( 0 Votes )

ITALY’S self-esteem is at a low ebb. Last month’s election was won by clowns. The Italian economy is struggling and the new pope is reading the results of an unhappy inquiry into the Roman Catholic church bequeathed to him by his predecessor. But for visitors to Florence, the dome that Filippo Brunelleschi built in 1436 rises “above the skies, ample to cover with its shadow all the Tuscan people”, according to a contemporary commentator.

Brunelleschi’s dome is a reminder that Florence was once the fulcrum of a new world. It also symbolises the intellectual and artistic movement that came to be known as the Renaissance, which many argue had its birth here.

A new exhibition devoted to this pivotal moment explores how a small group of remarkable men in Republican Florence broke through the carapace of medieval thought to rediscover ancient learning. They unleashed a wave of study and creativity that spread across politics, art, architecture, literature and philosophy, and has become a byword for renewal.

The movement placed man, rather than God, at the centre of the universe. Nature, more than heaven, was to be the proper subject for an artist. The causes and consequences of this shift have been endlessly debated. But the curators of this show argue that it was in sculpture, not painting, that the Renaissance was really born.

They suggest that this aesthetic revolution first showed itself in two bronze relief panels made by Brunelleschi and his compatriot, Lorenzo Ghiberti, in 1401 in a competition to create a set of new bronze doors for the cathedral’s neighbouring baptistery. Both artists sculpted scenes of vivid human drama drawn from the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac (pictured). Although Ghiberti eventually won the competition, both artists combined a Gothic elegance of costume and scenery with realistically modelled figures that owe a visible debt to classical sculpture.

A collaboration between the National Museum of the Bargello, the main sculpture museum in Florence, and the Louvre in Paris, the exhibition has brought together 137 objects, from museums and private collections all over Europe and America. Most of the curators’ requests were granted, with the result that almost all the great pieces of this Renaissance jigsaw are here.

The first few rooms contain examples of the Roman sculptures that provided the stimulus for the innovative Renaissance pieces placed beside them. The magnificent Roman vase known as the Talento Crater, which once stood outside Pisa cathedral, inspired Nicola Pisano, a 13th-century master sculptor who was an important precursor to the Renaissance. Roman portrait-busts have been placed nearby, alongside the monumental statues of prophets and saints that they influenced.

The most important artist exhibited here is Donatello, who started out as an assistant to Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Brought together, on his home ground, are some of Donatello’s finest sculptures, such as the 1425 hollow bronze statue of St Louis of Toulouse, which has been restored specially for this exhibition. The show enables the visitor to trace directly Donatello’s decisive impact on his contemporaries, including, among others, his longtime collaborator Michelozzo, whose work is represented here by two marble angels from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The exhibition also points out how ideas expressed first in sculpture became the catalyst for new ideas about beauty and truth in painting. One example is Donatello’s delicate use of precise central-point perspective when carving in very shallow relief, which was first seen in 1417, in a scene of St George fighting the dragon. This development was immediately seized on by the painters of the day—Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno—who wanted to emulate the liveliness of sculpture by creating convincing three-dimensional space on flat canvas and wood.

The Strozzi’s thematic approach reinforces the importance of the contribution that sculpture made to the Florentine Renaissance. The result is a selective rather than exhaustive presentation. One room explores how the transformation of Roman putti into Donatello’s charming childlike spirits represents a concerted effort to reconcile Roman imagery with Christian ideals. Another looks at Donatello’s reinvention of the classical equestrian portrait. A whole room is devoted to paintings and sculptures of the Madonna and child. The pieces reinforce the idea that the Renaissance’s love affair with antiquity was not at the expense of Christian piety, proving at the same time just how quickly new ideals of beauty could spread.

The exhibition also shows sculpture following Florence’s political shift from a citizens’ republic to a state that was controlled more and more by powerful families like the Medici and the Strozzi. Donatello’s early monumental sculptures were commissioned by guilds or the church. The later portrait-busts of Florentine worthies in Roman garb by Mino da Fiesole reflect a new world of magnificent private patronage.

The elegant geometries of the Strozzi palace are illustrated by Giuliano da Sangallo’s wooden model of 1489, placed at the end of the show. As with every exhibition here, departing visitors are expected to spill into the city and seek out the Renaissance elsewhere—in other museums and churches, and under Brunelleschi’s dome itself.

“The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence, 1400-1460” is at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence until August 18th before moving to the Louvre in Paris from September 23rd until January 6th 2014

source: http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21574466-new-exhibition-celebrates-masters-early-15th-century-dawn?fsrc=rss%7Cbar

Advertisement

Who's Online in Entertainment

We have 33 guests online