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In the fall 2017 season, the National Gallery in London mounted a show entitled “Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael around 1500.” Here were three of the greatest artists of any period, with several masterpieces on display, and each work breathtaking and all tied nimbly together. The point was to illustrate a moderate argument — namely that Michelangelo learned from Leonardo about capturing the expressive relation between the Madonna and the Infant — but more importantly, the show made clear what genius and skill can achieve.

The seven works included one marble sculpture by Michelangelo, the “Taddei Tondo” (ca. 1504-1505); one drawing by Leonardo, the “Burlington House Cartoon” (ca. 1499-1500); and five paintings in oil or tempera. These latter were depictions of the Madonna and Child, four of which included John the Baptist, and one exception, Raphael’s “Saint Catherine of Alexandria” (ca. 1507). Chief among the Madonnas were the drawing, Leonardo’s “Virgin of the Rocks” (ca. 1491-1499 and 1506-1508), and Michelangelo’s unfinished “Manchester Madonna” (ca. 1497). The three Raphaels included his “Ansidei Madonna” (1505), the “Madonna of the Pinks” (1507), and “Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” the only one without the Madonna. The spirit of the exhibit was captured by the contrast between the three great names and the almost off-handed reference to “around 1500.” This conveys the notion that the works of monumental genius are ratified, as it were, by an approximate point of time. All artists, perhaps the greatest ones most of all, work and exist in time even as they shape and suffer that perfidious and relentless medium. Art history casts the net that helps — or nearly so — bring the issues into a knowable frame. More… “Masters and Madonnas”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).

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One day in 1848, a trio of young Englishmen declared themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was an absurd name for a ridiculous idea. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, led by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, proposed to take art more than 300 years backward. They wanted art to return to the period before Raphael (1483-1520). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood thought they glimpsed utopia in the lost days of the High Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance.

“The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Through October 26, 2014.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a youthful undertaking. Rossetti was twenty years old. Millais was nineteen. William Holman Hunt was twenty-one. Indeed, the youthfulness of the movement cannot be overemphasized. In his preface to a collection of Pre-Raphaelite writings from the short-lived journal The Germ,… More…

 

“Mannerism” sounds stupid. One immediately associates it with manners. And “manners” are not in the highest regard these days. Mannerism would seem to be a movement of affected and empty gestures, of style over substance.

That’s what many do mean when they use the term. Mannerism has come to refer, primarily, to the group of Italian artists working just after the close of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519; you could say, then, that Mannerism started in early June of that same year. The Mannerists, left with nowhere to go by the transcendent greatness of the High Renaissance artists, had no choice but to become decadent and unhinged.

Mannerist artists like Jacopo da Pontormo thus wasted little time in screwing up the Renaissance. Pontormo painted his figures in crazy contorted poses that would have… More…