Exploring Michelangelo through Exhibitions
Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici, Firenze
The formula of the thematic monographic show, complemented by a scholarly catalogue, offers a successful way to present different audiences with new approaches to old masters. Romantic literature has left such a strong mark on our perception of Michelangelo, that different perspectives are often viewed with skepticism by scholars and the general public. Both groups, however, show interest in exhibitions that focus on major names. For logistical reasons, Michelangelo’s major works cannot travel, and thus recent scholarly exhibitions have focused on less studied aspects of his oeuvre; these events produced catalogues that made important and influential contributions to our understanding of the artist. After a brief overview of this phenomenon, this paper focuses on two case studies in Florence: Venus and Love: Michelangelo’s New Ideal of Beauty (check), at the Galleria dell’Accademia (2002), and Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: Four Open Questions, at the Casa Buonarroti (2007). The former focused on a work designed by ‘the master’ and painted by another artist; the later concentrated on drawings and architecture, two fields that most people—including many scholars—find thorny.
‘Backstage’ involvement with the two shows allows me to offer unique observations on the legacy of these events. First, they provide visual tools that compliment written contributions, such as physical and virtual models, and especially the installation itself. Works conceived to be seen together are united for the first time; works conceived for a specific placement are placed at the intended distance from the viewer; copies and preparatory sketches are juxtaposed with originals; working sheets are arranged in a new sequence. Moreover, exhibitions provide an open laboratory for scholarly discussion. During private visits and workshops, scholars discuss contested questions in front of original works, gathered from museums around the world. In public lectures, organizers and guests present their research to a broader public.