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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sci-fi Renaissance man Cosimo exits National Gallery of Art today (updated)


 

Piero di Cosimo, Liberation of Andromeda, c. 1510-1513, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
 
The work above is featured on the cover of the catalogue* for the Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522) exhibition at the National Gallery of Art which closes today. The rendering shows the mysterious and eccentric Italian Renaissance artist "at the height of his poetic powers," according to the wall label copy. Centered is the sea monster ordered by an angry and jealous Juno to devour the Ethiopian coast after that nation's Princess Andromeda was deemed more beautiful than Juno. 
 
Visitors to the National Gallery may see 44 of Cosimo's 56 known works (a National Gallery spokesperson said the remaining 12 were too fragile to travel) before the exhibition leaves for Florence where a variation will be hung at the Galleria degli Uffizi, a Cosimo show co-sponsor with the National Gallery.  It is the first time the Galleria has co-organized a paintings exhibition with another museum.
 
The last time Cosimo's paintings were exhibited in the U.S. was in 1938 when seven were displayed at Schaeffer Galleries in New York. 
 
 Gretchen Hirschauer, associate curator of Italian and Spanish paintings at the National Gallery of Art, said Cosimo spoke "in a wonderfully strange language all his own," and Giorgio Vasari, writing about 500 years ago in Lives of the Artists, mentioned Cosimo's "strangeness of his brain" who may have lived "more like a beast than a man" who "had by nature a most lofty spirit." Cosimo lived mostly on hard boiled eggs and was so afraid of fire he rarely cooked.  When he was an apprentice in 1481, he helped paint the Sistine Chapel.
 
In six galleries at the National Gallery of Art, his mythological and allegorical scenes, portraits, and altar pieces  capture the fancy of adults and children alike and can serve as an excellent introduction to art history with some bizarre combinations of animals, humans, and religious subjects to spark conversations like,  "What do you think he was trying to say?" and "What does it mean?" Please, sit by me a spell and let's talk about this early Salvador Dali.

Piero di Cosimo, Allegory, 1500 (?), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection. 

The wall label copy for Allegory (above) says the winged woman becomes a human form of an idea, "the triumph of virtue over human passion."  Meanwhile, the mermaid at the bottom of the painting is supposedly a symbol of lust.  Is she searching for more victims?  Or, attempting to escape the angel who may overtake the siren? Let's discuss.
Piero di Cosimo, The Finding of Vulcan on Lemnos, late 1480s, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. 
 
Above is Vulcan, the son of Juno (again!) who has been expelled from Mt. Olympus as a punishment for his mom's meddling in the Trojan War which Homer describes in The Iliad.  (Just in time for Mother's Day.  Welcome, son, to the Garden of Earthly Torments!)

Piero di Cosimo, The Adoration of the Child, c. 1490-1500, Toledo Museum of Art. 

Piero di Cosimo, Detail from The Building of a Palace, c. 1514-1518, Collection of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, Florida State University, Sarasota, Florida
 
Palace (above) was originally brought to the U.S. around 1890 as one of  a collection of 300 works hung in Alva Vanderbilt's "Gothic Room" in her summer residence, Marble House, in Newport, Rhode Island, according to the catalogue.*  Around 1927 the painting was sold to John Ringling whose museum was under construction at the time, rising from its own wilderness in the Florida swampland, and similar in many respects to Cosimo's Palace.  Cosimo was not recognized as the artist until after Ringling's purchase.
Piero di Cosimo, (above, left) Two Angels
c. 1510-1515, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; (above, right) Two Angels, c. 1510-1515, private collection, New York; (bottom) Madonna and Child with Saints Vincent Ferrer and Jerome, c. 1510-1515, Yale University Art Gallery. 
 
The three fragments above, now owned by different museums and collectors, were once part of an altarpiece Cosimo created for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.  The National Gallery's display is the first time they have been together in 100 years.  It is believed both sets of angels were separated from the original in the late 18th or early19th century, perhaps to sell to tourists.
 
Among the 40 private collectors and institutions which have loaned art for the exhibition are the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, the National Gallery in Prague, the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, the Louvre, the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage for the cities and museums of Florence and Rome, for Umbria, and the provinces of  Florence, Pistola, and Prato.
 
*A 240-paged color catalogue in hard and softbound is (update:  was) available. (The catalogue has sold out and re-printing at this time is unknown.)
 
What:  Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence
 
 
When: Today, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday


Where: Main Floor, West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Seventh streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215



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