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Cities of Splendor Takes Families to Italy and Beyond

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“Mom, what is chastity?” my 1st-grader asked.

It’s not the question to expect when in a gallery at the Denver Art Museum. We were standing in front of centuries-old painted panels from Mantua. They depicted Love, Time, Fame, Chastity, Death, Faith.

I told him it meant purity. Thankfully, that satisfied him enough that we could resume our trip across the ocean and back in time. We were in Renaissance, Italy, thanks to the Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy hosted by the DAM.

Recently, I took my 6 oldest children to explore this astonishing and revolutionary art. During the Renaissance, there was an explosion of technique, subject matter, and most importantly deep talent and dedication. This movement of art was centered in Italy, primarily in the great cities of Florence, Siena, Mantua, Venice, and Milan.

Small kids often think of Italy as that boot-shaped country where pizza grows on bushes and there might even be a mountain made of spaghetti. Thankfully, the DAM has made one of the richest periods in Italian history and art accessible for children. I could see the parmesan melting away as the kids, ages 13 to 4, strolled from painting to tapestry to sculpture.

Why were they so engaged? Near the entrance of the exhibit, kids of all ages can pick up a sturdy and fun guide disguised as a game. The hand-held board listed recurring themes and objects found in the various works of art. When the kids found a certain object or a person, they moved a red window denoting their triumph. It was like playing bingo on a scavenger hunt. Our 4-year-old, Beatrix,  needed a bit of help because she’s a pre-reader, but she still found the activity fun.

I was impressed by how this activity inspired my kids to truly study the works, finding the more whimsical elements of the pieces. When they finished finding the objects on the front of their cards, they flipped it over to find more suggestions of things to look for in the works. On their own, my kids noticed that Italian Renaissance artists focused primarily on religious scenes. Kids do not have to be the Valedictorian of Sunday School to understand or appreciate the art. We found unicorns, a skull on a shelf, and countless depictions of the Nativity. Their favorite find was St. Anthony Abbot’s tiny and tusked pig. They have no idea who the good Saint is, but they really liked his little piggy, which sat loyally at his feet.

Speaking of pigs, there are tables with books for kids to read, including Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer. Beatrix was especially smitten with the book, which is also available in the gift shop to help your kids remember their own trip to Venice.

It took our family about a half-hour to stroll through the exhibit. This is a good length of time. It’s engaging enough for grown-ups and older children without being too long for little ones. Throughout the galleries, lovely Renaissance music played. Overall, it was a great sensory and educational experience for our family. The exhibit is self-paced. You can soak it in or breeze through, stopping at pieces that catch your eye.

After we explored Cities of Splendor, we spent the rest of the day in the Hamilton Building’s modern art collections. There is a surplus of intriguing art and activities for kids to embrace. My bunch loved the jumping foxes, the interactive light and color screen, and making paper rubbing art. There’s also a large, airy, brightly lit and adorable Just for Fun Architecture center where kids can romp, jump, color, build, and chill. For more information about the Denver Art Museum’s Family and Kids programs, click here.

Don’t be afraid to take your kids to an art museum. The DAM is one of Colorado’s treasures and shouldn’t be missed. If you want to experience the Cities of Splendor exhibition, it’s on view until July 31, 2011.

The Denver Art Museum is located at 13th Avenue, between Broadway and Bannock. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 -5, except for Fridays when it’s open until 8. The first Saturday of every month is free for Colorado residents. The DAM provided passes for our family to explore and gather information to share.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 14, 2011

    I’ve steered clear because I didn’t think it sounded very kid-friendly. Great review and we’ll be heading over there!

  • comment avatar JoAnn June 14, 2011

    We LOVE the DAM! We haven’t gone to check out this particular exhibit, but it sounds really cool. Great review, Gretchen!

  • comment avatar Melissa Taylor June 14, 2011

    ooh, that sounds fantastic. I want to check out the mud exhibit they’re having, too. We also love the backpacks kids can check out with activities. Thanks for this great review, Gretchen.

  • comment avatar Connie Weiss June 14, 2011

    The Denver Art Museum is on our Summer Fun List! This looks great!

  • comment avatar Lisa June 14, 2011

    Thanks, Gretchen, just the boost we needed to get there. Love the pic of your fabulous kids!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz June 14, 2011

    I MUST take my kids to this exhibit — sounds wonderful!

    And are you telling me that pizza DOESN’T grow on bushes there??

  • comment avatar Jenny - Sugar Loco June 14, 2011

    that sounds so cool! um, and can I visit that place where pizza grows on trees? actually, it’s called heaven!

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