Collection Connection: “Fever Within” and the Distant Landscape

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Abstract art made of metal

“Collection Connection” blog essays suggest a motif, style, material, or other element that links works of art on view at the Ackland Art Museum. What connections can you find on your next visit?

Currently on view in the exhibition Fever Within, Ronald Lockett’s Traps (above) includes a circular hole in the weathered metal of the upper right corner that reveals a distant landscape scene. Framed by rusted tin, a mountain range and water suggest a setting for the deer seen in the foreground. As the landscape isn’t fully integrated with the rest of the imagery, it also seems like an ornament, an embellishment of sorts, in contrast with the trapped deer.

Many Renaissance artists treated distant landscapes in a similar way. In Battista Dossi’s Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist, for example, the verdant hillside with Renaissance buildings could be understood as part of the setting – the place Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and John are traveling to or from. The boundary between the foreground and background is not as pronounced as the one we see in Traps, but Dossi’s landscape also functions as a kind of ornament – not essential to a picture of the Holy Family, but a beautiful addition to it that reinforces the notion of a journey.

In Lockett’s A Place in Time the same motif appears, here enclosed in a three-dimensional frame and echoing a second nearby circle in which a skeletal animal appears.

Landscapes painted in a circular format appear in European and American art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jasper Cropsey’s Landscape with Mountains at Sunset  is one such example. Both artists and art lovers experimented with a device called a Claude glass – a round mirror that reflected the scene behind the viewer’s back. The idea was that the reflection improved the scene by making it more picturesque than what one could see by looking directly at it.

By Carolyn Allmendinger, Director of Academic Programs.

Ronald Lockett, American, 1965-1998: Traps, 1995, found tin, colored pencil, and nails on wood. William S. Arnett Collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation, L2015.2.1.