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Giovanni della Robbia, la lunetta Antinori e Stefano Arienti / November 9, 2017 – April 8, 2018

The exhibit “From Brooklyn to The Bargello: Giovanni Della Robbia, The Antinori Lunette and Stefano Arienti” was held at the Bargello National Museum in Florence from November 9th 2017 to April 8th 2018 set in the impressive medieval palace that today has the largest collection of glazed terracotta sculptures in the world made by the Della Robbia artists.

This masterpiece was featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and The National Gallery in Washington D.C. in 2016 and 2017 and has returned to Florence for the first time since its departure in 1898. Giovanni Della Robbia’s glazed lunette represents the Resurrection of Christ and was commissioned in 1520 by Niccolò di Tommaso Antinori (1454-1520), the forefather of this historic Florentine family’s entrepreneurial achievements. The monumental lunette, measuring 174.6 cm x 364.5 cm x 33 cm (5’73” x 11’96” x 1’), is one of the more remarkable examples of Giovanni Della Robbia’s (1469-1529) work.

In 2016, Marchesi Antinori sponsored the complex restoration work that was completed in the Brooklyn Museum’s conservation lab in preparation for the exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A project that created a single historical convergence, a suggestive continuity of patronage and protection of the fine arts that the Antinori family has promoted over the centuries, e renewal of their commitment with the lunette’s exceptional and temporary return to Italy. This event has sparked interest and curiosity in a masterpiece that has been abroad for nearly 120 years and isn’t very well known by the European and Italian general public, inspiring the Bargello Museum to dedicate an entire exposition room to this extraordinary lunette.

In preparation for this exhibit, the Antinori Art Project commissioned artist Stefano Arienti to create a new project intended to interact with the Della Robbia lunette. The artist’s project is two fold, two separate yet complementary works of art that achieve a unique transformation and reinterpretation of the famous lunette: the exhibit at the Bargello Museum is entitled “Scena Fissa” while the site-specific installation at the Antinori Nel Chianti Classico winery “Altorilievo”.

In an innovative approach to the exhibit, “From Brooklyn to the Bargello: Giovanni Della Robbia, The Antinori Lunette and Stefano Arienti”, the artist decided to separate and isolate the lunette’s personalities in an installation made up of large white dust-canvases, the same used to cover buildings in constructions sites. The canvases represent 20 of the original 46 elements of the original lunette but their proportions have been enlarged to near life size. These figures are rendered with acrylic metallic paint on huge white canvases, light and airy, arranged in the hall adjacent to where the original lunette is on display. The scene is a sacred representation, a living nativity scene where the individual personalities surround the viewer engaging them in a silent dialogue. The canvases are hung perpendicularly, similar to sails, creating a theatrical scene in which viewers can move around coming face to face with the single personalities, allowing viewers to experience a more dynamic and personal interpretation of the newly restored masterpiece.


Giovanni Della Robbia’s Masterpiece reinterpreted by Stefano Arienti.


Interview with Ilaria Bonacossa, the curator — By Elena Bordignon


Let’s start from the fundamentals of the project that you have been working on for a couple of years, for Antinori Art Project: the selection of the artists. On the occasion of the important presentation of the lunette depicting The Resurrection of Christ made in the early 16th century by Giovanni Della Robbia, why did you choose Stefano Arienti to interact with this important work?


This time, it wasn’t easy to choose the artist: I discussed this at length with Alessia Antinori, amongst others. It was obvious that we needed an artist of consolidated fame, someone with an extensive knowledge of art history. Considering that the lunette, like most works by the Della Robbia family (a great dynasty of artists) is in glazed terracotta, we were initially thinking of contemporary artists who work with ceramics or terracotta, but we realized that this was too literal a reference and we risked obtaining dramatic or ironic reinterpretations. I understood that the artist who fitted the situation would be familiar with working on ‘images’ and more specifically historical works, re-examining them and transforming them into a contemporary linguistic language. When Stefano Arienti accepted the invitation, I realized that he is unique for his skill in transforming images in such a minimalist manner, giving them a ‘pop’ appearance but without losing their essence, and on the contrary, encouraging observers to look at the works in a more intimate and personal way by means of his intervention.


The artist subdivided his work into two separate projects, one at the Bargello, in a hall adjacent to that where the lunette was on show, and the other at the Antinori Winery in the Chianti Classico district. Could you give us an introduction to the exhibition “From Brooklyn to the Bargello: Giovanni della Robbia, the Antinori Lunette and Stefano Arienti”?

IB: The exhibition is the result of a dual intention: on one hand, the chance of bringing the Antinori Lunette, as it is called by art historians, back to Italy after the important restoration performed by the team at the Brooklyn Museum, with support from the Antinori family; and on the other, the idea of asking a contemporary artist to reinterpret a historic religious work. The exhibition at the Bargello Museum is in two halls: in the first, an important canvas by John Singer Sargent will be placed in relation with the lunette, whose proto-mannerist features and bright colours make it absolutely unique. In the adjacent hall. Stefano Arienti presents Scena Fissa, a tableau vivant in which the individual personalities and details from the original lunette are rendered in gold and bronze on dust-proof site canvases that fill the hall, evoking a two-dimensional nativity scene, or the preparatory drawings for an unfinished fresco.

Arienti’s drawings simplify the figures, eliminating all decorative details and leaving just the lines that make them recognizable. These vertically-hung canvases take up the hall and create a sort of theatrical stage set within which observers come face to face with the individual figures.


With regard to the work “Altorilievo”, which will become part of the Antinori family collection, how was this work developed, in relation to the lunette by Giovanni Della Robbia?


The original lunette consists of 46 parts, each linked to a main subject figure, but that sometimes depict more than one detail. After the restoration, in which these parts were separated and consolidated, the curators decided not to fill the joints with plaster (as Giovanni della Robbia certainly would have done) but rather to leave the structure clearly visible. Before starting to work on this piece, consisting of two separate works that nonetheless develop a close interaction, Stefano Arienti went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the original first-hand. The artist was fascinated by the theatrical poses, and the structure that makes the lunette similar to a three-dimensional puzzle, and at Bargino he took the 46 elements of the original lunette and reworked them in the form of monochromatic high-reliefs, using bronze to outline the figures. In this case the individual parts become elements of a new narrative deriving from the assembly of the figures and the details of the original lunette, in which the event, the resurrection of Christ, seems to have given rise to a new narrative depiction.


In his long career, Stefano Arienti has always used ‘images’ taken from the history of art. In these borrowed images, the artist performs a sort of ‘ready made’ operation, recovering an image, and working on it – often changing it – in terms of shape and meaning. How did the artist relate to such an important work as “The Resurrection of Christ”?


I think that in this instance, Stefano Arienti started from the drawing as a way of gaining knowledge and cataloguing the original. The successive drawing then provided a new narrative interpretation of the lunette’s figures, in which Christ and the commissioning patrons are given almost theatrical poses. However, in his use of the images, there is no desire for parody. On the contrary, the repetition of figures and narrative schemes encourages observers to discover the details of the original, looking at the Antinori Lunette in a new way.