Major artists share spotlight at exhibitions

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Art lovers in Shanghai have much to look forward to this December, with two major exhibitions of paintings by Caravaggio and da Vinci.

Comprised of 63 paintings, six of which are by Caravaggio (1571-1610), Caravaggio: Wonders of the Italian Baroque will take place at the Museum of Art Pudong from Dec 12 till April 12.

Meanwhile, at Who Is Leonardo Da Vinci?, which will run from Dec 10 to April 14 at the Shanghai Museum, 12 pieces by the master will be on display.

A rare treat

Despite his prominence, Caravaggio did not leave behind many paintings, and even fewer can be exhibited outside of Italy, according to Li Minkun, chairperson of Pudong museum.

The exhibition is the first time the legendary artist has been the central figure of an exhibition in China.

It has been curated by Francesco D'Arelli, director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Shanghai, and Francesca Cappelletti, director of the Borghese Gallery in Rome, which is renowned for its Caravaggio collection and for its sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).

"You can't imagine how hard we have worked to bring together a show containing six Caravaggios," D'Arelli said at the news conference, adding later that three paintings from the Borghese Gallery, including the Boy With A Basket of Fruit, will be on show in Shanghai.

The curators have also managed to borrow another three Caravaggios — one from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, another from a private collection, and the third, Crowning With Thorns, from the Banco Popolare di Vicenza collection in Prato.

A violent genius

Not long after leaving Milan for Rome, Caravaggio became known not only for his artistic talent, but also for his violent and provocative personality. He once had to flee to Naples after he killed a man in a brawl and was sentenced to death, and later became involved in another violent altercation which resulted in his face being disfigured. Caravaggio died in 1610 under mysterious circumstances.

A genius who invented new techniques and pioneered the use of certain colors, Caravaggio changed the rules of art, according to D'Arelli.

His paintings have been described as the manifestation of his observations of the physical and emotional state, and often feature dramatic lighting. They have also been credited for their deep influence on Baroque painting, a movement that began at the start of the 17th century in Rome. Baroque paintings are known for their use of contrast, movement, deep colors and sense of surprise to convey awe.

Paintings by 41 Baroque artists from the end of the 16th to the mid-17th century will also be on display at the Pudong museum.

Located in the former Villa Borghese Pinciana, and originally a private collection, the Borghese Gallery was started in the 17th century and became a public museum in 1902.

The exhibition in Shanghai has been designed by Aldo Cibic, who was also responsible for A World of Beauty — Masterpieces from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, a critically acclaimed exhibition held at the museum earlier this year.

Going big on da Vinci

As the largest display of work by da Vinci (1452-1519) in China, the Shanghai Museum's Who Is Leonardo Da Vinci? is based on a dialogue between Renaissance masters, led by da Vinci, and Chinese artists from the same period.

The highlight is La Scapigliata, or the lady with disheveled hair, from the collection of the Galleria Nazionale di Parma, the only oil painting of the artist's that may be displayed overseas.

The last time it traveled abroad was in 2019 for an exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris, according to Chu Xiaobo, director of the Shanghai Museum.

Eleven pages from the Codex Atlanticus, a set of drawings and texts, will be shown in China for the first time. The manuscript, which is now part of the collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, covers a wide range of subjects, including studies and sketches of paintings, mechanics, mathematics, astronomy as well as inventions such as the parachute, war machinery and hydraulic pumps.

Presented by the Shanghai Museum and the Institute Giovanni Treccani for the publication of the Italian Encyclopedia, the exhibition features 18 treasured Renaissance artworks from Italy, as well as 18 ancient Chinese paintings from the collection of the Shanghai Museum.

Also on display are pieces by other Renaissance masters, including two sketches by Michelangelo (1475-1564), and paintings by pupils of da Vinci.

The Shanghai Museum has selected 18 paintings from its collection of Chinese art as part of an artistic dialogue with the Renaissance masters. The most famous is arguably Tang Yin's (1470-1523) Lady With Fan in the Autumn Breeze, according to Ling Lizhong, the head of the ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy department at the Shanghai Museum.

Also known as Tang Bohu, Tang Yin is a household name in China, and this painting is regarded as one of his most famous, even though it has been 25 years since it was last on public display at the Shanghai Museum.

La Scapigliata is an unfinished painting in oil, umber and white lead pigments on a small poplar wood panel. It is the outline of a young woman, face gently angled downward, disheveled hair flowing behind her with half-closed eyes and ambiguous smile. It is frequently compared to the Mona Lisa.

"Museum-goers will find that Chinese artists had developed a completely different set of techniques to depict similar subjects, such as the portrait of a woman," says Ling, referring to Tang's painting, which dates to around the same period.

"The Shanghai Museum is the only institution capable of having an exhibition of this kind," says D'Arelli, also the curator.

"Thanks to its large and colorful collection, we can now imagine this dialogue between da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance, and the masterpieces of his Chinese contemporaries."

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