European Splendour 1500–1800Pīrakorako Ūropi 1500–1800

Exquisite European art and objects reveal how the Church, trade, and innovation influenced what was once considered the height of affluence.

When | Āhea

31 Aug 2016 – 26 Feb 2017

Where | Ki hea

Level 5

Cost | Te utu

Free exhibition


All ages

Accessibility | E wātea ana ki
  • Wheelchair accessible

Find out more about accessibility at Te Papa

For centuries in Europe, luxury goods were the preserve of the monarchy, church, and nobility. But waves of change gave more people than ever access to the beauty and sophistication of gold, fine furniture, silks, and lace.

Discover these objects of desire spanning 300 years of history.

Unknown maker, Robe à l'Anglaise, 1775-1789, hand-woven, hand sewn Spitafields silk. Gift of Mrs B Vye, 1951. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (PC000072)

Whether hunting game or dancing the latest minuet, wealthy Europeans in the 1600s and 1700s wore the finest fabrics and latest fashions. Refinement extended to accessories, from firearms to fans.

This finery was used to assert status – only the wealthy could afford such opulence. Some goods, such as lace, were regulated by royal decree, and only nobles could – in theory – wear them.

But this exclusivity couldn’t last. New trade and manufacturing soon put these long-coveted luxuries within reach of the emerging middle classes.

The Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand welcomes you to Nelson, to the 2019 Symposium, A COMMON THREAD, being hosted by the beautiful and historic Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū

Maker unknown, Orphrey cross, Italy,1400-1500, silver, silver gilt, copper, silk, linen. Bequest of Mrs Alec Tweedie, 1946. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (PC000795)

Drag performer Johnny Croskery’s album from the 1960s includes photographs taken at the Dorian Society’s annual fancy dress balls in the 1960s. In this excerpt from ‘Mates & Lovers’, Chris Brickell explores the origins of the Dorian Society.

Wenceslaus Hollar, A chalice, 1640, etching. Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1961. Te Papa (1961-0006-12)

This exhibition, developed and toured by Te Papa, provides a rare opportunity to experience Rodin’s legacy through the sculpture, ‘Eve’ (1882).

Hans Sebald Beham, A mask held by two genii, 1544, engraving. Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1959. Te Papa (1959-0023-3)

Join us for an exclusive preview of ‘Wonderland’ before our doors open to the general public the next day.

Francesco Xanto Avelli, Serving dish, 1530-1535, tin- glaze earthenware. Purchased 1983 with Charles Disney Art Trust funds. Te Papa (CG001495/a)

Collection Manager Antony Kusabs provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how we built the endemic wall – which includes 700 objects into one epic cabinet.

Unknown artist, Still life, mid-to-late 17th century, oil on canvas. Gift of Dr G.F.V. Anson, T.V. Anson, H.V. Anson and Mrs F.S. Maclean, 1943. Te Papa (1943-0007-1)

Exhibitions that opened in 2019.

Unknown, Pockets, circa 1760, satin and cloth. Gift of the Wellington Embroiderer's Guild Inc, 2002. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH007784)

Join colleagues from across the museums, galleries, and archives sector at this one-day symposium to discuss sustainable approaches to collecting and caring for large volumes of work by art photographers.

Unknown, Vase, Bristol, England, mid 18th century, tin-glaze earthenware. Purchased 1975, with Charles Disney Art Trust funds (CG001231)

Plan your trip through Te Taiao. Find out about quiet spaces, things to smell and touch, subtitles, light and dark spaces, and places to sit.

Artist unknown, France, Folding fan, circa 1750, paper, water colour, gilt, mother of pearl, brass. Gift of Mr and Mrs Ernest Makower, 1938. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (1938-0003-3)

You’re the explorer in our Te Taiao | Nature exhibition zone. Celebrate Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique natural environment – and get ready for our future as kaitiaki.

John Copley, Mrs Humphrey Devereux, 1771, oil on canvas. Gift of the Greenwood family, 1965. Te Papa (1965-0013-1)

At the turn of the century is was not difficult to find men’s bodies to gaze upon. There were swimming pools and the beaches, where wet woollen bathing costumes clung provocatively. In some places, including the government mineral baths at Rotorua and elsewhere, nude swimming was the order of the day.

George Dawe, Achilles frantic for the loss of Patroclus, rejecting the consolation of Thetis, 1803, oil on canvas. Gift of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, 1936. Te Papa (1936-0012-83)

Religious art abounded in 1500. Sumptuously decorated Roman Catholic churches inspired awe and reverence for God.

But in the early 1500s, Protestant reformers challenged Catholic domination. They emphasised restraint over opulence, and a more personal relationship with God. Catholic churches remained lavish, but people began to make devotional art, such as biblical embroideries, for their homes. 

Join colleagues from across the GLAM sector to share strategies for collecting and caring for contemporary photographers’ archives.

George Dawe, Portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales, about 1817, oil on panel. Gift of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, 1936. Te Papa (1936-0012-92)

Portraits sent compelling messages about social rank, power, and wealth. Monarchs, nobles, politicians, and clergy were depicted in luxurious clothing, adorned with jewels and symbolic accessories.

An oil painting could declare a person’s splendour to a select audience, but from the early 1500s, print reproductions spread these influential images far more widely.

By the mid 1600s, the middle classes – and artists themselves – were becoming increasingly prosperous. In portraits, they flaunted their new wealth by wearing fine lace and furs.

The book of the stunning Rongowhakaata iwi exhibition at Te Papa.

A Children’s Guide to Splendour [PDF, 2MB] (2.06 MB)

Download a fun and informative children's guide to European Splendour 1500–1800. Produced by Issac and Paddy, pupils of Pukerua Bay School Museum.

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