Walker Art Gallery’s Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque treasures return to public display in July

More than three years since their galleries closed for refurbishment, the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque treasures of the Walker Art Gallery return to public display on 29 July 2023.  

‘Renaissance Rediscovered’ presents the Walker’s renowned collection of Western European art from the 13th to the 18th century. Masterpieces such as Simone Martini’s ‘Christ Discovered in the Temple’, Holbein’s ‘Portrait of Henry VIII’, and Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait as a Young Man’ feature in the elegant new spaces.

New acquisitions join this spectacular collection for the first time, including ‘Allegory of Painting and Music’, the first painting by Giovanni Andrea Sirani to enter a UK public collection, and ‘Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Marble Ledge’ by 17th-century Dutch artist, Willem van Aelst.

Other iconic artists represented include Titian, Lavinia Fontana, Peter Paul Rubens and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Kate O’Donoghue, Curator of International Fine Art, said, “The opening of ‘Renaissance Rediscovered’ marks an exciting chapter in the history of the Walker, creating beautiful spaces for some of the Gallery’s most magnificent treasures.

“Through remarkable paintings, prints, drawings, decorative art and sculpture, the galleries explore centuries of human creativity and expression. With fresh interpretation and thoughtful design, they will also explore stories that have been historically excluded in these spaces. 

“We hope this transformation will allow visitors not only to marvel at the considerable skill and artistry on display but also to appreciate that however many centuries separate us, art will always find ways for us to connect with our past.”

The UK Government gave £4million towards this project and other works at National Museums Liverpool, to support its collection’s care. ‘Renaissance Rediscovered’ is also funded by Art Fund, Tavolozza Foundation, Henry Moore Foundation and Art Friends Merseyside.

The infrastructure work, combined with the interior fit-out, gives an overall project cost of around £4.5 million.  

This distinguished collection has its origins with Liverpool collector and MP, William Roscoe (1753-1831). When facing bankruptcy in 1816, Roscoe sold his art collection and the Liverpool Royal Institution, made up of associates and friends of Roscoe, bought many of his paintings which went on to form a core part of the Walker’s collection. Many members and founders of the Liverpool Royal Institution made their fortunes through slavery and related businesses. ‘Renaissance Rediscovered’ is part of the Walker’s ongoing work to address its links to slavery, colonialism and empire.

The galleries feature fresh interpretation and research, sharing previously underrepresented and diverse stories, including Black, LGBTQ+ and women’s histories. Although centuries old, the subject matter these works explore are powerful themes – faith, family, diversity, migration – that remain relevant to audiences today. 

New environmental controls mean the Walker Art Gallery’s extraordinary collection of works on paper will have a dedicated gallery for the first time. The Walker holds a collection of more than 8,350 drawings, prints and watercolours by British and international artists, many of which have never been shown before. The Prints and Drawings Gallery will show a selection of these beautiful and delicate pieces, by artists including Peter Paul Rubens, Elisabetta Sirani, Domenichino and Guido Reni, for the opening of ‘Renaissance Rediscovered’.

Ceramics, ivory and alabaster carvings, glass, metalwork, jewellery, and textiles dating from 1200 to 1700 also feature. Many of these objects were among 14,000 pieces presented to Liverpool Museum in 1867 by local goldsmith, Joseph Mayer (1803-1867).

A digital interactive will bring to life one of the largest pieces on display, ‘The Triumph of Fortitude’ (Brussels, about 1525). This large tapestry, about 4 metres x 5.5 metres in size, is so overwhelming it’s easy to miss fascinating details. For the first time the brave and compelling female characters from mythology and the Old Testament featured within the tapestry will be under the spotlight in this new dynamic interactive.

Visitors can support this new chapter for the Walker Art Gallery with an exciting new fundraiser  A limited-edition tote bag features the new acquisition ‘Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Marble Ledge’ by Willem van Aelst. A striking gift for the first 100 donors to donate £50, the painting is typical of the vanitas style, giving an initial impression of beauty and opulence but on closer inspection things are not quite as they seem.

Image: NML ‘Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Marble Ledge’ by Willem van Aelst

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