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Archive for the ‘Artisans of Italy’ Category

Torment of St. AnthonyMichelangeloca. 1488

Torment of St. Anthony
Michelangelo
ca. 1488

A young Michelangelo, barely twelve years of age, copied an engraving while in the workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I never would have guessed this to be a work by the same master who painted the Doni Tondo, or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Originally attributed to ‘a student of the workshop,’ it was only after the 2008 purchase of the work by a New York art collector, that the panel was definitively studied and attributed to Buonarotti.

What a surprising and unusual piece it is.

Martin Schongauer, one of four sons of an Augsburg goldsmith, created a varied and complex set of copper engravings. The Torment is one of the few pieces that exist as a separate print. Martin’s more famous works are series: Passion, Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and Wise and Foolish Virgins.

How did this engraving find its way to Florence? The Medici Bank had many offices across Europe. It is possible that the work was sold to collectors in Bruges or Geneva, for example and then it was traded among merchants who traveled to and from Florence on business; all conjecture at this point, to be sure.

It is certainly difficult to understand why Michelangelo selected, or perhaps was given the commission to paint, his interpretation of this engraving. The young man tightened the design of the original engraving and, it is said by art experts, he studied the anatomy of fish so that a more lifelike rendering of sea creatures could be added to the work.

Why would Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in the heart of Renaissance Florence, select such an engraving for their study? Difficult to say. Perhaps it was the unique structure of the work, the elliptical, nearly hypnotic, central core that both draws you in and seems to circulate as you study it.

Martin SchongauerTorment of St Anthony1488

Martin Schongauer
Torment of St Anthony
1488

Regardless, the young Michelangelo created a painted wooden panel that moves the tormented saint from the skies above the middle eastern desert to the blue skies of Tuscany. In the background is a river scene that could easily be interpreted as that of the Arno River as it courses through the city.

Whether his work was created in the workshops of Florence, in his studio carving masterpieces in marble, or laboring under incredibly difficult conditions on scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the diversity, skill and artistic eye of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni continue to fascinate.

The Torment is now in the collection of the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. As of this writing, I was unable to ascertain the engraving’s location or collection.

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Rondanini Pieta1564

Rondanini Pieta
1564

The burdens of life and the support of a son for his suffering mother fuse  in Michelangelo’s final sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta.

It is believed that Buonarotti began work on this final pieta in the mid-1550’s, not long after he first brought chisel to stone on what is known as the Bandini Pieta. While that work resides in Michelangelo’s city of Florence (in the Museo del Opera del Duomo), the Rondanini occupies a special space in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco. The Pieta is named after the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome, where the sculpture stood for many years.

In the Rondanini, the master portrays in a most intimate and telling way, acceptance of his mortality and the unique bond between mother and son. The master lost his mother when he was but six years old. That early loss significantly affected his later work, with the portrayal of a mother who has lost her son particularly moving in this final sculpture.

When viewed from the side, the position of the two figures seems to show Christ supporting this mother. Perhaps it was Michelangelo’s intent to portray the son’s understanding of his mother’s suffering upon his death: he wished to support his mother in her grief.

Rondanini Pieta Detail

Rondanini Pieta Detail

It is, from any angle, a stunning and moving final work by a very long lived Tuscan master.

The work of Buonarotti, particularly this final pieta, seem to me an influence on the work of Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor. He was born in 1901 into a family whose father was a famous post-impressionist painter. Alberto’s talents in art were evidenced at an early age and, after studying in Paris with a student of Auguste Rodin, he established himself as a power in the modernist movement.

When I first viewed the The Rondanini Pieta, I was reminded of Giacometti’s works in bronze, particularly those of female figures. Alberto said that the elongated figures of women portrayed, in his words, “…the way I look at a woman.”

The elongated limbs, the poise of the woman (in this case, below) seem to have found inspiration in Michelangelo’s last pieta: stretched arms, a certain sadness, a nearly sensual texture and a common peace in both the Rondanini and Giacometti’s work.

