March Gallery Guide: The Italian Renaissance Blooms in Tokyo

Caravaggio-Mary-Magdalene-in-Ecstasy

This month’s Gallery Guide features three exhibitions commemorating 150 years of diplomatic relations between Italy and Japan. Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did its part by putting together some of the best exhibitions of their artists’ work seen anywhere, with some exclusives just for Japan.


By Luca Eandi


CARAVAGGIO AND HIS TIME: Friends, Rivals and Enemies

Caravaggio-Bacchus
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Bacchus, c. 1597-98, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Caravaggio was a brilliantly talented Italian painter renowned today as one of the great masters in Western art history. Caravaggio’s dramatic use of light and shadow puts his figures in sharp relief, and his plain realism exemplifies the Baroque. His painting style was carried on by painters not only in Italy, but throughout Europe, influencing major figures like Rembrandt and Rubens.

This exhibition features roughly 50 paintings by Caravaggio, along with works by important painters that bear his influence. Original archival documents that characterize the artist’s strife-torn biography will also be on display, highlighting Caravaggio’s markedly turbulent personal life. His tumultuous run culminates with him killing a man during a quarrel and possibly being murdered himself a short time later while traveling from Naples to Rome.

Notably, a long-lost Caravaggio painting is scheduled to make its world debut at the exhibition. “Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy” was discovered in 2014 after its whereabouts were unknown for more than 400 years. Historical documents indicate the painting was created in 1606 by Caravaggio, who at the time was on the run—after committing said murder. The exhibition’s opening coincides with the owner’s permission to publicly exhibit the painting, so Japan has the honor to be the first place in the world to display the work.

The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Dates: March 1–June 12, 2016
Open: 9:30 am–5:30 pm, 9:30 am–8:00 pm on Fridays, last admission 30 minutes before closing, closed Mondays (except March 21, 28 and May 2) and March 22
Web: caravaggio.jp/english.html

BOTTICELLI E IL SUO TEMPO

Sandro-Botticelli-Calumny-of-Apelles
Calumny of Apelles, Sandro Botticelli, Firenze Uffizi Museum, Gabinetto Fotografico del Polo Museale Regionale della Toscana

Early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli is the subject of this large-scale exhibition featuring more than twenty works tracing his artistic lineage through the 15th century. Botticelli’s art is well-appreciated in Japan, largely due to scholar Yukio Yashiro’s published critique of Botticelli’s work that served as Japan’s introduction to the painter in 1925.

Although contemporaries turned to naturalistic expression employing command of perspectival space and chiaroscuro, Botticelli never deviated from decorative symbolism reminiscent of medieval art and created his own timeless style. He was one of the most authentic interpreters of the culture of his time and masterfully reflected onto his art the societal changes through which he lived.

While the iconic “Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book)” is the jewel of the exhibition, visitors should take note of “La Bella Simonetta,” a portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, noted beauty of her time, which is on loan from a private collection and therefore rarely seen by the public. Botticelli masterpieces “The Birth Of Venus” and “Allegory of Spring” are noticeably missing, but “Calumny of Apelles” is present from the Uffizi Gallery, as is Palazzo Cini’s “Judgement of Paris.” Paintings by both Botticelli’s master, Filippo Lippi, and pupil, Filippino Lippi, bookend the exhibition, providing some context of the artist’s legacy.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Dates: January 16–April 3, 2016 | Open: 9:30 am–5:30 pm, 9:30 am–8:00 pm on Fridays, last admission 30 minutes before closing, closed Mondays (except March 21, 28) and March 22
Web: botticelli.jp/english

LEONARDO DA VINCI – Beyond The Visible

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-Madonna-of-the-Yarnwinder
Leonardo Da Vinci, Madonna of the Yarnwinder, circa 1501, ©The Beccleuch Living Heritage Trust

In conjunction with Botticelli at the Metropolitan Art Museum and part of the commemoration of 150 years of diplomatic relations between Italy and Japan, the Edo-Tokyo Museum is holding a special presentation of works never before seen in Japan by Leonardo da Vinci in an exhibition titled “Beyond The Visible.” The highlight of the show, “Madonna of the Yarnwinder”—an oil painting from Leonardo’s golden age in 1501—is one of only 15 paintings attributed to the quintessential Renaissance man, who was also a noted inventor, architect, sculptor and scientist, among several other fields.

Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, is supervising the exhibition. He explains that since the “Madonna of the Yarnwinder” is privately-owned by Scotland’s Duke of Buccleuch, the painting is not as widely known as the “Mona Lisa,” although it is a comparable masterpiece exhibiting great skill and beauty.

Leonardo’s original “Codex on the Flight of Birds,” comprised of 18 folios exploring the aerial behavior of birds and presenting mechanisms for flight, will also be shown. These works will join seven original drawings, along with 70 prints depicting the life of Leonardo, offering the audience a chance to examine the challenges of this universal genius through models faithfully reproduced from his original plans.

Edo-Tokyo Museum
Dates: January 16–April 10, 2016
Open: 9:30 am–5:30 pm, 9:30am–7:30pm on Saturdays, closed Mondays (except March 21, 28) and Tuesday, March 22
Web: www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/en/s-exhibition/

Main Image: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, 1606, Private Collection

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