Guru Guides Reflect on the Corsini Collection

As A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection exhibition comes to a close on the 18 June, we catch up with Voluntary Guru Guides Stephanie Watson and Louise Gillett to find out which work was their favourite and what they’ve enjoyed most about the exhibition.

Louise Gillett

Guiding the Corsini has been an exciting ride. To date, I have conducted 18 public tours with four more to go before the show finishes. Researching and preparing has been hugely interesting and I learn more with each tour as patrons ask questions and provide opinions.

Guru Guide Louise Gillett sharing her insights on Botticelli’s Madonna and Child

My favourite work?

The Botticelli, of course! To witness Botticelli’s poignant intention to suggest the Crucifixion in a work depicting Christ as an infant, is very moving. The rendering in tempera with all of the attendant precision and expertise seems to exemplify the artist’s deep Christian conviction, a desire to assert belief in the face of rampant humanism. The classical restraint, beauty and symmetry of those faces- breathtaking! It is always rewarding to guide this work; to provide the Christian explanation to patrons who are not aware of it and to witness the knowing nods of those who are familiar with the narrative and symbolism. This sharing of knowledge and experience in front of great art is what drives me as a Guide.

Stephanie Watson:

My favourite work:
While Botticelli’s touching painting “Madonna and Child with Six Angels” is undoubtedly the star of the show, I am also drawn to Giovanni Santi’s modest work. For me, its evocation of “Birth of Venus” relates to one of the world’s great artistic treasures.

Giovanni Santi’s painting of the Muse of History, Clio, shows her not with her traditional scroll, but enveloped in the gorgeous, swirling drapery of her beautiful blue gown. Fittingly, blue was the most expensive of paint pigments. Her hair floats behind her, echoing not only the movement of her dress but also the trees in the background.

Giovanni Santi (Colbordolo 1435-Urbino 1494) Clio from The Muses circa 1480-90. Tempera on board, 820 x 390mm. Florence, Galleria Corsini

A hallmark of the Renaissance is the device of framing; here rocks and vegetation surround the central image. Another was a renewed interest in the classical world, which interestingly, sat comfortably with the deeply religious mood of the time. Clio’s almost bare feet reflect the philosophy of humanism and naturalism which was replacing the waning Medieval ethos.

The ‘flatness’ of the figure and detachment of the Muse are also elements of that earlier style. The traditional medium of egg tempera on wood panel soon to be overtaken by the new material of oil on linen has also been used. Giovanni’s far more famous son Raphael began his education in the studio of his father at the Palazzo of the Duke of Urbino. While his soaring talent soon outstretched his father’s, this painting can still charm us with its beauty.

A special moment in one of my tours was the texting conversation between one of the visitors to the exhibition and her cousin who was at work in the Palazzo Corsini in Florence at that very moment, bringing extra life to this wonderful exhibition.

 

Corsini Opening Day - A Florentine Festival Day

With so many stories behind each work, our fantastic guides have captured the imagination of over 30,000 visitors since the opening of the exhibition. We thank them for their amazing work.

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Why the classical world was attractive to Europe in the fifteenth century

 

Prometheus
Traditionally attributed to Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-London 1641) Prometheus and the Eagle early 17th century (detail). Oil on canvas, 1100 x 1610mm. Galleria Corsini, Florence.

 

The oldest paintings from the Corsini Collection currently on display are by Giovanni Santi and date from the late 1400s. They feature the Olympian god Apollo and three of the Muses. Other paintings on display also feature subjects drawn from Greek mythology, such as del Mazziere’s panel based on the Roman poet Ovid’s account in his Metamorphoses, and Rombouts’ confronting image of Prometheus and the Eagle.  At the time that they were painted, these images were being made by artists for patrons who were also commissioning paintings of more traditional Christian subject matter, portraits, and genre scenes.

So why was the classical world attractive to Europe in the fifteenth century? Perhaps some answers can be found in a closer examination of these paintings.

Santi’s paintings of Apollo and the Muses were once part of a larger decorative cycle commissioned by the Duke of Urbino for one of two small ‘temples’ within the ducal palace. The other ‘temple’ was the Duke’s private chapel, and this proximity of Christian and pagan imagery is revealing. Together the two spaces make manifest the Duke’s spirituality, his learning, and the importance of the balance between the active and contemplative life for a ruler.

A_Window_On_Italy_opening-59.jpg
Exhibition: A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence featuring works by Giovanni Santi The Muses circa 1480-90. Florence, Galleria Corsini.

 

Ovid’s Metamorphoses was a popular source of subject matter for Renaissance artists in Italy. Here, del Mazziere has depicted the tales of Apollo and Daphne and Narcissus in the one panel. We see Daphne changing into a laurel tree in order to escape Apollo’s attention, and Narcissus lying dead by the pool – the victim of his own vanity. The artist is clearly captivated by the idea of profane, rather than sacred, love and uses the tales of Ovid to warn of the dangers of unrequited love.

VASARI ATTRIBUITO A DONNINO ANDREA - Scena mitologica
Antonio di Donnino del Mazziere (Florence late 15th century-1547) Mythological Scene (Fables of Apollo, Daphne and Narcissus) early 1520s. Oil and gold on board, 300 x 430mm. Florence. Galleria Corsini.

The warnings of Greek myth was also used as a subject by Rombouts in his depiction of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and gave it to humans. For this transgression he was punished by Zeus and his fate was to have his liver torn out by an eagle (the emblem of Zeus). But his wounds healed overnight, and so this torture was repeated daily until he was rescued by Heracles, the son of Zeus.