Auguste Rodin is one of those institutional artists, whose last name has become synonymous with a distinctive kind of art, much the same as Donatello or Rembrandt, but Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, is as remarkable as it is unexpected. While it covers the salient points in Rodin’s oeuvre, the focus here is neither marble nor bronze, but rather the humbler medium of plaster. The underlying thesis is that Rodin was more of a modeler than a carver, a practice reflecting the nature of the art market in his day as well as the sculptor’s natural inclination. Created jointly by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal, the exhibition showcases two hundred works that emphasize Rodin’s pivotal place in the grand tradition of sculpture, between the worlds of Michelangelo and of Brancusi.
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.
Vasari’s partiality toward Tuscan artists may have been for good reason. Classicism had become the standard, and nobody did classicism better than the Tuscans. By the time Vasari wrote the Lives, the Tuscans, unlike the Venetians and Flemish, were already showing signs of a “school” rather than merely a distinct “style.” Of all the major art centers in Europe, Florence was the most international, combining the best techniques available from north to south. Having perfected the art of representation, they only needed someone to put its rules into some kind of order.
There is more to the exhibit currently underway at the Palazzo di Venezia than meets the eye. What it lacks in size it makes up for in importance. Composed mainly of statuary and reliefs by Donatello, Andrea Bregno, Michelangelo and their pupils, it focuses on the underappreciated stylistic transition that took place from 1460 to 1520 in Roman workshops as they moved, roughly speaking, from the purity of classicism, to the sublimity of humanism, to the energy of Renaissance rationalism.