Special exhibition of Italian culture brings the Renaissance to Beijing

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/27 19:53:40

A visitor takes pictures at the Art, Culture and Daily Life in Renaissance Italy exhibition at the Capital Museum. Photo: Li Hao/GT


Clothing from the wedding of Eleanor de'Medici and Vincenzo Gonzaga Photo: Li Hao/GT 

Man exists both at the center of the universe and in a harmonious relationship between himself and the world - this central belief of the Renaissance gets a chance to shine once again at a special exhibition of Italian culture at the Capital Museum in Beijing. 

The Art, Culture and Daily Life in Renaissance Italy exhibition, which kicked off on Tuesday, showcases a collection of 102 exhibits selected from 17 Italian museums and institutions, with a majority showing overseas for the first time. Visitors will have the opportunity to view masterpieces from well-known painters such as Tiziano Vecellio, Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino, as well as get a better understanding of day-to-day life during the Renaissance through the displays, which include clothing, building models and daily use items.

Different from previous exhibitions that focused more on the artworks themselves, this international exhibition attempts to provide a window into the lives of people who lived during this prosperous era that not only changed Europe, but had an impact on the entire world.

The exhibition, part of the "Sleeping Beauty" project initiated by the Directorate-General of Museums in Italy, is being held as part of the Italy-China Cultural Forum agreement signed in 2010.

At the center

"It took us an entire year to prepare. Through these selected 102 exhibits, we want to provide visitors with a clear storyline as to how culture and people's lives developed and changed during the Renaissance period," Huang Xueyin, deputy director of the Capital Museum, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The exhibition is divided into three sections: Tradition and Innovation, Man at the Center of the Universe and Art and Belief. Each part seeks to dig deeper into the schools of thought and ideologies of the time to introduce step by step the profound and complicated artistic and cultural changes that were taking place during the Renaissance to visitors.

The Renaissance, i.e. "rebirth," was born in Florence during the first part of the 15th century and lasted until the end of the 16th century. During this time, it spread to different nations in Europe and beyond, influencing the world with its innovative and humanistic perspective in the arts. The application of mathematical methods to represent space, the pursuit of reality and the re-focus on Classical antiquity, which is vividly demonstrated in the exhibits, help to draw a clear line that divides the Renaissance from the Middle Ages.

For example, in celebrated Italian artist Pietro Perugino's masterpiece Martyrdom of San Sebastiano, Saint Sebastian, often invoked during plagues and a famous subject of the Umbrian school of painting during the 15th and 16th centuries, is seen standing on a Roman pedestal. The space utilized in the painting is well structured and shows a detailed understanding of the rules of Roman perspective and architecture.

"Apart from artworks from the Renaissance, we also chose to display some items from the pre-Renaissance era so that visitors see for themselves the sharp contrast and differences between the two periods, " said Zhang Jihua, the content manager for the exhibition.

Highlights of the exhibition 

The humanistic ideology and atmosphere of humanism prevalent during the Renaissance can be strongly felt throughout the exhibition hall as a large stage featuring a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man has been set up in the center of the second section.

The world-famous drawing is based on human proportions and symmetry and the idea of man as being the principal source of proportion in classical architecture, as such it delivers the strong message that man is the center of the universe. The replica has been blown up to life-sized proportions so visitors can walk onto the stage, pose next to it and get the chance to experience "being at the center of the universe" for themselves.

Other works by famous artists of the period also reflect this human-centric viewpoint.

Well-known Venetian school painter Titian's artwork Portrait of a Man not only portrays the subject's detailed physical features, but also explores and reveals his feelings; famous Venetian painter Palma Vecchio's Portrait of a Woman delicately depicts the hairstyle, clothing and also the witty eye expression of a young woman from the time period; in Francesco Morone's Mary with the Child, the Virgin Mary is depicted as a maternal common woman - which represents the sense of secularism that grew prominent during the Renaissance.

Other world-class artworks include Michele Tosini's The Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, Girolamo di Benvenuto's Birth of the Virgin, and Figures on the Road to Calvary from the workshop of Sandro Botticelli.

Apart from artworks, selected items that were used or worn by the people of the time period are also on display. Some Chinese influence can also be seen among these items. The eye-catching clothing worn by the Duchess of Mantua Eleonora de' Medici during the 16th century is an excellent example of this.

"You can see that they used silk, which originated in China, but the silk was made using localized methods of production," said Zhang.

Improved visitor experience

For the exhibition, the curators have taken great pains to expand its scope beyond the museum walls.

According to Huang, the museum is also carrying out various online and offline activities. Additionally, more detailed and interesting stories about the exhibits will soon be available on social media along with guided audio tours. 

"Visiting museums has become an increasingly popular way for people to spend their leisure time in China, as such the demand for a good experience is growing," said Huang, adding that people now are no longer content with looking at individual artworks, but rather want to know more about how they fit into a larger picture. 

To further enhance visitor experience, the artworks at the museum are being displayed without glass cases or other means of protection.

Commenting on the safety of the collection - an issue that people in China have been paying more attention to ever since one of China's valuable Terracotta Warriors on "naked" display in the US had its thumb stolen in December 2017 - Huang remarked that while they have enhanced security, the open displays were a deliberate choice.

"I feel that this is a good way to educate the public on proper etiquette and also shows them respect," she said.

Newspaper headline: A visual feast

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