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Museum of Art Courtyard Sculpture

Museum of Art Courtyard Sculpture

The courtyard of The Ringling Museum of Art has been a place of respite, study, and gathering since the museum first opened in 1930. Taking its design inspiration from Italian Renaissance villas, the courtyard functions as an outdoor extension of the building’s interior galleries. Since the museum’s founding, the courtyard has presented works of sculpture in both its ample surrounding loggia and symmetrically-ordered garden parterres below. The arrangement of statues in The Ringling courtyard intentionally evokes the long history of outdoor sculpture display in garden and villa settings and acknowledges the special delight that comes from experiencing art and nature at the same time.

The sculpture in the courtyard are reproductions of some of the most famous works in Western art. The museum’s founder, John Ringling, recognized the educational value of amassing a collection of such copies at a time when few examples of sculptural masterworks could be seen in the southeastern United States.

Most of the statues on display here were produced by the Fonderia Chiurazzi, a family-run foundry opened in Naples, Italy, in the latter half of the 19th century. Chiurazzi was one of several firms licensed to take casts of statues from important museum collections in Italy and abroad and to reproduce them in a variety of sizes and materials. With showrooms in Naples and Rome, the Chiurazzi foundry advertised principally to the large market of wealthy foreign travelers wishing to purchase copies of their favorite masterworks. When John Ringling traveled to Naples in 1925, he ordered dozens of statues, most of them bronze copies of ancient works, with a few examples from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods, making The Ringling one of the largest repositories of Chiurazzi bronzes in the United States.

Mr. Ringling selected many copies of canonical statues from ancient Greece and Rome; that is, works which were thought to exemplify the highest levels of achievement of ancient Western art. The fame of some works represented here stretches back to the early 16th century, when they were discovered and displayed in famous Renaissance collections, while others were not discovered until the 18th century, during excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. By Mr. Ringling’s day, it had become typical for museums to display reproductions of famous ancient statues such as these, since they had become icons of Western cultural heritage.

Reading Ancient Sculpture

Many of the ancient statues that survive in museums and private collections are Roman copies or reinterpretations (usually in marble) of Greek originals (usually in bronze), most of which are now lost. Those Roman versions, buried after centuries of conflict and neglect, were unearthed with great interest and enthusiasm during the Renaissance, though seldom did they survive in one piece. Statues were invariably repaired and pieced together, not always in the correct orientation. The copies on display at The Ringling reflect the state of preservation at the time the casts were made.

The two periods of Greek sculpture best represented here are the Classical (510-323 BC), characterized by an interest in showing an idealized human form arranged in restrained poses, like the Apollo Citharoedus, and the Hellenistic (323-31 BC), typified by a wider range of mythological subject matter and a fascination with the emotive, twisting figure, as in the Laocoön. The Romans, while able copyists, did not produce a comparable set of masterpieces, although they excelled in portraiture, exemplified here by Lucius Verus.