An epic told through objects: ‘The Habsburgs’ opens at the MIA

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
MIA director Kaywin Feldman with, left to right, Titian's "Danae," Arcimboldo's "Fire" and Correggio's "Jupiter and Io," all part of "The Habsburgs" exhibition at the MIA, on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

In a gilded nutshell, “The Habsburgs,” which opens Sunday at the MIA, is 600 years of history, ambition, politics, propaganda, pageants, religion, power and wealth, represented in 100 objects that range in size from a cameo to a carriage.

There’s the gilded helmet of Archduke Ferdinand II. A gilded silver saber topped with a coral branch. Two jousting knights on horseback. A small bronze Venus tying her sandal, dating from the first century AD. A goblet carved from rhinoceros horn. Paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Velázquez, Caravaggio, Correggio and Hans Holbein the Younger. An ivory Christ on a walnut cross. Rifles overlaid with silver and gold. Silk velvet regalia embroidered with gold. A bust of Julius Caesar from Roman times, paired with a bust in the same style of Habsburg Emperor Francis II. (Get it?) A black velvet gown with an impossibly thin waist. Military dress uniforms embroidered with gold and trimmed in mink. A gilded coach, and a carved and gilded sleigh. It’s a lot of bling.

Who were these people? An inbred family dynasty that shaped the fate of Europe for nearly 650 years. (One result of their inbreeding was the “Habsburg Jaw.” See Jan Thomas’s “Empress Leopold I and Infanta Margaret Theresa.”) On loan from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, this eagerly anticipated show – the first grand gesture of the MIA’s 100th birthday year – tells their story from late medieval times through the end of World War I. Labels provide historical context.

We’ll share with you something we learned during Thursday’s preview that helps puts the whole exhibition in focus. Do see the Caravaggio, the carriage, the alchemical medal and the Golden Fleece regalia, but first find the small glass case with the chalice and the cut rock crystal goblet. Here’s what curator Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner said about them:

“These tiny objects are also the oldest objects in the exhibition, from the 15th century. They belonged to Maximilian’s father, Frederick III, the first Habsburg to have this concept of world rule. He had a motto: AEIOU. You’ll find it on this chalice and goblet, here on the foot. It means ‘It is Austria’s destiny to rule the world.’”

As Kurzel-Runtscheiner explained, world rule was not in the cards for Frederick, but Maximilian took it as his destiny and ran with it. He made a series of brilliant marriages: himself to Mary of Burgundy, their son to Joan of Castile, his grandson to Anna Jagiellon, all heiresses to whole countries. “With three marriages, the Habsburgs in one generation married half of Europe … and led to the most important dynasty on the continent.” It seems that world domination hinges on marrying the right girl, even if she is, sometimes, your sister’s daughter.

See “The Habsburgs” for the spectacle; for insight into how art can be used to impress, legitimize and spin; because it’s here and you can. Introducing the exhibition, MIA director Kaywin Feldman said, “We really aren’t exaggerating when we say this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … It’s an epic story told through masterpiece objects.” Including two recent acquisitions by the MIA. Albrecht Dürer’s “The Triumphal Arch of Maximilian,” at nearly 12 feet tall one of the largest prints on paper ever made, tells a flattering tale of Maximilian’s family lineage, “a lot of it made up.” A rare Habsburg halberd (battle-ax and pike) will stay when “The Habsburgs” moves on. Ends May 10. FMI. Here’s the MIA’s 10-minute video about the show.

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More good news about the Minnesota Orchestra: in May, it will be the first U.S. orchestra to visit Cuba since President Obama announced steps to re-establish diplomatic relations. By invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, music director Osmo Vänskä and the orchestra will travel to Havana and perform two concerts as part of Cuba’s International Cubadisco Festival.

Along with repertoire TBA, the orchestra will perform the Beethoven Choral Fantasy and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” which the orchestra – then called the Minneapolis Symphony – played on its first visit to Cuba in 1929.

“So much has transpired, so much has changed in the world since then,” Vänskä said in a statement. “What has remained constant is the power of this music to affect and build bonds between audiences and performers.”

The tour is made possible by a gift from Marilyn C. and Glen D. Nelson. The musicians have postponed a vacation week.

Art from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is about to do some traveling. While the park is closed for renovation, Brower Hatcher’s “Prophecy of the Ancients,” Mark di Suvero’s “Molecule” and Tony Cragg’s “Ordovician Pore” will move to Gold Medal Park. Jacques Lipchitz’s “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II” will go to the MIA, and Frank Gehry’s “Standing Glass Fish” will be housed in the Gehry-designed Weisman Museum, which is kind of perfect. All will eventually make their way back to the Sculpture Garden. The other artworks will be put into storage. 

