Andrew Butterfield is President of Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts. He is the author of The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio, among other books. (May 2016)

Botticelli: Love, Wisdom, Terror

Sandro Botticelli: Primavera, 1477–1482
Sometime around 1490 Sandro Botticelli set out to make a book unlike any ever seen before: the first fully illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Almost since the poem was completed around 1321, painters had decorated manuscripts of it with illuminations of selected scenes. But the very qualities that drew so many readers to the poem were all far beyond the skills of earlier painters to convey. Botticelli was determined to be the first painter to do justice to the great poem.

Statues of Wrath and Serenity

Statue of the Wisdom King Fudō Myōō by Kaikei, Kamakura period, early thirteenth century

Every age is one of anxiety. But few have responded with art more deeply serene than that of the Kamakura Period in Japan (1185-1333). A show of Kamakura sculpture, “Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan,” has just opened at the Asia Society in New York, the first American exhibition on the subject in more than thirty years.

The Magic of Donatello

‘Prophet’ (possibly Habakkuk), known as the ‘Zuccone’; marble sculpture by Donatello, 1427–1436
The Museum of Biblical Art, lodged in a relatively small space on Broadway near Lincoln Center, is now showing nine sculptures by Donatello, one of the greatest of all Renaissance artists. Never before have so many of his best works been shown together in the United States. Among the works …

He Brought Stone to Life

Donatello: Habakkuk, 1427-1436

Among the works on view at the Museum of Biblical Art’s new show, “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello,” is the artist’s large sculpture of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, carved for the Campanile of the Florence Cathedral, likely between 1427 and 1436. “Speak, damn you, speak!” Donatello, we are told, repeatedly shouted at the statue while carving it. The dream of a statue that can speak or breathe or move is a fantasy shared by many cultures throughout time, and the story may be apocryphal. Still, it points to the fundamental appeal of Donatello’s sculptures: by some strange magic they seem to capture the phantom of life.

Rembrandt in the Depths

Rembrandt van Rijn: Lucretia, 1666

“Rembrandt: The Late Works,” an exhibition now on view at London’s National Gallery, will linger long in the mind of anyone who has the pleasure to see it. Bringing together approximately ninety paintings, prints, and drawings Rembrandt made at the end of his life, it reveals a great artist working with unprecedented technical command and emotional power, even as the world closes in around him.

‘Majesty, Vehemence, Splendor’

Paolo Veronese: The Family of Darius before Alexander, 1565–1567 (detail), click to enlarge

Paolo Veronese’s prodigious facility, love of magnificence, and untroubled service to the dreams of wealthy clients were all counted against him for much of the twentieth century. Few great artists have seemed less radical or rebellious. But this reaction overlooks his own ambitions as a painter as revealed in The Family of Darius before Alexander. He worked with breathtaking dispatch and unerring certainty, and was able to create almost any effect.

Prodigious Veronese

Paolo Veronese: The Family of Darius before Alexander, 1565-1567
Long regarded as among the greatest Venetian paintings, Paolo Veronese’s The Family of Darius before Alexander has attracted the intense admiration of many writers, including Goethe, Hazlitt, and Ruskin, as well as James. Its acquisition by the National Gallery in 1857 was considered a triumph; Queen Victoria even made a special visit to the museum just to view the picture. It is now one of the high points in the magnificent show about Veronese on view at the National Gallery, the first comprehensive exhibition of the painter in over twenty-five years.

The Serene Beauty of Canova

Antonio Canova: The Creation of Adam (detail)

Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe in the early nineteenth century, and yet he has rarely been the subject of an exhibition in America, nor has it been easy to see many major works by him in this country. Until now. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is presently home to a small but serenely beautiful show, “Antonio Canova: The Seven Last Works.” The exhibition features the seven plaster models for reliefs, which Canova was working on at the time of his death in 1822.

Trapped in Vienna

Broncia Koller: Silvia Koller with a Bird Cage, 1907–1908

Vienna was not only a birthplace of modernism; it was also a “laboratory of world destruction,” to quote the legendary Viennese journalist Karl Kraus. The show at the National Gallery in London helps the viewer to see in the clearest terms the suffocating anxiety and oppressive solitude of the artists, writers, and patrons who were responsible for much of Viennese modernism. You can almost watch the apocalypse unfold.

