Dane Lighthart, Development Officer, Annual Programs and MFA Travel, sat down with Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe, to chat about her history with the MFA, and to preview her upcoming exhibition, “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer.”
DL: What brought you to the MFA?
RB: I was recruited. The position had been open for two years, and many of my professional colleagues had applied. I wasn’t looking for a job and didn’t want to move my family from our home in Atlanta where I was working on an exhibition for the Carlos Museum at Emory University and another for the National Gallery in Washington. But the MFA offered to hold the job for a year and a half as my son finished middle school, and we made the move to Boston just as he started high school.
DL: Speaking of exhibitions, which are you especially proud of?
RB: I am very proud of “El Greco to Velazquez” in 2008, for which I was knighted by the King of Spain. Art history tends to gloss over the period between those artists, but I wanted to explore the connections that linked the two. Sarah Schroth, one of the show’s co-curators, and I were classmates in graduate school, and we had a professor who believed that nothing of great artistic merit occurred during the reign of King Phillip III of Spain. He now uses our exhibition catalogue as a textbook for his class on 17th-century Spanish art!
DL: Are there any paintings in the MFA’s collection that are particular favorites?
RB: Well, two of my favorites happen to be small paintings. One is a 17th-century oil sketch by Rubens, The Sacrifice of the Old Covenant. Rubens was not only a great artist, but a great diplomat, intellectual, and humanist. I love this painting because you can actually see his thinking process as he puts paint on the panel. And, of course, Rembrandt’s The Artist in his Studio, do you want to link to it? on view in the Dutch gallery on the second floor, another small work that appears monumental, with the looming panel dwarfing the artist confronted with the daunting task of putting ideas into paint.
DL: I know you have been busy preparing for your upcoming show “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer,” opening in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery this October. Will you give us a teaser?
RB: We will present 75 17th-century Dutch paintings as well as about 45 objects that will be installed on three tables, one for each of the broad classes: upper, middle, and lower. The point of the show is to encourage viewers to look closely at paintings with an eye to seeing what we can learn about Dutch society of the time. On the most basic level, it will be a great opportunity to see true masterpieces of Dutch painting from all over Europe and North America.