Review: Michelangelo and other Italian Masters on display in San Diego for the first time
Local residents now have the extraordinary opportunity to see over 50 drawings and prints by some of the greatest names of the Italian Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Filippo Lippi and Andrea del Sarto as well as celebrated masters of the Italian Baroque.
On loan from the renowned collection of the Department of Prints & Drawings at the British Museum in London, two concurrent exhibitions – at the University of San Diego’s Hoehn Family Galleries and a smaller display at the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park – feature works illustrating scenes from Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, popular subjects in Renaissance art. Most of the drawings were conceived by the artists for private study, often to explore ideas for larger compositions, and thus have an innate intimacy that invites quiet contemplation in the jewel-like galleries of both venues.
Fragile and extremely light sensitive, drawings are normally exhibited by museums for only a few weeks at a time before “resting” in their storage boxes for up to a decade or so before they can be displayed again. Thus, the chance to have a one-on-one encounter with Michelangelo’s powerful red chalk study, The Three Crosses (c. 1520), one of about 630 surviving drawings by the artist, is special indeed. In this unusually large compositional sheet, Michelangelo focuses on modeling the nude male form of Christ and the good and bad thieves while seeking to find poses that best reflect their complex inner and outward emotional states. Below are the abstracted figures of Mary and other supporters shown in various states of agitation while the nearby Roman soldiers are reduced to ghost-like forms.
Other exhibition highlights include Benozzo Gozzoli’s sensitively rendered Studies of Angels for his celebrated Adoration of the Magi fresco in the Medici Chapel in Florence (1459-63), a sheet recently acquired by the British Museum and not shown to the public since the early 1980s. For those interested in Renaissance printmaking, a rare treat awaits: an original copper printing plate from the early 1500s (after Filippino Lippi) shown alongside its final engraving.
Fra Bartolommeo’s black chalk study of around 1516 for his Salvator Mundi altarpiece in the church of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence is a masterpiece of Florentine draftsmanship and invites an inevitable comparison to Leonardo da Vinci’s much-discussed painting of the theme acquired recently for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, made about a decade and a half earlier.
Co-curated by Hugo Chapman and Sarah Vowles of the British Museum, these joint exhibitions offer San Diego audiences a first-hand look at the remarkable world of Renaissance draftsmanship and printmaking. One hopes that further collaborations with London are in the works.
Until Dec. 13 and 15 respectively: Christ: Life, Death & Resurrection: Italian Renaissance Drawings & Prints from the British Museum (University of San Diego Hoehn Family Galleries) and Masterpieces of Italian Drawings from The British Museum (Timken Museum of Art). Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.