Friday, July 29, 2016

Fra Bartolommeo – The Divine Renaissance

In 2017 it will be the 500 years since the Italian painter Fra Bartolommeo died at the age of forty-four. He was famed for his drawings and paintings, characterised by monumental figures, bright colours and a tranquil lyricism. From 15 October 2016, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is staging a spectacular tribute to this great artist with the exhibition Fra Bartolommeo – The Divine Renaissance.

Fra Bartolommeo (1473-1517) was one of the leading artists of the Italian High Renaissance. A Dominican friar, he trained in the workshop of the Florentine painter Cosimo Rosselli and was a highly skilled perfectionist. His use of perspective and geometry was carefully considered and he made numerous preparatory sketches for the depiction of the voluminous drapery of his figures’ clothing. The results are extremely imposing, harmonious paintings that exude a rarefied piety.

Religion played an important role in Fra Bartolommeo’s work. Under the influence of the puritan Dominican preacher Fra Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), who organised bonfires of songbooks, musical instruments, images of naked bodies and other ‘vanities’, Fra Bartolommeo destroyed his nude study drawings in 1498. Fra Bartolommeo’s famous posthumous portrait of Savonarola became the icon of the Dominican order.

Light, atmosphere and colour 
Fra Bartolommeo entered the Dominican order in 1500 and briefly stopped painting. From 1504 he headed the painting studio in the convent of San Marco. In the years 1504-05 Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and the young Raphael – the three other great masters of the High Renaissance ¬– were active in Florence and became acquainted with each other’s work. In 1508 Fra Bartolommeo took a short trip to Venice, where his exposure to the Venetian masters increased his appreciation of light, atmosphere and colour. Between 1509 and 1517 Fra Bartolommeo was at the height of his fame, creating a furore with ambitious altarpieces, two of which are four metres high. The museum has succeeded in bringing several of them to Rotterdam, indeed more than was initially envisioned. None of these paintings have been shown in the Netherlands before and several of them have never even left Tuscany.

From drawing to painting 
Fra Bartolommeo – The Divine Renaissance shows how Fra Bartolommeo planned his paintings in great detail with preparatory drawings. No other 16th-century artist’s working process can be reconstructed in such detail: there are no fewer than sixty surviving preparatory drawings for his famous fresco The Last Judgement (1499-1501), half of which are featured in the exhibition.

The exhibition brings together 11 paintings, ranging from small, early works to large, late works; each accompanied by their preparatory drawings. 120 of these drawings come from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and twenty have been loaned by prestigious foreign museums.

Gabburri Albums
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has the world’s largest collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo. In 1729, the Florentine collector Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742) assembled five hundred drawings on four hundred sheets into two magnificent albums. The albums changed hands several times following Gabburri’s death. In 1940 they were given to the museum by harbour baron D.G. van Beuningen as part of the former Koenigs Collection.

Francis Picabia. A Retrospective

Exhibition website

Kunsthaus Zürich
3 June – 25 September 2016
This ground-breaking exhibition is part of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement, which came into being in Zurich. The retrospective explores the historical sweep of Picabia’s (1879 –1953) provocative career – from his early successes as an Impressionist painter and his essential contribution to Dada, via his controversial pin-up girls and through to his abstract works created after the Second World War. Picabia remains a hotly debated figure among the great artists of the 20th century, owing to his distinctive eclecticism and persistent, deliberate contradictions.

Throughout his life, he reflected on the operation of style, subverted categorizations and set his face against systems of value judgment that distinguished high art from kitsch and conservatism from radicalism, and this in a self-critical manner and with acerbic humour. For all the demystification of painting that underpinned his Dada activities, Picabia continued to paint frenetically until his death while at the same time constantly reinventing the technique.

While the works from Picabia’s Dada years are well known, his oeuvre as a whole and his propensity for working in a wide variety of painting styles still await more in-depth examination.

Taken as a whole this comprehensive exhibition, which opens the Festspiele Zürich 2016, shows the extent to which Picabia’s work questions the principles of the modern. It comprises some 200 works, including around 150 paintings, complemented by a meticulously compiled selection of works on paper, avant-garde magazines for which he wrote or which he published himself, and examples of his film and theatre production.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it will be on display from November 2016.

A lavishly illustrated catalogue (368 pages, around 300 illustrations) containing new scholarly essays by Cathérine Hug (incorporating comments by Peter Fischli, Albert Oehlen, Rita Vitorelli and other personalities), Anne Umland, George Baker, Carole Boulbès, Masha Chlenova, Michele Cone, Briony Fer, Gordon Hughes, David Joselit, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Bernard Marcadé, Arnaud Pierre, Rachel Silveri, Juri Steiner, Adrian Sudhalter and Aurélie Verdier, is published by N.V. Mercatorfonds (Brussels). It is available in bookstores and the Kunsthaus shop.

