Having thrilled at the wonders on display at Palazzo Strozzi yesterday, there was a slight air of trepidation this morning. I had tried to book tickets for the Bargello part of the exhibition some months back, to no avail. Instead I had booked general admission tickets in the hope that I could charm my way (or sneak) into the Donatello room. No need to worry; when we got our tickets it was immediately made clear that admission to the Donatello exhibits was included. I told her she had made me very happy, which elicited a response midway between genuine pleasure and a suspicion that I might manifest this in a way somehow unbecoming. No worries, we were off to the show in an excited hurry!
The Bargello is the sculpture museum in Florence and also a fascinating building, having served as centre for administration of justice as well as a prison. It’s a must see on your visit, extremely well laid out and allowing you to sample as much or as little of an area of art which borders on niche for many but the hardened enthusiasts.
The exhibition began immediately inside on the ground floor, once again presenting some key works by Donatello and immediately examining the response of his contemporaries; the fact that this was considerable gives voice to the impact he had within his lifetime, an experience often sadly denied even to the most talented of artists. Unusually, Donatello’s fame and popularity has never really waned at any point since his life ended.
What a high we begin with, an exquisite marble relief, up there with the Pazzi Madonna from yesterday, another ‘Virgin and Child’ (1425-30). Smaller than yesterday’s work but infinitely subtle and infused with delicate details and ephemeral presences.
Adjacent is a small tabernacle combining the talents of Donatello and Verrochio, the ‘Virgin of Humility, crowned by Two Angels’, created in two stages – the Madonna in 1440-45 and the tabernacle 1460-61.
Next is another in the series of terracotta ‘Virgin and Child’ works created for private devotional purposes, this one in 1450-55.
The next room is a further example of the power of this type of exhibition. The opening work is the delicate small marble relief of the Virgin and Child known as the ‘Dudley Madonna’.
It was the first such work in marble and spawned a whole series of drawings, paintings and sculptures over many decades. Examples in this room include works by:
Desiderio da Settignano (1450-55)
Now the exhibition moves upstairs to the familiar territory of the Donatello room, familiar to many of us who have been repeat visitors to Florence. The exhibition focuses of the core works that in many ways form the identity of the whole museum:
Saint George (1415-17)
Saint George was commissioned by the guild of armourers and sword makers to decorate one of fourteen niches on the exterior of Orsanmichele. Following damage by a thrown stone it was moved to the Bargello in 1882.
The Marzocco (1420)
This was the first piece of public secular sculpture commissioned by the Republic of Florence in the late 14th century; Donatello’s is the best known version.
More has been written about this bronze than just about any other sculpture – except of course for Michaelangelo’s marble giant. I’ll leave you to look up articles on its homoerotic nature (yawn) – I’ll just admire thanks.
Also displayed are works by pupils, admirers and followers, including the famous Verrochio version of David (1468-70).
And just like that, it was over. The latter part of today’s visit felt like popping in to see old friends. There’s never much wrong with that as a way to pass the hours, but the memorable part of this trip will be the new acquaintances made, the new insights gained and the thrill of continuing to learn, despite the years going by.