|Luca della Robbia, Madonna and Child|
From the very first room of this exhibition, I was completely amazed by the fact that it is even taking place. I kept asking myself, how did they manage to get all these priceless works of art to Paris? Huge public sculptures, frescoes, devotional portraits priceless Donatello sculptures. Ghiberti’s alternate sculptures for the doors of the Baptistry, and works by the likes of Luca della Robbia, Michelozzo, Pisano and the list goes on, fill this exhibition. The priceless works were exquisitely lit, and although there was no photography allowed, the security was all but non-existant, allowing for closeup consumption of these exquisite works. It was awe-inspiring from beginning to end.
|Roman Period, Le Tireur d'Epine|
The exhibition tells a narrative, the sort that has me wondering how it was determined? By the works that are available? In advance, thus driving curatorial choices? It has me wondering because it seemed somewhat arbitrary: beginning with the establishment of Florence as the new Rome, rivalling the capital’s tradition with a turn to Greek sculpture and the Classical tradition. As we know, in Florence, this began with the building of the Duomo, Brunelleschi’s challenge to perspective in representation, the shift to humanism in painting. The exhibition proceeds through various themes of sculpture in the quattrocento (including some amazing Donatello masterpieces) and in the final room are various portrait sculptures commissioned by the Medici family, and of the Medici family. Thus, it moves from art made for the church, to art made for bankers, via sculptures and frescoes made for various institutions, such as the Hospital for Innocents.
|Donatello, Saint Rossore|
All the magnificent sculptural works by Donatello, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and others aside, my favorite of all the pieces on display were the breathtaking devotional Virgin and Child sculptures by Luca della Robbia. The enameled terracotta, made to evoke white marble and the blue sky behind the Madonna radiated luminosity and looked as though they could have been made yesterday. They were in perfect condition. I was also completely overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty of the flawless white marble statues in the final room. The Olympia for example, had the most exquisite, smooth skin, like china, with a delicacy that elicited a desire to stroke the faces. It was as though the soft, translucent marble were skin itself. In keeping with the emphasis on humanism, these sculptures were remarkable for their full and vibrant personalities.
|Desiderio da Settignano, Marietta Strozzi, 1460|
My one reservation about the exhibition stemmed from looking at Renaissance artworks in a museum, as opposed to the spaces for which they were commissioned. So much of the meaning and verve of the exhibition is lost as we walk around ogling at gold plated putti and bronze saints, however magnificent they are, in glass boxes. Andrea del Castagno’s fresco serious Four Illustrious Men and Women are an excellent example of what is lost through displacement of the works. The three dimensional figures in various postures of walking out of their recesses would have been painted in different positions around a wall. Their looks, the placement of their bodies, the viewer’s perspective of them would have been measured and determined according to their placement. So when we see them lined up along one wall in a museum, the experience must be impoverished.
|Andrea del Castro, Four Illustrious Men and Women|
According to L’Express Paris has not seen such a rich exhibition of Florentine art since 1935, and many of these works are leaving Italy for the first time. So I would suggest ignoring my reservations and making a point of getting to the Louvre as soon as possible. And, while I am unsure about the crowds that may or may not be rushing to the exhibition, I went on Wednesday night and the exhibition as all but empty.