Tim Carl has been appointed CEO of HGA Architects and Engineers, one of the top 10 architecture and engineering firms in the U.S. We’ve mentioned Carl here often, as the lead designer for the Nelson Cultural Center addition to the American Swedish Institute, the renovation and expansion of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center at Macalester, the revitalized Northrop at the University of Minnesota and the Ordway’s new Concert Hall, which opens to the public March 1.

In his 17 years with HGA, Carl has brought intelligence and sensitivity to a series of public spaces that support the arts and culture. The pairing of a 33-room French Chateauesque castle (the ASI’s Turnblad Mansion, built in 1908) with a thoroughly modern, Swedish-inspired structure (the Nelson Center) is a warm handshake. The massive, outdated barn that was Northrop is now proudly elegant, gracious and still imposing, but on a human scale. Although it was almost totally gutted during the redo, it retains its rich history. The Concert Hall is a dazzling jewel, respectful of the original Ordway yet gorgeously inventive. We don’t comment on the Janet Wallace only because we haven’t yet been there, an oversight we’ll soon correct. We suspect it will have that Tim Carl thing: it will look great, feel right, serve the arts and welcome us in.

The weekend and a bit beyond

Tonight (Friday, Feb. 13) at Northrop: “Northrop Transformed” opening party. Turning the old Northrop Auditorium into a modern performing arts center and multi-purpose venue took $80 million and three years. This exhibit is a behind-the-scenes look at how Northrop was reborn, as told by HGA Architects and Engineers, who took it on. The firm’s associate vice president, Jim Moore, will be present. 6-8:30 p.m. in the Northrop Gallery, fourth floor. Free and open to the public. Through Jan. 3, 2016.

Tonight at Theatre in the Round: Opening night for Michael Healey’s “The Drawer Boy.” One of the most-produced plays in the country is a tribute to the power of storytelling to change lives. Miles, a young actor, visits the home of two bachelor farmers to research rural life for a new play. Morgan is caring for Angus, who lost his memory during the WWII bombing of London; Angus is called “the drawer boy” because he used to design buildings. Their story unravels during Miles’s questioning. Jamil Jude directs. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($22). Through March 8.

Tonight at Studio Z in Lowertown: Jason Squinobal Quartet featuring Dave Hagedorn, Chris Bates and Cory Healey. Standards and originals on tenor sax, vibes, bass and drums. Squinobal is director of jazz ensembles at the University of Minnesota Morris. 7:30 p.m. FMI. Free.

Tonight through Sunday at the Cowles: Beyond Ballroom Dance Company. This weekend and next are the final performances of the 12-year-old company. The program includes Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” an ensemble piece performed to Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and a Latin dance medley featuring former “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Also Feb. 20-22. FMI and tickets ($30/$35).

Saturday at the movies: “Iolanta/Bluebird’s Castle” Live in HD. Will this new opera double bill prove as popular as “Cav and Pag”? Anna Netrebko and Nadja Michael star. Both are directed by Mariusz Trelinski, who looked to classic noir films of the 1940s. 11:30 a.m. FMI and tickets (you’ll enter your ZIP code).

Sunday at Macalester’s John B. Davis Lecture Hall: Scott McCloud. The author of “Understanding Comics” presents his new graphic novel, “The Sculptor.” In the Ruth Stricker Campus Center at the SW corner of Grand and Snelling. 4 p.m. Free. FMI.

Tuesday at Northrop: Dance Theatre of Harlem. Founded in 1969, Dance Theatre of Harlem was inspired by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Today it is racially diverse and internationally renowned. Its performance here includes Alvin Ailey’s “The Lark Ascending,” set to a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams; Christopher Huggins’ “In the Mirror of Her Mind,” created to benefit Dancers Responding to AIDS; “Agon,” a legendary collaboration between George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky; and Robert Garland’s “Return,” performed to the music of Aretha Franklin and James Brown. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($49/$64/$74). Free performance preview at 6:15 p.m. in the Best Buy Theater.

Tuesday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Verdun, Visions d’Histoire.” A screening of French director Léon Poirier’s 1928 silent WWI classic, with live piano accompaniment by French pianist Hakim Bentchouala-Golobitch. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($5/$6/$8.50).

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