creating large altarpieces – a painted sculpted work of art that stands as a religious image at an altar – in the dramatic Baroque style.

For her thesis, Arizzoli also studied how Solimena’s work represents four of the world’s continents – America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

“Since the late 16th century, America was commonly depicted as a cannibal, or as a threatening savage that needed to be civilized, whereas Europe was represented as a queen and leader of the world,” Arizzoli said, noting that America is depicted in the background of Solimena’s painting as a figure holding an arrow. “Franceso Solimena, in this traditional representation, is really doing something that has been done a lot before him.”

In the painting, Europe is represented by the Queen sitting on the throne, acting as the leader of the three other continents. Asia is represented by the female figure wearing a white robe and holding an incense burner, while Africa is represented by a black woman holding grain between two lions.

The exhibit will be on display at the Judi and Milt Stewart Hexagon Gallery from April 2 through May 25. The reception, which starts at 3 p.m. April 6 in Woodburn Hall in Room 101, also includes talks by Gealt and Arizzoli on 18th-century royal weddings, as well as the premiere screening of the documentary “The World around Solimena.” The pieces were loaned by the Getty Research Institute, the IU Fine Arts Library and the Lilly Library, accompanied by the IU Art Museum’s permanent collection. Admission to the exhibition and all programs is free. Visit the IU Art Museum website for more info on future exhibitions.

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