‘Offering of the Angels’
Old World Masterpieces Chronicle Christ’s Life
BY Joseph Pronechen
July 29-August 11, 2012 Issue | Posted 7/20/12 at 1:33 PM
For most of us, visiting the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy — one of the world’s oldest and most famous museums — to see firsthand some of the great religious art of the Renaissance and Baroque masters up close remains only an item on a to-do travel list.
Without hopping a plane to Florence, there is now an opportunity to see 45 of these works (paintings and two tapestries) that have never before left Europe.
The “Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi” exhibit is currently at the James Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., about 45 minutes northeast of Philadelphia. Other upcoming stops include Wisconsin and Georgia.
Imagine standing up close to the Madonna With Child (Madonna della Loggia), painted around 1466-67 by Sandro Botticelli.
The show is beautifully arranged and nearly chronological, as it focuses mainly on the life of Christ. The chronology starts with The Creation of Adam, captured on a large, 76-inch-tall canvas, from 1632 by Jacopo Da Empoli. After that, there are a few studies of Adam and Eve and the Original Sin.
The Old Testament action leaps closer to the New Testament with The Miracle of the Manna, a highly detailed scene stretching across a 7-foot-wide canvas to prefigure the Eucharist. It was painted in 1594-97 by Florentine Baroque painter Fabrizio Boschi.
The next stop: a monumental-sized Annunciation to begin the majority of the works that focus on the life of Jesus.
On a huge canvas painted around 1670, Florentine artist Pietro Liberi presents the moment the patriarchs and prophets were waiting for: The Angel Gabriel kneels on a floating cloud to greet a modest, astonished Virgin Mary. Against a semi-dark background, the Renaissance Master used the bright garment of Gabriel, and especially the even brighter dress of Mary, to illuminate the scene.
Some events of Jesus’ life and salvation history appear in more than one work, like the Annunciation and Nativity scenes. The Nativity of Jesus that Italian Baroque master Alessandro Tiarini painted in the mid-17th century on copper is another reverential study in light and some splendid details.
For one, St. Joseph stands in the stable doorway, about to enter, but in lively conversation with a young angel leading a pack of shepherds. Inside, a kneeling angel spreads a blanket over a woven basket and looks adoringly at the Infant Jesus in Mary’s arms. Jesus folds his hands in prayer and gazes at his loving Mother, who is gently lowering him into the blanket.
Several of the paintings capture these kinds of details. Of course, other paintings focus on Mary and Jesus, like the aforementioned Botticelli work, the only one by this master on display. A 19th-century restorer shares credit with Botticelli for this spiritually magnetic portrait of the Child Jesus, who looks intently into his Mother’s eyes.
Another beautiful Madonna With Child, from 1525, by Italian mannerist Il Parmigianino, presents Mary with hands folded in prayer, reading from a book held by the Child Jesus, who also cradles a dove and gazes intently at the viewer.
Then, with the Holy Family and barely out of infancy, Jesus sits on Mary’s lap, pointing out passages of Scripture to his Mother, while, in the background, St. Joseph looks on.
The Holy Family is the subject of other remarkable portraits, like Albani’s 1659-60 Rest During the Escape to Egypt, where angels tend to their needs.
Other beautiful studies of the Holy Family include John the Baptist as a child, too. John also appears in several Renaissance paintings, especially from the Florence area, for several reasons: He is the patron saint of Florence.
Thirteen works prompt viewers to contemplate the passion, crucifixion and burial of Christ. They begin with a triptych of The Last Supper, The Prayer in the Garden and Flagellation, done with classic Renaissance color — very bright reds — by Luca Signorelli (and his workshop) around 1510, and continue with a monumental 10-feet-wide The Last Supper from the mid-16th century by Bonifacio De’ Pitati, also called Veronese.
There are moving portraits of Jesus titled Ecce Homo and a heart-wrenching meeting with Veronica in the Climb to Calvary.
Among the heart-rending Crucifixion presentations is Christ Crucified Among the Suffering Virgin, Saint John and Mary Magdalene. This painting by Lorenzo Monaco (Lawrence the Monk) seems to reflect the great influence of Fra Angelico’s style and work.
The grief in Pieta and Burial of Christ and later the surprisingly serene Madonna With the Symbols of the Passion of Christ by Alessandro Allori give way to exultant Resurrection and post-Resurrection events.
Among them are Resurrection, which depicts a triumphant Jesus soaring out of the tomb, and the exceptional Supper at Emmaus, set in a Renaissance inn. Both, circa 1605, are by Cristofano Allori, whose father and teacher was Alessandro.
Allori the Younger has another scene of victory to keep viewers’ minds in high spiritual realms — an uplifting vision in intense blues and reds in the best of Renaissance fashion: Christ Served by the Angels.
The reverential works in this show make visitors want to reflect on and appreciate their key place in art history, but especially to contemplate the religious messages.
That was the aim of the Medici family — that Renaissance dynasty and major patron of the arts who commissioned these artists — who had many of these works completed for churches or their own private devotion for their chapel and Palazzo Medici. The Medicis built the Uffizi Gallery in the 16th century.
Listening devices guide viewers through the exhibit, providing excellent commentaries that highlight many details of the paintings, including Catholic beliefs and teaching.
These masterpieces well reflect their collective title — “Offering of the Angels.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
Planning Your VisitThe show runs through Aug. 12 at the Michener Art Museum, MichenerArtMuseum.org and (215) 340-9800. The exhibit then goes to two other venues — the Chazen Museum in Madison, Wis., Aug. 24-Nov. 25, and the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Ga., Dec. 7-March 30, 2013 — before returning to Italy.
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