It’s not a matter of deciding whether to celebrate Giorgio Vasari’s 500th birthday, but where to start. The author of the Vite de’ più eccellenti Pittori, Scultori e Architettori traversed the entire Italian peninsula researching his literary masterpiece, so there are many possibilities. Perhaps the most appropriate site is the Florentine Palazzo Vecchio, for it was there that Vasari made a triumphal return after two of his staunchest supporters in the city were murdered in 1530. Not until Duke Cosimo I invited him back in 1554 to decorate apartments begun by Battista del Tasso was Vasari vindicated. In typical fashion, he immediately altered Tasso’s plans, raising the ceilings to make room for imaginative frescoes based on the plan of humanist scholar Cosimo Bartoli. With the help of an eager crew of collaborators, Vasari completed the project in less than three years.
Articles by Daniel B. Gallagher
The Empire has gone Elizabethan. Built in 2003, the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre threatens to trump even the Baths of Caracalla (the city’s open-air opera house) as the cultural center point of Rome in the sweltering summer months. This season, the company cooked up an ambitious program including La tempesta (The Tempest), Pene d’amor perdute (Love’s Labour’s Lost), Sogno di una notte di mezza estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), and now closing with Riccardo III (Richard III). Don’t be scared by the foreign language. Even if you’ve read the play only once or twice, you’ll have no problem following the action (though rudimentary Italian will help). In fact, maximal accuracy was not the overriding concern for translator Enrico Groppali and director Marco Carniti. They rather aimed for superb drama and a strict fidelity to the plot. The result is an authentic, barely abridged Richard III (running over four hours) showing greater erudition and ingenuity than many productions in the original English.
In 1953, the town of Stratford, Ontario inaugurated its annual Shakespeare Festival with this very play directed by Tyrone Guthrie and starring Alec Guinness. This year Seana McKenna takes on the title role, adding—as husband and director Miles Potter explains—“one more layer of artifice on Richard.” With over twenty years of experience at Stratford, McKenna hardly needs an excuse to play the part. Yet I understand the public’s demand for an explanation.
The latest exhibition at the Strozzi Palace is a walk back through time to the roots of modern painting. It retells the sad tale of three “angry men” culminating in an alleged meeting between Dalí and Picasso in 1926. Barely twenty-two years old, Dalí had come to Paris with his mother and sister. Upon entering Picasso’s studio, he exclaimed: “Master, I just arrived in Paris and have come to see you before heading for the Louvre.” The episode completed a series of encounters between Miró, Dalí, and Picasso while each was striving to invent a new visual language by contemplating the work of the other two.
The first step towards understanding Renaissance drawing is to take stock of the plethora of reasons for its existence, ranging from doodles to elaborate studies in human anatomy. What started as a design for sculpture may well have evolved into a preparatory sketch for painting. Drawing was the artist’s way of jotting down an idea before losing it and before knowing precisely what, if anything, it might develop into later.
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna follows up a Burne-Jones retrospective it hosted twenty-five years ago with a hundred pre-Raphaelite works illustrating the influence of Italian art on Victorian England. Formed in London in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, like the Impressionists, felt challenged by photography and the emerging science of color. Whereas the Impressionists took to the fields, the Pre-Raphaelites closed themselves in a private, inner world of nostalgia. They staunchly opposed the academy as they strove to recapture pre-Renaissance ethical sensibilities, assimilating and re-expressing them in the language of modernity. They rejected Raphael because he forsook the truth for ideal beauty. They concluded that the only way forward was to go backward and construct a new grammar with elements of Gothicism, Romanticism, and Classicism, recapturing a Gefühl for nature to counter the devastating effects of “progress” on rural and artisanal life.
Everyone agrees that Caravaggio was a revolutionary painter, but the reasons we give often tend toward the superficial: he was a realist, he was provocative, he was theatrical, and so on. The fact is that there were many realist, provocative, theatrical artists before Caravaggio, and many endowed with these qualities after him were influenced by someone else. So what makes Caravaggio so special? Michael Fried claims it was the extraordinary presence of “absorption” and “distancing” in his work. Although Caravaggio was not the first to explore these themes (cf. Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls in the Sistine Chapel), Fried argues that the Lombard genius was the first to bring them to the fore. He also believes that the (not necessarily chronological) moments of absorption/immersion and distancing/specularity tell us something about the philosophical milieu in which Caravaggio worked. Skepticism challenged the certainty that other minds exist, and Caravaggio responded with a psychological realism more powerful and sophisticated than any philosophical argument.
Draped in rich onyx and agate, the Minerva d’Orsay perhaps best represents the hybrid aesthetic the Fondazione Roma wants to showcase in this its first exhibition in a newly dedicated space at the Palazzo Sciarra. Originally dating from the Hadrian Era (117-138 C.E.), the Minerva d’Orsay was meticulously reconstructed according to the refined sensibilities of English and French tourists in Rome. She exemplifies the unique blend of purity and sumptuousness that was the standard of eighteenth-century aristocratic taste. The developing science of archeology helped saturate a market of ruins-turned-domestic-treasures that artisans in turn viewed as much an opportunity for creativity as restoration. A large vase of Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778) composed of fragments dating from various periods is a fine example of the pastiche approach to restoration. It is not entirely clear if Piranesi passed these items off as originals or reproductions, but they brought in a pretty penny just the same.