Florence, in Palazzo Pitti all the power of the Baroque bronze between eros and sacred

All the energy of baroque art imprisoned in the metal, thanks to the living power of the flame: this, in short, is the concept of shaped by fire. The bronze sculpture in the Florence of the last Medici, exhibition accepted from September 18, 2019 to January 12, 2020 at the Treasure of the Grand Dukes, in the spaces on the ground floor of Palazzo Pitti. The works are over 170, with many prestigious loans from international museums, such as the Vatican Museums, the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert in London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Getty in Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Frick Collection in New York and many others. In the six rooms on the ground floor of the palace, the narration starts from a small nucleus of works by Giambologna: from the work of this Flemish, elected court artist by Francesco I de’ Medici, starts the great season of Florentine bronzes, culminating in the second half of the seventeenth century with famous artists outside Tuscany and Italy as Giovan Battista Foggini and Massimiliano Soldani Benzi. The exhibition, curated by the director of the Uffizi Eike Schmidt together with Sandro Bellesi and Riccardo Gennaioli, offers for the first time a complete and exhaustive account of bronze sculpture in the Tuscan capital, which reached its peak in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, at the time of the last grand dukes of the Medici family. Bronze sculpture, together with the semi-precious stone salesman, became common currency for diplomatic gifts with the other European courts, a matter of exchanges of a technical and mercantile nature, the subject of important commissions from the crowned heads and the nobility of the continent.
There are many new features of the exhibition, starting with Giambologna: the artist can be admired in a new, exquisite Venus at the Bath (private collection) made for Henry IV of France but never exhibited until now to the general public. Also by Giambologna, the San Giovanni, restored for the occasion; it is also worth noting the great return from Rome of a group of copies of the ancient statues of the Tribuna by Buontalenti, made in bronze by Foggini with the probable collaboration of Pietro Cipriani. They were rediscovered at the Ministry of the Economy and Finance during the research for the exhibition, almost 150 years after Quintino Sella had brought them with him to Rome. Another great return is that of the sculptural groups once housed in Palazzo Pitti in the apartments of the Elettrice Palatina: originally 12, they were bequeathed by Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici to relatives, friends and institutions, but over the centuries have been dispersed in various collections and museums. Now, 11 have been collected and brought together to be displayed in this exhibition, including the last recognized in 2006 in the royal collections of Madrid.
By Soldani Benzi, an extraordinary and versatile master, one can admire the bronze with the tender encounter between the Child Jesus and Saint John; and also compare his version of the Dancing Faun with that of Foggini and that made of porcelain Shower: one wants to remember the importance of the local porcelain factory, in preserving and handing down, in a serial way but always with very high results, the forms and models of this great Florentine sculptural season.

The excellent technique achieved by the Florentine masters of bronze can still be appreciated in the monstrances, in the wonderful and rich sacred objects, and in the two Christian Crucifixes by Giambologna and Pietro Tacca – the famous author of the Little Pig and favourite pupil of Giambologna. Visitors will become familiar with the names of Giuseppe Piamontini, Giovacchino Fortini, Antonio Montauti, Agostino Cornacchini, Lorenzo Merlini, Girolamo Tacciati, Giovan Camillo Cateni and Pietro Cipriani, and others who emerged from the archives on the occasion of the exhibition, such as Francesco Formigli, a figure so far little known to whom it has been possible to attribute on a documentary basis three works. The exhibition is completed by the collection of 42 drawings by Soldani Benzi, an extraordinary block of paper purchased by the Uffizi only a year and a half ago, and some paintings, including canvases by Dandini and Bimbi, placed in dialogue with the plasticity of the sculptures.
It is an extraordinary pleasure to be able for the first time to explore as it deserves this chapter of art history between Florence and Europe, which from the late sixteenth century onwards was crucial to the magnificence of the Medici court – explains the director of the Uffizi Eike Schmidt – Through diplomatic gifts, bronze sculptures have determined the affirmation of Florentine taste on an international audience and also, within a broader socio-economic network, have been an opportunity for exchanges of artists and craftsmen, works and ideas and technical knowledge. The exhibition ‘Shaped by fire’ welcomes visitors to the sublime rooms of the Treasure of the Grand Dukes on the ground floor of the Palazzo Pitti palace: in this way the set design becomes a game of mirrors. The glorification of the Medici family frescoed on the vaults and walls seems to amplify the subject of Florentine Baroque sculpture, which with the plastic and dancing energy of bronze in turn celebrates the inventiveness and magnificent cosmopolitanism of the taste of Florence at the time of the Medici”.


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