Radicals, Slayers and Villains

Monday, 26 May, 2014

Over the winter months, the Baillieu library is expected to be a popular location on campus. Not only will it provide shelter to thousands of students escaping the rain, but it will play host to ravenous dragons, child-gorging bears, revengeful deities, erotic Biblical heroines, stoic thinkers, and feisty political assassinators? All these characters are part of the free Radicals, Slayers and Villains exhibition, on display at the Noel Shaw Gallery until 3 August.

Exhibition curator Kerrianne Stone found her inspiration in enquiries made about the print collection by researchers and students. “People were interested in violent and bizarre prints, and they were subjects that fascinated me also,” Stone explains. “I wanted to develop an exhibition which would show the incredible range of images in the collection which would appeal to present day audiences.”

Many prints in this exhibition will intrigue and delight viewers. Among the highlights are Charlotte Corday (1823, by Henri Grevedon), which depicts a striking young woman who was guillotined for the assassination of Jean-Paul Morat. Then there’s Apollo flaying Marsyas: the judgement of Midas (1581, by Melchior Meier), which depicts the graphic skinning of Marsyas as punishment for challenging Apollo’s prowess in music. Just as brutal is Nicholaes de Bruyn’s Massacre of the innocents (1612), an interpretation of the Biblical massacre informed by de Bruyn’s own experience of the Sacking of Antwerp in 1576.

While the focus of the exhibition is on the Old Masters, several radical artists of recent times also feature. These include controversial British artist Eric Gill (1882-1940), Australia’s own Lionel Lindsay (1874-1961), and Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Kollwitz was the first woman admitted to the Prussian Academy of Arts and was later expelled and threatened with incarceration by the Gestapo for her revolutionary art and political views.

Many of the prints on display illustrate great moments and figures in world literature. This is emphasised by the presence of several extraordinarily rare books, including Homer’s Iliad, Livy’s History of Rome, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Latin Vulgate Bible, Luther’s Disputations, Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Nuremberg Chronicle. Stone notes that these books demonstrate the broader context and history of print material, reflecting that Baillieu is first and foremost a library. “People who visit libraries have a love and appreciation for books; it was also important to show them as works of art among the visual feast in Radicals, Slayers and Villains.”  When the exhibition travels to regional Victoria in August, these beautiful books will not be journeying with it, so students are advised to take advantage of the opportunity to view them while they are on display here.

A unique feature of this exhibition is the inclusion of an iBook for kids, a first for a Baillieu library exhibition. The iBook was created by Cassandra Johnston, a Master of Executive Arts student who did an internship with the print collection. For Stone, engaging with new technology enables the Old Masters to “come to life, while making them current and relevant to audiences today”. For people who don’t own an iPad, they can borrow one from the IT Help Desk on the ground floor of the Baillieu Library in order to access the iBook.

Stone recommends that students preoccupied with exams seek out, at the very least, the prints by Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Nicolaes de Bruyn and Francisco de Goya. After all, Radicals, Slayers and Villains offers a unique opportunity for students and staff to see some historic and captivating works. Stone expects patrons to leave surprised, intrigued and inspired. But she is most exciting about students discovering the Old Master printmakers for the first time. “Students will find that these works of art are technically and visually astounding and that the themes depicted, such as the role of the individual in society, are universal and will resonate with them.”

Radicals, Slayers and Villains: Prints from the Baillieu Library will be a major feature of the university’s biennial Cultural Treasures Festival in July 2014.