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Exhibitions/ Painters of Reality

Painters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy

May 27–August 15, 2004

Exhibition Overview

This major international loan exhibition features some eighty paintings and forty drawings that document the North Italian region's distinctive emphasis on observation of the natural world, beginning in the fifteenth century with Leonardo da Vinci's stay in Milan, through the eighteenth century. A central figure in the exhibition is Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, through whom this naturalist approach came to Rome and became of key importance to Baroque art there and throughout Europe. Also featured are works by such notable exemplars of the Lombard school as Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Giacomo Ceruti, and the important women artists Sofonisba Anguissola and Fede Galizia. This is the first time that this great school of Italian painting has been presented in the United States in such depth.

Full recognition of the contribution of Lombard painters to the history of Italian art is relatively recent. Yet, it is arguable that North Italian painting was among the most innovative schools of Italian art and the galvanizing force behind the creation of Baroque art. Caravaggio, who was trained in Milan, and Ludovico and Annibale Carracci all viewed themselves as Lombard painters and heirs to a rich legacy. This exhibition broadens understanding of the important contributions of the many original and highly influential artists working in Northern Italy, especially in the areas of portraiture, still life, nature studies, and the Leonardesque idea of capturing in paint "the motions of the mind."

The exhibition focuses on the aspects of Lombard painting that set it apart in the minds of contemporaries—such as the insistence on drawing and painting from a live model—and led to its practitioners being considered "even greater imitators of nature" than the Venetians. Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus (about 1600–1610, National Gallery, London) or Savoldo's Saint Matthew and the Angel (about 1534) exemplify perfectly the Lombard preference for devotional painting grounded in humble reality. The development of still life and genre painting, another key element in Lombard art, is also examined in the exhibition. The haunting canvases of Giacomo Ceruti, who was active between 1720 and 1767 and was best known for his sympathetic portrayals of the poor, such as Women Working on Pillow Lace (The Sewing School) (1729s, Private Collection, Brescia), are a revelation.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and thematically into four sections, beginning with "Leonardo and the Idea of Naturalism," which includes an important group of Leonardo's nature studies as well as works by his followers. "Brescia and Bergamo: Humble Reality in Devotional Art and Portraiture" focuses on a region that produced numerous artists, such as Moretto da Brescia and Giovanni Battista Moroni, whose work had a great impact on Caravaggio. The following section, "Toward a New Naturalism," looks at Cremona and Milan at the time of Caravaggio, and the fourth section, "Painters of Reality," considers artists in Lombardy after Caravaggio. This last section, and the exhibition as a whole, takes its name from a classic exhibition presented in Milan in 1953 in which the remarkable naturalism of these later Lombard artists, such as the great portraitist Fra Galgario, was introduced to a larger public for the first time.

The exhibition was made possible in part by the Regione Lombardia.

Additional support was provided by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and APIC (Associazione Promozione Iniziative Culturali di Cremona).

An indemnity was granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.