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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday October 19, 2016

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Douglas McCarthy

Douglas McCarthy

Former Collections Engagement Manager , Europeana Foundation

Pictures at an exhibition: how we made Faces of Europe

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On 21 September, Europeana published the seventh and final chapter of Faces of Europe, the flagship exhibition of its Europeana 280 campaign. In the first of two posts Douglas McCarthy, Collections Manager of Europeana Art and editor of Faces of Europe, reflects on the exhibition’s genesis and development.

In April of this year, we kickstarted Europeana 280, our cross-border campaign to get Europe excited about its shared art heritage. We asked the culture ministries of all 28 EU member states, and Norway, to select ten artworks which had made an important contribution to art history. They responded magnificently, nominating a total of 347 remarkable works. (To find out how and why particular images were selected, and the stories behind some of the choices, read our extensive series of blogs by Ann Maher, Europeana 280 Exhibitions Coordinator.)

St Mark preaching in the square of Alexandria, Egypt, 1504-07, Gentile Bellini, Pinacoteca di Brera, CC BY-NC-ND

We set ourselves the challenge of creating an exhibition that would showcase the diversity and high quality of the art submitted for Europeana 280. We wanted to tell engaging stories about the lives and times of the featured artists, and to inspire our audience to delve deeper into Europeana Art. The result, Faces of Europe, is the most ambitious exhibition that Europeana has presented. It features more than 80 artworks from 29 countries and is over 15,000 words long. So how did it evolve from a pool of artworks to the final exhibition?

Our first step was getting to know the artworks nominated for Europeana 280. They cover a vast time span, from cave paintings at Altamira created during the Upper Palaeolithic to a contemporary portrait painted in 2012. In terms of subject and style, they vary enormously too: medieval altarpieces, Cubist portraits, social realist landscapes, illuminated manuscripts, Pop art, and much more.

Young Gardeners, 1968, Malle Leis, Tartu Art Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

In addition to masterpieces by van Eyck, Velázquez and Manet, many countries nominated fascinating pieces by lesser known artists. We sensed an exciting opportunity to present famous and less celebrated art in the same exhibition space. The pan-continental scope of Europeana 280 also encouraged us to highlight the connections between artists in different countries.

Faces of Europe’s narrative begins in the medieval era and concludes in the present day. It’s presented in seven chapters (shown below) and arranged around a series of themes. The exhibition touches upon important elements of Europe’s art history such as patronage, education and travel. It also covers broader aspects of history, like industrialisation and the changing role of women in art and society.

Faces of Europe chapters

For Europeana, developing Faces of Europe with our many partners was a rewarding team effort. We discovered some amazing art in the process too. Some of my personal highlights include the work of Swedish painter Hanna Pauli, the cosmic abstraction of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, and the fascinating life and art of Kārlis Padegs.

The Artist Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, 1886-1887, Hanna Pauli, Gothenburg Museum of Art, CC BY-NC

We hoped you’ve enjoyed the journey. Thank you again to all our Europeana 280 partners. We simply could not have done it without you!