Soap Bubbles and Renaissance Men

Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein

Cupid with the Soap Bubble

by Foo Rong En

The air smelled mustier than usual, but thankfully, instead of an increased PSI index, it was the oil paintings from the ‘Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein’ exhibition. It is not everyday that you get to see over 90 exquisite masterpieces amassed over 500 years from the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, one of the oldest and wealthiest noble families in Europe. The director of the National Museum quipped that earning the rights to host the exhibition “felt like an audition”, and indeed it was an honour.

Despite being put together in only three weeks, the exhibition succeeds at being an incredibly immersive experience. In addition to stunning oil paintings, the exhibition also features tapestries, sculptures, and even an ornate chest featuring scenes painstakingly composed in cut stones.

The highlight of the Renaissance section was Raphael’s Portrait of a Man, an exemplar of High Renaissance Italian painting. Raphael’s model is painted as a half-length figure, directly gazing at the viewer — a format made famous by Leonardo da Vinci.Potrait of a Man

8 works by the famous Flemish artist Rubens were also displayed, including a touching depiction of his daughter Clara Serena at the age of 5. The painting focuses on her rosy cheeks and disarmingly direct gaze, expressing the close relationship between father and daughter.

Other noteworthy paintings include Rembrandt’s Cupid with the Soap Bubble, in which Cupid represents the  fragility of love. His signature style of playing with light and shade coupled with the combination of myths and symbols makes the artwork incredibly captivating.

The curators have also included 16 oil paintings from Singapore’s National Collection to provide a local context. Featuring portraits of notable late 19th and early 20th century figures, the selection includes a portrait of Yusof bin Ishak, Singapore’s first president. At the end of the exhibition, the ‘Interactive Corner’ gives visitors an opportunity to try out craft activities like creating a still life painting.

Held at the National Museum of Singapore, ‘Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein’ runs from June 27 to September 29, 2013.