The beauty of Michelangelo’s work underscores the impact his sculpture has had on the world of art. Whether or not Giacometti ever even saw the Rondanini in person, and whether he was in any way influenced by Michelangelo’s work, will remain a mystery. Giacometti’s stunning interpretation of the human figure, I believe, echoes very strongly the style and genius of Buonarotti’s final pieta.

Giacometti Bronze

Giacometti Bronze

IF YOU GO:

Castle Grounds Open Hours

Monday through Sunday

7.00AM – 6:00PM (Normal Schedule)

7.00AM – 7.00PM (Festival Days

Entrance to the Castle grounds is free, Museums required paid admission

Castello Information: Tel. 39.02.88.46.3700

Castello Museums:

Entrance Ticket: Euro 3.00 per person

Castello Museum Hours

Tuesday through Sunday (Closed Monday)

9.00AM – 5:30AM (Ticket office closes at 5:00PM)

Ticket Office Information: Tel. +39.02.88.46.3703

Closed on the following holidays: 25 December, 1 January, 1 May, Mondays and Easter.

From across Milan, you can reach the Castello using the following subway, bus and tram lines:

Subway:

MM1 (Cadorna and Cairoli Stations)

MM2 (Cadorna and Lanza Stations)

Bus Lines: 18, 37, 50, 58, 61 and 94

Tram Lines: 1, 2, 4, 12, 14, and 19

For works by Giacometti, visit the Kunsthaus Zurich – should your travels take you north out of Italy:

Address:

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

Sat/Sun/Tues 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Wed–Fri 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Mon 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (Chagall exhibition only)

Groups and school classes by prior appointment only
Tel. +41 (0)44 253 84 84

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Leonardoda VinciSalvator Mundi

Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi

An inscrutable smile, a curious pose and mesmerizing eyes are all reminiscent of the Mona Lisa. Over the course of centuries missing da Vinci’s have been coveted and searched for. No less true for the Salvator Mundi, Leonardo’s “Savior of the World.”

The story of the painting’s journey crosses country boundaries and centuries of time. About one hundred years after the painting was completed, an engraving was made of the work by Wenceslaus Hollar, a Bohemian engraver. Over twenty copies of the painting are known to exist.

It was in 1763, upon the sale of the contents of Buckingham House (now Palace) that the painting disappeared from view. 137 years later, in 1900, Sir Frederick Cook acquired the painting for his personal collection. Cook’s descendants sold the work at auction in 1958 for £58.00, believing it to be yet another copy-and a poor one at that.

As with nearly all works of the Renaissance, there were many copies made over the course of centuries. Such is certainly the case of the Salvator Mundi, whose copies number over twenty.

salvator-small

Salvator Mundi
Pre-Restoration

It was only upon further inspection and study by the art historian and New York art dealer, Robert Simon, and a team of other experts that the hidden secrets of the painting became known. Damaged by numerous attempts at restoration, including poor work on the wood panel upon which the work was painted, it took patience, the use of x-ray and infrared study as well as other scientific methods to discover that this is the original da Vinci.

There were many crucial points of evidence that have convinced the art world that this is truly by Leonardo. The attention to the detail of the painting, the beauty of the crystal orb that Christ holds in his left hand (a symbol of the world) and, most importantly, pentimenti, proved the marks of the master.

Pentimenti? These are preliminary positioning and design that the artist changes in the course of the work. The detail that finally gave the conservators the information they needed was, interestingly enough, was the thumb on Christ’s raised hand. Upon infrared inspection it was discovered that the thumb had originally been in a slightly different position than that on the final work. Further, the pigment’s consistency, the type of media used and the technique all prove, without doubt, that this is the original.

Art experts from Florence to Milan, New York, Washington and Paris studied the restored work and all have agreed; da Vinci’s work. What is still not clear is when or where the painting was completed. Some believe it was painted in Milan around the time of the Last Supper. Others believe that it was painted in Florence after Leonardo moved to the city in 1500.

