One family's fabled eye for art
For the first time, Americans can view part of the Medicis' art collection without traveling to Italy.
Incredible wealth and power, beauty, corruption, political intrigue. The Medici dynasty has all the right elements for a Hollywood epic.Skip to next paragraph
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Behind their ruthless leadership and tyrannical tactics was a family with a voracious appetite for the arts and sciences. One grand duke, Francesco, even built a secret chamber of 19 cupboards to store his precious collection.
The Medici dynasty, who ruled Italy from 1537-1631, is the subject of a new, touring exhibit, "The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence," at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Some 200 objects - from paintings and sculptures to decorative art and tapestries, mostly commissioned by the Medici family - will be on display through Feb. 2.
The late Renaissance is one of the great periods of artistic skill and craftsmanship. So it's surprising that the artists - with one notable exception - aren't the household names that their patrons have become.
But then, while the wealthy have collected art for centuries, there's never been anybody quite like the Medicis. They are credited with being the first to use art for political gain - sending paintings to rulers whom they wished to impress. And they patronized artists on such a scale that they turned Florence into a powerful cultural center.
"They had a great eye for art and had lots of money," says William Wallace, a top Michelangelo scholar and professor of art history at Washington University in St. Louis. "It always helps to have both."
Without having to buy a plane ticket to Italy, Americans will be able to stand next to sculptures by Michelangelo, Cellini, and Bandinelli, and study works by major Italian painters Pontormo, Bronzino, and Vasari. It's the first time that most of these masterpieces have left Italy.
In the mini-Michelangelo room, visitors will come face to face with the rough-hewn large marble "Apollo/David" (a smaller version of "David") and a newly discovered Michelangelo drawing, "Design for a Candelabrum" from New York's Cooper-Hewitt Museum. The wooden crucifix the artist was working on before he died sits in a glass case nearby. But the exhibition's emphasis is on those who commissioned the art, not the genius who created it.
"We did want this to be a Medici show and not a Michelangelo show," says curator Larry Feinberg. "We carefully chose what we thought was enough to tell the story and give him his due without having him overwhelm the Medici and everyone else in the show."
But the thread that ties the whole exhibition together is precisely the impact of Michelangelo on his contemporaries, says Mr. Wallace, who will be lecturing on the exhibit when it moves from Chicago to Detroit. "They were all equally influenced by the art genius."
For example, Michelangelo's elegant style can be seen in Pierino da Vinci's "River God." The sculpture of a pensive and graceful figure was originally thought to be created by Michelangelo himself. The black chalk "Dawn," by Salviati, was taken directly from Michelangelo's Medici tomb sculptures.