Sunday, January 3, 2016

Art and Magnificence - A Perfect Way to Start the New Year... Andrea del Sarto in New York.

As we enter a new year and are in the throes of collectively trying to make a fresh start, I felt a need to reevaluate the impetus for the existence of this blog. I want to tell you about a great Renaissance artist, Andrea del Sarto, currently on display in two of New York's most prestigious museums, but first you should know who I am and why I am doing this.  Making art more accessible, less intimidating to a wider audience is my life's mission. In fact, I am nothing but a lover of art and history... my passion leads me to some great museums and interesting places and I want to share what I see and experience through my own lens with the readers of this blog... hoping to entice them into joining me in my quest for meaning and beauty in life through viewing great art.

And, here is what is on view in New York at the Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action exhibit at the Frick Collection and Andrea del Sarto's Borgherini Holy Family at the Metropolitan Museum of Art...

The Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, ca. 1520
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Although he was one of the renowned artists of the Renaissance along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Andrea del Sarto's name is not as widely recognized by the general public, not even making the cut as the fourth of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Since most of his prolific work is concentrated in his native city, Florence, it is not so easy to truly grasp the depth of Del Sarto's life's work from the few paintings that are in American museums. If you are lucky enough to be in or near New York, you can see the first major monographic exhibition of Del Sarto's art in the United States on view until January 10th.

Study of the Head of a Young Woman, ca. 1523
(Gallerie degli Uffizi)
Studies of the Head of an Infant, ca. 1522
(Gallerie degli Uffizi) 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's small exhibit comparing two late works by the artist coincides with the main show of 45 drawings and three paintings in Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action  at the Frick Collection. Although the three paintings are displayed in the Oval Room at the Frick, the drawings that are the real gems of the exhibit are displayed in the two galleries downstairs. I have always found viewing an artist's drawings as very intimate, akin to being privy to the inner sanctum of an artist's mind. The Frick show does not disappoint, del Sarto's creative process and the Renaissance workshop really become existent with the drawings on display. The artist's attention to every little detail from hands, and limbs to the fall of the drapery was worked and reworked from live models who seem to be studio assistants or relatives. There are several Heads of Young Women that are thought to be the artist's wife, Lucrezia, which are so delicately modeled that one can almost feel his admiration and love.

Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands and Drapery, ca. 1522
(Galleria degli Uffizi)

Head of a Young Woman, ca. 1517
(Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris)

Although the exquisite beauty of del Sarto's paintings are without dispute, it is the tender honesty of these drawings that I found so moving. While the paintings feel like they have been created by a magical touch, these show the hardworking hand of the artist, discovering the reality of his subjects only to transform it into what he sees in his mind's eye. Also included in the exhibit are composition studies that show how the artist relentlessly worked out the positioning of the figures. I almost wish someone would make a GIF of the candid look at sketches trying different positions one on top of another. For those of us already curious about art history, these exhibits are a treasure but I wish such an exhibit could reach a younger, wider audience who usually find this type of art outside of their area of interest. Including a modern tech tool to interpret what we willingly go to see and admire might be able to reach a different type of viewer.

The three paintings displayed in the Oval Room of the Frick, The Medici Holy Family, Portrait of a Young Man and St John the Baptist, all had the otherworldly quality that I often associate with Renaissance art. They were perfection itself executed in smooth harmony, inviting the viewer to worship at the altar of human achievement. As spellbinding as these oils are, the preparatory drawings displayed side by side created the sense of being more tangible. Hoping to inform and entice, I tweeted my experience on my third trip to see the Frick exhibit. It is impossible to convey the experience of standing before any of these works by mere words or photographs, so you really should see them in person if you have the chance. For those who cannot make it before the exhibit closes, the Frick collection has all the works online on their website.

The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum not only compares the 'Mechanics of Creativity" behind del Sarto's two late works, The Borgherini Holy Family and Charity, but also includes items to give a broader sense of the time and political atmosphere they were created in. The Met makes a connection between The Borgherini Holy Family created for Giovanni Borgherini, a supporter of the brief Republican government, 1527-30, against the Medici family and Charity that Sarto painted for the French king Francis I, whose assistance the Florentines sought. Sarto's Borgherini Holy Family is interpreted as:
The artist conveyed his patron's ideals through the central motif of the Christ Child accepting the globe, or orb, surmounted by a cross from Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city. This gesture symbolically represents their true leadership of the city and implicitly rejects any other. 

The Borgherini Holy Family, 1528-29
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
By using infrared reflectography, conservators confirmed that a smaller version of The Holy Family  was  partially painted underneath Charity. This exhibit is a perfect continuation of understanding the artist's working process. If the Frick exhibit visualizes the preliminary stages of composition and singular details of a work, the exhibit at the Met displays the inception as well as the changes that can take place during the painting process. They also included a few pieces that belong to the tumultuous history of the city in the exhibit adding another dimension to the relevance of these paintings beyond their artistic value. Along with a late private devotional Madonna and Child from the museum's collection included were a Book of Revelations and the bronze metal of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican friar who was personally involved in the Republican government of 1494 after the expulsion of the Medici, a late 15th century woven silk polychrome velvet with a variation on a Medici emblem and this lapis lazuli cameo of Cosimo de' Medici, the Duke of Florence and Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Grand Ducal Workshop, Cosimo de' Medici (1519-1574),
Duke of Florence and Grand Duke of Tuscany,
ca. 1567-69
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Except for Charity, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Metropolitan Museum's exhibit curated from pieces from their own collection, comes together succinctly to complement the Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action  at the Frick Collection. It is possible to access the works on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website . I strongly urge all to download and closely inspect the exquisite Borgherini Holy Family.

Both the shows end on January 10th and this would be the perfect way to start the new year... with art and magnificence!

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