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New exhibit at Richmond Art Gallery brings the renaissance to life

Lorraine Graves   Feb-15-2019

Two of Adad Hannah's images at the Richmond Art Gallery’s show “The Decameron Retold” surrounded by some of the props from the shoot.

Photo by Chung Chow

The most important thing about the outstanding exhibit that just opened at the Richmond Art Gallery is that you should go see it.

And, once there, stand in front of the floor-to-ceiling projector screens to let the beauty of the image soak in.



As you do that, you will notice these stunning re-imaginings of Renaissance art have local Richmond people in costume, posed within the scenes of 14th century Tuscany.

Those people occasionally blink or fidget just a little. When that happens all the beauty suddenly expands to include the fourth dimension: time.

It makes the paintings all the better rounded, real. As much as these tableaux vivants—carefully posed recreations of the colourful art of the Decameron—please the eye, they also delight the soul in some inexplicable way.

Tableaux vivants were a common pastime in Victorian days as after-dinner entertainment. Famous scenes from history or literature would be recreated by those assembled, often using whatever was at hand, much as young children today play dress-ups and act out plays for assembled after-dinner guests.

The gallery says about two thirds of the people who posed for the installation are from Richmond. It’s a treat to see what looks like classical art with someone from up the street in it. Take your time with this exhibit as the videos are five minutes long, then they sometimes change to the same scene with different be-costumed people.

Adad Hannah’s The Decameron Retold is a newly-commissioned work by the Richmond Art Gallery. It is based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century work, The Decameron is a collection of novellas comprising 100 tales told by 10 young women and men sequestered in a villa outside of Florence to escape the Black Plague.

It is a visual recreation from a time long past, of sitting around the camp fire telling stories. Only, the style and grace show the era and place as unmistakably Tuscan.

The jewel-like tones so familiar to anyone who has seen the paintings of the masters, will find these vibrant reproductions of the ethos of Boccaccio’s writings really sing with grace, beauty and peace.

In some cases, those Renaissance hues came from semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, which was ground, mixed into oils with binders and then carefully layered into the art work. They were vivid. These pieces are no less vivid.

Produced with a New Chapter grant from the Canada Council, Adad Hannah’s The Decameron Retold offers the finest in inclusive art at our City of Richmond gallery.

Admission is free though donations are always welcome.

Suitable for all ages, the show runs until April 20.

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