Eike D. Schmidt, PhD
James Ford Bell Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture
Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculpture Department Head
Department: Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculpture
Eike oversees the museum’s department of Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculpture, specializing in bronze and ivory sculpture from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods. A native of Freiburg, Germany, Eike arrived at the MIA in 2009 after two years as the head of the department of European Sculpture and Works of Art at Sotheby’s in London and several years in curatorial roles in the sculpture departments of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. At the MIA, he has grown the sculpture collection through additions and research, bringing many works out of storage and reinstalling others. These include a prized group of 18th-century bronzes, an important 17th-century crucifix, and a remarkable Italian sculpture of St. Paul the Hermit. Eike was also instrumental in acquiring an extraordinary 18th-century wooden statue, attributed to Juan Montes de Oca, of St. Benedict of Palermo, patron saint of African-Americans and the first African to be sainted in modern times.
Q: How did you become interested in sculpture?
EIKE D. SCHMIDT: As a child, I made drawings of a Gothic sculpture in the local museum in Freiburg. But when I was 13 or 14, I was carving a piece of wood and accidentally ran the knife into my thumb—from that moment, I knew sculpture was something more for me to look at than create. Of course, later I realized there’s a great deal of research to do, even now, in the field of sculpture. It’s very gratifying to pin together the work of a completely unknown artist and be the first to present it.
Q: You resurrected an ivory Christ figure from storage. What did you discover?
ES: It was vaguely attributed, possibly from France or Germany, and was on a 1970s velvet backing—it looked like something out of Studio 54. It became clear it was the work of a very important expressionistic sculptor of the 17th century, almost certainly trained in Italy and working in Spain. So I had the figure cleaned, had a proper cross made, and it’s now our only crucifix on view.
Q: St. Paul the Hermit was also a revelation.
ES: The sculpture shows him praying up to heaven, but he was awkwardly installed in the gallery, tipped by 45 degrees as though jumping to swim. And he was wedged between these horrible concrete blocks from the early 1960s. We had the blocks removed, cleaned off the dirt of three centuries, and placed him correctly in the gallery. It turned out that it was made 100 years later than previously thought, finished in 1775—in fact the last large-scale Baroque decoration project in a church.
Q: Who is one of your favorite underappreciated sculptors of the past?
ES: Benedetto da Rovezzano, the sculptor of the museum’s St. John the Baptist bust. When Michelangelo had to leave Florence for Rome to paint the Sistine Chapel, there was one unfinished work he had to complete to get paid, and the one artist he trusted to finish it was Benedetto. So it’s not just my view that he was a great artist—it’s Michelangelo’s.
Diafane Passioni: Avori barocchi dalle corti europee, ed. by Eike D. Schmidt & Maria Sframeli, exhibition catalogue (Florence), Livorno: Sillabe, 2013
Das Elfenbein der Medici: Bildhauerarbeiten für den Florentiner Hof von Giovanni Antonio Gualterio, dem Furienmeister, Leonhard Kern, Johann Balthasar Stockamer, Melchior Barthel, Lorenz Rues, Francis von Bossuit, Balthasar Griessmann und Balthasar Permoser, Munich: Hirmer, 2012
“The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Bronze, ed. by David Ekserdjian, exhibition catalogue, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2012, pp. 88-93
Beauty Bound and Power Unleashed: Jacobus Agnesius and the Quest for Expression in Baroque Ivory Sculpture, New York: Strada, 2011
“Ammannati restituito: Giovanni Battista Foggini e il ripristino della fontana,” L’acqua, la pietra, il fuoco. Bartolomeo Ammannati scultore, exhibition catalogue (Florence), Florence: Giunti, 2011, pp. 276-293
Catalogue Entries in Sokrovišca Dinastii Medici, exhibition catalogue, Moscow: Cremlin Museum, 2011
Fruits of Desire: A Seventeenth-Century Carved Ivory Cup, Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2009
Catalogue Entries in From Raphael to Carracci: The Art of Papal Rome, ed. by David Franklin, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2009
Collecting Sculpture in Early Modern Europe (Studies in the History of Art, vol. 70), ed. by Nicholas Penny & Eike D. Schmidt, Washington, District of Columbia, 2008
The Color of Life: Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to the Present, ed. by Roberta Panzanelli with Eike D. Schmidt and Kenneth Lapatin, exhibition catalogue (Malibu), Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2008
Catalogue Entries in Tintoretto, ed. by Miguel Falomir, exhibition catalogue (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado), London: Holberton, 2007