Related article and  illustrations

Impressions of War, featuring The Disasters of War, Francisco de Goya’s 80-plate contemplation of war

  • The Saint Louis Art Museum will present Impressions of War, an exhibition featuring The Disasters of War, Francisco de Goya’s 80-plate contemplation of war and its aftereffects, as well as additional series of prints by three artists whose works equally respond to the darker side of war and its aftermath.

    Organized as a counterpart to the upcoming exhibition Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan, Impressions of War shows alternative approaches to the tragedies of war. The free exhibition will be on view in galleries 234 and 235 from Aug. 5 through Feb. 12, 2017.

    Responding to the French occupation of Spain by Napoleon Bonaparte between 1808 and 1814, The Disasters of War stands as one of the major achievements in the history of European art. Although Goya made the prints between 1810 and 1820, they were not formally published until 1863, more than three decades after his death.

    The series broke ground with the intensity of its focus on war’s cruelties, yet the prints also shed light on the bravery of the Spanish people on the ground in the face of foreign occupation.

    The artist’s fearless and personal approach to the topic of war sets it apart from official military imagery celebrating triumphs on the battlefield or the deaths of great generals. Instead, some plates concentrate on unmentionable brutality between soldiers and civilians as evidenced by the harrowing display in This is Worse, while others highlight the heroism of individuals, such as in Neither do These, in which women resist sexual attacks from the enemy.

    Impressions of War also includes print series by three other artists in France, Germany, and the United States from the 17th to the 21st centuries in which the artists respond—as Goya did—on a personal rather than an official level.

    Jacques Callot produced the earliest European print series chronicling the “miseries” of the great upheaval—largely sparked by religious conflict—that rocked Europe during the mid-17th century, establishing a tradition that inspired many artists after him. Callot’s petite scenes portray in exceptional detail the deeds and misdeeds of enlisted men and civilians during unstable times.
    Max Beckmann’s portfolio Hell scrutinizes the bloody political clashes and material hardship that afflicted Berlin in the months following World War I. In Martyrdom, for example, Beckmann portrays the murder of the prominent communist leader Rosa Luxemburg, whose lifeless, outstretched body he depicts in the form of a cross.

    Daniel Heyman’s Amman Portfolio—the most recent of the four series—responds to the earlier series even as it departs from them. Heyman was invited to witness interviews of Iraqi citizens who had been detained and tortured in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and he produced eight descriptive drypoint portraits with fragments excerpted from the traumatic interviews.
    Impressions of War is curated by Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs; Leah Chizek, research assistant; and Ann-Maree Walker, senior research assistant, and Gretchen Wagner, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris

    Fenimore Art Museum Cooperstown, NY
    May 28 – September 5, 2016

    La Revue Blanche, 1895. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), color lithograph. © Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece, courtesy PAN Art Connections, Inc.
    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his posters that depict the nightlife of Paris, although he only created thirty, of which thirteen were actually intended as cabaret and theater advertisements. The rest were used to advertise books, products such as bicycles, and a professional photographer. His images captured the imagination of his contemporaries and generations to follow, as well as helped define the end of the 19th century period and what is known as "La Belle Epoque." They remain a testimony to his artistic acumen and his enduring art.

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec “La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine” 
    This exhibit, from the collection of Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece, uses examples of Lautrec’s sketches, drawings, books, albums, and original posters to examine his artistic process.

    The exhibit also incorporates costumes from several of the Metropolitan Opera’s productions of La Boheme – Puccini’s unforgettable tale of love, youth, and tragic loss during “La Belle Epoque.” With more than 1,200 performances, La Bohème is the most frequently staged opera at the Met. Other select pieces from the Met’s archives including, photographs, playbills, jewelry, and props will also be on view.

    Thursday, July 28, 2016

    Masterpieces of The Sanford B.D. Low 
Illustration Collection

    New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art
     July 08, 2016–October 02, 2016

    Newell Convers Wyeth, “One more step, Mr. Hands,” said I, “and I’ll blow your brains out”, 1911, Oil on canvas, 47 x 38 1/8 in., New Britain Museum of American Art
    One of the most unique and exceptional aspects of the NBMAA’s permanent collection of over 1,800 artworks is The Sanford B.D. Low Illustration Collection, named in memory of the Museum’s first director.\

    Conceived in 1965, the collection was founded by well-known illustrators Stevan Dohanos, Robert Fawcett, Howard Munce, Arthur William Brown, Henry Pitz, and Walt Reed, who established the Sanford B.D. Low Memorial Illustration Committee. Carrying on Low’s desire to preserve and promote the great art of illustration, the Committee invited America’s preeminent illustrators to donate their work to the Museum. Today, the collection comprises nearly 1,800 works, making it one of the nation’s three largest.