Regardless, the fascinating and mesmerizing eyes, the finely captured blessing hand and the living and breathing figure we encounter only serve to add further mystery to the works of Leonardo.

After years of studying Italian Renaissance art, I have come to believe that it is Leonardo’s eyes that truly fascinate us. Their hypnotic similarity, their quixotic inscrutability are what draw us in. Give this some thought, a combined photo of an eye of the Salvator Mundi and an eye of the Mona Lisa. Hmmm…

The Eyes of Da Vinci

The Eyes of Da Vinci

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As part of the Art and History of Renaissance Art class, this video is used to introduce the students to the music and art of certain periods of Florentine art. I hope that you will enjoy this brief (Four Minute) presentation and, as always, thank you for taking the time to read about bella Italia with “Travels Across Italy”!

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Beheading of John the Baptist, South Doors, Baptistery Florence

Beheading of John the Baptist, South Doors, Baptistery Florence

They have faded into the shadows of the Renaissance. Two men whose work surmounts doors of the Baptistery in Florence, you might imagine, would be of the fame and stature of other Renaissance sculptors or artists in bronze, like Donatello or Cellini. While we may not, today, recognize their names, the incredible quality of their works stand as testament to phenomenal talent.

We hardly ever notice them, the giants above the doors of the baptistery of San Giovanni Batista in Florence – St. John the Baptist Baptistery. Ghiberti’s Eastern “Doors of Paradise”, so termed by Michelangelo, draw the crowds that hover around what are actually copies made from decades old casts.

While crowds admire and photograph the eastern doors, walk around to the north and south doors and look up. On the south side of the octagonal structure are doors designed by Andrea Pisano. The casting and gilding were done by Leonardo d’Avanzano, a Venetian famous for his renowned techniques with bronze. These doors were originally the eastern doors until Ghiberti won the competition for a new set of panels. It was in 1452 that the Pisano doors were moved to their present location on the building’s south side.

Above the south doors are three statues depicting the Beheading of John the Baptist by Vincenzo Danti. He was born and raised in a family with a goldsmith father and was educated in the art of sculpture in Rome. He received a commission in 1533 for a bronze of Pope Julius III which stands outside of the cathedral in Perugia.

Julius III Danti, Perugia

Julius III
Danti, Perugia

A commission followed in 1567 for three figures to stand above the south doors of the Baptistery. These are considered to be his masterpieces.

An interesting additional detail about the figures that surmount the “Gates of Paradise” at the Baptistery. These three figures, depicting the Baptism of Christ, were started by Andrea Sansovino between 1501 and 1503. What many people do not know is that Sansovino was unable to complete the commission. Two of the figures, Christ and the Baptist,  were completed by none other than Vincenzo Danti. The third figure, an angel, was not completed until 1752 by Innocenzo Spinazzi.

Baptism of Christ, Sansovino and Rustici – Angel by Spinazzi
Photo from recent exhibition at the Museo del Opera del Duomo
Florence

On the north side of the baptistery are another three figures, titled The Sermon of the Baptist. Created by Giovanni Francesco Rustici-and, many believe, in concert with Leonardo di Medici with whom the sculptor lived after meeting the maestro in Verrocchio’s workshops-the pieces were never sufficiently paid for nor credit given, according to records of the time. Yet, these incredible bronzes stand strongly in company of Sansovino and, even, Michelangelo.  Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, claimed that Rustici was one of the greatest Renaissance sculptors in Tuscany.

https://i1.wp.com/www.tickitaly.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/florence-baptistery-rustici.jpg

Giovanni Francesco Rustici
Sermon of the Baptist
Baptistery, Florence

When you visit the city, and stand before Ghiberti’s unforgettable eastern doors of the Baptistery, please take time to study the figures above all of the doors. Little known though they may have been, the bronzes are all fascinating works of art, works that introduce us to Vincenzo Danti and Giovanni Francesco Rustici.

IF YOU GO:

The Baptistery is directly in front of the Duomo in Florence.

