Ulisse Sartini. The virtue of beauty. Homage to Leonardo

Ulisse Sartini pays tribute to Leonardo da Vinci, on the occasion of the five hundredth anniversary of his death, with over thirty paintings and thirty drawings. The works, all unpublished, will be presented in Milan, Sacrestia del Bramante in Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the exhibition “Ulisse Sartini. The virtue of beauty. Homage to Leonardo”, curated by Giovanni Gazzaneo, from 16 December 2018 to 13 January 2019.

The exhibition offers a cycle of paintings, made in 2018, inspired by Leonardo’s masterpieces: Mona Lisa, the Madonna of the spindles, the Annunciation, the Belle Ferronière… Giovanni Gazzaneo, curator of the exhibition, writes: “The works are reborn not as impossible copies of the original, but as portraits from life and sacred works, which in the atmosphere, in the cuts of light, in the gestures of the hands, in the details of the drapery of the master of the Renaissance find a living and inexhaustible source for a new creative path. The event is located a short distance from the Last Supper and continues the dialogue begun in 2016 with the exhibition of the large canvas by Sartini, dedicated to the Eucharistic Mystery, now located in the Cathedral of Piacenza, and inspired by Leonardo’s Last Supper.

The paintings of the great Renaissance master are rare gems. In his multifaceted creative activity, over more than fifty years, the works of sure attribution come down to us are twenty. “Some of the paintings mentioned in the sources – says Professor Antonio Paolucci – have been lost (the altarpiece of the Chapel of San Bernardo in Palazzo Vecchio, the Medusa of the Medici collections), others have remained unfinished (the Adoration of the Magi of the Uffizi, the San Girolamo of the Pinacoteca Vaticana), still others (the wall painting with the Battle of Anghiari) have been ruined during the work due to technical defects in execution. In reality, for Leonardo da Vinci, painting was more than an end than a means. It was an instrument of knowledge, of scientific research, of professional avant-garde experimentation. It was therefore an eminently intellectual activity, aimed at understanding, through the imitation and interpretation of nature, the great machine of the world”. But thanks to painting, Leonardo has given us some works that are among the great icons of art history, which have become part of the universal imagination of humanity: from the face of the Mona Lisa to the drama of the Last Supper.


Ulisse Sartini, in paying homage to the genius of Vinci, is not afraid to confront himself with the beauty that Leonardo has been able to generate, because his whole life has been a confrontation with the great art of the past and in this dialogue he has been able to offer us iconographic codes and languages for our days. “I think that my modernity – says Sartini – is precisely that of having dared to return to the great lesson of the Renaissance and Venetian art, of those masters that I have always felt close, such as Moroni, Titian, Tintoretto. Paying homage to Leonardo is part of my creative horizon”. This is the very heart of the artist’s thought and of his being a painter: respicio praeterita, aspicio presentia, prospicio futura, “I observe the past, I look at the present, I see the future”. In Adamus Scotus’s quotation – in the inseparable nexus of the passing of time (which is also the very substance of human life) – the awareness of the impossibility of an art without history is revealed, of the absurdity of a creation that, in order to be such, demands to make the earth burnt with all that it was before. And so here is the rebirth of Mona Lisa in the face of a child, the study of a fetus in an Embryochosm, the Musician as a self-portrait of the artist. In his portraits Sartini continues to express the soul of the person he portrays.

Antonio Paolucci writes in the introduction to the catalogue: “Using the figurative materials of tradition, as Ulisse Sartini does, deploying a prodigious memory and an “amazing technical ability” (Sgarbi) is possible. Others have done so, at the end of other cultural paths and using other expressive means. I am thinking of Piero Guccione or Bill Viola. It is possible to take full advantage of the ancient language by reworking it, transfiguring it, making it understandable and effective for the women and men of our time. As long as you don’t fall into the citationism that is sterile and unpleasant always […]. We should know how to use the figurative tradition with the same naturalness with which we use the literary language, a communication tool that we know was built by Dante and Petrarch, by Bembo and Manzoni, but that we need to express ideas and values, feelings and passions of our time. Ulisse Sartini moves along this path. He enters the great figurative tradition (in Caravaggio, in Annibale Carracci), disarticulates it, analyses it, seems to compete with it (his extraordinary technical talent allows it) and then offers it to us, reinvented, transfigured, characterized by his specific expressive genius”.

The exhibition is accompanied by an important volume published by Edizioni Crocevia, edited by Giovanni Gazzaneo, with images of the works, details and preparatory drawings on display, along with reproductions of Leonardo’s works to which they pay homage. The volume is also enriched by critical texts by Antonio Paolucci, Stefano Zuffi and the curator.


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