From the pages of his Lives (1568), Vasari attributed a fundamental role in the ‘rebirth’ of modern art to Florentine artists Andrea del Sarto and Fra’ Bartolomeo, placing them beside the triumvirate formed by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. Their excellent and highly inventive artistic production based on the constant practise of drawing stood out for honesty of invention and perfect imitation of nature, from the flesh to the vividness of the affections. More than a century later, Filippo Baldinucci confirmed Vasari’s claim from the pages of Notizie de’ professori del disegno (1681-1728), citing loyalty to the values expressed by the leaders of the early XVI century, as the strategy necessary to surpass the Mannerist impasse and, at the same time, to give rise to a modern language consistent with the new spiritual demands of the Council of Trent. In this scenario, the Neo-Renaissance register of Santi di Tito and Jacopo da Empoli, which the historiographer emphasised insistently, constituted the essential reason to attribute to these two masters the role of reformers of the figurative arts in Florence towards the end of the XVI century. The strenuous, almost autarchic defence of a Florentine tradition based on perfect measure and serene, intimately confidential expression, targeting a rendering that approached the day-to-day datum, with an at times archaizing simplicity of layout and a clear and compact pictorial technique was to find new supporters in the mid XVII century, particularly in the emblematic personality of Lorenzo Lippi.
Though frankly declaring the greatness of these artists, Vasari did not conceal his preference for the Roman grandeur, while Baldinucci had a particular penchant for the Baroque sensitivity, which perhaps conditioned the historiographic fortunes of this line and its popularity. Only as of the 1920s with Hermann Voss and, in the 1950s and 60s with the lucid analyses of Mina Gregori and Fiorella Sricchia, was a connection re-established between the masters of the early XVI century and those of the full XVII century, underscoring the character of novelty in tradition.
The exhibition seeks to illustrate this identity of Florentine art by means of a rich and serried cross-referencing of painting and sculpture. It is divided into nine sections for a total of some eighty works of art and thirty-five artists. The show opens with a scenographic dedication to two emblematic protagonists, Andrea del Sarto and Santi di Tito (Section 1), and a tribute to drawing from life as a tool of knowledge (Section 2). The first part of the exhibition (Sections 3-6) will illustrate the development and persistence of the clarity and calm greatness of this course of Florentine art. Alongside these founding masters, a more adequate role is attributed to the Della Robbias, Sansovino, Franciabigio, Bugiardini and Sogliani who were mediatory artists in the development towards Bronzino, Poggini, Giovanni Bandini and the later generation of Ciampelli, Tarchiani, Vannini and Antonio Novelli. In a direct comparison centred on three themes (the expression of affections, the evidence of everyday objects, and the noble simplicity of holy events), the second part of the exhibition (Sections 7-9) will enable the visitor to verify the effective consistence of this particular cultural legacy. A connotation of the figurative arts emerges in line with the new forms of spirituality varyingly inspired by the Savonarola tradition of austerity. Finally, there is a clear consonance with the purist developments of the linguistic debate that unfolded in the Accademia Fiorentina and the Accademia della Crusca.
The exhibition thus offers the opportunity to undermine the cliché of a very conservative Florentine civic culture, revealing the semantic changes and the instances of novelty inherent in the artificers’ loyalty to antiquity, thereby inverting a famous critical formula and shedding light on the ‘novelty of tradition’.