The Renaissance really began in a few decades at the beginning of the 15th century in Florence – an artistic revolution mapped out in a remarkable exhibition that assembles 140 sculptures and paintings from collections around the world.
Works by masters including Donatello and Masaccio, Brunelleschi and Paolo Uccello have been loaned for the unprecedented show thanks to a partnership between the Louvre museum in Paris and the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, itself a Renaissance jewel.
“The exhibition aims to show that the origin of this revolution which lasted two centuries was sculpture,” said Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi, the exhibition’s Italian curator and herself a scion of an aristocratic Florentine family.
Paolozzi Strozzi said the real hero of the exhibition was Florence’s own Donatello (1386-1466), who “put his mark on the era.”
“He lived a very long time and he never stopped experimenting,” she said, pointing to a gilded bronze sculpture of St. Louis of Toulouse that includes elements of enamel and jewels as an example of the artist’s innovative energy.
“Donatello is an artistic figure of a disconcerting modernity,” she said, showing visitors another work by Donatello – a large bronze horse head depicted with unnerving realism.
The horse’s head is just one of the exhibits that demonstrate how the Renaissance was inspired by ancient Roman art, which – after some centuries of medieval aesthetics, which abjured classical influence – was being reappreciated at the time.
The works come from collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bode-Museum in Berlin, the Metropolitan in New York and the National Gallery in Washington.
The show is divided into 10 sections starting from “The Heritage of the Forefathers” to “The New Patrons.”
The Louvre and Palazzo Strozzi “have shared the financing of the restoration of many of the works, which are now being presented in their best light,” said Paolozzi Strozzi.
The Bode museum has provided a magnificent Virgin and Infant by Donatello known as the “Madonna Pazzi” – a marble statue used to create molds that were then used to cast copies in bronze.
“These molds in terracotta or stucco were not that costly so that any store or convent could afford the statues in Florence and elsewhere,” he said. “This allowed the aesthetic revolution to spread, including outside of Italy.”
Copies of the molds made especially for the exhibition are also on display and visitors are encouraged to touch them.
“The Dawn of the Renaissance” is up at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi until Aug. 18, then travels to the Louvre between Sept. 26 and Jan. 6, 2014. For more information see www.palazzostrozzi.org.