An American Jesuit Treasury of Religious Art: The Van Ackeren Collection in the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University
University of Kansas
History of Art
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Abstract On 13 October 1967 Virginia P. and Robert C. Greenlease donated a walnut crucifix by French sculptor César Bagard to Rockhurst University’s Jesuit community in Kansas City, Missouri. This gift initiated a collaboration of thirty years between Mrs. Greenlease and Rockhurst’s president, Father Maurice E. Van Ackeren, S.J. Together they sought to enhance the university and its students’ spiritual and educational experience by making fine religious works of art accessible for viewing on campus. Virginia financed the purchases that Father Van Ackeren made, the sum of which came to be known as the Van Ackeren Collection of Religious Art. Throughout their endeavor, the two took advantage of the expertise of the curators of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (now known as The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) and employed that institution as an intermediary station for evaluating works before they were purchased. The majority of objects were acquired during the 1970s. This timing proved fortuitous for the assembly of the university’s collection, as museum-quality sacred works were available at fairly reasonable prices. The result for Rockhurst was a diverse collection of exemplary objects depicting religious subjects and/or with liturgical functions that date from the late medieval through the rococo periods. The works that comprise the collection are of Italian, German, Austrian, French, and Spanish provenance and their mediums range from lindenwood, polychromed wood, alabaster, and marble statues, to paintings rendered in tempera on wood panel and in oil on canvas and copper, as well as to works on paper, furniture, textiles, and silver. Many of the collection’s works are associated with known artists, but most have scarcely been considered with regard to those artists’ respective oeuvres. Painters and sculptors of Italian and non-Italian origins whose works are represented in the collection include Andrea di Bartolo (1360-1428), Gil de Siloé (c. 1450-1501), Francesco d’Ubertino Verdi, also called Il Bachiacca (1494-1557), Antiveduto Grammatica (1571-1626), Peter Strudel (1660-1714), Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746), Ehrgott Bernhard Bendl (1660-1738), Felix Planner (active 1690-1710), Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), and Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770). The dissertation is divided into three sections. Part one chronicles the collection’s history and discusses the acquisition process, how choices were made in the selection of objects, which works were chosen, and what those decisions might indicate about personal taste, contemporary art market trends, and addressing the rationale for assembling a collection for educational purposes. Following the introduction is a catalog of the collection’s objects. The entries are divided into two categories: “Paintings and Works on Paper” and “Sculptures and Metalwork,” and each is arranged in chronological order. The contextual and iconographic assessment of these objects comprises the core of this study.
- Art History Dissertations and Theses 
- Dissertations 
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