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Museum Monday: Conservation sheds light on a 17th century painting

February 2, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Funded by Wanda Peterson Hollensteiner’54 and James Hollensteiner, the annual Hollensteiner Conservation Lecture Series both figuratively and literally sheds light on works from the Wright Museum of Art’s collection. Each year a work is chosen from the Wright Museum’s permanent collection, and a prominent scholar is invited to lecture on the newly conserved piece.

This year’s work, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, is attributed to the Flemish artist Izaac van Oosten (Antwerp, 1613-1661). Flight into Egypt was a very popular subject in 16th and 17th century, and in classic form depicts Joseph leading Mary and the Christ child as they flee from Herod’s massacre of the innocents. The scene centers on Mary, who has stopped to nurse the infant Christ, while Joseph leads the donkey forward. Van Oosten, working in oil on a small copper plate, a mere seven by 10 inches in size, masterly creates a scene teaming with life. Rabbits and birds are painted with hairline brushstrokes. In the background Herod’s soldiers pursue the couple. The details in this miniature Flemish landscape are almost impossible to reproduce through photography, and the only way to properly view the piece is to examine it in person. Rest on the Flight into Egypt is currently on view in the Hollensteiner Gallery until March 11.

Museum Monday: Conservation sheds light on a 17th century painting

The Wright’s van Oosten was given to the museum in 1944, by Mrs. William Frank Eugene Gurley, in memory of her late husband. Conservation was performed at the Midwest Art Conservation Center (MACC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A traditional Dutch style frame was specifically built to complement the painting, replacing the late 19th century frame that had originally housed the painting.

To fully understand a work of art that is over 400 years old, it is best to consult an expert. Tanya Paul, the Isabel and Alfred Bader curator of European Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, will be giving this year’s Wanda Hollensteiner Conservation Lecture titled “Izaac van Oosten, an Antwerp Artist in Context.” Paul specializes in Dutch and Flemish art, and holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Virginia. She has curated exhibitions at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Her lecture Friday, Feb. 9 at 12:30 p.m., will bring additional perspective on this small gem. A reception and viewing of the piece will begin at noon.