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When Worlds Collide

September 21, 2015

Dr. Rebekah Compton, College of Charleston

"The Charity of St. Nicholas"

Bringing Modern Relevance to Classic Masterworks with TAP

Most viewers feel separated from the works sitting on the wall; it is hard to see how a painting from six centuries past could have any relevance to our modern society. But the fact of the matter is these seemingly ancient works retain historical and cultural relevance and can tell us a lot about our modern selves. 

We have attempted to expand on this relationship with TAP, our free multi-media tour offered to visitors at the Columbia Museum of Art. The goal of the content in this program is to not only educate the viewer, but also make them think about these works in a different way. 

During the recording sessions for our new Kress Collection TAP tour, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Rebekah Compton, a scholar of Renaissance and Baroque art working at the College of Charleston. Renaissance works never really appealed to me (I’ve always been an abstract expressionism guy myself) but after listening to Compton’s descriptions of these works’ histories, iconography, and significance, I have gained a greater appreciation for these paintings and sculptures. 

When talking about Johannes Stradanus' The Charity of St. Nicholas (pictured above), Compton explains the story represented in the image. Not your typical holiday tale, this image portrays good ole’ St. Nick tossing gold balls into the home of a poor man and his three young daughters. Santa Claus bringing gifts seems pretty old hat, but as Compton explains, these gold balls are to be used as dowries to help the young girls escape their lives as prostitutes. A Merry Christmas, indeed. She goes on to surmise that this work was likely commissioned by one of the many organizations created to help end prostitution in Florence during the time. This reminded me of how image of Santa Claus has been used to push products and ideas in modern times as well. I found myself wondering, “How is the way they are using the image of St. Nick in this painting any different than Santa Claus drinking a Coca-cola in a television advertisement?” Eventually I came to the conclusion that, in my opinion, there was no difference.  

My hope is that people taking the TAP tour will find themselves asking these sorts of questions and finding their own conclusions, bridging the gap between these old masterworks and our own lives. 

Drew Baron,
Multimedia Production Coordinator