On View: The Cinquecento in Florence: From Michelangelo and Pontormo to Giambologna (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence)

Palazzo Strozzi’s “The Cinquecento in Florence: From Michelangelo and Pontormo to Giambologna,” is currently underway. The exhibition, curated by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali opened on 21 September 2017 and runs until 21 January 2018.  The Strozzi show is the third part of a series of exhibitions focusing on sixteenth-century Florentine art. The first, dedicated to Bronzino, began in 2010 and the second, a  2014 exhibition, explored both Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino.

Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali designed an exhibition that thematically explores the sixteenth-century focusing on cultural and intellectual events that influenced Florentine art. The artistry of Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto, Bronzino, Giorgio Vasari, Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo, Santi di Tito, Bartolomeo Ammannati, and Giambologna showcases these themes.

The exhibition begins with Andrea del Sarto’s The Luco Pietà (1523-1524) and Michelangelo’s River God (1525-1527). Andrea del Sarto’s The Luco Piteà exemplifies the artist’s interpretation of the new sanctions from the Council of Trent. His iconographical choice to emphasize the host in a lamentation scene shows his artistic interpretation of these sanctions. The iconographical choice echoes the mystery of Christ’s incarnation through the Eucharist. Vasari referred to Andrea del Sarto as the ‘Painter without Errors,’ and his work influenced the subsequent Florentine artists displayed in the following gallery rooms. At the same time, Michelangelo also exemplified the ideal artist, and for this exhibition, River God represents his work in the New Sacristy of the Medici Chapel.  Intermingling painting and sculpture remind the viewer of the transformation of both mediums throughout the sixteenth century.

Curators created a breathtaking quasi-triptych, using the altarpieces of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross from Volterra (1521), Pontormo’s Santa Felicità Deposition (1525–8), and Bronzino’s Deposition of Christ (c. 1543–5) from Besançon. Pontormo’s Deposition is a highlight of the show, and the choice to display it as the central panel establishes Pontormo’s altarpiece as the focal point.  A recent restoration uncovered that Pontormo used tempera paint for the Deposition, rather than oil. The cleaning process also revealed the various tones Pontormo used, in addition to shadows on the bottom of the altarpiece. 

Vasari coined the term ‘’modern manner,” or Mannerism, in Lives, and the second part of the room produces a summary of Florentine art up until Vasari’s  publication.  It is here that the works of Giorgio Vasari, Cellini, and Salviati are displayed and show the Florentine response in Counter-Reformation painting and sculpture.

In the third gallery, curators juxtaposed several large altarpieces showing art inspired by The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. Rather than the bright colors of the previous altarpieces, these works are much darker and portray heavier colors and iconography.  Cosimo de’ Medici followed the sanctions of The Council of Trent, which, in response to Protestant reformers, aimed to renew art and architecture to exemplify the presence of Christ in the consecrated host. The large-scale altarpieces were intended to be accessible to many, as the religious themes presented were executed to be easily understood. Many Florentine families commissioned the displayed altarpieces for private family chapels located in Florence, such as Alessandro Allori’s Christ and the Adulteress (1577), which was located in a family chapel in Santo Spirito.

The next two rooms display smaller-scale works and show the themes of the period. Francesco I de’ Medici’s courtly patronage is a strong element between the following rooms. He is reputed as a great  figure in the history of courtly patronage because he was both an enlightened ruler and fervent patron.  Gallery four displays portraits, such as Alessandro Allori’s Portrait of a Women (c.1580) or Maso da San Friano’s Portrait of Sinibaldo Gaddi (after 1564). Niccolò Gaddi commissioned the latter. He was a friend of Francesco I and commissioned portraits of his children.  In the fifth gallery, curators created an ideal Studiolo. The method of display provides the opportunity to examine two rows of artwork, several pieces by minor, yet important Studiolo painters.  Vasari completed a Studiolo for Francesco I de’ Medici in Palazzo Vecchio between 1570 and 1571, which was a meeting place for artists and intellectuals. The first row of works displayed are six lunettes painted by various Medici Studiolo artists, these works depict the merits of an anonymous patron and are displayed together for the first time in the exhibition.   

Francesco I de’ Medici often commissioned mythological and scientific themes. Gallery six showcases the work of artists who followed the sanctions of the Council of Trent in their religious works, but also painted allegorical and mythological scenes. Often these themes were popular with Studiolo artists, such as Jacopo Ligozzi who painted Virtue  (c.1577-1578) and Giambologna’s Venus Anadyomene (1571-1572) . The sculptor intertwines the legend of Venus with Florentine symbology, which Giambologna carved on the base of the sculpture. In some instances, the mythological paintings were an expression of the social and political issues in Florence at that time.

The last room of the exhibition exemplifies the changes between the first gallery displaying Andrea del Sarto, to the Mannerist styles of Pontormo, to the final room displaying works of the pre-Baroque. Santi di Tito’ altarpiece, Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1593) shows a turn towards naturalism, yet the ideals of the Counter-Reformation are visible. The patron, Sebastiano Pandolfini del Turco commissioned this work for his family chapel in San Marco, which the patron renovated according to the sanctions of the Council of Trent. Moreover, the last gallery hints at some of the changes that occurred during the early seventeenth-century, such as the impact of the Carracci, and the influence of the Venetian schools. Through the more than seventy displayed works, the exhibition’s narrative provides visitors with the space to compare the achievements and transformations of painting and sculpture in sixteenth-century Florence. The exhibition is the first instance when many of these works are displayed together to weave the narrative of the accomplishments of the Florentine cinquecento. 


Jacopo Pontormo, Deposition, c. 1525-1528, tempera on panel, Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicità, Florence

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