Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Duke of Orleans Collection at NOMA

What's in a name? Because Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, was the interim French Regent standing in for France's boy king, Louis XV, who was just 8 years old in 1718 when Nola was founded, he was ripe for having a city named after him. But who was he, really, and what did he have to do with us? The 40 masterworks from his “Orleans” collection may initially remind us that piety and royal pomposity were the dominant themes of his time, but numerous picaresque scenes of mythic deities acting out their all too human intrigues provide lots of quirky counterpoint. Antoine Dieu's “Allegory of Philippe, duc d'Orléans,” right, portrait of him surrounded by mythic deities astride a world globe evokes a vintage carnival ball invitation while reassuringly complementing works where familiar figures like Bacchus share space with stuffy French royals and tortured martyrs. Close inspection reveals that Philippe was a collector with an unusually finely honed personal aesthetic. He even studied painting, and his artistic flair affected not only what he chose to collect, but also his curatorial vision, providing a sense of how our city's namesake might really be a long lost relation after all.

Rather than arranging his collection in the formal topical manner of his time, he apparently hung work according to his own unique visual instincts, so a somber religious tableau might share space with a suggestive nude scene like Alessandro Alori's "Venus Disarming Cupid," above -– a sensibility replicated in our local street schemes where Piety and Desire coexist in close proximity. Similarly, Nicolas Poussain's “Ecstasy of St. Paul” view of the holy martyr ascending to the heavens might also pass for a disoriented Greek deity struggling to find his way back Mt. Olympus. Organized by NOMA’s Senior Research Curator of European Art, Vanessa Schmid, these masterworks, loaned by leading museums across Europe and America, reflect the essence of a unique sensibility that influenced the future direction of European art and collecting. It is a complicated sensibility that unexpectedly resonates with the unconventional spirit of the American city that bears his name. ~Bookhardt / “The Orleans Collection:” Forty Masterworks from the Duke of Orleans Collection, Through Jan. 27th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.