Exhibition - Heritage in Focus: Franz von Rohden’s Crucifixion at Ushaw College
This exhibition focuses on a rare and largely neglected masterpiece by the Nazarene artist Franz von Rohden (1817-1903) currently preserved at Ushaw College. The painting, which depicts the Crucifixion of Our Lord with the Virgin Mary, St John and Mary Magdalene (1854), exemplifies the artistic creed of the Nazarene school of painting, founded in Rome by a group of dissident German artists in the early nineteenth century and characterised by the radical recourse to the pictorial repertoire of Italian pre-modern masters. While still relatively unknown in England today, the Nazarene movement exerted a tremendous influence on European Romanticism, the Gothic Revival and the British Pre-Raphaelites. The exhibition is organized by Dr Stefano Cracolici (MLaC) under the aegis of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Centre of Visual Arts and Cultures, the Institute of Advanced Study and the Centre for Catholic Studies.
Ushaw College presently preserves the largest and most revealing collection of Nazarene art in the country, and, in particular, the largest collection of Rohden’s paintings in the world. Strongly connected to the ‘Rome in the World Project’, led by Dr Cracolici (CVAC) and sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust, the exhibition offers a unique opportunity to IAS fellows to engage with an aspect of this project related to this year’s IAS annual theme. Contemporary art critics praised Rohden’s art for his special use of light and colours. In the artwork here exhibited, the particular use of light acquires a symbolic meaning – the miraculous darkening of the sky accompanying the death of Christ. The artistic rendering of this ominous effect chimes in various ways with the IAS theme of the year – ‘light’.
During the time of the exhibition, the World Heritage Visitor Site Centre will transform itself into a laboratory – Dr Cracolici and Prof Beeby (Chemistry) will conduct a pilot spectrographic analysis of the painting’s colours, through a non-invasive technique already adopted to study the ink of Durham Cathedral’s manuscripts. This would allow the Durham team to verify whether Rohden employed pigments commonly used in the pre-modern period. If confirmed, this would suggest that not only Rohden was inspired by pre-modern models stylistically, but that he also tried to revive the pictorial techniques of the great old masters, opening new and exciting vistas on current Nazarene research.
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