Just remembered how much Bronzino fucking rules.
Just remembered how much Bronzino fucking rules. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery
Amidst all the bad news, there is some good. Last month, the wonderful Bellevue Arts Museum brought on curator, historian, and writer Lane Eagles as the new associate curator (Yes!!! In this pandemic!!!). In a recent interview, Eagles told me the job is a "dream come true" for her, having fallen in love with BAM's excellent curatorial work while studying art history at the University of Washington.

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Eagles has hit the ground running in the past several weeks: she has been at work on Pulped Under Pressure: The Art of Handmade Paper (it just opened!), the BAM Biennial 2021, and an upcoming Alden Mason retrospective. She said she's also been thinking a lot about how the museum can "help grow the conversation about PNW glass so that it continues to celebrate megastar glassmakers, while also spotlighting a wider circle of artists and approaches."

In the place of a more traditional interview, I asked Eagles a couple of questions about art that made her want to become a curator. Here are two of the ornate and macabre pieces she chose:

by Hans Baldung Grien

Germany, ca. 1510-1530, oil on panel

Thats a decomposing Adam on Eves right hand side. Also, do you think Hans knew what a snake looked like?
That's a decomposing Adam on Eve's right hand side. Also, do you think Hans knew what a snake looked like? Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada

Okay, big question, but: What piece or experience of art made you want to study it for the rest of your life?
EAGLES: In undergrad, I was skimming through my Gardner’s Art Through the Ages textbook and was struck by Hans Baldung Grien’s "Eve, the Serpent, and Death" (early 1510-1530s). I couldn’t stop staring at it. It’s gruesome, dark, and the paint is laid down beautifully, but what really affected me was the look on Eve’s face. Baldung Grien (who I would later learn was likely deeply misogynist and possibly terrified of women) painted an Eve who seems proud of herself that she caused the proverbial downfall of mankind. She looks like she planned the whole thing. It was the moment I realized a single work of art from five hundred years ago can speak, and can be read as deeply as a poem or a novel. Art is possibility.

by Bronzino

Italy, ca. 1545, oil on panel

Check out the drip.
Check out the drip. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery
You studied dress and femininity in the Italian Renaissance. What’s the sickest garment you’ve encountered in a painting?

There are so many fabulous moments in fashion history, and in early modern dress in particular, but if I were to choose one, I think I would pick Bronzino’s 1545 "Eleanora di Toledo with her son Giovanni." Eleanora was a Spanish noblewoman married into the Medici of Florence, a family who reshaped Italian history and had a hand in promoting basically every Renaissance artist anyone’s every heard of. In many ways she was an atypical Renaissance lady; she was a businesswoman, philanthropist, art patroness, and politician.

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And just look at her dress. White silk overlaid with black-and-gold brocade with gold braid trim and slashed sleeves. In typical Renaissance ostentation, she’s wearing as much jewelry as possible: not just multiple necklaces but a snood, waistlet, and partlet all made of gold and pearls.

Eleanora died in 1562. Then, in 2004, her remains where exhumed by a group of Italian researchers, and her dress was removed and is now on display at the Palazzo Pitti Costume Gallery. Not the exact dress she wore to pose for Bronzino, but a very similar cut and construction. It’s so macabre, but also a thrilling moment for fashion historians, as it’s one of the few surviving ensembles from the period. The sheer amount of fabric in the skirt is astounding. Apparently it took 12 years to restore.

And this gown drew me to my job! In 2013-2014 BAM’s exhibition A World of Paper, A World of Fashion: Isabelle de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny featured de Borchgrave’s to-scale paper recreation of Eleanora’s gown in the Bronzino portrait. It was one of my favorite shows at BAM, and such a powerful way to bring historical fashion into contemporary art.