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A Change of Scenery: New Drawings and Prints in Cleopatra's Needle

Femke Speelberg
March 24, 2014

Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae: Circus Maximus
Nicolas Beatrizet (French, 1515–ca. 1566). After Pirro Ligorio (Italian, ca. 1512/13–1583). Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae: Circus Maximus, 1553. Engraving; first state of three. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941 (41.72[1.67])

«Coinciding with the conservation treatment of the obelisk of Thutmose III in Central Park, the current exhibition Cleopatra's Needle focuses on this important Egyptian icon. Through various works of art from the Museum's encyclopedic collection, as well as some important loans from other institutions and private collectors, the show explores the meanings, functions, and manifestations of obelisks, both in their original context in ancient Egypt and later adaptations in western culture.»

The exhibition, on view through June 8, features several works on paper from the collections of the Department of Drawings and Prints. Among others, it includes prints from the sixteenth-century Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae (The Mirror of Roman Magnificance) showing reconstructions of the Circus Maximus and Flaminius in Rome. The large-scale illustration of the transport and installation of the so-called Vatican Obelisk, commissioned by Pope Sixtus V in 1586, is another telling illustration of the importance given to this type of monument in early-modern Italy. Other scenes and designs show the adoption of obelisks in monumental funerary monuments, as focal points in the early-modern cityscape or picturesque elements in landscape capriccios.

Arcadian Landscape with Figures Making Music
Jan van Huysum (Dutch, 1682–1749). Arcadian Landscape with Figures Making Music, early 18th century. Pen and grey ink and watercolor; broad framing line in black ink. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Van Day Truex Fund, 2008 (2008.476)

Due to the fragile nature of works on paper, which are generally on view for a maximum of three to four months at a time to avoid overexposure to light, the drawings and prints in Cleopatra's Needle will be rotated. As of today, a second group of drawings and prints, which includes works by well-known artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Rembrandt van Rijn, will provide the exhibition with a fresh look and new insights.

Landscape with an Obelisk
Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606–1669). Landscape with an Obelisk, ca. 1650. Etching and drypoint; second state of two. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.107.5)

Femke Speelberg

Associate Curator Femke Speelberg joined the Department of Drawings and Prints in 2011 and is responsible for ornament and architectural drawings, prints, and modelbooks. Her work focuses on the history of design and the transmission of ideas. Femke's research is inherently interdisciplinary, connecting works on paper with artworks, objects, and architecture from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. She often collaborates with other Museum departments on installations and publications. She has curated the exhibitions Living in Style: Five Centuries of Interior Design from the Collection of Drawings and Prints (2013) and Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620 (2015).