Art for the Sake of Art: Ornament Prints from the Blanton Museum of Art

April 27, 2016 to August 7, 2016

The McNay’s collection is noted for its emphasis on the graphic arts of the modern era. Just up the road in Austin, however, the Blanton Museum of Art has one of the finest encyclopedic print collections in the region with objects tracing the entire history of the graphic arts in Western Europe. This small exhibition, drawn entirely from the Blanton’s outstanding old master collection, focuses on jewel-like ornament prints from the sixteenth century. While this art may seem out of place at the modern McNay, there is something about the specific phenomenon of ornament prints that presages much of what was to come later in the world of printmaking. Ornament prints, with their emphasis on pure form—sinuous lines and entrancing patterns and textures—allowed artists to experiment and freed them from the constraints that come with biblical or historical narratives or with portrait commissions. Looking at these incredibly complex images, one can imagine the artist getting lost in the process, completely absorbed by the very act of artistic creation. The abstract quality of ornament prints as well as their emphasis on pure line can seem almost modern in conception.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a beautiful, silvery impression of Veneziano’s Panel of Ornament with Acanthus and a Swan of the mid-1530s. This is considered to be the single finest ornament print of the High Renaissance.

Image: Agostino dei Musi, called Veneziano, Panel of Ornament with Acanthus and a Swan, ca. 1535. Engraving. Collection of the Blanton Museum of Art, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, by exchange 1999.43

This exhibition is organized by the McNay Art Museum from the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art.

The Elizabeth Huth Coates Exhibition Endowment and the Arthur and Jane Stieren Fund for Exhibitions are generously funding this exhibition.