Piazza Duomo

The Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista

Open Hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – CLOSED

Thursday, Friday and Saturday –  8:30AM – 7:00PM

Sunday, 8:30AM – 2:00PM

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Michelangelo’s David towers over the history of Renaissance art in Florence. His expression of beauty, idealized and immortalized in stone, has drawn millions of visitors from around the world. Yet, there are other Davids, equally fascinating and artistically important, across the city of Florence. Four remain in the city and two have been placed in other collections.

Representations of David, the youthful seemingly weak warrior who changed the destiny of an army and a people, became the symbol of republican Florence. In the view of the  Signioria, the governing body of the city, David signified this strong message: “Don’t assume weakness in what might appear to be a feeble government. We have slingshots and we will use them.”

Donatello, David 1409/1416

Donatello, David 1409/1416

One of the earliest pieces sculpted by Donatello is his first David, completed in 1409. Though the work was given additional touches by the master in 1416, it still stands as a monumental change in the style of the more staid and accepted statues of his day; the mark of a master artist.

This is a gentle David, not a fierce warrior. The position of the fingers on the left hand, the curve of the body in a kind of easy repose, the lay of the right hand over the center of the body all convey someone at rest, someone who has not just beheaded a Goliath and turned the fortunes of war. Laying almost serenely at his feet, the head of the giant peers out from between David’s feet. Perplexing in its ease, confounding in its implied intent, this is truly a master’s piece.

Donatello, David, 1440

Donatello, David, 1440

The masterpiece of the collection of these varied and unique works of art is, I believe, the Donatello bronze David. Michelangelo is quoted in many sources as saying it was Donatello’s work, his eye and his commitment to an entirely new way of creating sculpture, that inspired Buonarotti’s work. Donatello’s is the second oldest of the Florentine Davids, having been completed in 1440. It was commissioned by Cosimo di Medici to be placed in the central courtyard of the family’s home in the center of Florence.

Cast in bronze and astonishingly different, viewers who study the piece – its details and hidden messages – are constantly amazed at its complexity. As with many masterful works of art, Donatello’s vision of the young David incites criticism and inquiry.

Why does Goliath have a helmet on his head? If David’s slingshot is, as the Bible implies, capable of accuracy with a stone, would that stone have penetrated the helmet? Would the blow have been so strong as to kill the Goliath?

Why does Donatello’s work figure a man as you view the piece from the front, yet from the back seems so feminine? The asexuality of this David presents one of its most confounding questions.

Then, there is that feather…Goliath’s helmet was cast with two feathers on it. One has been crushed by David’s foot, yet the other feather caresses nearly the entire distance of  the inner right thigh. Was the feather used to create increased stability for the pose of the cast bronze? Was it a slap in the face of the supposedly conservative morals of a city that was known to be anything but conservative?

Is this Donatello David an homage to the ancients – a rebirth of the classic bronze nudes of Greece?

The list continues. The more a viewer takes the time to study the statue on the first floor gallery of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the more questions that viewer takes away.

Verrocchio, David,

Verrocchio, David, 1473 – 1475

It was in 1473, that Andrea del Verrocchio began work on his bronze statue of David. (Note: Many art historians estimate the work to have been completed in ca. 1465). This work mimics the asexual posturing of the Donatello bronze David in many ways. The languid curve of the body, the position of the hand on the statue’s left hip, and a sword that seems to be held at the ready all underscore, once again, the figurative representation of Florence’s idealized vision of itself. The commission that Verrocchio received was for the work to be displayed in the Medici home.

A recent restoration of the bronze has uncovered gilding, hidden by centuries of varnish and pollution. Additionally, the placement of Goliath’s head on the piece, as originally intended, seems not to be where it has lain for centuries. Many art historians now believe that the head was originally intended to lay to the right of David’s right foot. At a recent loan to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the head was so positioned raising even more questions about this masterpiece of Renaissance art.

