The Little Art Museum who Could (and did)

I just came across this art museum in America who have been putting on shows of  Italian masters such as Michelangelo (2015), Caravaggio, da Vinci and currently, Botticelli “the Search for the Divine”. Can you guess which one?

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Admittedly, the title on this article is a giveaway that it’s NOT at a huge New York gallery… but it’s at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The who?  The what? The where?

“We’re really punching above our weight class, being a modest-sized university museum,” says Muscarelle director and CEO Aaron De Groft. Under the leadership of De Groft and the Italian art scholar and curator Dr. John T. Spike, the small museum at the College of William & Mary has built up a track record over the past decade of ambitious shows of Italian old masters. Within its small footprint on campus, the Muscarelle has hosted shows dedicated to Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and da Vinci. “We’re taking on these great artists befitting of our ancient university,” De Groft says.

The whole of that article is worth reading for any curator or museum owner wondering how to do great things.  Funds have been raised from a microscopic $375,000 in 2005 to $3.5 million in 2015 with $1.7 million private gifts in 2016.  On top of this, acknowledged important sources of revenue are memberships, admission, rental fees and the sale of books and posters.  The permanent collection of the gallery includes Georgia O’Keefe and Picasso which is a good resource to start with.

But what does the Director attribute as the main reason for success?

Dr. Spike’s three decades of scholarship and connections in Florence have been essential to putting on these shows. “It’s all about relationships,” he says, “without the relationships you have no real in, no beckoning power.”

“This is one in a series of exhibitions that have built upon relationships and opportunities with our Italian colleagues,” De Groft says of the Botticelli show. That series began in 2011, with a small show of Michelangelo drawings, which was made possible through Spike and De Groft’s relationships with the Casa Buonarroti, the Michelangelo museum in Florence that loaned the show’s 12 works.

What a treat for pictures such as these to be viewable in America, many miles from Italy.  Who knows what this will inspire?  Major shows of art have always been a giant inspiration and turning point for young artists, as even a cursory view of art history will reveal.  In twenty or thirty years, perhaps, a new major artist will talk of how these powerful pictures inspired a change in visual direction.


Sandro Botticelli and Workshop, Judgement of Paris, 1485-1488. Giorgio Cini Foundation, Galleria di Palazzo, Venice. Image courtesy of the Muscarelle Museum of Art & Museum of Fine Arts Boston.


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