Bot­ti­celli down un­der

A first-ever ex­hi­bi­tion of fa­mous works owned by Italy’s Corsini fam­ily pro­vides Auck­land Art Gallery vis­i­tors with a rare glimpse of Re­nais­sance Florence.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Lau­ren Buck­eridge

A first-ever ex­hi­bi­tion of fa­mous works owned by Italy’s Corsini fam­ily pro­vides Auck­land Art Gallery vis­i­tors with a rare glimpse of Re­nais­sance Florence.

The ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion The Corsini Col­lec­tion: A Win­dow on Re­nais­sance Florence sug­gests it’s about more than paint­ings: it’s a por­tal. The show brings works by Bot­ti­celli and Car­avag­gio among oth­ers to the Auck­land Art Gallery. But it’s not all Bi­ble scenes in gilt frames. The ex­hi­bi­tion gives a glimpse of what you might see if you peered through a win­dow of a palace in Re­nais­sance Florence. There is epic art and sculp­ture, yes. But the show also in­cludes sump­tu­ous cloth­ing and ta­pes­tries as well as do­mes­tic touches such as pots and pans, a din­ing set and board games.

That “win­dow” frames its own still life of how the Corsini fam­ily, one of Italy’s most pow­er­ful dy­nas­ties, dat­ing back to the Mid­dle Ages, lived in the 15th and 16th cen­turies.

Auck­land gallery di­rec­tor Rhana Deven­port calls the ex­hi­bi­tion a “slice of life”. “One of the rea­sons we’ve given it that ti­tle is that it’s for peo­ple in­ter­ested in so­ci­ety, pol­i­tics and what daily life might be like. I think peo­ple are fas­ci­nated to know.”

The Corsini fam­ily col­lec­tion, which isn’t open to the pub­lic in Italy, is the last re­main­ing ma­jor pri­vate col­lec­tion in Florence and has never toured in its en­tirety. It’s the first pri­vate Floren­tine col­lec­tion to be dis­played in New Zealand.

“It’s such a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity. This is bring­ing Italy here,” says se­nior cu­ra­tor Mary Kisler, who cu­rated the ex­hi­bi­tion with Ital­ian art his­to­rian Lu­dovica Se­bre­gondi.

“The fam­ily gives us the op­por­tu­nity to have this lit­tle win­dow onto Re­nais­sance Florence.” And onto the Corsi­nis them­selves, as Kisler notes this is “an op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one to learn more about them”.

One ex­hi­bi­tion room recre­ates a cham­ber in the Palazzo Corsini, dis­play­ing the ev­ery­day his­tor­i­cal ob­jects that Deven­port con­sid­ers es­sen­tial to the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“Af­ter all, what is the art ex­pe­ri­ence?

Art is ab­so­lutely in­te­gral to daily life, and art is fun­da­men­tal to who we are as an ex­pres­sion of our hu­man­ity. In this case, we’re also see­ing dec­o­ra­tive arts and the ob­jects that peo­ple use and ob­jects that were util­i­tar­ian in their daily life.”

The col­lec­tion fea­tures works by about 40 artists, in­clud­ing Bot­ti­celli, Car­avag­gio, del Sarto, Pon­tormo and Ri­gaud. Many of the artists were as colour­ful as their work.

Bot­ti­celli burnt much of his own ma­te­rial and was over­shad­owed by Michelan­gelo later in life. Car­avag­gio at­tracted con­tro­versy for his cin­e­matic style. He was branded “the Anti-Christ of paint­ing” and was wanted for mur­der. He also in­flu­enced later greats such as Rubens and Rem­brandt.

Bot­ti­celli’s orig­i­nal Madonna and Child with Six An­gels is one the ex­hi­bi­tion’s draw­cards. Kisler says it’s a thrill to be ex­hibit­ing a work that many peo­ple have stud­ied at sec­ondary and ter­tiary lev­els. “It’s one thing to look at it on a com­puter

Bot­ti­celli’s re­li­gious works and Car­avag­gio’s still lifes will be recog­nis­able, but the likes of del Sarto and Pon­tormo will be un­fa­mil­iar.

screen, but it’s another thing to ac­tu­ally be in the space.”

Ex­hi­bi­tion-go­ers will recog­nise the calm still­ness of Bot­ti­celli’s re­li­gious works and Car­avag­gio’s the­atri­cal and moody still-life close-ups, but the likes of del

Sarto and Pon­tormo will be un­fa­mil­iar to many.

Kisler says they are im­por­tant and well-known fig­ures in Ital­ian art his­tory, es­pe­cially for be­ing “rev­o­lu­tion­ary in the treat­ment of the paint sur­face”. The col­lec­tion il­lus­trates the chrono­log­i­cal pro­gres­sion of style and method through the artists’ works. “Every cou­ple of years an artist in­tro­duces some­thing new, and what you can do is track that evo­lu­tion within the range of the ex­hi­bi­tion.”

Per­haps less widely known than the Medici fam­ily, the Corsi­nis have a his­tory just as rich and an even longer lin­eage. They be­came wealthy in the 13th cen­tury as wool mer­chants,

then ex­panded into real es­tate, trade and mer­chant bank­ing. They built palaces in Florence and, in the 17th cen­tury, Rome.

In this im­por­tant fam­ily in Catholic Italy, Corsini se­cond sons were rou­tinely pushed into the priest­hood and some rose to high of­fice, in­clud­ing Car­di­nal Pi­etro Corsini in 1420 and Arch­bishop Amerigo Corsini. Car­di­nal Lorenzo Corsini was elected as Pope Cle­ment XII in 1730. As an arts pa­tron, he es­tab­lished Rome’s Capi­to­line Mu­se­ums and com­mis­sioned the Trevi Foun­tain. The fam­ily even pro­duced a 14th-cen­tury saint, An­drew Corsini.

Deven­port says their 21st-cen­tury de­scen­dants are thrilled at the prospect of ex­hibit­ing their trea­sures on the other side the world.

By al­low­ing the pieces to tour, the fam­ily are con­tribut­ing to con­serv­ing the past. “What it also talks about is re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause they have a duty to look af­ter th­ese works,” says Kisler.

“By al­low­ing some of them to travel, that gives them fund­ing, it helps them re­store more works. Most pri­vate col­lec­tions re­store works only when they need to. So that’s why it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for them.”

The Art Gallery of West­ern Aus­tralia has seized the op­por­tu­nity too and will present the Corsini col­lec­tion in Perth af­ter the Auck­land show closes in Jan­uary 2018.

Fam­ily ob­jects: cut­lery set; cos­tume worn by Tom­maso Corsini’s wife, Anna, in 1887.

Tri­umph of David (1610), by Mat­teo Ros­selli.

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