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Siena exhibit satisfies stringent scholars of Renaissance Art


Art Geeks beware!!

Siena is preparing the most important show ever attempted of the arts in the Early Renaissance (an exploration of the transition from Gothic to the Renaissance)! This is a period in art that still offers room for new discoveries. The exhibit is curated by Max Seidel, one of the directors of the famed Kunsthistorisches Institut of Florence (a Max-Planck research institute), so it's bound to satisfy even the most stringent of scholars or picky of publics (sorry, I couldn't pick just one of those alliterations).

"From Jacopo della Quercia to Donatello. The Arts in Siena in the Early Renaissance"

opens on March 26 (until July 11 2010) and is  an exhibition of 306 works, some twenty polyptychs reconstructed for this occasion, twenty-five restorations, loans from the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections, new spaces open to the public for the first time, ten essays written by the greatest international experts in the field, and an extraordinary exhibition itinerary that will take visitors through three of the city’s most evocative places that in some cases are hidden treasures... Below is the really well-written description of the show; this should get you psyched for the show and help you make your plans for the summer. As soon as it opens I'll be there with pen and paper to take notes and prepare a great review for you.

siena one

The show begins with a section focusing on Jacopo della Quercia (Siena, ca 1371 – 1438), the great sculptor who was the city’s leading artist in the early Quattrocento and a prominent protagonist of the International Gothic style. Jacopo’s career is traced from the beginning, with his monumental Virgin of the Pomegranate destined for Ferrara Cathedral (1403-1408), moving on to some of the marble statues sculpted for the Fonte Gaia in Siena (1414-1419), and then to polychrome wooden statues like the Annunciation in the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano (1421-1426) and the Virgin and Child from the Louvre. Along with Jacopo, some of the other major Sienese sculptors of the time can be appreciated, from the graceful work of Francesco di Valdambrino to the severe style of Domenico di Niccolò “dei Cori.” The route through the show continues with two thematic sections which introduce visitors to painting. One section is devoted to the success that certain prototypes perfected in the preceding century by the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini continued to enjoy among Sienese Quattrocento painters, a phenomenon whose “manifesto” is the San Pietro a Ovile altarpiece, in which Matteo di Giovanni, in the third quarter of the century, faithfully replicates Simone’s famous Annunciation of 1333. The other section presents artists from outside Siena who worked in the city during the 1420s and in so doing played a fundamental role in the evolution of Sienese art towards the Renaissance. Among these are Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello, involved along with Jacopo della Quercia and others in the project of the new baptismal font, to which the beautiful little drummer (1429) belonged, lent by the Bode Museum in Berlin and returning to Siena for the first time in several centuries.

siena two

This was the generation of what Roberto Longhi called the “Umbratile Renaissance,” whose main figures were Giovanni di Paolo (his early polyptych, made in 1426 for the Malavolti altar in the church of San Domenico, has been reconstructed asmuch as possible), Stefano di Giovanni, known as Sassetta (all the pieces of his “Arte della Lana” altarpiece, painted in 1423-1424 for the wool guild, are reunited for the first time and are on display along with other masterworks), and his closest followers, from Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio to the Osservanza Master (well represented by his Osservanza altarpiece and almost the entire series of his famous Stories from the Life of Saint Anthony Abbot) and Sano di Pietro (whose restored Gesuati polyptych of 1444 is in the show). Domenico di Bartolo concludes the group; an atypical Sienese, as his Virgin of Humility, signed and dated 1433, shows, he could be more Florentine than the Florentines, to the point that his work is compared with that of Filippo Lippi and Luca della Robbia.

siena three

The next section illustrates the weight Donatello had at mid-century on the new protagonists of Sienese art like Lorenzo di Pietro, known as Vecchietta, and Matteo di Giovanni. This Donatellian fil-rouge, initiated in the 1420s with his work on the baptismal font and continuing at the beginning of the 1450s with the tomb slab of Bishop Pecci for the Cathedral, culminated in the Florentine master’s final stay in Siena (1457-1461), which coincided with the ascent of the Sienese Pius II to the papal throne (1458). The spectacular juxtaposition of Donatello’s bronze Saint John the Baptist in Siena Cathedral, the saints Peter and Victor sculpted by Vecchietta and Federighi for the Loggia della Mercanzia, and the luminous Spedaletto altarpiece, painted by Vecchetta for a grange near Pienza, bear witness to the formidable results of this conjunction of events. After this chronological journey, the show offers an opportunity to experience the artistic universe of the early Renaissance in Siena through an examination of some portable altars and paintings for private devotion, boxes, chests, and a substantial group of illuminated manuscripts, as well as a number of precious and rare examples of fifteenth-century textiles. On their way to the exit, visitors to the exhibition walk through the colorful space of the old sacristy of the hospital church, frescoed by Vecchietta between 1446 and 1449 with a cycle of the Articles of the Apostles’ Creed,ending in the large hall called the Pellegrinaio, illustrated between 1440 and 1444 by Vecchietta, Domenico di Bartolo, and Priamo della Quercia with a series of Episodes from the History and Life of the Hospital, the greatest fresco cycle in fifteenth-century Siena. The exhibition continues in a succession of adjunct spaces that begins just a few steps from Santa Maria della Scala. A visit to Siena Cathedral enables first-hand experience of the church for which many of the art works on display in the show were made, while the nearby cathedral museum, the Museo dell’Opera, houses a section devoted to the survival of the Gothic style in Siena in the early fifteenth century (whose protagonists were Gregorio di Cecco, Domenico di Niccolò “dei Cori,” and others). Under the cathedral, in the crypt, is a section revealing the work in precious metals being done in Quattrocento Siena: gathered together around the paradigmatic She-wolf by Giovanni di Turino are chalices, crosses, and reliquaries glittering with gold, silver, and enamels. The last stop is the Baptistery, where under the vault frescoed by Vecchietta, once again with the Articles of the Creed (1450-1453), stands the majestic baptismal font, the monument par excellence of early fifteenth-century Tuscan sculpture.

exhibition website: www.rinascimentosiena.it