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The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini

The Renaissance Portrait cover

"The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini" Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York by Yale University Press 2011

This book is an exhibition catalogue for the exhibit of the same name that was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 18, 2012.  As is the case with many MET exhibits, this was a very scholarly and complete study in the genre of portraiture.  There are 5 essays on the theme of portraiture in Italy during the Renaissance period and a complete catalogue of the works in the exhibit.  Each object has a lengthy citation that is interesting in itself, including provenance (history of ownership) and conservation.

How portraiture was seen and used by patrons changed dramatically during the Renaissance period, particularly in Italy.  Portraits of patrons and/or donors were small parts of larger religious works, and this continued in this period, but single sitter portraiture rose as an art form with the rise of wealthy families.  While we 20th c viewers may see strict profile as a repeat of earlier forms and not very life-like, the new rich patrons saw them as very representative of their new secular power- like the profiles of Romans on coins.   In other cases, 3 /4 view portraits brought a more life-like form, more familiar to us today.  Since Italy was a series of city-states, each with powerful families in need of images for their castles and palaces, many artists stepped up to provide them with portraits.  The list of artists is a who’s who of major artists of the Italian Renaissance.  Names include those in the exhibit title, but also Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi,  Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Alberti to name a few. Sculptural busts and medallions were also created, some in the guise of Roman statesman.  Their patrons also have familiar names such as Medici, Sforza, d’Este, Strozzi, Sassetti, and Visconti.

Portraits were also produced to solidify alliances through marriage, introducing the bride to her expectant groom.   Popes, who continued to exert tremendous power in Italy, continued to have likenesses of themselves in both painting and sculpture.

New scholarship can also be followed in this book, as unidentified artists and sitters are here identified.  Even if you don’t read every entry, this is an exhibit catalogue to greatly enjoy.

The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York by Yale University Press 2011
ISBN: 978-1-58839-425-5
MAG call number N7606 .R46 2011

Written by:
Susan Nurse

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