    From July 8–October 2, 2016, the Museum will present Masterpieces of The Sanford B.D. Low Illustration Collection. Providing a veritable history of American illustration, the show will highlight the work of groundbreaking artists such as Howard Pyle, Frederic Rodrigo Gruger, J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and many others. During their time, these artists captured distinctly American values through story and advertisement illustrations, as well as iconic cover illustrations for publications such as Scribner’s Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.

    Relatable images such as

    John Falter’s idyllic Boys and Kites (1950)

    and Stevan Dohanos’s Fourth of July Parade (1947) graced American households and influenced pop culture during some of the most significant cultural transformations of the early twentieth century. Other artists, such as Howard Pyle, illustrated stories and works of fiction, whose subject matter transcended the boundaries of the United States. Likewise, much of the pulp art in the Low Illustration Collection depicts narratives that take place beyond America, and even Earth.

    Masterpieces of The Sanford B.D. Low Illustration Collection will take visitors on a journey through American illustration, a genre of art that has continued to impact our everyday lives and the formation of a diverse national identity.

    David BlossomBenedict Arnold, n.d., Acrylic polymer on board, 22 x 29 in. ,Gift of David Blossom, 1987.26.LIC
    Remington,Frederic,Infantryman in Field Costume,1952.16

    Infantryman in Field Costume, 1890, Watercolor and gouache on board, 21 x 13 1/16 in. Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, 1952.16LIC

    Apache Flame! From Frontier Stories, Summer 1950, Oil on canvas, 30 x 20 ½ in., The Robert Lesser Collection, 2009.22.1LIC

     Calkins,Richard,Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, National Newspaper Service, Chicago 1936,2009.22.78LIC
    Richard CalkinsBuck Rodgers in the 25th Century, National Newspaper Service, Chicago: 1936, Gouache, pen and ink, 26 ½ x 18 ¼ in., The Robert Lesser Collection, 2009.22.78LIC
    Allen Anderson
    A 196-page catalogue has been produced in conjunction with this exhibition

    The Perfection of Harmony: The Art of James Abbott McNeill Whistler

    Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky
    May 28 – October 2, 2016
    James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834 ‑ 1903), Nocturne, 1878. Lithotint on blue‑gray paper laid down on white wove paper, 6 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (17.2 x 26 cm.) Collection of the Speed Art Museum, James Abbott McNeill Whistler Lithographs from the Steven L. Block Collection, gift of Steven L. Block, and an additional gift from Mrs. W. L. Lyons Brown.

    James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) influenced two generations of European and American artists in the late nineteenth century. As provocative in personality as he was in art, Whistler was a major player in the artistic turmoil of the times. Whistler’s new approaches included a disdain for the narrative and moral traditions of French and British art and the promotion of his belief in “Art for Art’s sake” meaning that art was an end in itself. He was skilled in multiple media creating over 500 oil paintings in addition to pastels, watercolors, drawings, and exceptional prints. His etchings, lithographs, and drypoints—executed with meticulous care on the finest papers—gained him substantial fame.

    James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Giudecca; Note in Flesh Colour, 1879-1880. Pastel on gray wove paper, (15.9 x 25.4 cm) Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.

    This exhibit encompasses a sampling of Whistler’s subjects and media. The Steven L. Block Collection from the Speed Art Museum, forming the core of the exhibition, is a comprehensive and rich resource to study the full range of the artist’s lithographic career. It is complemented by etchings and drawings from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, and paintings from other private and public collections.

    American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent

    Philadelphia Museum of Art 
     March 1- May 14, 2017

    Americans learned to love watercolor in the years between 1860 and 1925. The work of the two most influential American watercolorists, Winslow Homer (1836–1910) and John S. Sargent (1856–1925) centers this look at the remarkable transformation of the reputation and practice of the medium in the United States.

    The exhibition begins with the creation of the American Watercolor Society, founded in 1866 to promote the medium, which united artists of all ages, styles, and backgrounds. The movement created stars—Homer, William T. Richards, Thomas Moran, John La Farge, Edwin Austin Abbey—who would remain dedicated to the medium for decades.

