In an art world teeming with crass nouveaux riches grabbing trophies at auction for insane prices, once prominent dealers in prison, ArtBasel Miami, and the "Da Vinci" industry, it is deeply comforting to find an enterprise like Andrew Butterfield's refreshingly sober, but gorgeous and energizing exhibition of a single work of art: a spiritello (more commonly called by its 16th century name, "putto") which he found, eventually purchased, and now presents to the public with a carefully researched, modestly proposed attribution to Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, Florence, 1386 or 1387 to 1466), the greatest of Italian sculptors of the Renaissance—I have always preferred his work to Michelangelo's. As a teenager I made my way around the David in the Bargello with my father, and we both agreed it was superior to Michelangelo's, and, as much as I've admired Michelangelo's sculpture, and written about it, I still consider Donatello to the greater of the two. If Dr. Butterfield's exhibition achieves nothing else, it pinpoints the reasons why Donatello is in fact the greatest and most influential sculptor of the Italian Renaissance.
Since the Mona Lisa affair was reported, other petitions and protests have emerged. Earlier this month (September 17) the protests agains the huge cruise ships that pass through the lagoon in Venice were renewed with vigor. The invaluable Tomaso Montanari has organized a petition against the privatization of the Brera in Milan. At the beginning of the month, in the United States, the New York Times demoted Allan Kozinn, one of its more intelligent music critics, who has been writing for them since 1977 and a staff member since 1991. He is now a "general cultural reporter." Norman Lebrecht, who announced the bad news, received an avalanche of mostly angry and disgusted comments. Petitions were organized on Facebook, urging the Times to change their mind...but to no avail. Kozinn's gone. For some years it has been hard to imagine that once upon a time Paul Griffiths wrote music criticism for The New York Times, and both he and Andrew Porter for The New Yorker.
It seems right to begin by grounding whatever else I have to say in the recommendations of Florens 2010. Since much of this will be discussed at Florens 2012. I’ve entered my thoughts simply as comments on the thirteen proposals of 2010. Some of these mention examples from my experiences in the U.S. While the U.S. scored quite well in the Florens 2010 surveys, there is no reason why it should be considered exemplary. The arts struggle there as much as anywhere, although there are a variety of resources to support it. The Tanglewood Music Festival is without a doubt the most important summer music festival and school in the country. They have just published their attendance figures for this past summer, the summer of their 75th anniversary celebrations, and it is makes for depressing reading. The most popular classical concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — and these were the cornerstone of the founder, Serge Koussevitzky’s vision for the festival — ranked ninth below eight pop concerts and semi-popular ceremonial events. Even with an array of private and corporate donors at hand and painstakingly cultivated, the arts have to work hard in the New World to survive and risk compromising their mission.
Filippino Lippi was able to paint his way out of a disreputable birth (his father was a Carmelite monk and his mother an Augustinian nun), but he wasn’t able to paint his way into history books as well as his mentor and studio-mate Sandro Botticelli. This is all the more striking since Sandro’s popularity was in decline after his spiritual crisis at the turn of the century, whereas Filippino, endowed with tanto ingenio and a vaghissima e copiosa invenzione, as Vasari tells us, was hardly able to keep up with commissions.
Before entering this exhibition, take the time to examine the building that houses it. Study its façade at close range and from the opposite bank of the Arno. Contemplate its severe, stately economy. Notice the columns that seem to support more weight than they should. Allow your eye to scan the stretch of monolithic architraves, the repetitious ordering of portals. Only then will you begin to appreciate that the core of this exhibit is not in the Uffizi, it is the Uffizi.
Complementing the drawings shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year is this exhibition at the Strozzi Palace featuring fifty-four of Bronzino’s seventy paintings: the largest exhibition of the Florentine master’s work to date. The son of a butcher, Agnolo di Cosimo Tori (1503-1572), nicknamed “Bronzino”, spent the bulk of his career in the Medici court until Giorgio Vasari succeeded him in 1564. Vasari in fact plays a large role in this show, as curators Cristina Acidini, Carlo Falciani, and Antonio Natali rely heavily on information contained in his biography of Bronzino. The pictures themselves tell much of the story, demonstrating that the artist is not readily classifiable as a Mannerist given his tendency towards natural, austere beauty in affectedly bright colors.