Offering of the Angels

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Manna from Heaven. That best describes the extraordinary collection of paintings from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy which is currently on exhibit at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale (MoAFL). One of the dozens of paintings in the exhibit actually depicts manna from heaven: The Miracle of the Manna by Fabrizio Boschi, done about 1595.

Most of the artwork, including two huge tapestries, were done in the 16th and 17 centuries, but one of the greatest offerings in the exhibit is a Madonna and Child by the great master Sandro Botticelli in 1466. The paintings are arranged in a chronological order- not by date of painting, but by its place in the Biblical texts. First comes the Creation of Adam, shown here courtesy of the MoAFL (copyright Uffizi Gallery).


After covering the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve, the exhibit moves on to the Annunciation, which is the point where Mary is informed by an angel that she wil bear a very special child. This is shown in two very different 17th century treatments by Livio Mehus and Pietro Liberi. In the former Mary seems a bit bashful when confronted by the angel, while in the Liberi painting she sweeps backwards in astonishment. Image provided by MoAFL (copyright Uffizi Gallery).

Several paintings, including the Botticelli, depict the Nativity and Madonna with Child. Visitors can compare representations of the Last Supper by Luca Signorelli (1510) and Bonifacio de'Pitati, done a generation later in 1550. The former is part of a triptych that also depicts the Prayer in the Garden and the Flagellation. Both are wide canvases and invite close inspection for little details. The Crucifixion and its aftermath, the Resurrection, are covered in several paintings and the two tapestries, including the one shown here by Nicola Karcher from a drawing by Il Salviati. Image provided by MoAFL (copyright Uffizi Gallery).

It is followed by a very curious little painting by L'Orbetto from 1620 showing Christ in Limbo. Even though the concept of Limbo does not appear in the Bible, its artistic appeal is evident in this depiction of Christ in mid-air flight, off to save souls. The exhibit concludes with a heart-breaking depiction of the Madonna, gazing at the symbols associated with the Passion. This was done by Alessandro Allori in 1581.

Overall the exhibit is extremely well presented and documented. Information panels tell not just about each work of art, but about the medium it is painted on such as tile and copper. Modern X-ray analysis is also presented, showing not only what is on the back of a painting, but what the eye cannot see. The exhibit is fully documented in a softcover catalog for $39.95 in the Museum giftshop.

On January 15 the Museum hosted a Powerpoint lecture that nicely complemented the exhibit. Professor Y. S. Bahri gave an overview of the life of Michelangelo during his time in Florence, which at that time was a small city of just 60,000. Despite its size, the city boasted 12 artistic guilds and five main family patrons of the arts: Frescobaldi, Albizzi, Pazzi, Salviati and the Medici. Of course it is the Medici who are still famous today.

"The Medici commissioned art and buildings so people would be aware of their power," said Bahri. The family produced no less than 4 popes and 2 queens, but is the Grand Dukes of Florence such as Lorenzo the Magnificent  and Cosimo de Medici who still command the most attention centuries later. It was Cosmio who built the Uffizi between 1560 and 1581. It was a place well known to Michelangelo and many of the painters in the exhibit here in Florida.

The exhibition will remain on view in Fort Lauderdale until April 8, 2012. Following its premiere in Fort Lauderdale, the exhibition travels to the James A. Michener Art Museum in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (April 20, 2012 – August 10, 2012), the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin (August 18, 2012 – November 25, 2012), and the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia (December 7, 2012 – March 31, 2013).

Thanks to Emily McCrater of the MoAFL for providing the press kit and allowing access to the exhibit.

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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