Pilgrims of Beauty: Art and Inspiration in 19th Century Italy
“Pilgrims of Beauty” will be a collection show surveying works of art made in or about Italy by the international range of artists who visited and worked there in the 19th century, including landscapes, portraits, historical and religious scenes, and genre subjects, comprising roughly 60 works on paper, paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts objects.
Throughout the 19th century, Italy educated and inspired visitors through its landscape, history, architecture, and art collections, serving as a catalyst for the creation of a wide variety of beautiful and innovative works of art. As the foremost destination for artistic study for artists from across Europe and from the United States, Italy was also a cultural crossroads where these “pilgrims of beauty” met and learned from one another’s work. Through works of art which demonstrate this culture of intellectual collaboration and stylistic experimentation, viewers of this exhibition will appreciate how the 19th century Grand Tour to Italy was not only a visual “pilgrimage” to celebrated sites, but also a transformative journey in which these sites became stages for professional growth and self-discovery as artists and art lovers.
The 19th century is one of the least studied chapters within the artistic history of Italy, and this exhibition will be the first English-language show and publication to emphasize the international character of the art world in Italy in this period and the diversity of artistic practices fostered by travel here. It thereby offers a more accurate and comprehensive presentation of this cultural milieu, while also challenging the centrality of Paris within most existing narratives of the history of 19th-century art. Finally, the exhibition will introduce several under-studied artists and striking but rarely-exhibited objects from the RISD collection, paired with some of the Museum’s most esteemed and beautiful works of art.
Throughout the 19th century, the landscape, history, architecture, and art of Italy served as a tremendous source of inspiration for artists. Masters such as Ingres, Turner, Sargent, and Whistler were among those who benefitted from, and contributed to, the spirit of artistic experimentation and collaboration Italy offered.
Featuring more than 60 works of art—including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and jewelry, all drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection—Pilgrims of Beauty is a window into the array of styles and approaches that emerged from Italy in this period.
Pilgrims of Beauty is made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by Shawmut Design and Construction.