Now in his eleventh year as Director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William & Mary, FSU alumnus Aaron De Groft (PhD 2000) has overseen a decade of impressive expansion and ambitious exhibitions of European Renaissance and Baroque art. Under De Groft’s leadership, the Muscarelle increasingly attracts national and international recognition for its exhibitions, such as loans from the Medici Collections, landscape paintings from the Uffizi, Golden Age Dutch landscapes from Dulwich Picture Gallery, Michelangelo drawings from the Casa Buonarroti, and Caravaggio paintings from Italian collections. In 2015 the Muscarelle organized the major exhibition Leonardo: The Idea of Beauty, which later opened to record-breaking crowds at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City. Currently the Muscarelle is hosting the first-ever international loan exhibition of Botticelli’s works in this country, Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting from the Medici to the Bonfires of the Vanities.
A 2017 Artsy article describes the Muscarelle’s groundbreaking exhibitions as the result of the scholarship and teamwork of De Groft and his assistant director and chief curator John T. Spike, who took the position in 2012 because he “found the museum directed by De Groft to be young, ambitious and creative.” In the years since De Groft took the helm, the Muscarelle has quadrupled its membership and increased annual attendance from 11,000 to 165,000, published thirteen major exhibition catalogues, and added more than 1,500 works to the permanent collection – including German Expressionist and American modern art, Russian Imperial porcelain, Japanese woodblock prints, and paintings by Annibale Carracci, Bronzino, Peter Paul Rubens, Dirk Baburen, Marguerite Gerard, and Paul Cézanne.
De Groft’s background at Florida State University and The Ringling Museum of Art laid the groundwork for his ambitious leadership at the Muscarelle Museum. After receiving his undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and his M.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of South Carolina, De Groft came to FSU to pursue a doctorate. As a graduate student in Art History, he focused his studies in Renaissance and Baroque art, completing his dissertation “John Ringling in Perpetua Memoria: The Legacy and Prestige of Art and Collecting” in 2000 under the direction of Dr. Lauren Weingarden. While pursuing doctoral research, De Groft joined The Ringling in 1995 as curator and project coordinator for the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration. He served as the Deputy Director & Chief Curator of The Ringling from 2000 to 2005, during which time he helped devise a new museum master plan and oversaw the completion of the $15 million restoration of the Ringling mansion, Ca d’Zan. He was particularly proud of his role in increasing awareness of the depth and breadth of The Ringling’s collection and the reputation of its founder, John Ringling. When in 2005 he returned to his alma mater as the Director of the Muscarelle Museum, De Groft wrote, “It is both bittersweet and exciting to leave a place that I love so much to return to the place that claimed me first.”