Admirers of Renaissance art can see works from the famous Uffizi galleries without taking a trip to Florence, Italy.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents “Botticelli and Renaissance Florence: Masterpieces from the Uffizi,” featuring more than 45 Italian museum loans, including works by Sandro Botticelli, a Catholic well known for painting a wide range of religious subjects throughout his career, including many Madonnas.
“The term ‘Renaissance’ derives from the French word that translates to ‘rebirth,'” said Lois Eliason, an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas of St. Paul, who has taught a variety of art history courses at UST lately. 20 years.
“In this case, contemporary Florentine painters, sculptors and architects studied and imitated the work and style of ancient Greece and Rome, rivaling the magnificent achievements of these civilizations,” Eliason said.
Botticelli (1445-1510) lived most of his life in Florence and was an important artist of the Italian Renaissance. He painted three major frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, as well as his most famous work, The Birth of Venus.
His career began as an apprentice to Fra Filippo Lippi, a leading Florentine painter who was a favorite of the Medici family, a powerful Catholic family that gained success in commerce and banking. The Medici’s devotion to the arts and humanities made Florence the center of the Renaissance, a period characterized by a reawakening of art, culture and learning.
The Medici family went on to produce four popes: Leo X (1513-1521), Clement VII (1523-1534), Pius IV (1559-1565) and Leo XI (1605) .
“I think everyone, Catholic or not, should see this exhibit,” Eliason said. “We can understand a little more about the painter and his contemporaries, find out what life was like in 15th Century Florence and experience a selection of gorgeous paintings that are some of the Uffizi’s most prized works. Minneapolis is very fortunate to be the only stop for many of these paintings, which I think rarely leave Italy,” said Eliason.
“Together, these paintings present an overview of the Christian spirit that was compelling in 15th-century Florence through the lens of one of its most popular and prolific painters,” she said.
Madonna and Child in Glory with Angels, one of Botticelli’s best-known sacred pieces, features a supernatural, heavenly character contrasted with a very human depiction of Mary and Jesus.
“Botticelli created tender scenes with his sacred subjects, and this one is really special, with golden shimmers and details like that,” said Rachel McGarry, Elizabeth MacMillan Chair of European Art and curator of European paintings and works on paper at the Mia.
Another of Botticelli’s depictions of Jesus and his mother, Mary, is a brightly colored work with detailed symbolism – the Adoration of the Child with Angels (Madonna with Roses).
“Here, Botticelli and his assistants paint a scene of the Virgin Mary and angels adoring the Christ child in an outdoor garden,” Eliason said.
“I love this painting for its colorful and detailed renderings of costumes, plants and flowers; note the strawberries and violets in the meadow in the foreground, as well as the roses filling the sky in the background,” she said.
Eliason noted the small-scale painting, Saint Augustine in his Study, in which Botticelli gives the viewer an intimate look into the private study of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), whose writings helped shape Western Christianity.
“Here, a heavy green curtain is pulled back to show the saint writing at his desk,” Eliason said. “We can see books on the shelves to our left and a round bas-relief depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ child on the back wall.”
“Torn pieces of paper and quills scattered on the ground suggest that St. Augustine is fully immersed in his work; Botticelli portrays the saint with a sense of calm reserve,” she said.
Another Botticelli religious painting, The Adoration of the Magi, is displayed in the last gallery of the exhibition.
“This is a remarkable painting, full of grace and beauty, as the three kings honor the Christ child on January 6, a very important day in Florence,” McGarry said. “The more you look at the painting, the more you see.”
“The Botticelli scene in this painting adds another layer to our understanding of the story, making it an homage to the most powerful figures in 15th-century Florence,” Eliason said.
“The figures of the kings feature portraits of members of the Medici family, and the patriarch of the clan, Cosimo the Elder, is shown cradling the feet of the infant Christ,” Eliason said.
“Medics were active members of the Brotherhood of Magi, which sponsored theatrical re-enactments of the scene during religious festivals, with members dressed in elaborate costumes and parading through the streets,” she said.
Of note – Botticelli’s only known self-portrait is to the right of the Adoration of the Magi. “The artist wears a heavy camel-colored coat and turns his head to acknowledge our presence,” Eliason said.
“The magnification of this iconic painting can only be truly appreciated in person,” she said.
Other notable works by Botticelli in the Mia exhibition include The Trial of Moses, Flagellatia and Pallas and Centaur, a large painting that Eliason said “should not be missed because it fully embraces contemporary human thinking about beauty and virtue.”
BOTTICELLI AND MIA
“Botticelli and Renaissance Florence: Masterpieces from the Uffizi”
October 16 – January 8
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis
$16 to $20; free for ages 17 and under
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