Medici Michelangelo

by Vittorio Carli

Art review by Vittorio Carli ( published in The Star newspapers inNovember 2002)

"Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence" is a magnificent exhibit that is currently running at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It brings together many important Renaissance works, some of which have never left Italy. It includes pieces by Michelangelo, Allori, Vasari and many other artistic geniuses.

It has a smaller number of paintings than some of the other major Art Institute exhibits, but the works are very high quality and of paramount importance.

Many of the pieces are Mannerist works or influenced by the Mannerist movement. Mannerism was a figurative style, which utilized simple elegant forms in a powerful manner.

Some of these artists, such as Michelangelo, tried to achieve deep emotions by distorting or exaggerating parts of the human form.

The works are exhibited in fourteen galleries, and they are arranged in a more or less chronological manner.

The show is bigger than it was at the previous venues, because the Art Institute of Chicago added some pieces from its permanent collection.

The exhibit has a wide variety of works in different mediums such as paintings, sculpture, and sketches. All of the works were created in Florence under the reign of the Medici family.

The Medicis were an aristocratic family that ran Florence from 1537-1631. They put their stamp on history and they beautified Florence by patronizing architecture and the arts.

They started one of the finest art schools ever, the Accademia del Disegno. Some of the featured works came from students from the school.

The show has so many highlights and splendid works that it is difficult to single out just a few pieces or artists.

Cristofano Allori's "Judith with the Head of Holofernes" (1616-18) is the most shocking and horrific painting in the exhibit. It was modeled after Caravaggio's "David and Goliath" which also features a person holding a severed head.

The face of the head resembles the face of the artist, and the murderess, Judith, is a dead ringer for his mistress, Mazzafirra.
The contrast in color between the white head and the bright colors of Judith's clothes is striking.

Borsa di San Sepulcro's disturbing but amusing "Adam and Eve" shows how evil can take on a pleasing and familiar form. Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent with a face identical to Eve's.

Jacopo da Empoli's handsome "Portrait of a Noblewoman Dressed in Mourning" depicts a tragic scene of lamentation, and it will probably inspire a feeling of melancholy in many viewers.

One of Giorgio Vasari's most famous pieces, "Venus at her Toilet" is also in the exhibit. It's highly symbolic, and stylistically pleasing piece which shows the mythological goddess of love attended by her three graces.

There are also some gorgeous, awe inspiring sculptures. Ammanati's "Hercules and Anateus" is a bronze statue of Hercules squeezing the very life out his mythological enemy.

It was supposed to inspire fear and send a message against the enemies of Florence and/or the Medicis.

The exhibit also includes three major Michelangelo sculptures: the oddly positioned, marble "Apollo-David," a torso piece, and the striking, unfinished "Crucifixion," which was one of his last pieces.

These pieces are accompanied by "Design for a Candelabrum" which helps to show off the Mannerist master's versatility.

The only complaint I can make about the exhibit is that there is not enough Michelangelo, but most of the paintings by the other artist's are brilliant and revelatory.

This spectacular exhibit is inspiring and highly educational. It's a must-see event for admirers of classical culture and history.


WHAT: "The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence"
WHERE: The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan
WHEN: Through Feb. 2
TICKETS: Free with $10:00 General Admission ($6:00 for seniors, students, and children under 6), Free on Tuesdays

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Photography by Vittorio Carli