It is interesting to note that, until the next statue of David was commissioned, Verrocchio’s bronze still interpreted the youth as relatively weak, ostensibly incapable of violence. The piece now has a place of importance in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Bellano, David,1470 - 1480

Bellano, David,
1470 – 1480

Sometime between 1470 and 1480, another young sculptor who was a student of Donatello, one Bartolomeo Bellano, created a bronze cast statue of David. This work, gilded on bronze, is another curious representation of the moments after Goliath’s death. Rather than head up in pride and strength, Bellano’s work shows the young man posed in a very similar way to Donatello’s bronze: the sword supports the right arm, the sling lays loose at the figure’s side, the head of the giant lays between the feet of the conqueror.  This particular piece, though created in Florence, now is part of the Met Museum’s collection in New York City.

An anonymous sculptor, known as the Master of the David and St. John statuettes, created a David out of terracotta in 1490. Absent the fact that this statue was created from fired terracotta rather than bronze, this work reflects very strongly the influence of Verrocchio’s 1476 work. The hand position, the lay of the hand on the left hip, the position of the sword all are similar in both style and, it seems, creative intent to that of Verrocchio. This piece is currently in storage and is not available for public viewing as of the date of the blog post.

m_of_david_stJohn_1490

Now comes Michelangelo. The young master selected a piece of Carrara marble that had long been abandoned in a side yard of the city’s cathedral workshops. Rossellino – who had attempted years before to carve the piece,  had ceased to work on it for reasons still unknown.

The Operai, those who were responsible for the works of the Duomo, were commissioning sculptors to create large statues to be placed along the buttresses of the Duomo, Santa Maria dei Fiori.  Michelangelo’s persistence and insistence that he should have the commission, even after masters like Leonardo da Vinci had been consulted, finally paid off. The Operai made it clear that this David was to be strong and veral. Since this statue was to be a major work for the duomo, it was to communicate to the world, THIS is Florence, this is the city of the Medici, of art and of financial power.

For as many books have been written about how the David was carved, there are differing opinions. One historian posits that the master used a wax model that was submerged in water. Michelangelo, he proposes, slowly let water out of the container and, as the level exposed the model, so carved Michelangelo. Another wrote that the statue was created,  as the master so often is quoted as saying, “I simply saw the figure of David in the marble and I carved away all the stone that did not belong.”

Whatever anyone’s interpretations are, the first view of the statue, mounted on a large base at the end of a low-lit corridor that is lined with Michelangelo’s “Slaves” (once displayed outdoors in the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace) is breathtaking. Few are unaffected by the stunning visual impact of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Michelangelo, David1501 - 1504

Michelangelo, David
1501 – 1504

The physics of moving such a heavy piece of marble to the top of the cathedral generated long discourse over the appropriate location for the statue. Final agreement was reached that it should stand outside the entrance doors of the city’s Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the city government. It remained there from 1504 until 1873 when it was moved into the protection of the Accademia di Belle Arti.

The space that was once occupied by the David, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, remained empty until 1910 when a copy of the David was placed in the same location.

Michelangelo’s intent in leaving the head of Goliath completely out of the work was in keeping with the Operai’s original intent that the work would surmount the entrance of the city’s cathedral. Others have interpreted the absence of the giant’s severed head as indication that Michelangelo created a young man who had made the decision to kill Goliath. The stone in the statues right hand and the position of the sling over his left shoulder seem to support that view. The fierce determination on the young man’s face, especially when seen straight on in photographs, also shows a focused determination to action.

Michelangelo, DavidFace Detail

Michelangelo, David
Face Detail

As with all things Florentine, surprises are found in nearly every museum, every piazza, every palazzo. When you are in the city, be sure to expand your understanding of the history of David. Many exist and each deserves the same attention that “the David” has garnered for centuries.

IF YOU GO: (Details for the Accademia follow the Bargello)

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Via del Proconsolo, 4  50122 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.238.8606

Web: Bargello

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Hours (Please note the unusual hours that this museum is open)

Opening Hours:

Monday – Sunday, 08:15AM – 1:50PM

NOTE: The ticket office closes at 1:20PM and closing processed begin at 1:40PM

Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of each month,

Closed the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month

Closed January 1, May 1 and December 25.

