Lust, Love, and Loss in Renaissance Europe

Winter 2021

Passion, violence, and virtue emerge in this exhibition as fundamental, intertwined elements in the artworks of Renaissance Europe.

The objects on view—created for private homes and personal consumption—offer glimpses into the lives of artists and their audiences. Painters, printmakers, and craftsmen, inspired by popular literary sources including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and the Bible, interpreted their stories for everyday settings.

Domestic objects such as painted panels and ceramics celebrated momentous life events, including marriage and childbirth, yet their narratives were not overtly festive. Imagery frequently recounted the dire fates of mismatched lovers, revealing societal anxieties about fidelity and paternity. Large-scale oil paintings echo these ideas in grander formats, highlighting the consequences of moral trespass. Male and female protagonists alike suffer fatal repercussions for their transgressive longings. Meanwhile, in engravings and woodcuts, even happy and passionate couples face the inexorable progression of time. Viewers of these prints, poring over images of hapless lovers pursued by menacing skeletons, confronted the end of earthly pleasures and their own mortality.

Taken together, the works of art on display illuminate the many ways that objects lay at the heart of cultural rituals and consuming desires through which relationships were formed, celebrated, and extinguished.


Image: Master of the Apollo and Daphne Legend, Daphne Fleeing from Apollo, c. 1500, Oil, formerly on panel, transferred to canvas. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1973.45.