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Eyewitness Views:
Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe
Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit
February 23, 2018 Preview


The latest exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art is called Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe. It showcases outstanding masterworks by revered artists who recorded some of the most newsworthy events and impressive spectacles of eighteenth-century Europe.

It's an interesting concept. Nowadays we have many sources for our news - 24x7 cable news, Twitter, blogs, newspapers, radio, etc but in the 18th Century those were not available. So many got their "news" of an important event from a painting.

Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe banner

The press release says "Whether depicting a triumphal procession, a joyous celebration, or the catastrophic eruption of a volcano, the vibrant, colorful, and often monumental paintings in Eyewitness Views re-create what it was like to witness these magnificent occasions. Featuring nearly 40 richly detailed master paintings that utilize the impressive monuments of Venice, Rome, Paris, Warsaw, and other European cities as a backdrop, Eyewitness Views is the first exhibition to exclusively examine view paintings—faithful depictions of a given locale—as representations of contemporary (eighteenth-century) historical events".

Part of mural at entrance of Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Part of mural at entrance of Eyewitness Views: Making History
in Eighteenth-Century Europe Exhibition


Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe serves as an historic “time capsule” exhibition. It is co-organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and is on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall from February 25 through May 20, 2018.

“Eyewitness Views provides our visitors with a wonderful opportunity to experience history as it was being made,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The large-scale, vibrantly detailed paintings in the show will transport viewers to eighteenth-century Europe, immersing them in the most elaborate celebrations, festivals and historical events of the time.”

One of the things I liked most about the paintings was the incredible detail of many of them. Some feature dozens or even hundreds of characters - just as a modern photograph would capture a large crowd. You can see entire new paintings within the larger painting by looking at closeups.

Here are a couple of examples. When you look at The Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin from 1751 by Giovanni Paolo Panini, you see the entire event. But when you look at an area closely, it's like a separate painting.

The Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin from Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe

The Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin

Closeup of Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Closeup of part of the painting.


Another example is The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark by Luca Carlevarjis in 1711 and then the closeup. Incredible details!

The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark at Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe

The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark

Closeup of The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honor of Frederick IV, King of Denmark  Painting at Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Closeup view


“The level of detail in these paintings can be astounding. To please their patrons—who had often paid for both the celebration depicted as well as the painting of the event—artists like Panini and Canaletto precisely documented the most minute elements of personality, costume and décor. Other artists excelled at conveying all the energy and atmosphere of an important festival or ceremony. Sometimes artists were confronted with the challenge of painting an event that they did not personally attend. This exhibition helps viewers understand the various ways artists addressed such challenges,” said Marjorie E. Wieseman, the Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. curator of European paintings and sculpture, 1500–1800, and chair of European art from classical antiquity to 1800.

A web image doesn't do justice to the detail in The Rialto Bridge with the Festive Entry of the Patriarch Antonio Correr from 1735 by Michele Marieschi

The Rialto Bridge with the Festive Entry of the Patriarch Antonio Correr from 1735 by Michele Marieschi

The Rialto Bridge with the Festive Entry of the Patriarch Antonio Correr

or The Procession on the Feast Day of Saint Roch from about 1735 by Canaletto.

The Procession on the Feast Day of Saint Roch from about 1735 by Canaletto

The Procession on the Feast Day of Saint Roch

You really have to see the paintings in person.

Tickets are Adults $12; seniors and college students $10; children 6–17 and member guests $6; 5 and under and CMA members free.

Exhibition Tours take place on Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. March 13 through May 6. Exhibition ticket required. Tours depart from the information desk.

Here is a short video of some of my favorites. Click on the white arrow to watch and be sure to watch it full screen (click on icon in lower right)



Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-Century Europe is separated into four thematic sections that investigate different aspects of this intriguing genre of painting.

Memory and Manipulation explores whether view painters were faithful chroniclers, capturing events exactly as witnessed, or whether they manipulated reality to meet aesthetic requirements and the expectations of their status-conscious clientele (and if so, how?).

Civic and Religious Ritual examines an array of historic events that took place in Europe during the period, including religious feast days and public rituals. Whether sacred or secular, these occasions constituted impressive demonstrations of civic pride.

Festival and Spectacle showcases the pageantry and entertainment in Venice and Rome in the 1700s, including ceremonial regatta performed for visiting dignitaries, and elaborately staged celebrations of royal births and marriages.

Disaster and Destruction presents scenes of devastation caused by fire, natural disaster, and political turmoil. These paintings downplay the presence of rulers and nobility to emphasize the plight of the broader population, and to encourage the viewer to identify more strongly with the horrors depicted.

I have to admit some of the Disaster and Destruction paintings were my favorites. How can you not stare at The Eruption of Vesuvius from 1771 by Pierre-Jacques Volaire?

The Eruption of Vesuvius

The Eruption of Vesuvius


I think my favorite is The Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal by Hubert Robert about 1781.

You can almost feel the heat coming off the canvas.

The Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal

The Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal

What made it really seem like a news item was that the artists did a follow up called The Morning after the Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal which is only a few feet away in the exhibition.

The Morning after the Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal

The Morning after the Fire at the Opera House of the Palais-Royal

It's interesting how times can affect your perception of something hundreds of years old. For example, there is a painting in the exhibition that features a balloon taking off as a crowd watches. Francesco Guardi recorded the first hot air balloon flight in Venice on April 15, 1784 in his painting Ascent of a Balloon in Venice, 1784.

Ascent of a Balloon in Venice, 1784 painting

Ascent of a Balloon in Venice

The description mentions that the actual site of the balloon launch was different from that depicted in the painting but the artist thought his framing was preferable. A few years ago I would have considered the moving of the launch platform as artistic license. But when you look at it from the perspective of capturing an historic moment, the phrase "Fake News" comes to mind.

Curator Betsy Wieseman talks about the ways artists often manipulated or "improved"¨ upon reality in order to meet the expectations of their status-conscious clientele as follows:

Tuesday, March 27, Noon
Tuesday, April 10, Noon
Tuesday, May 15, Noon

This is one of those exhibitions that you want to see in person and look closely at the details captured by the artists.

On your way in be sure to check out the gondola created by Robin VanLear, CMA Artistic Director Community Arts who appears in this photo with Associate Director Stefanie Taub.

Robin VanLear, CMA Artistic Director Community Arts and Associate Director Stefanie Taub in gondola

Robin VanLear and Stefanie Taub


See more about the The Eyewitness Views exhibition







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