Canova show at the Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi

December 4th, 2012 § Comments Off on Canova show at the Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi § permalink

Thanks to Antonio Canova’s half-brother, sole heir of the artist, Bassano del Grappa’s Museo Civico has the largest collection of Canova drawings in the world. Some 79 drawings from the collection’s 1,876 drawings are being shown at the Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi from 5 December 2012  to 7 April 2013.

Antonio Canova | Study of the Medici Venus – Before Conservation | Red chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

As you’d expect from the foremost Neoclassical sculptor, many of the drawings are after the antique. Like others in the show, the drawing above has Canova’s notations giving measurements–nice reminders that they inhabit real space. Even subjects of his own invention are strongly influenced by the classical world and very few of the drawings seem to be drawn from life.

Most of the works in the show relate to commissions. Canova was a great glorifier of the powerful–Clement XIV, Napoleon, Horatio Nelson, and George Washington among them. With his works, the word monument seems to fit them better than statue or sculpted portrait. Even if monument has a heavy ring to it, there’s something amusing about a work like the Napoleon as Mars the Peacekeeper (heroic nude didn’t appeal to the emperor and he sent it back), or young George Washington in Roman cuirass and pteruges (nowadays this kind of skirt is known as a car wash skirt). Though we might smile at these very Neoclassical portrayals, Canova was dead serious and immensely successful because of them. So successful that he could do things like buy the Giustiniani collection of antiquities and make a gift of them to the Pope. (Canova was also a curator at the Vatican.)

Antonio Canova | Hercules Hurling Lychas into the Sea | Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

The exhibition is being held in permanent exhibition rooms, with the Canova works set apart by blue panels. The panels, often freestanding, are used to create rooms that concentrate on one commission. Because the Bassano museum is so rich in Canova, it can provide several drawings for a commission, along with models, and prints (ordered by Canova) of the artist’s finished works.

Antonio Canova | Toilette of Venus | Black chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

The drawings are in a range of media: graphite, black chalk, red chalk, charcoal, pen and ink, brush and ink. They are often roughly sketched out or vigorously drawn. Because Canova’s marble works are so refined, snow-white, and polished, the drawings provide relief.

Canova. Il segno della gloria. Disegni, dipinti, e sculture
Curated by Giuliana Ericani, Dir. Museo Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa
Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi
Catalogue published by Palombi Editore

Cupid and Psyche

April 26th, 2012 § Comments Off on Cupid and Psyche § permalink

Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo is hosting the exhibition La favola di Amore e Psiche. Il mito nell’arte dall’antichità a Canova. It makes sense that the exhibition should be held there because of the building’s Perino del Vaga frescoes figuring Cupid and Pysche. The frescoes decorate the apartment, specifically the bedroom, of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese). The show has objects of all types: sculpture, ceramics, paintings, prints, and drawings.

There’s a magnificent Raphael drawing from Lille for a pendentive at the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche at the Farnesina, and another drawing from Turin for the same project. The exhibition was a bit disappointing because there were so few drawings. One of the exhibitions I’ve only known from the catalogue, and always regretted not seeing, was the 1981 show Gli Affreschi di Paolo III a Castel Sant’Angelo. Progetto ed esecuzione 1543-1548, curated by Filippa Aliberti Gaudioso and Eraldo Gaudioso. The catalogue has close to 150 drawings and to have seen them in the rooms next to the frescoes for which they were made, must have been a thrill. Knowing of this earlier exhibition sharpened the disappointment.

Still, there were two Raphael drawings. And then there was a very surprising black ink on papyrus drawing of Cupid and Pysche. She’s on the left and has butterfly wings, and Cupid with bird wings, is on the right. There’s no text on the papyrus and it may be that it was made as an independent work of art. If the dating of the papyrus drawing is right, it would mean that it’s contemporary with Apuleius’s Golden Ass, which narrates the story of the lovers. The papyrus was found in Egypt, but looks more Roman or Greek in style. The drawing is also amazing for its size–250 mm or about 10 inches across.

The exhibition opened on 16 March and closes 10 June 2012.



Amor and Psyche | AD 100-199 | Black ink on papyrus | 150 x 250 mm | Inv. PSI 8 919 | Museo Egizio | Florence

Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli Exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale

October 18th, 2011 § Comments Off on Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli Exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale § permalink

Italy’s 150th anniversary year is being celebrated, and many exhibitions have been devoted to the founding of the Republic. Birthdays for people last just one day, but for countries with centenaries and sesquicentenaries they last a year–way too long. The current government makes it all feel like a cruel joke. The Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli show at the Scuderie del Quirinale is something to celebrate. It opened on 5 October and runs through 15 January 2012.

Filippino Lippi | Head of a Young Woman | Metalpoint with white heightening on unevenly grounded rose paper | 245 x 184 mm | Uffizi

Although the exhibition is called Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli, it is much more of a Filippino Lippi show. There are documents in display cases throughout the exhibition that cover his earliest childhood, his early work with his father at Spoleto, his apprenticeship in Sandro Botticelli’s shop (Filippino’s early work was mistaken for Botticelli’s, then ascribed to the “Amico di Sandro” an invention of Berenson, before being correctly attributed to the young Filippino), letters of recommendation, detailed contracts, and at the end an inventory of the contents of house after his death. In the exhibition there are also works by Filippo Lippi, Benedetto da Maiano, Rafaellino del Garbo, Piero di Cosimo and others.

Filippino Lippi | Study for the Figure of St. Bernard | Metalpoint and white heightening on rose-ivory grounded paper | 212 x 131 mm | Uffizi


Filippino Lippi | Appartition of the Virgin to St. Bernard | Oil on panel | 210 x 195 cm | Church of the Badia | Florence


Most of the 20+ drawings in the exhibition are from the Uffizi, although there are some loans from France and the UK. The drawings are interspersed with the paintings in the galleries, and it’s wonderful to see a picture within eye shot of a preparatory drawing.  The drawings are nearly all by Filippino, and are mostly metalpoints with white heightening. The papers are prepared and in shades of rose or gray or “light hazelnut” as it says in the catalogue. In some cases there are  more white lines than stylus lines. What seems most extraordinary is the sense of movement, the animation of the figures. Metalpoints of many other artists are staid and serene. Filippino’s pen and ink drawings also have a wonderful feeling of being rapidly done and that rapidity emphasizes the rush and purposefulness of the figures.

Filippino Lippi | Study of a Catafalque Bearer | Metalpoint with white heightening on rose grounded paper | 180 x 132 mm | Christ Church, Oxford


Alessandro Cecchi, Director of the Pitti Gallery in Florence, curated the exhibition and wrote the biographical essay for the cataglogue. Its title Filippino Lippi, un pittore per tutte le stagioni or in English, Filippino Lippi, a Painter for All Seasons, sums it up.  From a quick reading of what’s online for the press, these were some of the points, Filippino was liked by the different factions in Florence; counted Lorenzo il Magnifico, the Strozzi, the Del Pugliese as patrons; worked on sacred and profane subjects; didn’t fall into Savonarola’s web as Botticelli did; was held in such esteem that he was asked to complete Masaccio’s Brancaccio Chapel fresco cycle; produced designs for decorative arts and temporary funerary works; worked in and out of Florence–importantly at the Carafa chapel in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva here in Rome. The hardcover catalogue costs €49 (€39 if bought at the exhibition) and I’m hoping it will come out in paperback.