The Springtime of the Renaissance in Florence. Sculptures and the Arts in Florence 1400-60
Exhibition & Catalogue Review
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence 23.03-18.08 2013
Musée du Louvre, Paris 26.09.2013-6.01.2014
Earlier this year an exhibition at the Louvre aimed to present various themes to inform visitors’ understanding of the origins of the Renaissance in Florence. As the curators, Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi and Marc Bormand, explained in the catalogue’s opening essay the exhibition was a fascinating ‘yet virtually impossible undertaking’. Indeed the quality of the works and the large number of loans from distant collections, including Naples, Philadelphia, and Berlin, was staggering. The exhibition was divided into ten themes, opening with the section entitled The Legacy of the Fathers with works of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. The following sections discussed the importance of ancient sculpture for Renaissance artists, demonstrated by the juxtaposition of the Brunelleschi’s Sacrifice of Isaac relief from Bargello with Spinario from the Capitoline Hill. Other themes explored were the development of civic humanism, the history of perspective, the challenges posed by equestrian statues, and the shift from the republican to private patronage. The exhibition also included other objects connected with sculpture, such as fresco and panel paintings as well as illuminated manuscripts. The artworks in the exhibition were displayed against neutral grey walls, which worked extremely well, especially as a setting for bronze sculptures.
Of particular interest to our project was the room dedicated to Madonna and Child reliefs. The examples were of the highest quality and included Donatello’s Chellini Madonna, the Madonna da Fiesole recently attributed to Brunelleschi, and the highlights, four sculptures in glazed terracotta by Luca della Robbia, including the jewel-like relief from the Detroit Collection. However, we regretted that the curators did not take more account of the religious context of these works. The catalogue did address the function of these objects as instruments for private devotion, but in the actual exhibition more emphasis was placed on the much-discussed question of Quattrocento workshop practice without drawing any new conclusions. Similarly, the juxtaposition of Luca’s sculpture with Gentile da Fabriano’s Presentation of Jesus in the Temple painting, although visually compelling, rendered the interpretation of both artworks purely aesthetic.
We highly recommend the catalogue of the exhibition which forms a serious contribution to the scholarship with brilliant essays from Giancarlo Gentilini about the invention of the glazed terracotta and Timothy Verdon’s analysis of the building site of Santa Maria del Fiore.
We are wondering what you thought about the exhibition. Do you agree that the themes explored by the curators lacked attention to the importance of the domestic and religious practices in the Quattrocento?
– Zuzanna Sarnecka & Deborah Howard