Allentown Art Museum (Allentown, PA)

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Portrait of a fully bearded man in profile, in the clothing of the 16th century - large hat, thick ornate cape - holding small metal object

Girolamo Romanino's Portrait of a Gentleman, circa 1520, was part of Allentown Art Museum's Knights in Shining Armor: Myth and Reality, 1450-1650 exhibition. Courtesy of Allentown Art Museum, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

In 2002, Allentown Art Museum asked its longtime patrons to name their favorite of the museum's exhibits, discovering a 1964 show about arms and armor stood out. The appeal of knights and armor, combined with a promised gift to the museum of 110 pieces of Renaissance and Baroque armor, was the genesis of Allentown Art Museum’s most ambitious exhibition in a generation: Knight in Shining Armor: Myth and Reality, 1450-1650. In FY 2007, Allentown Art Museum received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $15,000 to support their Knight in Shining Armor exhibition, which ran from January 27 through June 3, 2007.

The Allentown Art Museum was established in 1939 and maintains a collection of more than 12,000 works of art. With more than 150 objects from the Baroque and Renaissance periods, including arms and armor as well as paintings, prints, and tapestries, the exhibition was arranged into four sections -- Nobility and Authority; Religious Imagery; Images of War; and Myth, Story, and Allegory. The exhibition explained how during this time period, armor was seen more off the battlefield than on it, as wearing armor became a sign of social status, worn in pageants and parades, and often seen in portraiture. In addition, the exhibition reveals women's roles in armor -- from a painting of Joan of Arc in armor to the lacy handles on swords inspired by women to paintings of the Sabine women who stopped war by carrying their infants as armor onto the battlefield.

In order to make the exhibition accessible for younger children, Allentown Art Museum created the Art Ways Interactive Family Gallery, recreating Renaissance life with workshops, stables, gardens, and the home of a knight. In addition, the museum arranged a full Renaissance evening with music, sword-play demonstrations, and a talk by Daniel Weiss, president of Lafayette College and a leading authority on the art of medieval Europe in the age of the Crusades.

More than 23,000 people participated in the museum’s education and outreach programs, on top of the more than 41,000 who toured the exhibition, proving that the public’s fascination with knights and armor hasn't diminished.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)