Norma e capriccio: Spanish artists in Italy In the early Mannerist period

Norma e Capriccio Exhibition, Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Norma e Capriccio Exhibition, Uffizi, Florence, Italy

“Thus I also say that no nation and no people (other than one or two Spaniards) can perfectly assimilate or imitate the Italian manner of painting (which is that of ancient Greece) without being immediately and easily recognised as foreigners, however much they may try or work at it”.
These words, spoken by Michelangelo Buonarroti and recorded by Francisco de Hollanda in his Roman Dialogues (Lisbon, 1548), provided the inspiration for the first exhibition ever devoted to the work of those Spanish artists who came to Italy between 1500 and the 1520s to partake of the effervescent cultural climate in Florence, Rome and Naples.
This exalted group of artists, prompted to travel by their thirst for first-hand contact with the fundamental works of modern art, included such personalities as Alonso Berruguete, Pedro Machuca, Pedro Fernández (better known as the “Pseudo-Bramantino”), Bartolomé Ordóñez and Diego de Silóe, who hailed from various different parts of the Iberian peninsula - Palencia, Toledo, Murcia and Burgos - and who proved capable of forging careers for themselves as leading players in European ‘Mannerism’.
Italian art historical sources readily acknowledge their dominant position on the international scene in the 16th century. Giorgio Vasari, for instance, in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, places Berruguete on the same level as Rosso and Pontormo in the study of Michelangelo's and Leonardo's work, while Pietro Summonte, a celebrated scholar from Campania, also mentions the work of Ordóñez and De Silóe in a letter on the most important monuments in Naples, dated 1524.
The exhibition is divided into four sections which, in adopting a strictly geographical arrangement, set prestigious masterpieces created by artists of their calibre alongside splendid examples of Italy's artistic output in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The first section, devoted to Florence, endeavours to reconstruct the Italian career of Alonso Berruguete, which has been studied by both Roberto Longhi and Federico Zeri, thus providing the visitor with an unprecedented chance to directly compare the works attributed to the artist (most of which are held today by the Uffizi and by other leading museums both in Italy and abroad - the Loeser Collection in Palazzo Vecchio and the Galleria Borghese in Rome), while at the same time exploring his modernity through a comparison with the significant achievement of his contemporaries in the fields of sculpture and painting, including Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, Pontormo, Baccio Bandinelli and Jacopo Sansovino. The visitor will thus be able to assess the impact that the Florentine tradition had on Berruguete's work, thanks also to the presence in the exhibition of autograph work by Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi and Piero di Cosimo.
The second section, focusing on the paintings of Pedro Machuca, explores the role that this painter played in Raphael's workshop in Rome in the 1510s and '20s, also assessing Raphael's influence on southern Italy through the work of Pedro Fernández, whose Italian career was played out between Milan, Latium and Campania.
The third section allows the visitor to admire some of the splendid sculptural works produced by Bartolomé Ordóñez and Diego de Silóe during their time in Naples in the second decade of the 16th century, when they embodied the very best in ‘Mannerist’ statuary. Their work is set alongside the production of Girolamo Santacroce and of Domenico Napolitano in order to gauge their impact on local Campanian culture.
The final section of the exhibition focuses on the work produced by these artists after their return home, to Valladolid, Granada and Toledo, thus allowing the visitor to measure the impact that their experience in Italy had on their style and on their figurative vocabulary.

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