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Spectacular exhibition devoted to the art of the second half of the 16th century opens at Palazzo Strozzi
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese o Chiusi della Verna 1475 ‒Rome 1564), River God c. 1526‒7. Clay, earth, sand, plant and vegetable fibre, and casein model built around an iron wire core. Later interventions: plaster, iron mesh. 68 x 140 x 68 cm. Florence, Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, Museo di Casa Buonarroti, inv. 1890 no. 1802.

FLORENCE.- Palazzo Strozzi is hosting The Cinquecento in Florence, a spectacular exhibition devoted to the art of the second half of the 16th century in the city, bringing together works by such artists as Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo, Bronzino, Giorgio Vasari, Santi di Tito and Giambologna.

The final act in a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali which began with Bronzino in 2010 and was followed by Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino in 2014, the exhibition explores an era of outstanding cultural and intellectual talent, the second half of the 16th century in Florence. The exhibition charts the debate between the ‘modern manner’ and the Counter-Reformation, between the sacred and the profane, and highlights an extraordinary age for the history of art in Florence, marked by the Council of Trent and the personality of Francesco I de' Medici, one of the greatest figures in the history of courtly patronage of the arts in Europe.

The exhibition showcases over seventy paintings and sculptures that capture the cultural climate of 16th century Florence. Palazzo Strozzi's exhibition halls play host to a chronological and thematic dialogue, involving both sacred and secular works by such great masters of the age as Michelangelo, Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, but also by painters of the quality of Giorgio Vasari, Jacopo Zucchi, Giovanni Stradano, Girolamo Macchietti, Mirabello Cavalori and Santi di Tito. Sculptors from this era are represented with works by Giambologna, Bartolomeo Ammannati and Vincenzo Danti, to name but a few of those who were involved in projects for the Studiolo and the Tribune, and in the drive to redecorate Florence's churches to reflect the precepts of the Council of Trent. These men were artists capable of playing on several different registers of expression. Revisiting their own training at the hands of the great masters in the early part of the century, they aimed to create works tailored to the needs of a complex, changing world dashing headlong towards the era of Galileo Galilei, open to a new vision of nature and art.

A network of local and international museums and institutions have brought this exhibition together, along with a major restoration campaign devised especially for the occasion. The restauration involved 15 masterpieces; first and foremost, the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita, restored in full thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Florence. In addition to the chapel, the campaign also included ten large altarpieces and a sculpture by Michelangelo which had long required a restoration.

The first two rooms set out to provide visitors with an ideal overview of what was presented in the two earlier exhibitions – though doing so through works that were not displayed in those exhibitions – while simultaneously providing an overview of the arts in Florence up to the first edition of Giorgio Vasari's Lives, published in 1550.

The first room showcases masterpieces of the 1520s created by artists who were the undisputed masters of those working in the second half of the century: men such as Michelangelo with his sculpture of the River God (c. 1524–7) and Andrea del Sarto with his celebrated PietÓ with Saints known as the Luco PietÓ (1523–4). The second room positions works by Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino and Bronzino in the shape of a spectacular juxtaposition of the Santa Felicita Entombment of Christ (1526–8), the Volterra Deposition from the Cross (1521) and the Besanšon Deposition of Christ (c. 1542–5), in addition to major works by Cellini, Salviati and Vasari testifying to the birth, between 1530 and 1550, of the styles that were to be embraced by the artists who worked for Francesco I and Ferdinando I de’ Medici.

The exhibition proceeds with a section devoted to religious themes and the artists who produced the new altars in Florentine churches in accordance with the dictates of the Counter-Reformation. This is followed by a section on the secular themes so often linked to the figure of Francesco I. Both sections include work by artists including Giorgio Vasari, Mirabello Cavalori, Girolamo Macchietti, Santi di Tito, Jacopo Coppi, Maso da San Friano, Giovanni Battista Naldini and Giambologna. At the heart of the exhibition, bridging the sacred and the secular, two rooms are being devoted to the artists and the genres found in Francesco I's Studiolo, focusing on their work as portrait artists.

The works of sacred art include Vasari's Crucifixion from the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (1561–3), Bronzino's Immaculate Conception, on loan from the church of the Madonna della Pace (1570–2), Santi di Tito's Resurrection, from the basilica of Santa Croce (c. 1574) and Alessandro Allori's Christ and the Adulteress (1577) from the basilica of Santo Spirito. Secular works on display include the six lunettes – brought together here for the very first time – that make up one of the rare secular and allegorical painting cycles produced by some of the painters involved in decorating Francesco I's Studiolo in Palazzo Vecchio. The room also hosts Giambologna's Mercury from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (c. 1564–5) and Mirabello Cavalori's Michelangelo, Soderini and the Sultan from the National Gallery in London (after 1564).

The last two rooms showcase altarpieces and marble sculpture produced at the very end of the 16th century and early 17th century, such as Santi di Tito's Vision of St. Thomas Aquinas from the church of San Marco in Florence (1593), Alessandro Allori's St. Fiacre Healing the Sick from the basilica of Santo Spirito (1596) and Pietro Bernini's high relief depicting St. Martin Dividing His Cloak with a Beggar from the former St. Martin's Charterhouse, now the Museo di San Martino, in Naples (1595–8). Visitors to the Palazzo Strozzi will have no problem in discerning in these works the lofty poetry that was to breathe life into the figurative culture of Florence well beyond the early 16th century, an era traditionally seen as the end of the city's artistic primacy.

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