Discovering SC-Columbia Museum of ART

Sacra Conversazione withTobias and the Angel by Bonifacio de’ Pitati

Located in the heart of South Carolina’s capital city, The Columbia Museum of Art has a collection that rivals the finest art galleries in the United States. With masterworks by Botticelli, Monet, Peale and Warhol – you’ll be transported to to Renaissance Italy to the ancient Mediterranean and beyond.

The Columbia Museum of Art (CMA for short) was founded in 1950 by a community hungry for a place to celebrate art. Originally housed in the 1908 Taylor family home, the original collection consisted of gifts and bequests of local collectors – including ten Old Master paintings, several Joshua Reynolds, Scipione Pulzone, Juan de Pareja and Artus Wolffort.

In 1954, The CMA was included among the 95 institutions throughout the United States that received donations of Renaissance and Baroque art from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Kress was an entrepreneur and business magnate who started a popular chain of five and dime stores. Kress had a passion for art and amassed thousands of priceless Renaissance and Baroque art. You can learn more about the Kress Foundation legacy on this website that details the over 3000 pieces of Renaissance art Kress donated to museums.

With a growing collection, The CMA moved a few blocks from The Taylor House to its current location on Main Street. The modern building has 22,000 square feet of gallery space and an additional 30,000 square feet of community and future exhibition space.

The museum’s permanent collection is home to over 7,000 works of art spanning thousands of years and unique cultural and artistic styles.

The CMA is a national jewel for art lovers – It is a must visit while in Columbia. I hope to return to experience future exhibitations.

My visit…

After a morning ‘safari’ at Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo, my mom and I headed to The CMA. Paid parking was available across the street.

I recommend checking The CMA website for the most up to date hours and admission information…Our tickets were around $10.00 a person for access to the entire museum.

The CMA’s renowned European Art from The Kress Collection has been largely off site since 2017 due to national tours and the pandemic…Lucky for us, The Kress Collection was back on display.

Stepping through the glass doors to the exhibit hall, I felt as though we were transported to Italy in the heart of The Renaissance.

The Nativity by Botticelli

While all of the paintings were awe-inspiring, the crown jewel of this collection is Botticelli’s The Nativity

This painting is a bit different than those of his famous Venus, by going back to the roots of The Gospel.

Looking at this painting as both and artist and person of faith, I was moved by Botticelli’s focus of heaven meeting earth and the paradox of ordinary and extraordinary. The rural stable and hay, the rocky terrain in the distance – shows the earthy nature of the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph having to give birth in poverty and yet the treasure that delights them is Christ. Mary and Joseph are enamored with their child. I love the expressions of the livestock who also seem taken by wonder and invite you into the story.

About the painting: It is a fresco that is a mural painting that is intended to be affixed to a wall and not to be a moveable work of art. The CMA’s Nativity has the distinction of being the only Botticelli fresco in the United States AND the only Botticelli fresco outside of Italy! The Met and National Gallery don’t have that artistic distinction – but CMA does!

About the Artist: Born Alessandro di Mariano di Giovanni Filipepi into an upper-middle-class family in 1410, he is known by his nickname Sandro Botticelli (means gold worker). He was one of the most influential artists of the Italian Renaissance during the years of 1470 to 1510. Click here to learn more.

Several other favorites from The Kress Collection:

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio – Portrait of a Young Woman with a Scorpion Chain

This image of a woman with a demure smile reminded me a bit of Leonardo da Vinci’s use of light and dark…Boltraffio was actually a close friend of da Vinci and his influence can be seen in this iconic painting.

Cosimo di Lorenzo Roselli’s Adoration of the Child with Saints Joseph, John the Baptist and Jerome ca 1465

The Adoration of the Child sparked the spirit of hope and faith – I felt the Holy Spirit definitely spirited the artist to paint this miraculous painting.

After finishing the European Splendors exhibit, my mom and I headed to the upper levels where we discovered visual wonder in twenty galleries.

The CMA takes an innovative approach in displaying art; instead of grouping by period – they organize art thematically. You can see how different artists, across different eras and different continents, have focused on common ideas, like ‘heroism.’

Words cannot describe the wonder of the upstairs galleries – I repeated ‘wow’ 1000 times in a span of ninety minutes as each work of art blew me away.

I was excited to see on of my favorite artists, Thomas ‘Yellowstone’ Moran – whose paintings of Yellowstone helped convince Congress to create America’s first National Park in 1872. Moran has influenced me as an artist and I spent ten minutes studying his use of color and light in the painting.

Other highlights:

A gorgeous Monet…
A painting of my ancestor – Marianna Heyward Taylor, whose daughter Anna Taylor was a prominent South Carolina artist
George Washington painting by famed portrait artist Peale

I recommend blocking several hours for your museum tour. There is a lot to see and new exhibits are constantly arriving.

The museum also offers a wide range of fun community centered activities including Jazz Nights and lectures.

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