April 29, 2015

"Sculpture in the Age of Donatello"

15th Century Italy was a fertile period for the arts and sciences - an age when creativity, culture, academia and beauty were prized by the aristocracy and newly developing merchant classes alike.  Advances in architecture, sculpture, literature, painting, philosophy and music were encouraged and sponsored leaving a treasure trove of advances and achievements that continue to amaze.

One of the protagonists of the era was the sculptor Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, better known as Donatello, whose greatest artistic contribution was probably his grasp of the concept of perspectival illusionism - the ability to make a statue appear natural when viewed from a different perspective like from a distance below.

In the early 1400s, the noted architect Brunelleschi was putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, Florence Cathedral ("Il Duomo") and he commissioned Donatello and a few of his contemporaries to create sculptures and decorations befitting the grandeur of the space.  Together these artists conceived and produced works of great majesty and mystery that enhanced the exterior and interior spaces of the cathedral.  The magnificent friezes and statues of biblical figures and scenes made can be found throughout Il Duomo from the Bell Tower to the portals and are considered some of the greatest examples of Italian Renaissance art.

"St. John the Evangelist", c. 1409-1411

For the first time ever, and for a very limited duration, admirers of Donatello will not have to travel to Florence to see these great works as they are on a temporary loan to the Museum of Biblical Art  (MoBIA) while their usual home, the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (the museum of the Florence Cathedral) is being renovated.  During this time, 23 exquisite examples of works by Luca della Robbia, Nanni di Banco, Giovanni D'Ambrogio, Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello himself, will be on view in a very special opportunity to see them on this side of the Atlantic.

"Prophet Habbakuk" or "Lo Zuccone", c. 1423-1435

Judging by the crowds in the small exhibition space, Donatello has quite a following here in New York City.  While some of the statues are not exactly beautiful to behold in close up, they are remarkable artifacts and moving examples of devotional art in its infancy, and it is a privilege to have such access to these monuments of Italian heritage.

It's rather ironic that arguably the most scholarly and international exhibition in the history of MoBIA will also be its last.  But when "Sculpture in the Age of Donatello" closes its doors on June 14th, so too will this ten-year-old museum dedicated to the promotion of religious art.  It is not due to a lack of interest in its curatorial mission but very simple economics, as the building, located on a prime stretch of Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side, has been sold to developers.  I will miss having MoBIA in the neighborhood with their small but incisive exhibitions - always an interesting visit and the source of quite a few blogs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Discovered your blog while trolling the net for images of Lo Zuccone in situ. I just saw the NYC MOBiA show and my memory of all the sculptures is that when they were in Florence they were grey and showed the patina of age. I'm assuming they have been cleaned and restored (and probably this was necessary), but I was put off by their "sea foam rock candy" surface and color. I came away disappointed.

Mam of mamfa