Kat Murrell

That’s Amore! Art with Italian Flair

By - Jul 22nd, 2011 10:55 am
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Festa Italiana is taking center stage at the Maier Festival Park with food, music, and conversations with a lot of hand gestures. The artistic gifts of Italy are not to be overlooked as attested by the looming facsimile of Michelangelo’s David that greets visitors at the main gate. To enhance your appreciation of Italian-inspired art in Milwaukee this week, here are a couple of suggestions.


A replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” one of only nine the world. Photo courtesy of the Haggerty Museum.

The first is another Michelangelo piece, currently housed in the Italian Conference Center (631 E. Chicago Street), which is located practically at the front gate of the Summerfest grounds. The Haggerty Museum of Art has long had in its collection a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, the famous piece where Mary holds the body of the dead Christ on her lap. It’s his earliest masterpiece, and the only one he signed. The original is at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and the Milwaukee version is one of only a handful cast from molds of Michelangelo’s sculpture, making it about as close to the original as you can get without hopping a jet.

The Haggerty has loaned their Pietà to the Italian Conference Center, and it is on view in the Galleria in the east wing of the building. The ICC’s gallery especially celebrates the Italian Renaissance, and in particular, Il Divino (“the divine one”) as Michelangelo was known, with replicas of his figures from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

In an alcove is the Pietà. There is an impact in seeing it close up, but as it’s behind glass, the unavoidable glare of sunshine is a definite issue to contend with. Still, the details and expression are captivating. The subject of a Pietà, which mean “pity” in Italian, is one of mourning. But this sculpture doesn’t lay on sadness with a heavy hand; the youthful Mary is comparatively tranquil, even contemplative, as she looks down at the figure who seems more in deep sleep than in the rigor mortis of death. The famous wound in the right side of Christ could be mistaken for an unfortunate blemish rather than a purposeful stab. Keep looking, and the way that Mary is a massive, powerful figure becomes more and more apparent. The strength and power of her left hand, reaching into space, seems to carry a force and strength like the sculptor’s own.

For more Italian-flavored sight-seeing in Milwaukee, head up to a graceful neighborhood on the East Side and see the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum (2220 N. Terrace Avenue). The home, designed by architect David Adler, was built in 1923 and in 1968 was declared a city landmark.


Fleet-footed Hermes welcomes visitors to Villa Terrace. Photo by Kat Murrell.

Entering the courtyard in the front of the manse, the play of water and gleam of sunshine on the garden and pool, contrasting with the cool shade of the vaulted portico, is a momentary step into a languid Mediterranean day. The fountain is topped off by a proud statue of the messenger god, Hermes, his fleet-footedness apparent from his winged sandals. The majority of the sculpture is a 17th century Italian piece, but look more closely at the torso, and you’ll clearly see the earlier fragments he’s built around, which are from a 1st-century Roman sculpture.

The home, perched on the high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, offers beautiful views of the blue sky and water from most of the rooms. Wandering through combines a taste of living among old master paintings plus injections of contemporary art (current exhibitions include Strange Vegetation through July 24 [reviewed for TCD by Judith Ann Moriarty] and Objects for Objects: Work by Venetia Dale through September 18).

Once you’ve perused the art inside the home, take a stroll through the rolling Italian garden that spills down the hillside. From the back terrace, you will soon again hear the refreshing play of water as fountains burble and a stream cascades down steps. However, do not be lured by this siren call and walk down the stone steps next to the waterfall like your intrepid author, who miraculously escaped the many, many bees that live along that way. Instead, when on the terrace, keep going all the way to the right and take the big wooden stairs down instead – it’s much safer, and is the officially recommended way of accessing the gardens.

At the height of summer the gardens are in full bloom, and there are sculptural surprises to be found as well. In one corner of the garden is a figure based on the famous Weary Hercules, also known as the Farnese Hercules after the important familial collection that claims this prize. The proportions are a bit odd on this particular Hercules, but he’s entertaining nonetheless. He, and by pedigree the Farnese, are based on an original Greek sculpture by the famed creator, Lysippos.


A weary Hercules has a story to tell in the Villa Terrace gardens. Photo by Kat Murrell.

As many know, Hercules was obligated to perform 12 impossible labors, and one of these was to retrieve the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. There are variations in the story about how he accomplishes this feat, but basically it involves Hercules holding up the sky for a while, in place of Atlas, who snags the apples for him. Our tuckered-out hero leans on his olive wood club draped with a lion’s skin, a trophy from his defeat of the fearsome Nemean lion. But behind his back we have our conclusion to the story — he holds the (now weathered) apples in his hand, exhausted, but fulfilled.

And exhausted but fulfilled is hopefully exactly how you will feel after indulging in the pleasures of Italian culture to be found in Milwaukee.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Art

0 thoughts on “That’s Amore! Art with Italian Flair”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Kat! — Strini

  2. Anonymous says:

    July 28, 2011

    The so-called “replica of Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta'” is a non-disclosed posthumous forgery.

    Replica by definition is an original work of visual art created by the artist.[Source: HarperCollins’ Dictionary of Art Terms & Techniques by Ralph Mayer]

    So, why is it a forgery?

    Michelangelo’s original “Pieta” is in marble.

    Under the Association of Art Museum Directors endorsed ethical guidelines on sculptural reproduction from the College Art Association, any transfer into new material unless specifically condoned by the artist is to be considered inauthentic or counterfeit and should not be exhibited as a work of art.”

    Additionally, under the AAMD’s 2001 Professional Practices, reproductions offered for sale in their gift shops, must not have signatures, foundry marks, editions numbers and the like because it might give the mistaken impression that it is an original and valuable when actually the resale value of a -reproduction- [if so disclosed] is highly questionable [paraphrasing].

    Caveat Emptor!

    Gary Arseneau
    artist, creator of original lithgraphs & scholar
    Fernandina Beach, Florida

  3. Anonymous says:

    Six of one, half dozen of the other? Yes, it’s obviously not the real thing, and what is perhaps most head-scratching is that it was cast at all, made from plaster molds taken directly from the original marble sculpture in 1932. But, rather than an under-the-table sneaky piece as is implied by a forgery trying to pass as the real thing, it was officially sanctioned, and this one cast by the Fondoria Artistica Fernando Marinelli in 1945. Seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture is the ideal; this work serves merely to whet the appetite rather than satisfy it. The issue of authenticity and copies nonetheless is a prickly thicket we can drag all sorts of things into — Degas bronzes, the cast collection at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, any choice of Duchamp’s “Fountain.” What’s most important is to understand of what one sees, and the degree of authenticity it should be accorded.

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