“Speak. Speak. I command you to speak.” The sculptor Donatello, said to have shouted this at one of his works, trying to will dead stone into animate flesh.
“Painting possesses a truly divine power in that not only does it make the absent present, but it also represents the dead to the living many centuries later so that they are recognized by spectators with pleasure and deep admiration for the artist,” declared Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise on painting, composed in 1435.
This now anonymous image reflects a life roundly and raptly lived; his face at one glance thoughtful then perturbed with a furrowed brow, gaze downcast and lips squeezed into a slim frown. Donatello’s imagining of Saint Rossore from 1425 commands the entrance to the exhibition, the vivid fictional creation of a saint over a millennium dead when the artist imagined his expression in this sculpture.
The portrait of Federigo da Montefeltro, the great mercenary also known as the Duke of Urbino, is portrayed around 1475 with his son Guidobaldo by the artist Pietro di Spagna; showing the Duke at ease in his quarters, reading in Latin, however in full armor.
The 1444 portrait medal of Leonello d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, by the Italian innovator known as Pisanello; invented for the Ferrarese court, this commemorative coin with no value as currency was highly prized among members of the court.
Francesco Francia’s 1510 portrait of Federigo Il Gonzaga, the future Duke of Mantua at the age of 10. Documentation tell us that the boy was involved in an elaborate diplomatic exchange that left him the hostage (or guest) of Pope Julius II in Rome, and that his mother, the Duchess, commissioned this portrait to remind her of the absent boy.
The Renaissance marked a turning point in the history of portraiture. Partly out of interest in the natural world and partly from the interest of the classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Portraits – either painted or sculpted – assumed an important role in Renaissance society and valued as objects of earthly success and status. Painting in general reached a new level of balance, harmony and insight, with the greatest artists considered geniuses, rising far above the tradesman status to valued servants of the court and church.
I hope you enjoyed this Museum Monday from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring their new exhibition The Renaissance Portrait.