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The Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection

The Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection, a long term loan and special exhibition, features paintings and decorative art objects from the Baroque and Rococo periods, including works by “Old World masters” such as Jan Bruegel the Younger, Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Peter Paul Rubens, Hubert Robert, Pierre-Jacques Volaire, and others.

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About the Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection

Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III assembled their collection of European art between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. What began as an avid interest in Flemish and Dutch painting soon encompassed beautifully intricate Asian-inspired decorative artworks as well as stunning paintings and sculptures by several prominent Italian and French artists who worked in the styles of Rococo and Neoclassicism. Reflecting the couple’s shared vision and distinct tastes, the Saunders Collection is illustrative of one of the most multidimensional periods of European history.

Thomas A. Saunders III was president of Ivor & Co., LLC, a private investment firm he founded in 2000, and a former partner at Morgan Stanley. Saunders received his BS degree from the Virginia Military Institute in 1958 and an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 1967. He was married to Jordan Saunders, the daughter of the late U. S. Marine Corps Major General Matthew C. Horner.

Exhibited both online and in the VMFA European Gallery as a long term loan and special exhibition, Elegance and Wonder: Masterpieces of European Art from the Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection features artworks that include religious and mythological figures, landscapes and still lifes, East Asian inspirations on European Rococo artists, and compositions from the Grand Tour. Throughout the installation works from VMFA’s collection are presented to highlight the paintings and decorative art objects from the Saunders collection. 


Gods, Heroes, And People of the Baroque

The Baroque was a stylistic movement in art and architecture that began in Rome in the early decades of the 17th century and flourished in many parts of Europe until the 1720s. The word Baroque derived from a Portuguese term meaning ‘irregular pearl or stone,” suggesting that the inherent beauty of these artworks resided in their unique and surprising qualities. Departing from the predictable compositional features of the late Renaissance style known as mannerism, artists of the Baroque indulged in exuberant brushwork, unconventional palettes, dramatic contrasts, abundant and intricately detailed ornamentation, and markedly dynamic poses and movements. 

Cabinet of Curiosities

As early as the 15th century, many wealthy Europeans sought rare, exotic, and enigmatic natural specimens for private collections. The practice of acquiring animal, botanical, and geographical curiosities grew over the following three centuries, and entire rooms in homes became dedicated to exhibiting astonishing marvels of the natural world. These elaborate curiosity cabinets contributed significantly to developments in various fields of empirical science. By contemplating the classification of species and categorization of specimens in these collections, educated minds made new observations that led to radical questions concerning the mysterious operations of nature and humankind’s relationship with it.  

Political Landscapes and Allegorical Nature

The constantly expanding commerce of the United East India Company and the encroachment of Dutch colonists into the Americas in the 17th century presented exciting new opportunities to painters in the Netherlands. By that time, the tradition of Northern European landscape painting was well established, and these vistas from far-flung regions of the globe presented painters with both fresh sources of inspiration and new challenges to their creativity and business. Many artists were motivated by personal curiosity to travel abroad, enticed by career-enhancing opportunities for rendering spectacular new horizons onto their canvases. As contact with different cultures increased with the Dutch domination of trade during this period, the art market witnessed a related demand for scenes that conveyed the wonder and exoticism that the colonial imagination attributed to foreign nations and their peoples.  

Theatrics of Social Life in the Age of Enlightenment

Under the rule of Louis XIV, from 1643 to 1715, art in France was generally limited to work that flattered and promoted the interests of the country’s monarchical order. By the final years of the king’s unprecedentedly long reign, many young aristocrats were bored with strict moral codes and rigid protocols of courtly life and began seeking new entertainments that would fulfill their cravings for worldly pleasures and fun.


Variously inspired by the aesthetic and commercial viability of newly arrived items from the Far East, artist and craftspeople from France, Germany, Italy, and England began emulating the patterns and other composition features of Asian artworks. For most of these artists, exposure to Asian cultures was limited to imported luxury goods, so their own creations frequently featured figures that were consequently stereotypes. Nevertheless, the widespread admiration among Europeans for the cultural production of the Far East brought into question many values deeply rooted in cultural relativism and would consequently influence the universalist philosophy of Enlightenment-era thinkers.

A Grand Tour

For centuries, Italy was considered the epicenter of European cultural achievement and identity. Beginning in the early 1700s, young aristocrats from across the Continent and Great Britain began traveling to its cities and countryside to experience its beautiful Mediterranean vistas firsthand and visit the region’s historical monuments and ruins. A voyage of this kind was known as the Grand Tour, and its completion became imperative for the proper education of European gentlemen until well into the 19th century.  

Antiquity Revived

Following the spectacular excavations of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum near Naples that commenced in the mid-18th century, European enthusiasts of art and history began to look upon the ruined ancient monuments already visible in Rome with newfound appreciation. Painters, sculptors, and designers began borrowing motifs and forms from archaeological discoveries and combining these with the fantasized images of antiquity born from the modern European imagination. Known as capricci, these fantastical images of the ancient world were created with great frequency throughout Enlightenment-era Europe as an invitation to daydream of everyday existence in a bygone era.