DYK Greenville is said to be home to the second largest collection of religious art (behind the Vatican City) in the entire world? Ok, well come to find out, this popular, local rumor has not been officially verified, but it’s pretty easy to believe when you see the striking collection at the Museum & Gallery (M&G) at Bob Jones University.
Although M&G is currently closed to the public, a few weeks ago, I (Ana here 👋 ) was able to meet with Executive Director Erin Jones to see a few pieces from the collection and learn more about their future home in the heart of downtown Greenville. (That’s why the M&G is closed right now – they’re prepping for their big move, which is no small feat. How do you remove stained glass + architectural beams that are hundreds of years old from a spot where they have been anchored for 70+ years? Yeah, that’s right. Very carefully.)
For those of you who don’t know, the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University (currently located on the school’s campus) has been open and publicly accessible since 1951. The collection’s primary focus is European Old Master paintings, but there are also textiles, pieces of furniture, sculpture, architectural elements, and over 1,000 ancient artifacts, including the oldest piece in the collection – a piece of ancient Egyptian pottery from 3200 B.C.
As an Art History minor, I was definitely geeking out for the majority of my tour and wanted to share with y’all what were, for me, the top three highlights.
Inspiration by Louis Comfort Tiffany
Yeah, that Tiffany. Louis was one of America’s most acclaimed artists and the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany – the founder of Tiffany & Co. But his 1,500 lb. mosaic made of Mother of Pearl and Abalone almost ended up in the trash. M&G’s founder, Dr. Bob Jones Jr., was in Schenectady, New York preaching at a Presbyterian church. The church was undergoing renovations, and they were going to potentially destroy the mosaic, because it didn’t match their aesthetic, so they gifted this magnificent piece of art to Dr. Bob Jones Jr. Lucky for us.
Madonna and Child with Angels by Master of the Greenville Tondo
While many people around the world may have never heard of Greenville, South Carolina, our little corner of the southeast is the namesake for over 30 pieces of Italian Renaissance art. Let me explain. Tondo is Italian for “round,” so a “tondo” is simply a round painting. There was a 35 year period during the Renaissance when tondos were massively produced. They were popular gifts for newly married couples, because, with Mary and Christ often featured as the principal figures, it was hardly a subtle reminder for the couple to quickly start their family. M&G has a substantial collection of tondos covering the main years and locations when + where tondos were being produced, and they have one of the earliest known tondos that exists.
In the 1400s, when tondos, like the one below, were being created, artists weren’t signing their work. Because of this, historians will examine a group of paintings that look similar to an artist’s particular style and name that Master based on where the best representation of their work is located. Thus, this painting is by “The Master of the Greenville Tondo,” because M&G has, in their collection, the best representation of this artist’s work. So, wherever these works of art are (and there are 32 by this Master known in the world), Greenville, South Carolina is represented. #yeahTHATgreenville
Progress of Revealed Religion Series by Benjamin West, P.R.A.
Benjamin West, an American expatriate, was working for King George III during the Revolutionary War. Talk about awkward. King George III commissioned many paintings from West – one particular commission was for a collection called the Progress of Revealed Religion for a chapel at Windsor Castle. West completed 18 of the planned 32 works of art. Five of those paintings are completely lost to the world, but of the 13 remaining, seven are on display in the War Memorial Chapel on the campus of Bob Jones University. All of the others are owned individually, and not even the Royal Family owns any of them.
Where is M&G moving?
Well, now that I’ve piqued your interest about all these cool works of art “hidden” right here in Greenville, I bet you’re a little miffed, because you can’t actually go visit M&G right now. But for good reason. As I mentioned before, M&G is in the process of very carefully getting all their delightful works of art ready to move right downtown next to the Reedy River. They will be occupying 60,000 sq. ft. at Greenville’s new event center, along with a satellite location of the Greenville County Museum of Art. The idea is to provide the museum with a more central, publicly accessible location with plenty of room for interactive experiences, immersive galleries, educational classrooms, a lecture hall, and more.
There’s so much more to tell about M&G that we can’t possibly fit in our newsletter, so to get your fill about the museum’s upcoming events, educational programs, works of art, and many other wonderful opportunities, visit their website here.