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The use of pigments to bring about shifts and shocks of colour first appeared in Florence and the surrounding area towards the end of the fourteenth century. The technical innovations of young artists, who lived and competed with each other in workshops and close professional communities during their apprenticeship years, would become common knowledge as soon as works of art were presented to the public. The instructions and recipes for using new materials spread among the artists’ studios in the form of hand-written notes. Processes for generating the colour-shifting cangiante effect – applying pure colours in particular combinations to recreate the optical shimmering of oriental silks – were attempted and practised by countless artists, who used traditional techniques to paint them on wooden panels, on walls and on canvas. Such cangiante details were used for the attire and drapery of a person of particular importance in a composition. The colour harmonies prescribed by Cennino Cennini in the recipes of Il Libro dell’arte – his handbook, which later appeared in print – can be recognised in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, in the National Gallery of London, in the freshly cleaned ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, and in the Old Masters’ Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest – whether suddenly or in apparent familiarity, we may notice an intense vision of light and colour, painted differently, in terms of approach, from the rest of the work: this is a cangiante motif.
Since 2001 I have explored the potential of colour shifting effects primarily in my painting, as well as in a historical context, examining it from the perspective of physical and optical laws and phenomena, and observing it in the collections of the great museums of Europe.
The remarkable art historical context provided by the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts allows us the opportunity to compare the traditional use of cangiante with the colour-shifting compositions of Ilona Keserü. Her paintings are displayed alongside an Italian Renaissance work from the Old Masters’ Gallery: Esther before Ahasuerus by Jacopo del Sellaio. In addition, visitors can follow a special route to discover further instances of cangiante in the museum’s collection of Italian Renaissance and Mannerist works.
To coincide with the exhibition, a brief study has been written by Dezső Tandori, one of the first critics to analyse the works of Ilona Keserü, in which he summarises his impressions on the artist’s colour-shifting works. His manuscript is among the objects on display.
This cabinet exhibition by the Department of Art after 1800 – the first in an exciting series on colour theory – is loosely associated with the exhibition titled Ilona Keserü /Cangiante – Space of Colours, held at the Vaszary Villa Gallery in Balatonfüred in the summer of 2014. The exhibition in the town on the northern shore of Lake Balaton featured close to fifty works, presenting the career of Ilona Keserü from the end of the 1950s until the present day, with a particular emphasis on her investigations into colour. The two exhibitions are accompanied by a joint, two-language (English and Hungarian) catalogue, with texts by Katalin Aknai, Anna Zsófia Kovács, and Ilona Keserü herself.
Ilona Keserü Ilona, 2014
The exhibition is part of the cabinet exhibition series of the Deaprtment of Art after 1800