Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence

(orchestral music) – Upon his death, the Florentine artist,
Bertoldo di Giovanni, was praised as “a most worthy sculptor “and an excellent maker of medals, “who always made fine things
with Lorenzo the Magnificent “who is now very troubled “for there is no other artist in Tuscany, “or perhaps even Italy, “of such grand ingenuity and artistry” This fall, The Frick Collection presents the first exhibition ever
to focus on Bertoldo, shining a long overdue
light on the sculptor now recognized for his ingenuity and prominence in the 15th century. Bertoldo was indeed a pivotal figure in Renaissance Florence, developing his skills
under the master Donatello, gaining the lifelong patronage
of Lorenzo de Medici, the de facto ruler of the Republic, and instructing the next
generation of leading artists, including Michelangelo, whose creative genius flourished
under Bertoldo’s guidance. Occupying a unique position
at the heart of the aesthetic and political landscape in Florence, Bertoldo played a key role in the development of Italian sculpture between the Early and High Renaissance. This monographic exhibition reunites nearly the entire extant
production of Bertoldo, bringing together more
than twenty statuettes, reliefs, medals, statues,
and a monumental frieze. Highlighting the innovation of the sculptor’s design across media, Bertoldo’s artistic production in wood, metal, and terracotta is displayed together
to invite comparisons. The artworks cast in bronze were designed to reward
close contemplation, revealing unexpected
details as they were handled or examined by their original patrons. Exhibited together for the first time, the two Shield Bearer statuettes
seem, at first glance, to be a pair of mirrored male figures. One statuette, however, has horns curling out of the locks of hair above his forehead and when he is rotated we discover that he also has a swishing
tail and set of panpipes, indicating that he is perhaps a fawn. His companion does not
share these attributes, which is only visible when
he too is viewed from behind. Bertoldo’s most famous relief, this depiction of a battle, demonstrates the inspiration he found in the relics of the ancient past. The Renaissance bronze is an
imaginative reconstruction of this severely damaged
marble sarcophagus from the 2nd century. Bertoldo intentionally departed from the traditional depiction of Romans fighting foreign invaders and instead created a scene of chaos in which the figures battle one another in endless combinations without
any apparent allegiances. The central figure, wearing the lion skin of Hercules as well as the helmet of Hermes, presents a conflated identity that is as unclear as the battle itself. Bertoldo designed a relief
with an unfixed narrative, thereby encouraging
discussion amongst the viewers who attempted to discern its subject. Renaissance patrons prized
engaging artworks such as this that could inspire debate. Bertoldo was also a pioneer in the new medium of the portrait medal, which is especially evident
in the Pazzi Conspiracy medal. Bertoldo depicted the attempted
coup led by the Pazzi family against the Medici brothers,
Lorenzo and Giuliano, who were attacked in the
Florentine Cathedral in 1478. As you turn the medal in your hand the fate of either brother
unfolds before your eyes, bringing the tragic events to life. Unlike any preceding or following example, the revolutionary design
collapses obverse and reverse, fusing portraiture, allegorical figures, and historical narrative together, instead of separating them on either face. The exhibition also explores
Bertoldo’s collaborations with other leading Florentine sculptors, such as the polychrome
statue of Saint Jerome, likely completed with Donatello, this magnificent statuette of
the mythical hero Bellerophon taming the winged Pegasus, modeled in wax by Bertoldo but cast in bronze by Adriano Fiorentino, and finally, the monumental
frieze Bertoldo designed to go above the entrance of
Lorenzo de Medici’s villa outside the city at Poggio a Caiano. Bertoldo conceived of the composition but enlisted numerous others to sculpt the allegorical
scenes in terracotta. This exhibition will be the
first outside of Tuscany to feature the frieze in its entirety. By reuniting Bertoldo’s
artistic production for the first time this exhibition celebrates
his dynamic role as a designer, modeler, and collaborator. The sculptures on display demonstrate Bertoldo’s striking ingenuity, especially evident in
the beguiling details that are only revealed upon close and thoughtful consideration
of the sculptures. We invite you to discover
them for yourself. The exhibition is on view
until January 12th, 2020. For more information
please visit (orchestral music)

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