Published May 21, 2019 by Bowdoin College

Museum of Art Launches Major Medieval and Renaissance Art Show

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has received a multiyear loan of more than 100 works of art from the Wyvern Collection, a premier private collection of medieval and Renaissance art, which it will preview in a short-term installation this month.
Wyvern Eagle Pins

Thuringia (Germany), Two Eagle Fibulae, fifth century, gold and gemstone (garnet). Wyvern Collection.

Then, beginning in August of 2020, the Museum will present the first dedicated exhibition of the collection in North America, providing new insights into this medieval visual culture and displaying many of these works publicly for the first time.

With this loan, the quantity, quality, and diversity of medieval and Renaissance objects available for viewing and study at Bowdoin will be unsurpassed among small liberal arts colleges in the United States.

The 2020 exhibition also builds upon the success and scholarly rigor of the Museum’s 2017 international loan exhibition and catalogue Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe.

The Wyvern Collection has key strengths in ivory carving and enamels, small-scale sculptures, and jewelry from the early Middle Ages across Europe and the Mediterranean.

The selection on loan to Bowdoin College Museum of Art will include:

  • Over eighty examples of metalwork, stone and wood sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts from the European Middle Ages and Renaissance
  • Sculpture in wood, stone, and precious metals from West and Central Africa
  • Painting, wood sculpture, and metalwork from the Christian community of Ethiopia, dating from the medieval period into the twentieth century
  • Three remarkable stone sculptures from ancient Egypt, with dates ranging from the 8th century BCE to the 1st century CE


Access and Visibility for an Important Collection

The placement of this collection on loan at the Museum offers a significant opportunity for increased access to and visibility of these objects. The collection as a unit has only been previously exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2005; select individual works have been lent to a few major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Museum visitors and students will have a chance to preview the collection through an intimate installation of approximately twenty-five works on view May 23–June 2, 2019.

Bowdoin faculty and the Museum’s curatorial staff will investigate the collection in a year-long research project led by Stephen Perkinson, professor of art history and associate dean for academic affairs, and Kathryn Gerry, visiting assistant professor of art history. Following this period of focused study, the Museum of Art will present a major exhibition of the material, from August 2020 to February 2021. The Wyvern Collection will remain on loan at Bowdoin through 2022.

“With a collection dedicated for over two centuries to enhancing the education of Bowdoin students, the Museum’s holdings now consist of nearly 25,000 objects, ranging in medium, time period, and geographic origin,” said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “The loan from the Wyvern Collection meaningfully strengthens the Museum’s offerings in medieval and Renaissance art, while reinforcing its historic and continued commitment to object-centered teaching and learning.”

A Global Context, a Wellspring of Research Potential

“The Wyvern Collection not only provides outstanding examples of art from the Medieval and early Renaissance era—in addition to select masterworks from antiquity and later periods—but also puts those works into a global context," Museum Co-director Anne Collins Goodyear said. "Ethiopian devotional paintings, for example, will expand our ability to demonstrate the cultural exchange between Africa and the broader Mediterranean world during this period in the pre- and early modern era. As the only transhistorical and transnational museum in our region and as part of a leading liberal arts college, the Wyvern Collection enables the Museum to share with our public an expanded view of historic global communication and cultural exchange.”

The Wyvern Collection is considered one of the world’s most important private collections of medieval art, according to Perkinson. “The objects it includes cover a truly remarkable range of artistic forms and materials, bearing exceptional witness to the creativity and ingenuity of artists in this period,” he said. “It is an honor to be able to bring this collection to the US for the first time, presenting its works to our students as critical resources for learning, and sharing them with our broader community and region.”

The research project will include student courses led by Gerry and other faculty in the departments of art history, history, religion, English, Classics, and Africana studies. “The objects in this loan will have a tremendous impact on teaching across the Bowdoin campus,” Gerry said. “This past spring, my students and I used some of the pieces in the Wyvern Collection to explore issues of gender, sexuality, and race in medieval art, and I am thrilled that students were able to supply new perspectives on some of these works through exhibition labels they wrote for the preview installation this May. I have developed a new course centered on this collection for the fall, and I know the students are as excited as I am by the opportunity to generate new ideas and research working with this impressive group of objects.”