Sad and Supreme

Albrecht Dürer: ‘Mein Agnes,’ 1494
In the summer of 1494, soon after his engagement, Albrecht Dürer made a startlingly intimate drawing of his fiancée, Agnes Frey. One might have expected a twenty-three-year-old to depict his betrothed as a source of love, or comfort, or well-being, all the more since her substantial dowry would soon launch …

Dürer’s Devil Within

 Albrecht Dürer: Mein Agnes (My Agnes), detail, 1494

In the summer of 1494, soon after his engagement, Albrecht Dürer made a startlingly intimate drawing of his fiancée Agnes Frey. One might have expected a twenty-three-year-old to depict his betrothed as a source of love, or comfort or well-being. Instead, Albrecht showed Agnes twisted up in a knot of anxious introversion. In its frank portrayal of an informal moment of unguarded emotion, there had never been a drawing quite like this before. Typically portraiture was honorific and meant to represent the exemplary virtues of the person shown; Dürer instead often sought to capture the idiosyncratic and psychological characteristics of the people he portrayed. He was fascinated with the close scrutiny of dark and brooding emotion.

The Triumph of Bronze

Dancing Satyr, Greek bronze with alabaster eyes, fourth century BC
This fall the Royal Academy in London has put on one of the most astonishing exhibitions of sculpture ever mounted. Titled simply “Bronze,” the show brings together an abundance of masterworks in bronze and other copper alloys from a dazzling range of cultures and periods. On display are more than …

Recasting the Ancients

Antico: Apollo Belvedere, c. 1490, bronze with gilding and silvering, detail.

Once upon a time, antiquity was new. All of a sudden, in the decades around 1500, the Laocoön and the Apollo Belvedere and other now-celebrated monuments of the ancients began to come forth from the ground, dug up in the fields about Rome. To the artists, patrons, and humanists who beheld them for the first time, these sculptures were breathtaking: timeless yet fresh, canonical yet startling. As in few other moments in the history of art, the shock of the new and the shock of the old were one. Among the first artists to respond to this surprising treasure trove was a goldsmith from northern Italy called Pier Jacopo Alari de Bonacolsi (c.1455-1528), better known as “Antico,” for his uncompromising passion for Pagan antiquity. Working for Isabella d’Este and her Gonzaga relatives in Mantua, he made as bronze statuettes some of the earliest copies of these and other masterworks of antiquity, including the Spinario, the Venus Felix, and the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Today the imitation of classical models may seem like a stale and routine business, but five hundred years ago, it was an exciting and revelatory enterprise. The copies Antico made are surprising in many ways, so much so that although long cherished by collectors as possibly the most sumptuous statuettes in the history of art, the essence of their character still seems to elude full understanding.

They Clamor for Our Attention

Andrea del Castagno: Portrait of a Man, circa 1450–1457
The show of Renaissance portraits now on view in New York is of staggering beauty and revelatory importance. Bringing together nearly 150 masterpieces of fifteenth-century Italian art, it is the richest examination ever presented of the portrait during the first stages of its development in Europe following the end of …

Gossart: The Glow of Inspiration

One of Jan Gossart’s drawings of Adam and Eve, from Chatsworth, 13 11/16 x 9 7/16 inches, circa 1520
The exhibition on Jan Gossart organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery, London, celebrates a Netherlandish painter of the early sixteenth century who is little known except by historians, yet deserves wider attention. He not only introduced a new appreciation of classicism to the art of northern Europe, thereby bringing it closer to the concerns and achievements of the Italian Renaissance, but he produced remarkably beautiful and complex portraits and mythological and biblical paintings.