    Other artists, such as Thomas Eakins and George Inness, rode the wave through its peak in the 1880s. Together, their work produced a taste for watercolor among younger artists and eager collectors that would endure through the turn of the century.

    Thanks to the legacy of Homer, Sargent, and their contemporaries, the next generation--such as Charles Demuth, John Marin, Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper--would choose watercolor as a principal medium.  

    American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent examines how within fifty years, modernists rebuilt the reputation of watercolor as a powerful and versatile “American” medium.

    The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

    A Tent in the Rockies, 1916, John Singer Sargent, (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum)

    Diamond Shoal, 1905, Winslow Homer (Private Collection)

    Guide Carrying a Deer, 1891, Winslow Homer (Portland Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Shipman Payson)

    Rare Works of Renaissance Art Travel from Italy to Be Shown in Boston for the First Time

    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston August 9–December 4, 2016,
    National Gallery of Art in Washington from February 5–June 4, 2017.

    Powerful expressions of faith, hope and love are manifested in brilliant colors that characterize the Della Robbia glazed terracotta sculptures from the Renaissance, explored in an exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence is the first major exhibition in the US dedicated to Della Robbia sculptures, which have endured for more than 500 years. Their shine and colors, including deep cerulean blues and opaque whites, remain unchanged from the time of their creation—a lasting testament to Renaissance ingenuity.

    Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) invented the groundbreaking glazing technique in the 15th century, and the exhibition showcases 46 works of art by his family and associated workshops.

    The Visitation (about 1445, Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia), an extraordinary masterpiece, is one of six important loans from Italy that have never been seen in the US before.

    The Brooklyn Museum’s lunette of the Resurrection of Christ (about 1520–24) is presented at the MFA following a year-long conservation project—one of several undertaken for the exhibition.

    The Della Robbia family workshop flourished in Florence for about a century, producing expressive artworks for all spheres of life. Luca della Robbia created his glazed terracotta technique in the 15th century, and it was immediately recognized and celebrated as a new invention. He shared its secrets with his nephew and principal collaborator Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525), who in turn passed them on to his sons Giovanni (1469–1529/30), Luca the Younger (1475–1548), Marco (1468–1534), Francesco (1477–1527/28) and Girolamo (1488–1566). Portraying both sacred and secular themes, Della Robbia sculpture gained a strong presence in public spaces—from street corners to churches—and private homes.

    “Della Robbia sculpture is a quintessentially Florentine Renaissance art form, one that seems to transport us to the 15th-century city,” said Marietta Cambareri, Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture and Jetskalina H. Phillips Curator of Judaica, Art of Europe, who organized the exhibition. “Praised in its own day as ‘almost eternal,’ and seen as a new invention not known in antiquity, Luca della Robbia’s technique of glazed terracotta displays the creative ingenuity and graceful beauty that characterized the Renaissance and that continues to astonish and beguile us today.”

    The exhibition begins with works made for domestic settings, exploring notions of hope and prosperity for one’s city and family. Della Robbia sculpture was often acquired to mark significant family events such as marriages and births, and the objects became part of the lives and histories of their owners.

    Giovanni della Robbia’s brightly colored lunette of the Resurrection of Christ (about 1520–24, Brooklyn Museum) once adorned the upper section of a garden gate in the Tuscan villa of the Florentine Antinori family, who commissioned it in the early 16th century. The family’s coat of arms marks the lower corners of the 11-foot-wide relief, and the Marchese Antinori—possibly Niccolò or his son Alessandro—is prominently shown praying before the resurrected Christ. The sculpture is composed of 46 separate pieces and underwent a year-long conservation treatment in preparation for the exhibition, with generous support from the current generation of the Antinori family. The relief, now restored to its original splendor, has not left Brooklyn since it was donated to the museum in 1898.

    Portrait busts were also popular in Florentine Renaissance homes. Bust of a Young Boy (about 1475, Museo Nazionale del Bargello) offers a touching example of naturalism, expressed through the child’s fleeting expression and parted lips that convey a sense of living breath. Like other contemporary portrayals, the work illustrates a new Renaissance interest in capturing the individuality of children. Naturalistic representation using the Della Robbia technique is also demonstrated in Virgin and Child with Lilies (about 1460–70) from the MFA’s collection, in which the baby Jesus acts like a real child, turning away from his mother to reach for the lilies, the figures seated on a grassy meadow of flowers.

