Museum Council

Thomas Michie, Russell B. and Andrée Beauchamp Stearns Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of Europe, reveals the biggest surprise about “Casanova’s Europe.”

Recently there have been more galleries with both paintings and decorative arts. How does that collaboration come about?

With great effort! It is a challenge to incorporate decorative arts and sculpture in our galleries, but I believe they enrich our understanding of the world around us. On a practical level, furniture requires platforms for protection, and smaller objects generally require mounts and pedestals. That involves designers, conservators, mount-makers, carpenters, painters, and installation crew. Before long, the collaborative team becomes quite large, and you can imagine the planning and scheduling that are involved. It’s definitely worth the effort, though, when the product feels greater than the sum of its parts.

What was the biggest surprise about preparing and researching the exhibition “Casanova’s Europe: Art, Pleasure, and Power in the 18th Century”?

This is the largest exhibition I have worked on, and the complexity of negotiating international loans was a learning experience for me. It was also a surprise to realize how different the exhibition looked at each of the three venues. The newest experience for me was working with our Creative and Interactive Media department to produce the video wall at the entrance of the exhibition, plus the three “soundscapes” that accompany the Venice, Paris, and London tableaux. I had no idea how much time and effort are required to produce those.

If you had to live in one of the tableaux, which one would you choose?

I would definitely choose Paris. Imagine living with those glorious Boucher paintings in perpetual morning sunlight! Besides, confinement in a convent is not an appealing option for me, and as much as I would enjoy living in London, I would make a terrible card sharp.

What is your favorite object in the collection and why?

Isn’t that like asking a parent to choose a favorite child? In the Casanova exhibition, I am proudest of the recently acquired gilt bronze wall lights in the Paris vignette. If I could take home just one work of art, it would be very hard for me to choose between the Bartlett Head of Aphrodite (about 330-300 BC) and Donatello’s Madonna of the Clouds (about 1425–35). I can’t imagine ever tiring of looking at either one.