From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca
Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master
February 1–May 1, 2005
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.
This Shakespearean conundrum, famously posed by Juliet, is of special significance for this exhibition, organized around two of the most fascinating works of the fifteenth century: paintings acquired from the celebrated Barberini Collection in Rome by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1935 and 1937, respectively. Scholars have puzzled over these works for more than a century, and if we are now able to identify their author as Giovanni di Bartolomeo Corradini, the quasi-mythical painter from Urbino, also known as Fra Carnevale, it is only because of recent documentary discoveries.
The biography of this remarkable artist takes us from Medicean Florence to Urbino, in the Marches, ruled by the great soldier-patron Federigo da Montefeltro. It involves some of the great names of quattrocento art: Filippo Lippi, Domenico Veneziano, Luca Della Robbia, Donatello, Michelozzo, and Piero della Francesca. And it embraces such key issues as: what we know about workshop practice; what we mean by artistic influence; and—most important—how fifteenth-century painters created an artistic identity and used that identity to assert their claims to the emerging concept of creative genius.
The exhibition unfolds in three chapters. The first is set in Florence in the 1440s and explores the workshop of Filippo Lippi, where Fra Carnevale is documented in 1445. The second casts a glance at some of Fra Carnevale's compatriots: artists who, like him, traveled to Florence from the Marches to acquire the rudiments of Renaissance practice and then returned to their native towns. Their curiously hybrid pictures—sometimes astonishingly imaginative—provide a meter by which to judge the achievement of Fra Carnevale. The concluding chapter unites the surviving works by Fra Carnevale with a masterpiece by Piero della Francesca, whose shadow falls across Fra Carnevale's finest paintings and epitomizes the artistic culture of Urbino.