    The extraordinary loan of Luca della Robbia’s The Visitation (about 1445)—his masterpiece in the medium he invented—travels to Boston from the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia, shown in the US for the first time. The sculptural group of two figures anchors the second section of the exhibition, which highlights expressions of love—especially the bond between mother and child. It presents an intensely moving interaction between Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist.  

    The Visitation was widely reproduced in the 20th century—there were at least six casts in American collections by 1910, including one in the Renaissance cast gallery at the MFA’s original Copley Square building. The work also attracted at least one American artist of the time—John Singer Sargent made a sketch of the sculpture, probably from the original group in Pistoia.

    Across from The Visitation,

    the Nativity with Gloria in Excelsis (about 1465–70) from the MFA’s collection shows a newborn Jesus at the heart of the composition, framed by Mary and Joseph, both of whom are kneeling. Their poses signal their recognition of the child’s holiness and provide models of prayer for worshippers. Angels hold a musical staff with the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest),” the opening to a hymn sung during Mass.

    Several Madonna and Child reliefs, by far the most common form of domestic sculpture in the Renaissance, are on view. Particularly fine examples come from the Detroit Institute of Arts, the National Gallery of Art and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. These reliefs share exemplary technical quality, affective expression and the power to inspire devotion.

    Two versions of Luca della Robbia’s Madonna of the Niche shown side by side,

     one from the MFA (about 1445–55)

    and one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (about 1445–55), depict a tender moment between Mary and Jesus, with the baby leaning into his mother’s body, her left hand wrapping around him and her right hand clasping his right foot as if to keep him from stepping too far.

    The important loan of a relatively unknown work by Luca, the large-scale Madonna and Child (about 1450–60) from the Oratory of San Tommaso Aquino in Florence, demonstrates his mastery of a wider range of colors than the classic blue and white, showing that his primary use of the two colors in other works was an artistic choice. Conservation of the piece was funded by Friends of Florence, a US nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the cultural and historical integrity of the arts located in the city and region of Florence.

    Andrea della Robbia generally followed his uncle’s choice of blue and white, but his Mother of Sorrows (about 1525, Saint Louis Art Museum) demonstrates his exploration of an expanded palette to enhance the emotion expressed in the face and mourning gesture of Mary. The sculpture, meant to evoke a sympathetic response, is thought to be part of a group that included the body of Jesus as the focus of Mary’s grief.

    A monumental piece by Andrea della Robbia, Prudence (about 1475), a personification of one of the cardinal virtues, features an abundance of greens and yellows in a particularly impressive garland filled with grapes, pinecones, cucumbers, lemons and a variety of other fruits. The roundel has been restored by conservators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who have reconfigured the garland based on its original sequence, discovered during the project.

    In addition to further experimentation with color, other works show the Della Robbia leaving sections of clay unglazed. The flesh of both Mary and Jesus represented in Giovanni della Robbia’s Pietà (about 1510–1520, National Gallery of Art) is rendered in unglazed terracotta, making the sculpture less brilliant in appearance and thereby more somber and appropriate for its religious function, helping to inspire contemplation.

    Expressions of faith are further explored in the exhibition’s final section, which also showcases development of the glazed terracotta technique beyond the Della Robbia family, featuring several works by a rival workshop established around 1480 by the sculptor Benedetto Buglioni (1459/60–1521). While one Renaissance account claims that a woman working in the Della Robbia home and shop leaked trade secrets to Buglioni, it is more likely that he actually trained with the Della Robbia before establishing his own business.

    Santi Buglioni (1494–1576) was a distant relative of Benedetto, who trained Santi in the art of glazed terracotta, adopted him and left him his workshop. Three of his nearly life-size preaching saints are gathered in the exhibition—Saint Bernadino of Siena (about 1550, private collection), Saint Francis (about 1550, Uffizi Gallery in Florence) and Saint John of Capistrano (about 1550, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The large-scale figures combine unglazed clay with colored glazes, and their size clearly tested the limits of the material—large cracks are evident in all three of them. Produced about 20 years after Giovanni della Robbia’s death, when Santi Buglioni’s shop was the only one in Florence still creating works in glazed terracotta, the preaching saints stand as the swan song of the disappearing technique, among the very last works to employ it in the Renaissance.

    Also in this section is the MFA’s St. John the Baptist (about 1505–15) by Giovanni Francesco Rustici, an artist who did not specialize in the Della Robbia technique, but sometimes adopted it for expressive purposes. He likely relied on a member of the Della Robbia workshop to glaze the sculpture, which displays a distinctly creamy color—an experiment that emphasizes the highlights and shadows of the modeled clay and recalls the experimentation with traditional techniques that characterized the work of Rustici’s friend and mentor, Leonardo da Vinci.

