Sunday, February 20, 2000

Flagg Collection complements Taft

Decorative arts exhibit elegant

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Boxes and clocks, tankards and jugs; if they were expensive and elegant, the princes of Europe collected them to display in their cabinet of curiosities. Picture private museums in castles.

        That was centuries ago, in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Yet in the late 20th century, Richard and Erna Flagg did the same thing. They collected things made for princes and kings and donated their cabinet of curiosities to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

        Fortunately for the Taft Museum of Art, the Milwaukee museum is renovating its galleries and made the Flagg Collection available to other museums. Now 62 objects, about half the collection, are at the Taft. It's one of the most elegant decorative arts exhibitions to be seen in Cincinnati.

        It is a collection of collections: clocks and scientific instruments; boxes, locks and keys; vessels, tankards and tableware; religious objects, furniture and sculpture. The qualities that made them special to their original owners are what make them special today: fine craft, expensive materials and innovative design.

Clocks worth a visit
        The clocks alone are worth a visit. A golden dromedary, from 17th-century Germany, carries a clock on its side and a cylinder displaying the day of the week on its hump. When the hour strikes, the animal's eyes roll and a music box plays a tune.

        Some of these timepieces operate so many figures and other devices that accuracy was an aside.

        Boxes were engraved, embossed and chased with scenes from the Bible or mythology. They were locked with incredibly complex devices.

        Table cabinets were filled with hidden drawers and secret compartments and were inlaid, painted and decorated so ornately that they were as valuable as the trinkets they were designed to contain.

        Cups were made to present to important guests to impress them with their hosts' taste and wealth. Many of them, such as a 17th-century gilt-silver lion, probably held liquid only on the day they were presented.

Taft has similar works
        The Taft has selected the objects for this exhibition to show relationships to objects in the Taft's own collection. Sometimes, the objects in the Taft collection are more special than the lovely works in the Flagg collection.

        The 14th-century alabaster Virgin and Child in the Flagg Collection was probably inspired by the fabulous ivory Virgin and Child in the Taft's collection.

        Like most of the Taft's temporary exhibitions, the Flagg Collection is intended to enhance the Taft's permanent collection and to encourage visitors to revisit the collection and learn more about it.

        A Renaissance Treasury: The Flagg Collection of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Taft Museum of Art, through April 16. 241-0343. Web:


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