Italian Masters Lent by the Royal Italian Government, January to March, 1940

Italian Masters Lent by the Royal Italian Government, January to March, 1940

Italian Masters Lent by the Royal Italian Government, January to March, 1940

Italian Masters Lent by the Royal Italian Government, January to March, 1940


Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Titian's Paul III, a Michelangelo marble (the first ever exhibited in New York), Raphael's Madonna of the Chair, Verrocchio's David, Bernini's Costanza Buonarelli, Masaccio's Crucifixion: that these should be brought together in a single exhibition is a memorable event, but that this exhibition should be in New York is an unexpected miracle.

What art museum would not be glad to assist in this miracle? For these world famous masterpieces can and should claim the hospitality even of a museum devoted to the art of our day. Actually this is not the first time the Museum of Modern Art has shown the art of the past: African Negro art, some of it as old as the 15th century, Aztec and Mayan art of five to ten centuries ago, and even the 20,000-year-old cave paintings of paleolithic man have been shown in the museum. These exhibitions were pertinent because the works of art in them have been appreciated only in recent years and also because modern artists have been among the pioneers in this new appreciation. But these primitive or exotic arts, stimulating as they are, are merely tangential to our culture; they do not really belong to it. In fact, even if we should combine the influence of all these exotic traditions upon modern art, we would find the total far less important than the influence of the art represented in this exhibition.

For the Renaissance and Baroque art of Italy stands at the very heart of the great tradition of European art and its American branches -- the tradition which looks back to Greece and forward through El Greco, Poussin, Rubens, Rembrandt to Ingres, Delacroix, Manet, Renoir and then to masters of our own days as widely separated as Picasso and Diego Rivera. Cézanne above all recognized this when he said he wanted to paint "something solid and enduring like the art of the museums," which meant to him the art of the great Venetians and Florentines and their French descendants. Beside these masters, the value of the Ivory Coast mask, or, say, the Japanese print to the modern artist, must ever be superficial and transitory.

The Exhibition of Italian Masters was not, of course, planned as a complete survey of the field, but considering that only twenty-eight works are included, it does give some idea both of the scope and the quality of the periods† represented.

The Early Renaissance, 1400-1500. There were very great medieval artists in Italy during the hundred and fifty years before the earliest work in our exhibition: Giotto, for instance, and the Sienese masters. Our exhibition begins, however, with the first and in many ways the greatest master of the early Renaissance, Donatello. It was Donatello who fused in his sculpture the new enthusiasm for the ancient art of Greece and Rome with the new understanding of form, movement and space, based both upon the sciences of anatomy and perspective and upon new habits of exact observation. This new realism was first given dignity and power in painting by Masaccio whose great frescoes inspired even Raphael and Michelangelo two generations later. (pages 14, 19.)

Donatello's researches were further carried on by his followers Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio, in Florence, and Mantegna in the north. The aristocratic and somewhat reactionary side of Florentine painting at the end of the early Renaissance is magnificently represented by Botticelli's Birth of Venus, which is,

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