‘African Presence in Renaissance Europe,’ at Walters Museum





BALTIMORE — In a fall art season distinguished, so far, largely by a bland, no-brainer diet served up by Manhattan’s major museums, you have to hit the road for grittier fare. And the Walters Art Museum here is not too far to go to find it in a high-fiber, convention-rattling show with the unglamorous title of “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.”

Visually the exhibition is a gift, with marvelous things by artists familiar and revered — Dürer, Rubens, Veronese — along with images most of us never knew existed. Together they map a history of art, politics and race that scholars have begun to pay attention to — notably through “The Image of the Black in Western Art,” a multivolume book project edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr. — but that few museums have addressed in full-dress style.

Like the best scholarship, the Walters show, organized by Joaneath Spicer, the museum’s curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, is as much about questions as answers, and makes no bones about that. Many wall labels begin with an interrogative, suggesting that a museum visitor’s reading of a particular image carries as much weight as the curator’s....



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