Walking aimlessly past the Chazen Museum of Art and its epic glass windows is the norm for many students in commute, but glancing into the panes Oct. 25 would have garnered at least the rise of an eyebrow.
Through it, you see a colorful crowd wearing costumes in masquerade. A neanderthal and pack of vampires giggling with wine-stained lips, a DJ booth in the corner, the strangest thing being the majority of people dressed in the highest European fashion of the 14th to 17th centuries.
This was the night of The Renaissance Affair, a Halloween celebration hosted by the Chazen Museum in a closing reception for their exhibition titled “Life, Love and Marriage in Renaissance Italy.” Visitors were welcome from everywhere around Madison to come in whatever costume they saw fit accompanied by a mask. Many fully contributed themselves to the theme with beautiful dresses and wear.
The archaic atmosphere would have been instantly recognizable to anyone walking through the colorful crowd. Mini-chests decorated the tables dotting the lobby, paying homage to the marriage chests prevalent at the time. With catering from popular Madison Mediterranean eatery, A Pig in a Fur Coat, the scent of two succulent entrees filled the air.
The Madison Jugglers Club performed spectacles throughout the length of the two-hour event. Activities drew children eager to fill in coloring papers themed appropriately with blank crests and lavish, white two-dimensional dresses they did not hesitate to fill with their creativity.
Of course, the main event of the night was the exhibition itself. Boasting beautiful tempera pieces depicting the morals and norms of the time were placed for observation, gilded leaves lining every crease. The bridal chests varied from having a likeness to the sarcophagus of an Egyptian king to ruddy wardrobes you wouldn’t be surprised were full with hay.
Either way, these pleasures were reserved for the experiences of the wealthy. Candie Waterloo, educational curator at the Chazen, wanted to incorporate a part of the Renaissance culture that everyone at the time could take part in. She placed a little interactive part of the exhibit where patrons could play chess, tarot cards and other games of the time period to provide an all-around more immersive experience.
Waterloo was also the organizer of the Renaissance Affair night and spoke about her desired audience when she hosts events.
“My hope with this event was to get a more millennial student audience but I just love seeing adults happy and I think that we are working as a whole to make a really active and engaging campus,” Waterloo said.
Waterloo found value in throwing her mind at the exhibit in two ways.
One, she viewed the changing of norms and practices over time enthralling. Specifically, women during the Renaissance valued beauty and would go to great lengths to preserve whatever the forms of the visual delight might entail. Waterloo hinted at dousing your hair with strange liquids like cat urine.
While we obviously have changed our preferred practices to maintain beauty, she said there is always room to question how normal the practices we live by every day actually are.
Two, she loves throwing herself at exhibits and finding out as much of the history that goes behind the pieces she sees as she can.
“At first I thought that it’s not going to be for me because I’m more of a contemporary art person,” Waterloo said. “It’s one of those things that means more when you see it in person.”
Waterloo is excited about the developments the Chazen has planned which will make the museum more accessible to students. She said the Chazen is planning to turn their current bookstore into a cafe so students have more reason to visit the museum. A new exhibit will be announced in Jan. addressing issues of identity and racial divides in Wisconsin.
To speak to Madison students specifically, Waterloo said the Chazen welcomes any and all.
“Just walking into the door is all you need,” Waterloo said “It’s beautiful. It’s free.”