Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Giotto and the 14th Century: The Most Sovereign Master of Painting at the Complesso del Vittoriano

GiottoThe Complesso del Vittoriano is in many respects an awkward exhibition space and must prove a headache for its organisers who have to deal with what is essentially a long narrow corridor - which often gets blocked with visitors who find themselves squashed in a bottleneck on busy days or peak visiting hours - and then opens out into one large room. Whilst in recent shows that large room has been exploited successfully to its full potential with the creation of a mezzanine floor, unfortunately I always seem to find myself rushing through the first part of any exhibition at the Vittoriano to escape the sheer discomfort of being jostled along that initial corridor! For the Giotto exhibition, however, I chose the hour of my visit carefully, so I could therefore comfortably linger a little longer in the early rooms of the show. And I was very glad that I did for they form what is essentially an exhibition within the exhibition – a selection of stunning medieval illuminated manuscripts directly influenced by Giottesque painting. There is also a fun touch-screen virtual visit to the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua with a projected image simulating a couple of the frescoes – amazingly the galley was empty enough for me to get to play with this gadget!

As the title suggests, the exhibition is not only dedicated to Giotto, but rather explorers his cultural impact on the times in which he lived, so in addition to the 20 pieces by Giotto himself this exhaustive show also includes works by the painters Cimabue and Simone Martini, as well as that of illuminators, goldsmiths and also sculptors, with 150 works in total on display. © Photo by SailkoObviously, Giotto is the star of the show with works borrowed not only from Italian galleries like the Uffizi such as the indisputably magnificent Badia Polyptych (Madonna and Child with St. Nicholas, St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter and St. Benedict) but also panels on loan from major museums around the world – Christ between St John the Evangelist, the Madonna, John the Baptist and St Francis, (1310-1315), for example, from the the North Carolina Museum of Art, is displayed so that visitors can admire both front and back of this particularly beautiful polyptych. Of the other pieces on display it was love at first sight for me with Giovanni di Balduccio's Saint Peter Martyr, a 60 cm statue from 1334 which looked incredibly art deco – I spent simply ages gazing at it!

Before you visit the exhibition proper the lower floor of the Vittoriano has an extensive educational section exploring Giotto's travels throughout different regions in Italy. Whilst this is all very interesting, there is, if anything, too much material to read - kilometres of poorly spaced text in a hard to read font. Most surprisingly, given that Giotto is one of the most famous artists in history, known the world over, and that this is one of the big shows of the season certain to attract a huge number of international visitors, the information available is only in English. If you don't read Italian you'll have to make-do with a pamphlet – help yourself at the ticket desk when you buy the ticket or hire an audio-guide.

Giotto e il Trecento. Il piĆ¹ sovrano Maestro stato in dipintura continues at the Complesso del Vittoriano until 29 June, 2009. A major show - definitely one to see!

Photo - Giovanni di Balduccio © Sailko CC

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