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A Visit to the Gallery

Pier Celestino Gilardi

Artwork Details

A Visit to the Gallery
Pier Celestino Gilardi
oil on canvas
48 in x 40 3/8 in (121.92 cm x 102.55 cm);48 in x 40 3/8 in (121.92 cm x 102.55 cm)
Bequest of Henry C. Lewis


March 28 2009
In A Visit to the Gallery we observe three elegantly dressed museum goers as they sit on a couch observing, in turn, and with apparent delight, the famous classical sculpture of Venus de Medici attempting to cover her nudity. Gilardi brilliantly incorporates a large mirror into the scene, which shows the viewer something of what the women can see but also wittily serves as a prop that instigates Venus’s gesture. Another visual witticism is the juxtaposition of Venus and the heavily clad woman standing to her right in a similar pose: the naked Venus is a forceful reminder of the body hidden under all those layers of dress. The setting of the scene is possibly the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which has housed the Venus de Medici since 1647, when it was removed from Rome by a Pope who felt it was inciting lewd behavior in the citizenry. The sculpture quickly became an icon of the Grand Tour and of feminine beauty.
The subject of art viewing may have been particularly interesting to the painting’s owner, Henry C. Lewis, an avid Michigan art collector who established a gallery in Coldwater, Michigan, to which he welcomed visitors. Lewis’s vast collection was eventually donated to the University of Michigan, where it formed the core of one of the earliest art museums in the United States.

Subject Matter:

Elegantly dressed women in 19th century attire whisper and titter about the sculpture of Venus de’Medici in the center of the room, depicting the goddess in a fleeting pose as she unsuccessfully attempts to cover her nude body with her arms in a gesture of modesty. Gilardi, who places Venus’s back to the viewer, cleverly reveals her front side reflected in a mirror above a settee upon which the women are seated, enabling the viewer to see both the expressions of the women and what it is they are whispering about, creating a witty commentary on the prudish social mores of 19th century puritanical society.

Physical Description:

Two women on a settee dressed in elegant 19th century attire, one holding a fan and the other a parasol, while another richly clad woman leans in close beside them, in a lavishly decorated interior setting with ornately carved gilded walls, a large mirror above the settee, inlaid marble floor, and large vases to either side of the settee. In the center of the room is a sculpture of the Medici Venus on a pedestal with her back to the viewer, her reflection evident in the mirror. Between the base of the sculpture and the viewer is an elaborately carved gilt stool covered with rich red fabric. Beside the sculpture, another woman holding a book walks towards the cluster of women.

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