My latest for The Federalist is out today, reviewing the new exhibition “Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence”, which opens at the National Gallery of Art here in the Nation’s Capital this coming Sunday. I had the privilege of attending the press preview of the show on Tuesday, and want to encourage those of my readers who find themselves in DC during the exhibition’s run to make sure to stop in and see it. There’s a lot to absorb, and I couldn’t address everything that came to mind in a single article, so I just wanted to share a bit more about the artist and his significance.
Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1435-1488) died an untimely death in Venice at the age of 53, where he had moved after winning a competitive commission from the Venetian Republic to sculpt a bronze equestrian monument honoring Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475), one of the greatest military strategists of the day. Understandably, the Colleoni was probably just a bit too big to ship over to the NGA. However the show does have two of Verrocchio’s preparatory drawings for the sculpture, showing how the artist thought about the figure of the horse.
Chronologically speaking, Verrocchio’s monument is the second great equestrian statue of the Renaissance. It was created about thirty years after Donatello’s bronze monument to Gattamelata, an earlier military leader, which is in the city of Padua. Yet in truth, Verrocchio’s sculpture really ought to come first in rank, for it had an enormous impact on the development of monumental sculpture for future generations, even though, sadly, Verrocchio himself didn’t live long enough to see it cast and erected.
Also, just as Verrocchio’s bronze “David”, shown below, which is the single most important highlight of the National Gallery exhibition, eschewed the introspective awkwardness of Donatello’s earlier bronze “David” in favor of portraying a self-confident young hero, Verrocchio’s monumental equestrian bronze rejected the somewhat staid aspect of Donatello’s earlier treatment of a similar subject. Whereas Donatello displays his subject as a man of quiet concentration, Verrocchio depicts an intense, terrifying man of action, who is very shortly going to be tearing you and your pathetic army into little pieces. It’s always reminded me of Klaus Kinski’s turn as the Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s epic film, “Aguirre, Wrath of God” (1972).
And with those thoughts out of the way, let’s move on to a few interesting stories from the art world over the past week.
Following a shareholder vote that wasn’t even remotely a close-run thing, Sotheby’s is leaving the stock market behind after four decades. Despite four pending lawsuits (that I’m aware of), a whopping 91% of shareholders, including the company’s employees, voted in favor of the acquisition of the prestigious auction house by a company headed by French billionaire Patrick Drahi; the merger should be finalized by the end of the year. Sotheby’s and Christie’s will now both be privately held, British-founded but French-owned corporations, battling on more equal footing for dominance at the top end of the art market. Let the games begin.
Speaking of Sotheby’s, an upcoming exhibition and auction of one of the world’s most important collections of Orientalist art looks to be well-worth seeing, if you get the chance. As I’ve mentioned previously, following many years of neglect by both academics and collectors, Orientalist work is hot once again, and dealers are making hay of it while the sun shines. Among the most beautiful of the pictures up for sale is “Riders Crossing the Desert” (1870), shown below, by the great French Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). The Najd Collection goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s London on October 22nd, following a tour of some of the highlights of the sale at Sotheby’s locations in several cities around the world, and a lengthy preview of all the lots at the London showrooms.
Los Angeles police recently retrieved a hoard of dozens of stolen antiques, collectibles, and works of art, taken from homes across Hollywood and elsewhere in the city back in the 1990’s. The breakthrough came via a call to the authorities from an eagle-eyed California auctioneer, who had been consigned several works for sale that, upon further research, appeared to match the descriptions of some of the missing items. Police now face the difficult task of identifying and tracking down the owners of these objects, some 25 years on. While pictures like the genuine Picasso and Miró works in the cache are interesting, I found this rather melodramatic pulp art piece perhaps *the* most interesting of the recovered items. You can scroll through the LAPD’s Operation Demetra gallery page to see more, and they would certainly appreciate your help if you spot anything that looks familiar.
As a final note for this week’s roundup, just a reminder that, if you don’t already do so, you may enjoy following my Instagram account. Apart from the usual IG fare, I often post pictures I’ve snapped at the exhibitions I visit. In taking pictures of art, architecture, and design objects to share online, I try to share observations of my subjects viewed both at a distance, as well as in close-up details that I find interesting, such as Verrocchio’s technical brilliance in the depiction of fabric, as shown below.
Be sure to visit my profile page at https://www.instagram.com/wbdnewton/