Baccio Bandinelli, “artist of eternal fame: this was the final judgement Vasari dedicated to the artist in his Lives, and the very same one this exhibition intends provocatively to confirm. We want to restore finally Bandinelli’s position of merit in the panorama of Italian sculpture of the Maniera, and re-establish the truth about an artist that the critics of the past two centuries, and indeed up until today, have condemned to ostracism. The biography of Bandinelli – after those of Michelangelo, Vasari and Raphael – is the longest in Vasari’s Lives. It is also a troubled piece of writing, given that the two artists despised each other. In the end though, Vasari was forced to admit Bandinelli’s greatness, referring to him as “a tremendously foul mouth and a tremendous genius”.
At the end of the XVI century, admiration for the artist was explicit in Bocchi’s Bellezze della città di Firenze (1591), and then grew for the entire Baroque era, reaching its climax during the Neoclassical era between the XVIII and XIX century. It was precisely in the XIX century that his fortunes began to decline though, starting with Burckhardt and continuing up to the present with the negative and, at times, even contemptuous judgements of Berenson, Pope-Hennessy and many other scholars.
In the Baroque era and for the entire Neoclassical period though, Bandinelli, with Michelangelo, was considered the supreme sculptor of his epoch. Moreover, it cannot be denied that he was one of the most important figures in sixteenth-century Florentine sculpture, along with Jacopo Sansovino and Cellini. His principal patrons were firstly the two Medici popes – Leo X and Clement VII – and then duke Cosimo I. There can therefore be no doubt as to the expertise required of an artist in order to aspire to commissions of this level. Bandinelli excelled over his often quite famous competitors in Florence but not only, winning the most demanding and representative commissions of the first half of the century, and attaining undisputed credit and prestige.
The exhibition will present all of his works of sculpture and painting that can be moved, the drawings and prints he devised, small works in bronze, medals and a rare wax model from Montpellier. Masterpieces like the Bacchus from Palazzo Pitti, his works held in the Bargello, and the marble reliefs of the choir in the Cathedral will be joined by the portrait-busts of Cosimo I and the magnificent Mercury, an early work today in the Louvre. Paintings on show include Leda and the Swan (from Paris), the only certainly autographed painting by Bandinelli and never before shown at an exhibition, and the famous Portrait of Baccio Bandinelli from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Also on display are the reliefs (in marble, stucco and bronze, from various foreign museums) definitively attributed to him or that derive directly from his originals, along with preparatory drawings.
Given the abundance of material, the exhibition will also expand to part of the Michelangelo Room, in addition to the two rooms the Bargello generally devotes to temporary shows. The large public monuments, both sacred and profane, will of course not be physically present at the exhibition venue, but they will be thoroughly illustrated and commented in a special section of the catalogue, like the works on show. They will also be documented in the exhibition venue with a video produced specially for the occasion. A new and extensive photographic campaign is planned for many works by Bandinelli. The introductory essays in the catalogue – entrusted to specialists and scholars, both Italian and foreign – will illustrate all the principal aspects of his artist’s personality and will also delve into his essential role as founder of an academy capable of promoting the social status of an artist, and considerably ahead of Vasari and Federico Zuccari.
For the first time, a monographic show will be dedicated to this “universal artificer” – another quotation from Vasari – who was the “Maestro” of an entire generation of artists and who with Michelangelo, Raphael, Vasari and Cellini, left us one of the most extensive collections of papers by sixteenth-century artificers.