A SICILIAN IN FLORENCE: ANTONELLO AT THE UFFIZI

Uffizi are not just Florentine painters: the vast collections that have reached us through different channels, in particular thanks to the Medici and the Lorraine families, include many “foreign” artists, and we are lucky to be able to admire them in this museum. For example: thanks to Vittoria della Rovere, who became wife of the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando II in the 17th century, bringing a rich inheritance of artworks from Urbino to Florence, we have the Venus of Urbino by Titian, and The Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca; thanks to Ferdinando III of Lorraine, who fell in love in Siena with the Annunciation by Simone Martini, we can now admire this masterpiece in the first rooms dedicated to the 14th century; thanks to the Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici, who visited churches to find paintings to buy for his collection, we have many artworks in the Pitti Palace; or the paintings by Caravaggio, arrived here as a gift from the artist’s mentor, Cardinal Del Monte, to Ferdinando I Medici.

Here I would like to talk in particular about a purchase arranged by the Italian State, and about an artist, that, coming from the south, was able to introduce pictorial innovations coming from the north, specifically from Bruges in the Flanders, and masterfully combine them with those more typical of the Italian tradition. I am talking about Antonello da Messina, great interpreter of the Italian Renaissance, that lived between 1430 and 1479 ca: only few details about his life have reached us, starting with his uncertain date of birth.
The painting, displayed in room no. 20 along with artists like Mantegna and Bellini, is, in fact, a triptych, that a couple of years ago was at the center of a “reunification” process arranged, among others, by the Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi: the triptych parts actually belonging to the Uffizi (and therefore to Mibact, the Italian “Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism”) are two, while the third one belongs to Lombardy Region. Thanks to an agreement signed by both parties, the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus and Angels by the Lombard painter Vincenzo Foppa has flown to Castello Sforzesco in Milan; in exchange, the missing Saint Benedict by Antonello has come here (right side). And it will stay here for 15 years. The other two parts, the Virgin Mary with Child and Angels, and the Saint John the Evangelist, were the result of a purchase made by the Italian State in the 90s, to fulfill a wish: that expressed by Ugo Bardini, son and heir of the Tuscan antique dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) who died in 1965, appointing the Italian State as his sole heir.

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THE RETURN OF THE “ADORATION OF THE MAGI” BY LEONARDO DA VINCI

After five years of restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (literally “Workshop of semi-precious stones”, created by the Medici in Florence at the end of the 16th century), one of the most important artworks by Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, the Adoration of the Magi, is finally back on display.

In 1480 the Canons Regular of St. Augustine of the church of San Donato in Scopeto, located near Porta Romana (the church was destroyed during the 1530 siege of Florence), commissioned the painting to Leonardo; the work, however, was never completed, because two years later Leonardo left Florence for Milan. In 1496 the Canons commissioned then the Adorazione to another artist: Filippino Lippi. While Leonardo’s painting was left at the drawing stage, Filippino completed his work: his Adoration of the Magi is now also in the Uffizi Gallery.

In the Adoration of the Magi  by Leonardo the focal point of the scene, in the foreground, are the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus and the three Magi (also: the three Kings, or the three Wise Men), who are at her feet; two of them are at the vertices of the triangle that includes all the protagonists of the scene. All the other figures that are present in the scene, arrived to participate in the birth of Baby Jesus, are instead arranged in a semicircle, behind and around the Virgin Mary. These figures are particularly interesting, thanks to the sense of movement that Leonardo lends to their bodies, and to the expressions of their faces full of pathos.

The background is divided into two parts by two trees: the one on the left is a palm tree (symbol of Christ Resurrection, and also of martyrdom), while the one on the right has been identified by many as a laurel oak (symbol of glory, victory and eternal life).

On the left side of the background Leonardo represented the ruins of a building, while on the right side a battle between horses and knights.

Thanks to the restoration, it was possible to highlight a detail related to the ruined building: it is not abandoned, rather there are some men that are rebuilding  and restoring it, keeping its original aspect, like the structure of its arches; so we can see men at work, and even a man supervising the “construction site”  from his position near the tree! It is believed that Leonardo used the Church of San Miniato al Monte as model for this building, and this allows us to suppose that the palace under reconstruction is a temple.

The scenes of the temple on the left, and of the battle of knights and horses on the right, have both an explanation in the Book of Isaiah, that alternates moments of peace (the temple) with moments of wars (the battle). The man standing in the left foreground is probably Isaiah himself.

Concerning the scene of the battle between horses and knights, the remind to The Battle of Anghiari , that Leonardo painted in the Salone dei Cinquecento (“Hall of the Five Hundred”) in Palazzo Vecchio, is instinctive. This work no longer exists due to a risky technique experimented by Leonardo: the encaustic painting. This made the colors of the fresco melt down, so that nothing has survived, except for Leonardo’s original studies and copies of his drawings. These cartoons allow us to see a considerable similarity between the intertwining of human bodies and animals in The Battle of Anghiari, and that represented here in the Adoration of the Magi.

There is still much to be said and to be analyzed about this artwork, and there are other drawings and artworks that, through comparisons with the Adoration of the Magi,  could help us shed light on many details in it: this is what we would like to do with you, if you want to join us to see and enjoy, after all this time, this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.

The painting is temporarily on display in the rooms of the first floor of the Uffizi Gallery, where an exhibition dedicated to it is held. This exhibition will last until September 24, 2017; later all paintings by Leonardo will be transferred on the second floor, in a room dedicated to him.