UTICA — Luxuriously festooned princesses, soldiers, kings, singers, saints and sinners are gloriously depicted in the exhibition “The Golden Age of European Painting,” on view at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art, 310 Genesee St., through Sept. 14.
The exhibition showcases 70 major paintings of the 17th and 18th century by European masters Rembrandt, Rubens, Tiepolo, Gainsborough, Hogarth and others from the collection of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky.
Highlighting work from Italy, France, Spain, Flanders, the Netherlands, Germany and England, “The Golden Age of European Painting” offers a comprehensive exploration of an era of rich cultural, religious and economic changes that radically transformed the art world, according to museum spokesman Joseph Schmidt.
A virtual pantheon of gods and goddesses parade though the artworks inspired by the ancient world, demonstrating a fascination with Greece and Rome that began with the Renaissance and continued well into the 19th century.
Mr. Schmidt said the near obsession with classical antiquity manifested itself in moralizing imagery such as the painting “Helen and Paris” — which takes its subject matter from Homer’s “Iliad” — and “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” with its idyllic landscape and ancient temple structure.
By contrast, depictions of everyday life provide a tantalizing glimpse of what people and places might have looked like in Western Europe 400 years ago. Paintings like Pieter Cornelisz van Slingellandt’s “Interior of a Kitchen” capture the minutiae of daily existence, including household goods, interior decoration and daily chores.
Other painters chose less industrious scenes, such as Jacob Dick’s imagery of carousing soldiers — a seamier side of life, Mr. Schmidt noted, but no less real and an aspect of contemporary society.
There also are portraits in the exhibit. The grand portrait of the French royal princess Madame AdélaÏde is an imposing image of a meticulously dressed woman surrounded by objects that allude to her importance and accomplishments.
Religious paintings, landscapes and still lifes also are featured in the exhibition, and illustrate the people and objects that made the two centuries between 1600 and 1800 such a rich artistic age.
Tremendous changes swept through Europe during the 200 years in which the art in this exhibition was produced. Religious upheavals changed the way people thought about and utilized art. Trade routes to faraway lands, such as China and India, became more established, ensuring a steady stream of exotic goods for European consumers.
Advances in the sciences transformed long-held views on the way the universe worked and the place of humans within that universe. Technical aspects of art-making were honed and art academies grew in number and power.
All this resulted in a “Golden Age” when the fine arts reached an increasingly wider audience.