The natural universe of Giovanna Garzoni brings Palazzo Pitti back to life

Flowers, plants and exotic shells, bizarre insects and animals with expressions bordering on the human: the forms and the poetry of nature take pride of place in the exhibition entitled “The Greatness of the Universe in the art of Giovanna Garzoni” hosted in the Andito degli Angiolini from 28 May to 28 June 2020, in Florence, Italy.  100 works of art, in the first major exhibition devoted to this Baroque artist and friend of Artemisia Gentileschi, bring the Florentine grand-ducal palace Palazzo Pitti back to life after lockdown. Director Eike Schmidt: “Garzoni’s art marks the rebirth of the Grand Dukes’ palace after a long moment of darkness and silence”.

With this substantial retrospective (the first large monographic exhibition devoted to the Baroque female painter from the Marche) the Gallerie degli Uffizi was planning to celebrate a major female figure to mark Women’s Day on 8 March 2020. “Hibernated” by the lockdown, however, the exhibition has now become a symbol of the return to normal life after the closure of almost three months occasioned by the COVID-19 epidemic. The exhibition comprises roughly 100 paintings, illuminations on parchment (Garzoni’s favourite support) and drawings, in addition to a large floral frontal altar over 4 mt. in length, accompanied by and interacting with period porcelain, ivory pieces and Renaissance bronzes. Imaginative and inquisitive by nature, Garzoni, who was born in Ascoli Piceno in c. 1600, considerably expanded her stylistic vocabulary thanks to the remarkable penchant for travel that made her one of the most cultivated and cosmopolitan women painters of her age.  She lived at the courts of Venice and Turin, spent several years with the Medici in Florence, worked in Naples and in France, where she painted a portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (on display in the exhibition), and even frequented the court of King Charles I in England, a fact borne out by documents on show in this exhibition for the very first time. She was a friend of Artemisia Gentileschi, that other great woman artist of the 17th century, with whom she shared both travel and experiences and who was something of a role model for her in that she was a few years Giovanna’s senior. Shrewd in currying favour with her patrons, Garzoni specialized in miniatures on parchment, excelling in particular in the depiction of still-lifes with exotic curios and subjects taken from the plant and animal world. A leading player in the cultural affairs of her age, she rapidly built a reputation for herself and was admired throughout Europe, to the point where she was even portrayed in her old age by Carlo Maratta, the prince of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca and future restorer of Raphael’s masterpieces. Giovanna Garzoni was endowed with astonishing intellectual inquisitiveness and originality, which translated into penetrating and stringent observation of the natural world. The vast corpus of her work owned by the Gabinetto Stampe e Disegni degli Uffizi is supplemented in the exhibition by a series of loans from private collections and from Italian and foreign museums illustrating the full creative spectrum of her career. Of particular interest are her precious floral miniatures with vases in the Chinese style and shells from tropical countries and her still “yet living” lives with fruit, exotic plants and small animals of all kinds (from insects depicted in their infinite variety to snails, birds and crickets) alongside the exhibition’s iconic work, she celebrated English Small Dog portrayed on a table with a Chinese cup and some biscuits.


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