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Renaissance Faces
Masterpieces of Italian Portraiture

25.08.2011 to 20.11.2011


The Gemäldegalerie and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have undertaken a landmark project tracing the development of the Italian portrait in the fifteenth century. In Berlin the event takes place in the beautifully restored Bode-Museum, it is subsequently on view at the Metropolitan Museum. The show is placed under the auspices of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In portraiture sometimes the principal motive is simply to preserve a likeness-a record or memory of the salient traits of an individual. At other times social rank, marital status or dynastic or generational relationships are suggested by adherence to a convention, type of dress, or the inclusion of various emblems or attributes. Italian portraiture evolves in the shadow of classical models, but it is no less aware of the innovations and powerful naturalism of the great painters of the Netherlands. It is informed by humanist discussions about the individual, but also by an acute sense of social hierarchy and by a poetics of beauty that frequently transformed female sitters into and idealized likeness.

Exploring the rise and the development of the individual portrait thus means dealing with a complex story, the character of which changes depending on where one is and when. The show focuses on the complex history of the portrait in Florence from Donatello and Masaccio down to Verrocchio and Botticelli; it studies portraiture at the courts of northern Italy, from Pisanello to Mantegna and Francesco Laurana as well as the development of portraiture in Venice from Giambono to Antonello da Messina, Bellini and the Lombardi.

Scholarship has vastly increased our sensitivity to the social and cultural factors that informed and shaped the formal types and typological norms of Renaissance portraiture. But precisely because these factors varied from region to region and in point of time, the exhibition avoids imposing typological categories on what seems to be a fascinatingly rich exchange of ideas. Instead, it seeks to elucidate the strands of these narratives in Florence, Venice and the courts of northern Italy through a series of telling juxtapositions involving paintings, sculpture, medals and drawings. In other words, it aims to provide a place and occasion for the defining works of fifteenth-century portraiture to speak to each other, all the while acknowledging regional and cultural accents.