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"Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries" Opens at the Smithsonian June 24, 2007

Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520; Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: June 24, 2007–September 16, 2007

Media Preview: Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 10 a.m.

March 8, 2007

During the 16th century, Portuguese sailors braved international waters to create a global trading network that extended from Europe to Brazil, Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and Japan. This naval empire connected civilizations from all the known continents, transforming commerce and initiating unprecedented cultural exchange.

"Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries" explores the artistic achievements that flourished when these sailors exposed new creative techniques and imagery to the world as they transported goods from port to port.

The exhibition presents approximately 250 objects produced by each of the cultures touched by Portugal's early trade routes. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, with support from the Ministry of Culture of Portugal, "Encompassing the Globe" will be on view June 24 through Sept. 16 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the neighboring National Museum of African Art.

Portugal was the first European nation to build an extensive commercial empire reaching eastward to Africa and Brazil and westward, through the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, to India, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Contact with these regions, which had been virtually unknown to Europeans, led to the creation of highly original works of art, some intended for export and others for domestic enjoyment.

Initially displayed in princely "cabinets of wonder"—predecessors of the modern museum—and other royal and aristocratic collections and now scattered in museums and private collections throughout the world, the paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, maps, early books and other objects assembled in the exhibition will provide a rich image of a "new world" during its formation.

The most ambitious in the Sackler's 19-year history, "Encompassing the Globe" will occupy all of the museum's exhibition space, as well as several galleries in the adjoining National Museum of African Art. Objects on view in the Sackler will relate to Portugal and Europe, the Indian Ocean, China, Japan and Brazil, while a section focusing on West Africa will be displayed at the National Museum of African Art. Both the Sackler and African Art galleries also will feature contemporary art related to the themes of this historic exhibition.

"With its global message and major components devoted to the arts of Asia and the Near East, 'Encompassing the Globe' is an ideal exhibition for the Smithsonian and a perfect opportunity for collaboration between the Sackler and our neighbor the National Museum of African Art," said Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries. "We are extremely grateful to the Portuguese Ministry of Culture for its generous financial support, as well as organizational partnership, without which this exhibition would not be possible," Raby added.

"I am delighted for this opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution, whose prestige and expertise offers us guaranteed success in further advancing the understanding of Portugal and of the Portuguese in America, as well as among the wide international public visiting Washington," said Portugal's Minister of Culture Isabel Pires de Lima.

Lead support for "Encompassing the Globe" has been provided by the Ministry of Culture of Portugal; the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, sole sponsor of The Indian Ocean from Muscat to the Spice Islands section; Banco Santander Totta; the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; and the Portuguese Tourist Authority. Major contributors include Banco BPI, Banco Espírito Santo, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Fundação Berardo, Portugal Telecom-Fundação Portugal Telecom, CTT Foundation and the Regional Government of the Azores. Support also is provided by EDP, the Luso-American Foundation, Águas de Portugal, Camargo Correa, Mr. and Mrs. André Jordan, Millennium bcp Foundation, Rede Eléctrica Nacional, the Carpenter Foundation, TAP Portugal, Banco de Investimento Global, Mitsubishi Corporation, the Portuguese-American Leadership Council of the United States–PALCUS, Pousadas Pestana Group, Camões Institute, Estoril Sol and Atlantica Hotels.

The guest curator for "Encompassing the Globe" is Jay Levenson, director of the International Program at New York's Museum of Modern Art, who is known for his previous projects organized by the National Gallery of Art, "Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration" (1992) and "The Age of the Baroque in Portugal" (1993). Raby was a consulting curator for "Circa 1492," and after he became director of the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries, Levenson proposed the exhibition to him. The large international team of scholars associated with "Encompassing the Globe" includes James Ulak, deputy director of the Freer and Sackler, who also worked with Levenson on "Circa 1492"; Jean Michel Massing, professor of art history at Cambridge University; independent art historian Regina Krahl; and Nuno Vassallo e Silva, director-adjunto, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Among the highlights presented in the exhibition are exotic Kunstkammer objects collected by the Habsburgs, the Medici and other princely families, assembled from collections throughout Europe; rare 16th-century world maps by Portuguese and Florentine cartographers; exquisite ivory hunting horns and saltcellars carved in West and Central Africa for trade with the Portuguese; rare terracotta statues and other religious works from 17th-century Brazil; Indian mother-of-pearl vessels that were given precious silver-gilt mounts when they arrived in Europe in the 16th century; and scientific instruments created for the Imperial Chinese court by early Jesuit missionaries.

The introductory, and largest, section of the exhibition will focus on the impact of the Portuguese discoveries on Europe and the exchange of knowledge with the peoples whom the Portuguese encountered. Many of the items in this section were loaned by some of Portugal's finest museums, including the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, the Museu Etnografico da Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, the Museu Palacio Nacional de Ajuda and the Museu de Grao Vasco, as well as private lenders in Portugal and elsewhere. Other sections will focus on the parts of the world the Portuguese reached: West Africa, Brazil, the Indian Ocean, Japan and China.

A three-volume catalogue containing numerous illustrated essays and color reproductions of each of the objects included in the show will accompany the exhibition, as well as a number of educational public programs, such as films, musical performances and lectures. "Encompassing the Globe" will debut in Washington, D.C., with a major gala June 20.

The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Freer houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries' website:

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