    While the Della Robbia workshop in Florence essentially dissolved around 1530, Girolamo della Robbia continued to produce sculpture in France, creating works for King Francis I, who favored the most up-to-date Italian styles. A series of Girolamo’s busts, meant to be set into roundels, is on view in the exhibition, including his 1529 portrait of Francis I, King of France, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is the only identifiable independent portrait of a known sitter by a member of the Della Robbia workshop.

    The use of glazed terracotta declined in the 16th century, as marble and bronze became the preferred materials for sculpture, but the medium experienced a renaissance during the 19th century. Isabella Stewart Gardner, for example, acquired two Della Robbia works in the process of furnishing her Venetian-style palazzo in Boston. One of them, a Sacramental Tabernacle (1470s, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) attributed to Andrea della Robbia, is on view in the exhibition.

    American collectors who could not locate or afford original Della Robbias instead bought fine reproductions, made in Florentine ceramic factories that had developed a technique that mimicked the pure, opaque colors and hard, shiny surfaces characteristic of the original Renaissance works. The Virgin Adoring the Child (about 1910), modeled after a work by Andrea della Robbia, was made by the Cantagalli workshop in Florence and purchased in Italy around 1912 by a family in Massachusetts.

    Della Robbia Materials and Technique

    Recent technical research by scholars and conservators working on Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence, including at the MFA and other institutions, has shed new light on the Della Robbia technique, which shows a profound understanding of the clay medium and inventive adjustment to the composition of the glazes. The raw, calcium-rich clay was gathered from Arno riverbeds and then carefully refined to make it especially suited for glazing—a process that optimized the fit between clay and glaze, minimizing flaws in the surface. After the sculptures were formed by hand-modeling or through the use of molds, they were placed into a kiln for an initial firing. Once the ceramic body had cooled, the glazes—prepared using the Della Robbia’s secret recipe—were applied and the work was fired again. The recipe involved greater percentages of lead and tin, which enhanced the opacity and brilliance of the glazes. Larger sculptures, such as the Resurrection of Christ, were manufactured in sections to facilitate firing in the kiln—as well as permit safe handling and export of the sculptures from Florence to locations throughout Europe. Today, survival of the sculptures’ vibrant glaze colors testifies both to the durable nature of the materials and the Della Robbia workshop’s unrivaled technical expertise.

    Della Robbia Reproductions in Boston

    Countless reproductions of the best-known Della Robbia sculptures were produced in the 20th century in a wide variety of material—including plaster, mosaic and concrete, as well as glazed terracotta—and repurposed in a range of both indoor and outdoor settings. Many can be seen around Boston. Beyond the exhibition, Boston residents can see a version of Luca della Robbia’s lunette of the Madonna and Child with Angels decorating the portal of St. Mary of the Assumption School in Brookline. Buildings owned by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital—formerly known as the Boston Lying-In Hospital—and Boston Children’s Hospital also feature roundels based on Andrea della Robbia’s reliefs of swaddled children, which decorated the loggia of the Ospedale degli Innocenti foundling hospital in Florence, designed by Brunelleschi.

    Italian Renaissance Sculpture at the MFA

    The MFA’s collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture is as old as the Museum itself—the first acquisitions date to 1876, when the Museum opened its doors. Since then, the MFA has expanded its holdings of Italian works from one of art history’s most creative periods (1400–1600). The Museum showcases approximately 90 Italian Renaissance works, primarily sculpture and decorative arts, including Donatello’s marble relief Madonna of the Clouds (about 1425–35). It was bequeathed to the MFA by Quincy Adams Shaw, a wealthy Bostonian with a renowned collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture. Shaw also gave the Museum four Della Robbia works, acquired from Stefano Bardini, a major Florentine dealer. They include three by Luca della Robbia—Nativity with Gloria in Excelsis (about 1465–70), Virgin and Child with Lilies (about 1460–70) and Madonna of the Niche (about 1445–55), all on view in Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence—as well as Virgin and Child (about 1500–25) by Andrea della Robbia, on view in the Italian Renaissance Gallery. In total, the Museum owns 12 works by Luca, Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia and their workshop, as well as two other Renaissance works made using the glazed terracotta technique.

