The Uses of Art in Renaissance Italy

March 9 – August 22, 2004

Colorfully decorated earthenware, ornately cast bronze, and masterfully painted wood panels from Renaissance Italy still catch the attention of modern museum visitors many years after they were made. 

While each artifact was certainly created with a keen eye and an artist's hand, many factors, beyond beauty, influenced its form and decoration. The original settings for these objects—the church, the home, and the public palace—reveal a great deal about why they were initially produced and admired. Drawing principally on the Smart Museum's permanent collection, The Uses of Art in Renaissance Italy considered the daily life of strikingly diverse objects: a silver reliquary, a marble tabernacle, an embroidered chasuble, a birth bowl—as well as altarpieces, works on paper and a selection of important medals. By focusing on original sites of display, engagement, and interaction, the exhibition called attention to the rich interplay of form and function in early modern material culture and situates the contemporary notion of "art" within its historical context.