Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain showcases fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi (died 1801), an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.”
In the early 1760s, Pergolesi moved to London, England, where he helped popularize a neoclassical style that employed ornament inspired by artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome. Brilliantly hued watercolors from Cooper Hewitt’s collection highlight Pergolesi’s skill in transforming ancient relics—what he called “curious Things”—into lighthearted decorative motifs.
Although his name is now largely forgotten, these rarely seen works call attention to Pergolesi’s legacy, to the Beaux-Arts neoclassical decoration of Cooper Hewitt’s historic mansion (built 1897–1902), and to the ways in which ornament of all kinds enlivens our built environment.
Classical reliefs, sarcophagi, frescoes, coins, and gems were frequently copied and readapted by Renaissance artists from the 15th century onwards. Yet it was only in the age of the Enlightenment that a selection of them was canonized, illustrated, and diffused in Europe through antiquarian publications. Scholars and travelers on the Grand Tour viewed antiquity through the lens of these books. Their printed illustrations offered a range of images and symbolic references for artists, decorators, and architects whenever they wanted to quote the Antique in their creations.
In this guided exhibition tour you will encounter fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi, an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.” Tour led by Julia Siemon, Assistant Curator of Paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum.
Join us for a hands-on exploration of the work of 18th-century designer and printmaker Michel Angelo Pergolesi, featured in the upcoming exhibition, Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain.