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The Daily Tar Heel

Enlightenment Comes to Ackland

"Reason and Fantasy in an Age of Enlightenment" opened on Jan. 20, including etchings and gravings from Francisco Goya, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and William Hogarth.

The collection draws attention to the contradictory notions of European culture during the 18th century.

Over the years, the Ackland has collected many works dating from the Enlightenment. They are not displayed often -- they make up only a tiny fraction of the Ackland's 15,000-piece collection.

"About every year we try to have a show that brings out part of that collection," said Andy Berner, director of communications for the museum.

The museum also rarely shows these works to the public because of a need to preserve its condition.

Much of the exhibition is composed of paper artifacts, and increased exposure to light speeds up their aging process.

Berner said that now is as good a time as any to bring these works out for the public to appreciate.

"The opportunities are only few and far between when we can bring these things out into the light," he said.

The exhibition was partly inspired by a graduate seminar led by UNC Professor Mary Sheriff last fall. The seminar focused on 18th century art and the types of expression and illusion many artists used during the Age of Enlightenment.

While rationality and common sense were championed by great thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot, creativity and disorder found their way into the artwork of the period.

For example, "The Oath of the Tennis-Court, Versailles, 19 June 1789" is just one piece in "Reason and Fantasy in an Age of Enlightenment" that features both the usual and unusual. The etching's subject is a real and integral historical event that led to the French Revolution. But it also features the allegorical figures Liberty, France, Tyranny and Sin.

The exhibit's pieces have other merits besides combining the fantastic with important parts of history.

They reflect a change in artists' means of expression, mainly through use of the subject's body movement. The face, which had previously been so dominant in artwork, became only one of many indicators of emotion and feeling.

This increased emphasis on emotion conflicted with the 18th century's ingrained practices of reasoning and logic.

"By showing some of these different images in the show, it's showing that the thinking wasn't all just reason at the time," Berner said.

The exhibition will be on display until April 21. For more information call 406-9837.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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