Medici collection graces Muscarelle

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January 29, 2008

1:48 AM

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Muscarelle Museum of Art welcomes a new exhibition displaying the pastoral beauty of the Italian countryside. “Painting the Italian Landscape: Views from the Uffizi” includes more than 40 works covering five centuries of Italian landscapes.

p. The exhibition showcases the work of many Italian masters, including Sandro Botticelli, Nicolas Poussin and Canaletto. “We wanted to kick off the 25th anniversary of the Muscarelle with … an unprecedented exhibition,” Muscarelle Director Aaron De Groft Ph.D. ’88 said. “It is the finest in the history of the Muscarelle.”

p. The collection is on loan from the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, a gallery renowned worldwide for its collection of Renaissance paintings. Early in the 18th century, the last direct member of the Medici family donated the works to the city of Florence. The family, whose influence permeated politics, art, culture and religion in Italy from the 13th through 17th centuries, cultivated the great art collection through commissioning, purchasing and trading works for over 400 years. Originally created to house this vast array of art, the Uffizi has expanded into one of the most famous art museums in the world.

p. A majority of the works on display at the Muscarelle hail from the 16th century, following the rule of Francesco I de’Medici in Florence. As patrons of the arts, the Medicis were interested in cultivating culture in the city of Florence. Although he favored no particular artist, his collections at the Pitti Palace as well as his numerous countryside villas were largely comprised of landscapes illustrating Naples, Venice, Rome, the Mediterranean and Florence.

p. The work of many of these Renaissance artists recalls the classical tradition in both the idealized form and style of ancient Rome and in its subject matter. Several of the works on display are said to have been inspired by the stories of Ovid’s “Metamorphosis.”

p. As another theme of Italian Renaissance paintings, stormy weather maritime scenes dominate the exhibit. This trend was likely inspired by the Dutch, whose innovative use of lighting techniques helped give rise to landscape as a genre. These tempestuous scenes introduce a sense of realism and naturalism to the exhibit, which extends chronologically beyond the Renaissance to include works dating as recently as the early 20th century.

p. “There are many important and significant paintings in the exhibition,” De Groft said. “This show was an entire exhibition at the Uffizi itself, so that indicates the high level of the works.”
The Uffizi offered to lend the exhibition to the College last year after the Medici still life collection, “Medici in America, Natura Morta: Still-Life Painting and the Medici Collections & Caravaggio’s ‘Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge,’” showed so successfully. “We were offered the landscape show because of our success and because of the very good relationships between the exhibition firm in Florence, Contemporanea Progetti, the exhibition firm in Washington, D.C., the Trust for Museum Exhibitions and the Uffizi,” according to De Groft, who has worked with people at the Uffizi for years.

p. As a result of this relationship, the Muscarelle was able to obtain an exhibit that is unified by an overarching focus on humble, rural subjects found in works of both the classical and realist persuasion. Whether the landscapes include ancient ruins, draw on mythological inspiration or capture natural phenomena, the demure shepherds and picnicking peasants that permeate each scene are the ultimate tribute to the beauty of Italian art and culture.

p. “We have an exhibition of this international caliber from one of the greatest museums in the world, here, for our students and visitors,” De Groft said. “You would have to go to Italy to see a grouping of paintings such as this. It is truly outstanding and amazing.”

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