Religious art from the Uffizi comes to Doylestown

Linda Carioni, an organizer of the "Offering of the Angels" exhibit, beside a painting by Titian. BILL REED / Staff
Linda Carioni, an organizer of the "Offering of the Angels" exhibit, beside a painting by Titian. BILL REED / Staff
Posted: April 20, 2012

A rare exhibit of Renaissance and Baroque art from the renowned Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, will open in Doylestown on Saturday - thanks to a chance encounter.

"I was attending a museum conference in Los Angeles two years ago when I sat next to a woman on a crowded bus to the Getty Museum," recalled Bruce Katsiff, longtime director and CEO of the James A. Michener Art Museum.

I asked her, "Where are you from?"

"Florence," she said.

"What do you do?"

"I'm with a traveling exhibit agency," she said.

"Working on anything interesting?"

"An exhibit from the Uffizi," she answered.

"Do you have any open venues?"

"One."

"Do you have any Botticellis?"

"Yes."

The woman's agency checked out the Michener, liked its proximity to Philadelphia and New York, and now Doylestown is the second stop on the four-city U.S. tour.

And the woman, Linda Tompkins Carioni, is helping to launch the exhibit, "Offering of the Angels - Treasures from the Uffizi," which will run through Aug. 10 and is expected to draw 125,000 to 250,000 viewers.

The 45 paintings and tapestries spanning nearly 400 years are making their first appearance outside Italy. They drew 700,000 viewers in Barcelona and 500,000 in Madrid on their way to the States, where they were displayed at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale.

The works have a common theme of angels and the Eucharist. They portray scenes from the Old Testament, including the creation of Adam, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and the miracle of the manna, plus events from the life of Christ.

The star of the show is Madonna and Child (circa 1466-67), by Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli.

"The Madonna was a model of Renaissance art, and Botticelli is famous for a series of Madonnas," Carioni said Wednesday.

The Uffizi, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world, draws 1.6 million visitors a year, "and most come to see the Botticelli Room," Carioni said.

His Madonna and Child has been fully restored, undoing damage from a "bad restoration" in the 1700s, she said.

The elaborate gold frame, called a tabernacle, is a work of art itself - not by Botticelli - incorporating the symbol of the Holy Spirit on the Madonna's shoulder.

Next to the Botticelli is a contrasting Madonna with Child, painted in 1525 by Francesco Mazzola, better known as Il Parmigianino. The child is older, Carioni noted, and the Madonna is teaching him to read.

Most of the works in the exhibit were commissioned by the church or rich patrons. A third Madonna, Mary with Child and Saint Catherine (circa 1550), is interesting because of the saint, Carioni said.

The artist, Tiziano Vecelli, and his students painted two other versions of the work - now in Budapest, Hungary, and St. Petersburg, Russia - with a different saint for each patron, Carioni said.

One of the earliest works, The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John and Mary Magdalene, dates to about 1395. Lorenzo Monaco, a monk, painted the Late Gothic-style scene on parchment in a prayer book, and it was transposed on a wood panel in the 1400s, Carioni said.

Two large tapestries depicting Christ being taken down from the cross and his resurrection are delicate works that required two artists.

The painter, Francesco de' Rossi, known as Il Salviati, drew a cartoon of the scenes in the mid-1500s, Carioni said. The weaver, Nicola Karcher, then followed those blueprints.

The exhibit - the museum's largest, and its first international touring show - fills the 5,500-square-foot Syd and Sharon Martin Wing. The walls were painted deep red to best display the artworks and their bright gold frames.

 From the Michener, the exhibit will head to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wis., and the Telfair Museums in Savannah, Ga.

Next April, the works will head back to their home in the Uffizi, which was been undergoing renovations.

"This is probably the last time they will be allowed to travel," Carioni said. "They'll go back to Italy and a permanent display in the Uffizi."


"Offering of the Angels" tickets

Timed tickets for the Uffizi exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, are available. Admission is $15 for adults; $13 senior citizens; $11 college students; and $7.50 ages 6-18; and includes an 18-minute video and an audio tour with a one-hour running time.Security will be beefed up for the exhibit, and photography is prohibited.

For tickets and more information, go to www.michenerartmuseum.org or call 215-340-9800..

- Bill Reed


To watch a video and see a photo gallery from the Michener Museum, go to philly.com/michenerexhibit


Contact Bill Reed

at 215-801-2964, wreed@philly.com, or follow @breedbucks on Twitter. Read

his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.

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