The Unexpected Pleasures of Jan Gossart

Jan Gossart:  Adam and Eve, 10 3/16 x 8 5/16 inches, c. 1520-25

Before it closes on January 17, I urge readers to rush over to the exhibition of Jan Gossart at the Metropolitan Museum to experience its unexpected pleasures. A Netherlandish painter of the early sixteenth century, Gossart (c. 1478-1532) is little known except by historians, yet deserves wider attention. He was one of the first northern painters to travel to Rome to study and possibly the first Netherlandish artist to make paintings of mythological subjects, bringing to northern Europe a new appreciation of classicism and Italian art. The exhibition at the Metropolitan emphasizes the painter’s interest in secular narratives, voluptuous nudes, and his remarkably beautiful and complex portraits, as well as mythological and Biblical paintings.

Titian and the Rebirth of Tragedy

Titian: Diana and Actaeon, 1556–1559
This autumn two of Titian’s greatest pictures, Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, have come to America for the first time, as part of the exhibition “Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting,” a selection of works from the National Gallery of Scotland, now at the High Museum …

The Fierce Emotions of Siena

Marco Romano’s early-fourteenth-century sculptures of the angel Gabriel (28 inches high) and the Virgin Mary (43 3/4 inches high), from the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. This illustration of the two figures is the first unified photographic image ever seen.’
At last, after five hundred years, the study of Sienese art has moved out of the shadow of Florence. According to the traditional view, the painters and sculptors of Siena were naive and medieval by comparison with the progressive masters of the Florentine Renaissance. Florence produced generation after generation of …

Venice: The Masters in Boston

Titian: Danaë, 1544–1546
On view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the first group show ever organized in America about Venetian painting of the late sixteenth century. Moderate in scale, the exhibition does not attempt a comprehensive survey of the period. Rather, it pre-sents only the three most important Venetian …

Sacred, Earthy & Sublime

Giovanni Bellini: Baptism of Christ, 1500–1502
In the latter half of the fifteenth century, the artists Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini ruled over painting in northern Italy. Closely related—Mantegna was married to Bellini’s sister —the painters sometimes took great interest in each other’s work, and occasionally made pictures of the same subject matter. Yet they pursued …

The Genius of George Inness

The works of George Inness, the American painter, have always provoked strong reactions and intense debate. Even at the height of his fame during the late nineteenth century, his landscape pictures disgusted some viewers, while moving others to rapturous praise. His critics called his paintings “diseased” and “perverted”; a reviewer …

The Magical Painting of Poussin

Nicolas Poussin has been studied and celebrated for more than three hundred years, and yet “Poussin and Nature,” now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the first show dedicated to his work as a landscape painter. It is a ravishingly beautiful exhibition, and one that attempts to …

Recreating Picasso

Volume three of John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso has now appeared and, like the first two installments of the biography,[^*] it is a work so rich with information and insight that it will forever change our understanding of the artist. The book opens in 1917 when Picasso was thirty-five …

Brush with Genius

The paintings of Jacopo Tintoretto come as a revelation. According to standard opinion Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael were the supreme artists of the sixteenth century; yet often during the last four hundred years, viewers have gazed in awe and surprise at works by Tintoretto, and wondered if he might be …

The Heights of Pleasure

During the second half of the sixteenth century, one man dominated the making of sculpture in Europe. Known chiefly by his nickname, Giambologna, he was a Flemish artist who worked for the Medici court in Florence. A figure of remarkable creativity and unflagging industry, for nearly fifty years he ceaselessly …

The Pious Revolutionary

The Fra Angelico show now on view in New York is among the most provocative exhibitions of a Renaissance artist in recent years. It attempts no less than to revise the history of Florentine painting in the 1420s, a period universally regarded as a turning point in European art. According …

The Homer of Painting

This winter the New York region has been blessed with two spectacular exhibitions of the work of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter. At the Bruce Museum in Greenwich until January 30 (and continuing on to the Berkeley Art Museum and the Cincinnati Art Museum) was a small but …

The Visionary

That Parmigianino ranks among the great draftsmen of the Renaissance is an assessment first made by his contemporaries in the sixteenth century. Giorgio Vasari began his life of the painter with praise for the “gracious virtue of his drawings,” and said he was “consecrated by Nature at birth to drawing.” …

Capturing Character

During the last decades of the eighteenth century, Jean-Antoine Houdon was the most famous artist alive. Although based in Paris, he had clients throughout the Western Hemisphere, from Russia to the United States, a claim no other sculptor could make. He was, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “the first …