In the world of museums it would seem unlikely if not downright preposterous to find circus artifacts mingled with fine art, yet that is precisely what visitors find at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida. With a name like Ringling, the circus connection is not surprising – the benefactors of the museum are the famed couple who owned and operated the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for many years. What does surprise is the impressive collection of European, Asian and American paintings and sculptures.
One of numerous galleries displaying the impressive collection of Baroque paintings amassed by John and Mabel Ringling
With the great fortune amassed through their circus, John and Mabel Ringling traveled extensively throughout Europe. In Italy, especially, they developed a passion for fine art, which led to John becoming a regular at New York and London art auctions during the 1920′s. He purchased masterpieces by Rubens, Titian, Velazquez, Hals, Van Dyck, and Gainesborough, as well as a collection of Cypriot, Greek and Roman antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1931, Ringling had built a museum designed after the Renaissance and Baroque palaces and museums of Italy to house their ever-growing collection.
"The Triumph of Divine Love," one of eleven enormous canvases painted by Peter Paul Rubens for his series "The Triumph of the Eucharist"
Immediately inside the front doors of the museum hang five enormous paintings by Peter Paul Rubens from the series titled The Triumph of the Eucharist. At a time when the Catholic Church was losing membership to the newer Protestant denomination, Isabella Clara Eugenia, a devout Catholic and daughter of King Philip II of Spain, commissioned Rubens to paint a set of 11 scenes depicting the Catholic celebration of Eucharist or Mass. The paintings were produced for weavers of the day, who used them as templates to create tapestries that hung on the walls of royal palaces and homes of the wealthy. After Eugenia’s death in 1633, the paintings were dispersed throughout Europe. Four of the originals were destroyed in a fire, two eventually landed in the Louvre Museum in Paris; the remaining five were purchased by the Ringlings in 1926, becoming the only large-scale painting cycle by Rubens outside of Europe. Continue reading