Exhibition: Figment of the Past

Venetian Works on Paper from the Davis

Sunday, May 4, 2014 - 11:00am
Location: Levine Gallery

Figment of the Past: Venetian Works on Paper from the Davis

On View: February 5–May 4, 2014

Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery


“With its aqueous alleys and enchanted archways,

Venice has welcomed and hosted countless foreign travelers

as well as served as a hub of international commerce for centuries.

 In the eighteenth century, at the height of the Grand Tour,

 Italian artists found new ways to depict their city and appeal to an ever-burgeoning clientele of art collectors, connoisseurs, and tourists.”

 – Curator Eve Straussman-Pflanzer


Figment of the Past: Venetian Works on Paper from the Davis celebrates the Davis Museum’s rich holdings of early modern Venetian works on paper from the 16th century to the end of the Republic of Venice (1797).  Inspired by this extraordinary city during a period in which Venice ruled as an economic and artistic powerhouse, the exhibition displays twenty-five works by artists including Palma il Giovane, Canaletto and Tiepolo, among others.

Privileging water over land—Venice’s unusual topography and cultural riches have dazzled and overwhelmed centuries of residents and visitors. For some, like the writer Henry James, it was a portal to the past. For others, Venice represented an alternate way of living that ignited the artistic imagination. 

According to Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, senior curator of collections and curator of Figment of the Past, “The Davis Museum’s holdings of Venetian works on paper encompass a range of media from drawings (on vellum and paper) to prints (engravings, etchings, and woodcuts). These sheets illustrate many stages of the artistic process—from figure and compositional studies to investigations of light and perspective. The veduta, or viewing painting, drawing, or print, which figures prominently in this exhibition, was invented expressly to satisfy the visitor’s desire to take home a visual record of their sojourn. Also explored is the function that individual works on paper served both in the artistic process and daily life—a burgeoning area of academic inquiry. More than painting and sculpture, works on paper, due to their modest scale, provide an intimate view of the period in which they were made.”

Collected largely during the 20th century—particularly while John McAndrew was director of the Wellesley College art museum from 1947-1957—this exhibition is as much an exploration of La Serenissima, as the Venetian Republic was called, as a testament to Wellesley College’s vision as a collecting institution. McAndrew’s legacy extends beyond campus, as he was a founder and first chairman of Save Venice Inc., a foundation devoted to protecting and restoring the art and buildings of Venice.

Figment of the Past: Venetian Works on Paper is presented with generous support from the Marjorie Schechter Bronfman ’38 and Gerald Bronfman Endowment for Works on Paper.

Please also join us for these related events:


Reading — Landscapes of Italian Poetry: Views of Venice

Tuesday, Feb 18 | 2:30 p.m. | Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery | Free

Students from Associate Professor Sergio Parussa’s seminar ITAS 320: Landscapes of Italian Poetry will present a reading of Italian poetry inspired by works in the exhibition Figment of the Past: Venetian Works on Paper from the Davis. As part of their presentation, students will also discuss their interpretations of the texts and images. Poetry readings will be in Italian, with discussion in English.


Lecture — Paolo Veronese: Drawings, the Workshop, and the Perils of Connoisseurship with John Marciari

Thursday, February 27 | 6:00 p.m. | Collins Cinema | Free

Dr. Marciari’s lecture focuses on the work of leading Italian Renaissance painter and draftsman Paolo Veronese in relation to the works on view in the exhibition Figment of the Past. Dr. Marciari introduces Veronese’s work as a draftsman and explores the contentious formulation of the Veronese drawing canon, specifically to examine issues surrounding the use of Veronese’s drawings within his workshop and collaborative works by Veronese’s students.

Co-sponsored by the Davis and the Art Department, with support from The Edwards Fund.


Gallery Talk — Figment of the Past: Venetian Works on Paper from the Davis with Eve Straussman-Pflanzer and Barbara Lynn-Davis

Thursday, April 3 | 3:00 p.m. | Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery | Free

Senior Curator of Collections Eve Straussman-Pflanzer and Visiting Lecturer in Art Barbara Lynn-Davis explore representations of Venice in the exhibition, with particular focus on how Venetian artists experienced, represented, and imagined their city during the height of the Grand Tour.

Learn more about Palma Il Giovane from BBC’s “Your Painting”:              

Join Sotheby’s Alexander Bell as he talks about Canaletto’s work:

Samples of Canaletto's work may be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston site:

The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art also offers more information on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: