Value Systems in the Northern Renaissance

Located between The Met's hall of medieval sculpture evoking a majestic cathedral and the open atrium of early modern art is a bridge between two worlds. Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance, on view through June 23, 2019, is a pithy exhibition of 63 works dating from the 16th century and displayed on stark metal screens like those used in modern cold storage facilities, in vividly colored cases, and accompanied with labels that denote the objects' values on the 16th-century market. Visually, the exhibition marks a departure from other Renaissance exhibitions curated by the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, which often evoke a sense of place by dressing the galleries in 16th-century decor. In a sense, the intention here is reversed: rather than send viewers back in time, the objects are brought forward to today.

Intrigued by the exhibition's conceit, I met with Elizabeth Cleland, the exhibition's curator, on an early winter morning to tour the gallery and learn about the objects on display. We spoke for about an hour before the Museum opened, and as we neared the end of our discussion about the values and metrics by which a customer on the Renaissance art market might assess a work of art, the crowds began to come in.

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