    The Antinori Family

    Conservation of the Resurrection of Christ by Giovanni della Robbia at the Brooklyn Museum was made possible with generous support from the Antinori family. Now in its 26th generation with sisters Allegra, Alessia and Albiera Antinori all involved in the family-owned wine company, the family has always shown passion for and commitment to the arts. The restoration project is important to the Antinori and continues their legacy of supporting both Renaissance and contemporary art. Masterful works of art commissioned and collected over the centuries by family members are on display at their state-of-the-art Antinori Chianti Classico winery in Florence—among them the Antinori family crest created by Giovanni della Robbia in the early 1500s and contemporary art installations and exhibitions curated by Alessia Antinori over the past decade.

    Related Programming

    This fall, the MFA offers an array of programming related to Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. In addition to a two-lecture course on the Della Robbia on September 20 and 27, the Museum hosts the Attingham/Albainey Memorial Lecture on “Della Robbia Sculpture: Renaissance Invention/Modern Rediscovery” on October 16. The MFA will also offer a wide selection of in-gallery programming related to the exhibition. For more information on events and programming, visit


    The exhibition is accompanied by Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence by Marietta Cambareri, with contributions by Abigail Hykin and Courtney Leigh Harris and produced by MFA Publications. In recent years, renewed attention from art historians, backed by sophisticated technical studies, has reintegrated the Della Robbia into the mainstream of Renaissance art history and illuminated their originality and accomplishments. This beautifully illustrated companion to the first major Della Robbia exhibition in the US brings readers into the workshops of these ingenious artists to experience one of the great inventions of the Renaissance and the enduring beauty it captured. The hardcover book (176 pages, 130 color illustrations) is available for purchase in MFA shops and online for $45

    Thursday, July 14, 2016

    Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World

    Norman Rockwell Museum

    On view through October 30, 2016


    "The Box," Bo Bartlett
    “The Box,” 2002. Bo Bartlett. Colletion of Andrew Nelson. All rights reserved.

    In post-World War II America, the primacy of abstract art was clearly acknowledged, and by 1961, when Rockwell painted The Connoisseur, Abstract Expressionism had been covered in the popular press for nearly 15 years. Originated in the 1940s by Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, among others, Abstract Expressionism was the first American movement to achieve widespread international influence.

    The Connoisseur, Norman Rockwell. 1961. Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, January 13, 1962 Private Collection ©1962 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

    For the first time, Norman Rockwell Museum will explore the contrast between the abstract and realist movements, placing works by Rockwell, Wyeth, and Warhol side by side with Pollock, Calder, Johns, and over 40 other preeminent artists. Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World examines the forces that forged the mid-century dismissal of narrative painting and illustration, as well as the resurgence of realist painting during the latter half of the twentieth century, its presence and critical consideration today, and the ways in which our contemporary viewpoints have been shaped by post World War II constructs.

    The exhibition features the art of prominent illustrators, painters, and sculptors whose autographic art spans more than 60 years, representing many dynamic forms of visual communication. Featured artists include: Marshall Arisman, Bo Bartlett, Austin Briggs, Alexander Calder, Alan E. Cober, Robert Cottingham, Robert Cunningham, Joe De Mers, Walton Ford, Eric Forstmann, Helen Frankenthaler, Bernie Fuchs, Sam Francis, Edwin Georgi, George Giusti, Ralph Goings, Cleve Grey, Brad Holland, Dan Howe, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Anita Kunz, Jacqui Morgan, Robert Motherwell, Barbara Nessim, Barnett Newman, Tim O’Brien, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, Al Parker, Bob Peak, Philip Pearlstein, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Norman Rockwell, Peter Rockwell, James Rosenquist, David Salle, Saul Steinberg, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Robert Weaver, Thomas Woodruff, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2016

    Georgia O’Keeffe Retrospective

    Tate Modern 6 July – 30 October 2016
    The Art Gallery of Ontario 
    April 22 to July 30, 2017

    Tate Modern presents the largest retrospective of modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) ever to be shown outside of America. Marking a century since O’Keeffe’s debut in New York in 1916, it is the first UK exhibition of her work for over twenty years. This ambitious and wide-ranging survey reassesses the artist’s place in the canon of twentieth-century art and reveals her profound importance. With no works by O’Keeffe in UK public collections, the exhibition is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for European audiences to view her oeuvre in such depth. 

    Widely recognised as a founding figure of American modernism, O’Keeffe gained a central position in leading art circles between the 1910s and the 1970s. She was also claimed as an important pioneer by feminist artists of the 1970s. Spanning the six decades in which O’Keeffe was at her most productive and featuring over 100 major works, the exhibition charts the progression of her practice from her early abstract experiments to her late works, aiming to dispel the clichés that persist about the artist and her painting. 