Accademia di Belle Arti

Via Ricasoli, 66  50122 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.215.449

Web: Accademia

Tickets: BOOK YOUR TICKETS and ENTRANCE TIME IN ADVANCE! (Web: Pre-Reserved Tickets)

Lines at the Accademia for public access are, during the summer, as long as a two hour wait. To avoid that delay, you can prepay for tickets to the Accademia to see the David on a specific day and for a specific time. Also note: the afternoon summer sun warms (and I mean WARMS) the wall where the public access line is located. To avoid any long delays book in advance!

Opening Hours:

Note; CLOSED ON MONDAY

Open 08:15AM to 6:50PM Tuesday to Sunday

Closed: Mondays, January 1, May 1 and December 25

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Michelangelo. It is a name that conjures images of paint strained eyes, of angry popes and of marble dust.

MichelangeloBacchus, 1496-1497

Michelangelo
Bacchus, 1496-1497

The Bacchus, an unusual and controversial work, was created by Michelangelo between 1496 and 1497, when the young artist was twenty years old.  The commission came from a rather unexpected source, that of Raffaele Sansoni Galeoti Riario, who became Cardinal Riario. Passionate about sculpture and, in particular his garden, Riario had commissioned the piece to add to his home sculpture garden in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome.

Palazzo della Cancelleria

Palazzo della Cancelleria

An interesting side story to this commission. Riario was sold a sleeping cupid as a true piece of ancient Roman art. The connoisseurship of the Cardinal was widely known and he, eventually, discovered that the piece had been carved by Michelangelo. Upset though Riario may have been, he was also an astute businessman. It was his orders that brought Michelangelo to Rome where the artist worked for most of the remaining years of his life.

As the photo of the Cancelleria, the Chancellery of the Vatican, attests, Riario had enormous financial resources available to support his commissions.

Upon seeing the Bacchus, however, Riario’s reaction was not dissimilar to words penned by Percy Shelley many years later, “It looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and has an expression of dissoluteness the most revolting.”

Riario hated the work and refused to accept it. However, an associate of his at the Vatican, one Jacopo Galli, Riario’s banker, patron and friend of Michelangelo, paid for the commission and placed it in his private collection.

It was not until 1847 that the statue was transferred to Florence where it now resides in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Bacchus, FaceMichelangelo

Bacchus, Face
Michelangelo

It is a strange work, to say the least. The expression of Bacchus, the asexual nature of his body, the posture of drunkenness he displays were all brilliant and intentional marks of a master artist. What offended Riario and what often offends people to this day is that the statue does not fit most people’s expectations of a god. Human in every aspect, with a grape-eating faun at this side, was – I believe – a not too indirect way for Michelangelo to portray his view of Riario as a person and, perhaps, the church in general.

Known to be exacerbating, difficult, unpredictably  emotional, the young sculptor may have seen this commission as a way of communicating his disdain for the patrons of his youth. It may have galled Michelangelo to know that a sleeping cupid had been the means by which orders came from Pope Julius II, one of Riario’s relatives, for the artist to report to Rome.

When you are in Florence, be sure to take a morning (see open hours below IF YOU GO) to explore the galleries in the Bargello Museum. The Ground floor gallery houses many pieces of remarkable sculpture, the Bacchus among them. The second floor galleries house Donatello’s David, works by the Della Robbia workshop and many other treasures of Renaissance art.

IF YOU GO:

Museo Nazionale el Bargello

Via del Proconsolo, 4

50122 Florence

Tel: +39.055.238.8606

Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Web: Bargello Firenze

Open Hours: Please note the very specific hours that the museum is open: 8:15AM – 1:50PM Daily with the exception of:

Closed, 1st, 3rd, 5th Sunday of the month, Closed 2nd and 4th Monday of the month and closed January 1, May 1, and December 25

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