THE CINQUECENTO IN FLORENCE AN EXHIBITION AT PALAZZO STROZZI
Michelangelo - River God
Recently restored after 50 years in a deposit
Andrea del Sarto
This unusual exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi opens with an extraordinary piece: the recently restored ‘River God’ by Michelangelo (around 1524), a fragile clay and organic materials model for a statue – never executed – that was to ornate one of the Medici tombs at San Lorenzo.
The twisted, elongated torso, conveying powerful waves of emotion, was an emblem for the next generation of artists, that never ceased emulating Michelangelo’s creative genius, but tended to exaggerate and contort his forms to the extreme.
Next to it stands a surprising altarpiece, painted in the same year, that will strike you with its crystalline, luminous and changing colors, and with the elegant chiseling of each figure and element. It is Andrea del Sarto ‘Pieta’di Luco’, which well epitomizes the tendencies of the next wave of painters.
Vasari, who defined Andrea del Sarto ‘the faultless painter’ states in his ‘Lives of the Artists’ that art ‘has been reborn and reached perfection in our time’. The exhibition centers on this generation, the painters and sculptors that followed the great season of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Today we call this period ‘Mannerism’: the term derives from the Italian ‘maniera’, that simply means ‘style’, as to say, it is a ‘stylish style’: refined, intellectual, inventive at the point of resulting bizarre, both in the choice of colors – frequently acid and dissonant – and themes. Not to say about forms…
Mannerism, that first developed in Florence and Rome, and spread to Northern Italy, France and to most of Europe, was long considered an aftermath, a sort of decadent distortion of the values and canons of High Renaissance, when artists, inspired by Nature and by Classic Art sought for beauty, harmony and balance.
In the 20th century Mannerist artists acquired new appreciation and understanding. Their technical refinement, the taste for experimentation, the complex intellectual research came to be considered positively. Their psychological anxiety was felt as ‘modern’ and close to expressionist tendencies in art.
One room of the exhibition stands out, with three hard to forget Depositions of Christ, respectively by Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo and Bronzino, for the first time together in the same space. This incredible tryptic, where the three stars of Mannerism are confronted, cannot but raise strong emotions.
Distorted figures, lysergic colors, unusual perspectives, masterly combined by the stylistic and technical virtuosism of the artists, give life to a kind of beauty, different, less serene and harmonic than that of the Renaissance, intellectual and somewhat disturbing, but certainly striking and mesmerizing.
We must not forget that Mannerism is also the fruit of times of anguish, confusion and change. The reaction of the Catholic Church against Protestantism (known as Counter Reformation) changed the artists’ world forever. The Sack of Rome in 1527 and the foreign invasions of Italy brought chaos and despair.
However, the political situation in Florence, with the return of the Medici and the ascent to the power of great patrons such as Cosimo and Francesco de’ Medici, gave new impulse to the arts. The bizarre personality of Francesco, the ‘prince of the studiolo’, certainly influenced the taste of the time in Florence.
This exhibition, continuing until January 21st, 2018 is the conclusion of a trilogy that Palazzo Strozzi devoted to Florentine Mannerism, starting in 2010 with ‘Bronzino’ and continuing in 2014 with ‘Pontormo & Rosso Fiorentino’ in 2014. It was curated by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali.
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