Gateway to the Modern World

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 The 17th Century: Gateway to the Modern World
Special Exhibition at Jamestown Settlement
November 16, 2011-August 15, 2012

Portrait of Andrea Barbarigo, 1569,
Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto,
Italian, oil on canvas. Virginia Museum
of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins
C. Williams Fund.
The transformational impact of scientific advances, economic developments and social change found expression in “The 17th Century: Gateway to the Modern World,” a special exhibition at Jamestown Settlement organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in cooperation with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Sixty-five objects from the VMFA collection were selected to illustrate seven themes in the exhibition, which ran November 16, 2011, through August 15, 2012.

Highlighting the theme “The World of the Mediterranean” was a Tintoretto portrait of Andrea Barbarigo, who commanded a Venetian galley during the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, the last major naval battle fought by oar-powered ships. Although this battle effectively stopped the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe,
new technologies required to navigate the Atlantic in the following century swiftly made the Mediterranean fleets obsolete, which changed the balance of power, trade and influence on the continent. The continued influence of Italian culture throughout the 17th century was reflected in several artworks in this section of the exhibition.

“Westward Ho! Conquest of the Atlantic” featured early 17th-century portraits of Sir Thomas Dale, who served as marshal and subsequently deputy governor in Virginia between 1611 and 1616, and Captain Robert Adams, who made several voyages to Virginia, including one in 1609 as captain of the Blessing.


Inca drinking vessel.jpg

Inca drinking vessel,
Peruvian,17th century,
wood and lacquer. VMFA,
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund.

Among eight objects in “Religious Conflicts: Reformation and Counter Reformation” were a stove tile depicting Duke Heinrich the Pious of Saxony and an Inca drinking vessel from Peru that incorporates Spanish influences into its traditional design.

Supporting the theme “Enlightenment! New Philosophies and Technologies” were a portrait of John Locke, whose views on government and natural rights influenced the leaders of the American Revolution; depictions of figures associated with mathematics; early maps of Virginia; and a copy of John Ogilby’s 1671 book America: being the latest, and most accurate description of the New World ....

“New Trade Routes and Products” presented an array of objects from India – a huqqa for smoking through water, a metal bowl and six watercolor scenes – and China – a porcelain sculpture of Guanyin, Buddhist symbol of compassion, and porcelain and metal containers.

Guanyin Enthroned with Her Acolytes,
Chinese, first half to mid-17th century,
Ming or early Qing Dynasty, blanc de
Chine porcelain. VMFA, Bequest of
Forrest R. Brauer.

The increased importance of tableware fueled the production of silver products in the 17th century, and late in the century large numbers of French Huguenot silversmiths fled to England to escape religious persecution. A variety of English-made objects – including two-handled cups, spoons and a monteith bowl – illustrated the theme “Silver and Silversmiths.”

“Portraits: Faces of the New Century” showed the diversity of the portrait genre in the 17th century. Along with oil paintings were a medal of Henri IV and Marie de Medicis, a commemorative head from the Akan culture of West Africa, and two needlework scenes, one of the coronation of James I.

“The 17th Century: Gateway to the Modern World” was supported with grants from James City County and Altria Group and other private donors.

See the exhibition brochure.


A lecture by Twyla Kitts of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,"Captains, Monarchs, Philosophers, and Merchants: Picturing the 17th Century."

Administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia that is accredited by the American Association of Museums.
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