- Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the Renaissance in Florence
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the Renaissance in Florence is the handsomely produced, sumptuously illustrated catalogue of the exhibition held from 29 May to 5 September 2005 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the Renaissance in Florence challenges the distortions imposed by art historical dogma on the nature of art produced in Florence from [End Page 506] 1500 to 1550. It demonstrates through the painting, sculpture, and drawing of forty-six artists the extraordinary variety of work produced during the period.
The exhibition was organized by David Franklin, Deputy Director of the National Gallery of Canada, who also edited the catalogue. Both the exhibition and the catalogue reflect Franklin's premise that the terms High Renaissance and Mannerism are irrelevant for the characterization of the style of Florentine art in the first half of the sixteenth century; he suggests, instead, attributing to the style of the works usually described by these terms "a type of experimental creativity" (13). Franklin's arguments are more fully developed in his Painting in Renaissance Florence, 1500–1550 (2001), which is a valuable supplement to the catalogue.
Three essays introduce the catalogue: Franklin on drawing, Louis A. Waldman on painting, and Andrew Butterfield on sculpture. Franklin states that for Florentine artists of the first half of the sixteenth century, "drawing was the basis of their creativity" (14). His essay is of particular importance, because approximately one-half of the 123 works in the exhibition are drawings and prints. Very useful for the general reader are his definitions of disegno and his identification and explanation of seven types of drawing practiced by Florentine artists, from primo pensiere to presentation drawings, all represented in the exhibition.
Leonardo and Michelangelo are each represented by only two autograph drawings: Leonardo by a Sheet of Studies (cat. no. 1) that is related to the Battle of Anghiari, and a Leda and the Swan (cat. no. 2), and Michelangelo by Nude Male Seen from the Back (cat. no. 11), which was a study for the Battle of Cascina, and The Three Labors of Hercules. Giorgio Vasari, who is credited here with ending the Renaissance around 1550, is represented by five drawings and four paintings (cat. nos. 107–15).
Waldman stresses that "a wealth of differing styles coexisted" (31) in Florentine painting of the period. He identifies a conservative trend, with which he associates Fra Bartolommeo, Mariotto Albertini, Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, and Michele Tosini. In the category of Florentine Eccentrics he places, among others, Giovambattista del Verrocchio, Bartolomeo Ghetti, and Antonio di Donnino del Mazziere. He identifies Rosso, Pontormo, and Bronzino as exponents of an experimental trend, characterizing Mannerist style as "an anachronistic construct" (39).
Butterfield's essay presents a comprehensive discussion of Michelangelo's influence on the sculpture of the period. He emphasizes Michelangelo's technique: "technical mastery is the foundation of his innovations as a sculptor" (50). He also explains that Michelangelo's dominance over major commissions from 1500 to 1530 led to the departure from Florence of a number of talented sculptors such as Andrea Sansovino, Pietro Torrigiano, Benvenuto Cellini, and Lorenzetto. His discussion of the popularity and significance of glazed and painted terracotta sculpture is of great interest. In fact, some of the most arrestingly beautiful works in the exhibition were executed in this medium: Rustici's St. John the Baptist (cat. no. 8), Luca della Robbia the Younger's Adoring Angel (cat. no. 9), and Jacopo Sansovino's St. Paul (cat. no. 44). [End Page 507]
Franklin's and Waldman's essays are not as thorough as Butterfield's in addressing the influence of Michelangelo and Leonardo on painting and drawing in the first half of the sixteenth century. A more comprehensive discussion of their influence can be found in Painting in Renaissance Florence, 1500–1550.
The 123 catalogue entries, each accompanied by a splendid color illustration, were written by twenty-nine scholars. The entries are remarkable for their...