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Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

‘Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence’

“In 2019 attention has finally been paid to Andrea del Verrocchio with two splendid exhibitions, each accompanied by an ambitious catalog,” writes Ingrid Rowland. “The first of these took place this past summer in his native Florence, in Palazzo Strozzi, a fifteenth-century structure in the very heart of the city where Verrocchio built his career and spent most of his life. Here, the title “Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo” connected the exhibition with the five-hundredth anniversary of Leonardo’s death. The curators, Francesco Caglioti and Andrea De Marchi, divided their introductory essays between “Verrocchio the Sculptor” and “Verrocchio the Painter” and flanked works by the master himself with works by his pupils and contemporaries.

A few months later and a continent away, Washington’s National Gallery gathered many of the same works for “Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence,” curated by Andrew Butterfield, and focused on presenting the artist and his Florentine patrons, the Medici, to the North American public. Catalog essays therefore include an eloquent introduction to the artist’s significance by Butterfield, whose The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio (1997) remains a landmark study,* and Charles Dempsey’s presentation of the Medici family in its favorite haunts, worldly bankers fascinated by the classical world and by the scholars who brought it alive for fifteenth-century Florentines. Expert discussions of Verrocchio’s work as a sculptor, painter, and draftsman also include illuminating technical studies of the lengths to which a Renaissance artist might go to turn a vision of beauty into a real object.

Continuing the Florentine theme, New York’s Frick Collection has dedicated a revelatory show this fall to Verrocchio’s contemporary Bertoldo di Giovanni, another Medici protégé whose small bronze statues and relief sculptures really do have a wild, untamed quality to them, and thus provide a revealing foil to Verrocchio. The bronze sculpture in which they both excelled was a new medium in fifteenth-century Florence, and their work breathes all the excitement of experimentation and rapid change. Bertoldo, despite his talent, receives only fleeting mention in Vasari’s lives of his teacher, Donatello, and of Michelangelo, who came to sketch in the Medici garden where Bertoldo served as caretaker and teacher (he was too old to sculpt anymore, Vasari reports, but still sharp-witted enough to give excellent advice, this ancient sage of seventy). If Verrocchio’s reputation in the Lives has fallen victim to a larger historical scheme of progress, Bertoldo’s has suffered from one of the basic realities of a Florentine artist’s life: the system of master, apprentice, and workshop, which put children to labor at an early age and made many if not most works of art a collective venture. Bertoldo, Vasari reports, grew so good at emulating Donatello’s style that their hands became difficult to distinguish.”

 

For more information, visit nga.gov.

Category: Exhibition
National Gallery of Art
4th Constitution Avenue Northwest,
Washington, DC