Every era chooses its stars. And each epoch that follows determines whether their light will fade or shine even brighter. Wouldn’t we just love to know which famous figures of our time will still enthuse our great-grandchildren? Knowing the answer to that is a privilege held by the art of centuries long past.
Agostino Carracci and Hendrick Goltzius are amongst those who succeeded. They were the leading engravers of the late 16th century – one in Italy and the other in the Netherlands –, and even today their works are shown in exhibitions, traded on the art market, discussed in seminars and taken by artists as sources of inspiration.
Yet surprisingly, the two artists have never before been confronted in an exhibition. For, in addition to their success as engravers, there are further parallels: both were interested in literature and art theory, and each of them founded an academy in his own hometown. Independently of one another, they both discovered the illusionistic potential of lines that swell and taper and made an important contribution to the development of the engraving technique, paving the way for the print of the baroque era. Despite their outstanding success in the medium of print, both of them, in older age, turned increasingly to painting instead.

The exhibition, however, does more than simply draw the parallels in their lives. It also seeks the points of interaction between them. In order to show how these two artists acknowledged and influenced one another, the entire thematic spectrum of their work is presented, from devotional images to portraiture to explicitly erotic images. The varying functions of these pictures is reflected in the use of different formats: while some of the works on display are the size of a postage stamp, others are as large as a tabletop.

The curators of the exhibition are Dr. Susanne Pollack of the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich and Dr. Samuel Vitali of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

A collaboration between Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich and the Chair of the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zürich, Prof. Dr. Maarten Delbeke

In architecture, the cornice is an element that hides in plain sight. Omnipresent as the more or less elaborate junction of roof and wall, or wall and ceiling, the cornice seems to have attracted far less attention from architects, critics or theoreticians than, for instance, columns or the architectural orders. Still, closer scrutiny suggests otherwise. The cornice has incurred the wrath of modernists at the beginning of the 20st century; it has been identified as the most expressive part of architecture, and drawn attention to itself in drawings, etchings and works of art. Hence, a history of the cornice can be told as a key part of architecture. But there are also histories that emerge when we use the cornice to provide an oblique perspective on architecture.

On account of its ubiquity, the cornice does carry several layers of meaning: as an element defined by, and defining building regulations; as the solution to the technical problem of joining wall and roof; and as a site to expression of social aspirations or distinction. As the visual limit of a construction, the cornice is as much about the individual building, as it is about the city or the landscape. As an ornament applied to buildings, it involves matters of taste and aesthetics as much as of craft and industrial production. Finally, as a complex three-dimensional object, it raises questions of representation and communication.

It comes as no surprise, that cornices are often included in paintings, drawings and prints as soon as buildings or ruins are depicted. Therefore, the exhibition will also make the representation of this three-dimensional object in two-dimensional works of art on paper a topic. How do cornices form part of image structures and to what extent do the conventions of image viewing matter? When is a symbolic content emerging?

The exhibition will bring together a unique selection of drawings, etchings and objects in order to tell the history of the cornice, and unfold the various aspects of architecture, urbanism and art it points to.