At the beginning of the XIV century, Florence was one of the great metropolises of Europe, perhaps the greatest. Densely populated and beautiful, it was as rich as Paris and much more than London. A manufacturing centre of the first magnitude, capital of trade, and centre of finance to which the international business community as well as sovereigns turned. Trade flourished, well-being spread, public works hummed, the arts and products of the intellect gained ground. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy (the journey to the underworld takes place precisely in the year 1300), Arnolfo laid the bases of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto designed the soaring bell tower and, in a few years, the future Palazzo Vecchio was built, along with a great new circle of walls and the road network which opened the city to the world.
What still lacked, though, was political stability. The local relapses of the papacy-empire conflict started continuous wars between the camps of commoners and the nobility, between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Disorder follow disorder, and quite a few military defeats heavily damaged the prestige and endurance of the free Commune: first the Pisans headed by Uguccione della Faggiola (Montecatini, 1315), and then the Lucchese of Castruccio Castracane (Altopascio, 1325) routed the haughty Florentine militias, forcing the threatened city to trust its fate to an external seigniory, the Angevins of Carlo of Calabria.
The Treaty of Montopoli, which in 1329 restored peace and made the very protection of the Angevins useless, also brought back a much longed-for prosperity. The annual revenues of the Commune indeed reached the, for the epoch, stratospheric figure of 300,000 gold florins. This enormous treasure also spurred investments: hospitals and hospices were born, along with churches and basilicas, various monuments and precious infrastructures, which a new generation of artists adorned with undisputed masterpieces: Taddeo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi, Maso di Banco, Orcagna, Giottino, and Giovanni da Milano to name a few, which is to say the main heirs of the great innovator Giotto da Bondone, and today, the astonishing artificers at the centre of the exhibitions at the Uffizi and the Accademia.
Giotto di Bondone (Florence 1267 - circa 1337): Cristo benedicente fra san Giovanni Evangelista, la Vergine, san Giovanni Battista e san Francesco d’Assisi, 1310 - 1315
Polyptych of the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa Croce in Florence
Polittico, Raleigh (U.S.A.), North Carolina Museum of Art, Kress Collection
The second part of the title, Art in Florence, 1340 – 1375 clarifies the objectives and chronological limits of this exhibition curated by Angelo Tartuferi and directed by Antonio Natali. Giotto has been acknowledged, by his contemporaries, for his pivotal role in the evolution of painting and pictorial vision of the time. Giotto died in 1336 and art critics considered the period following his death as devoid of any vitality and negatively marked by the terrible plague of 1438. New and recent interpretations have changed this assumption, and have reconsidered the works of other artists from the early 1400s, as well as Florentine art around 1370. This exhibit aims to document the artistic developments of a period lesser known to the public.
The sixty masterpieces on view illustrate not only the variety of patrons and the diversity of formal typologies, but also and especially, the trends in painting, the outstanding quality attained by Florentine sculptors in the wake of the strong personality of Andrea Orcagna, the refinement attained by the goldsmith’s craft in sacred art, and the Neo-Giottesque ferment that seems to prevail in illuminations, to which an entire section of the show is dedicated.
Sculpture, of both marble and stone (Andrea Pisano, Alberto Arnoldi), as well as of wood are included in the panoramic view of Florentine artistic production of the mid XIV century. In this regard, The Legacy of Giotto presents at least two veritable masterpieces: the Madonna and Child by the Master of the Annunciation of Cassiano, a sculptor of an intensely Giottesque culture, and a work on the same subject, splendidly restored for the occasion, executed by a refined artist from the Marches and enriched by the polychrome decoration attributed to Allegretto Nuzi, a painter from Fabriano who sojourned in Siena and Florence.
Several beautiful reliquaries, notably that of Sant’Andrea, dated 1373, in the Cathedral of Florence, attest to the fact that in the field of applied arts, too, the level of quality of art remained quite high even many years after the death of Giotto, whose true heir, moreover, seems to have been his great-grandson, Giotto di Maestro Stefano, known as Giottino whom Vasari praised highly. His Pieta of San Remigio is on view.
Alongside Simone Martini, Pietro Cavallini, the Lorenzetti brothers, Altichiero, Giovanni da Rimini, Paolo da Venezia and the Master of Giovanni Barrile, Giottino is without a doubt one of the top ten Italian artists of the XIV century. Of the 26 paintings Vasari attributes to him, scholars generally agree on only three, and all three are presented in the exhibition at the Uffizi.
Lenders include the Museum of Fine Arts of Budapest, the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, the National Gallery of Art of Washington, the Institute of Arts of Detroit, the North Carolina Museum of Art of Raleigh, the Morgan Library of New York, the National Gallery of Prague, and many others.
This exhibition is accompanied by a second show at the Gallery of the Academy on Giovanni da Milano: Gothic masterpieces between Lombardy and Tuscany.
Splendori del Gotico da Giotto a Giovanni da Milano Web Site
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