Date: Fri 07-May-1999
AA BOOK REVIEW: A Renaissance Treasury: The Flagg Collection of European
Decorative Arts and Sculpture by Laurie Winters in Collaboration with Joseph
R. Bliss. Essays by Charles Avery and Russell Bowman. Entries by Joseph R.
Bliss, Jody Clowes, Elizabeth Aurusoff de Ferandez-Gimenez, Annemarie Sawkins,
Jennifer Van Schmus, W. David Todd, Barry Wind and Laurie Winters. Hudson
Hills Press, 1999, 176 pages, $50 hardcover.
The Richard and Erna Flagg collection, formed over six decades and given and
loaned to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1991, is one of the most important
single donations of earlier European decorative arts to an American museum. It
includes unique and historically significant objects that provide insight into
the culture, religion, and history of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Although enormously varied in style and country of origin, these works are
united in their emphasis on virtuoso displays of craftsmanship, technical
innovation, intricate artistry and precious materials.
The Flaggs began to collect decorative arts in their native Germany, but much
of their original collection was lost due to the Second World War, which
forced them to flee to the United States. They eventually settled in
Milwaukee, rebuilt the family tanning business, and resumed their collecting
Highlights of this collection include domestic and liturgical masterpieces;
rare and visually stunning clocks; tablewares and vessels; cabinets with
exquisite inlays of ivory and precious stones, and larger furniture with
complex intarsia inlays and carved moldings; and intricately tooled metalwork.
Clocks from the nucleus of the Flagg collection the German Renaissance
examples are especially prized for their combined feats of mechanization and
surface embellishment. Among them are a Seventeenth Century tower clock by
Ludwig Hyrschottel that fulfills all of the Augsburg guild requirements for a
"masterpiece" clock; Sixteenth Century Italian and Swiss bracket clocks; and a
Seventeenth Century clock in the form of a dromedary.
Tablewares in the Flagg collection include a Limoges ewer by Pierre Reymond,
gilt and ivory tankards, a banqueting cup by Christoph Leipzig executed as his
official "masterpieces" for entry into a guild, and glasswares with gilded and
enameled ornamentation, among them the Nef Ewer, an extraordinarily rare
example of Sixteenth Century Venetian glassmaking.
Among the religious works in the Flagg collection are paintings, house altars,
a Limoges processional cross, a silver flamboyant-style Gothic monstrance,
ivory and gilt corpus figures, and a beautifully carved and polychromed
sculpture, "Saint George Slaying the Dragon."
A Renaissance Treasury was designed and produced with a visual opulence to
match the collection it celebrates. It catalogues 112 objects in all; of
these, 77 are reproduced, most in color, with authoritative commentary on
their formal, social and religious significance.
Highlights of The Flagg Collection of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture
have been circulating on a national exhibition. Upcoming venues include the
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee; and the Canton Center for Visual Arts
at Stanford University.
Laurie Winters studied at the Universities of Toledo and Michigan (Ann Arbor)
and taught at Rhode Island College before becoming associate curator of
Earlier Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Charles Avery is an independent consultant in England, having worked
previously at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Christie's. His books include
Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture,
Bernini, Genius of the Baroque and Donatello: An Introduction.
Joseph R. Bliss now lives in Cleveland where he is an independent art
Russell Bowman is director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, having worked earlier
at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. His publications include Making
Marks: Drawings in the 20th Century from Picasso to Kiefer and Philip
Pearlstein: The Complete Paintings as well as many essays on folk art.