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.
When Daniel Gallagher began his 500th birthday tribute to Giorgio Vasari in late September with an article on the Salone del Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, he had little idea that the investigation into the survival and location of the remains of a lost wall painting by Leonardo da Vinci, about which he wrote so benignly, would lead to the sudden storm of protest which has now brought the work to a halt.
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.
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.