I love Renaissance portraits having discovered their beauty quite by accident on a short visit to Bruges, Belgium, in November 1999. It was unseasonably cold and my friends' recommendation to take a boat ride on the city's canals was entirely out of the question as they were completely frozen over. In a desperate attempt to find something to do in a warm environment I persuaded my Dada-devotee husband to check out a special exhibition that had been advertised on banners all over town - "From Memling to Pourbus". Not knowing anything about the Netherlandish Renaissance I rented an audio guide and started the tour. After about 30 seconds my husband tapped me on the shoulder and wanted to share the headset. Between the magical atmosphere inside a Gothic cathedral and the gentle but compelling beauty of the portraits, we were entranced and never since have missed an opportunity to see more of these painted "snapshots" of the Middle Ages.
What I also learned is that the Italian Renaissance portrait artists, namely Veneziano, Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini and the master of all, Leonardo da Vinci, used many different media to capture their sitters' likeness'. Beside the traditional oil painting, portraits were often executed as marble busts or relief sculptures, chalk drawings on paper, cameo pendants, illuminated manuscript paintings on parchment or quite frequently as bronze medallions.
The exhibition spans the period from approximately 1450-1530, the heyday of Renaissance portraiture and focus' on the major center of Florence under the influence of the mighty Medicis, the courts of Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Urbino, Napoli and Papal Rome, and finally Venice where the concept was late to take hold. 160 works, including some fabulous loans (two from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II), present a comprehensive and cohesive survey of why and how this genre developed and its considerable influence on contemporary culture and society.