    Opening with the moment of her first showings at ‘291’ gallery in New York in 1916 and 1917, the exhibition features O’Keeffe’s earliest mature works made while she was working as a teacher in Virginia and Texas.

    Charcoals such as Special No.9 1915

    and Early No. 2 1915

    are shown alongside a select group of highly coloured watercolours and oils, such as

    Sunrise 1916

    and Blue and Green Music 1919.

    These works investigate the relationship of form to landscape, music, colour and composition, and reveal O’Keeffe’s developing understanding of synaesthesia. 

    A room in the exhibition considers O’Keeffe’s professional and personal relationship with Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); photographer, modern art promoter and the artist’s husband. While Stieglitz increased O’Keeffe’s access to the most current developments in avant-garde art, she employed these influences and opportunities to her own objectives. Her keen intellect and resolute character created a fruitful relationship that was, though sometimes conflictive, one of reciprocal influence and exchange.

    Alfred Stieglitz 1864-1946 
    Georgia O’Keeffe 1918
    Photograph, palladium print on paper243 x 192 mm
    The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
    ©The J. Paul Getty Trust

    A selection of photography by Stieglitz is shown, including portraits and nudes of O’Keeffe as well as key figures from the avant-garde circle of the time, such as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) and John Marin (1870-1953). 

    Still life formed an important investigation within O’Keeffe’s work,most notably her representations and abstractions of flowers. The exhibition explores how these works reflect the influence she took from modernist photography, such as the play with distortion in  

    Calla Lily in Tall Glass – No. 2 1923

    and close cropping in Oriental Poppies 1927. 

     Georgia O’Keeffe 1887-1986
    Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932

    Oil paint on canvas
    48 x 40 inches
    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas, USA
    © 2016 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London
    Photography by Edward C. Robison III

    A highlight is Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932, one of O’Keeffe’s most iconic flower paintings. 

    O’Keeffe’s most persistent source of inspiration however was nature and the landscape; she painted both figurative works and abstractions drawn from landscape subjects.  

     Georgia O’Keeffe 
    Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie's II 1930
    Oil on canvas mounted on board2
    4 1/4 x 36 1/4 (61.6 x 92.1)
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. 
    Gift of The Burnett Foundation
    ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out of Black Marie’s II 1930

    and Red and Yellow Cliffs 1940 chart O’Keeffe’s progressive immersion in New Mexico’s distinctive geography, while works such as 

    Taos Pueblo 1929/34 indicate her complex response to the area and its layered cultures. Stylised paintings of the location she called the ‘Black Place’ are at the heart of the exhibition. 

    Georgia O’Keeffe is curated by Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate Modern with Hannah Johnston, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.  It is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery. 

    Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective in summer 2017

    Career-spanning retrospective to make its only North American stop in Toronto
    TORONTO – The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is set to present a major retrospective of pioneering American painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), featuring over 100 paintings by one the 20th century’s most successful and influential modernists. The exhibition will examine O’Keeffe’s entire career, charting the progression of her practice from her early abstract experiments to her late work, in addition to her trajectory west, and her profound influence and legacy. Organized by Tate Modern in collaboration with the AGO and the Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, Georgia O’Keeffe will make its only North American stop in Toronto running from April 22 to July 30, 2017.

    Opening with the moment of her first showings at the 291 gallery in New York in 1916 and 1917, the exhibition will feature O’Keeffe’s earliest mature works made while she was working as a teacher in Virginia and Texas. The works on display—from her charcoals to a select group of vibrant watercolours and oils— investigate the relationship of form to landscape, music, colour and composition, and reveal O’Keeffe’s growing interest in synaesthesia: the ability to interpret music as colour.

    A section in the exhibition will consider O’Keeffe’s professional and personal relationship with her husband, world-renowned photographer, art dealer and modern art advocate Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946). A selection of photography by Stieglitz will be shown, including portraits and nudes of O’Keeffe, as well as key figures from the avant-garde art circle of the time, including Marsden Hartley (1877–1943) and John Marin (1870–1953).

    Still life formed an important theme within O’Keeffe’s work, most notably in her representations and abstractions of flowers. The exhibition will explore how these works reflect the influence she took from modernist photography. O’Keeffe’s most persistent source of inspiration, however, was nature and the landscape; she painted both figurative works and abstractions drawn from landscape subjects. 

    From the 

    Faraway, Nearby (1937) and Red and Yellow Cliffs (1940) (above)—both on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York—chart the artist’s progressive immersion in New Mexico’s distinctive geography. Stylized paintings of the location she called the “Black Place” will be at the heart of the exhibition.