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A window into Renaissance Italy is now on display in Auckland

The senior curator at the Auckland Art Gallery shares what she loves about The Corsini Collection, an impressive exhibition now showing from Italy.

By Jessica-Belle Greer
The Corsini Collection at Auckland Art Gallery

It took years to make it a reality, but finally a collection of Renaissance and Baroque era art and artifacts to rival those in Europe has made its way to Auckland.

The Corsini Collection includes is an impressive array of art and insights to famed Florentine family and passionate art patrons, The Corsini.

The impressive show includes paintings by the likes of Botticelli as well as furniture, costumes, kitchen equipment and a lavish dining room set for six, for a decadent vignette of their home, the Palazzo Corsini.

We caught up with the Auckland Art Gallery's senior curator, Mary Kisler to find out more about the impressive exhibition.

Matteo Rosselli, The Triumph of David 1610, oil on copper, Florence, Galleria Corsini.
Matteo Rosselli, The Triumph of David 1610, oil on copper, Florence, Galleria Corsini.

This is the first time this collection has left Italy, and the first Florentine private collection to be displayed in New Zealand, which is no small undertaking. How did the project come together?

I expressed interest in getting a Florentine exhibition when Mondo Mostre, the organising company, first came to Auckland four or so years ago.

They came back to me in 2015 when I was researching Frances Hodgkins in Marseilles, so I jumped on a plane to meet the family at Palazzo Corsini. The exhibition gradually evolved from there.

Do you have a favourite piece or room in the collection?

A favourite is the room about Renaissance Florence. A number of the paintings in this room are tremendously rich in meaning, not least Botticelli’s Virgin and Child with Six Angels, painted in 1500. The sadness on the Virgin Mary’s face, and her tiny child’s attempt to comfort her, is so moving. The work is exquisitely painted, and the colours sing.

Sandro Botticelli and Workshop, Madonna and Child with Six Angels circa 1500, tempera and oil on board, Florence, Galleria Corsini.
Sandro Botticelli and Workshop, Madonna and Child with Six Angels circa 1500, tempera and oil on board, Florence, Galleria Corsini.

The collecting does not just include art pieces but domestic details, from costumes to kitchen pots, why is this important for the exhibition?

We decided that the exhibition had to be as much about the family as the collection. It was our job at the gallery to decide how we might group the objects and relate them to the paintings.

I’m very fortunate to work with such dedicated designers, who have worked tirelessly to pull the project together.

One of the first paintings we see in the exhibition, Saint Andrea Corsini, is made all the more striking for the two bullet-holes around the Saint’s forehead. What is the historical significance of this painting?

Guercino’s portrait of their family saint, Andrea Corsini, was placed on a false wall behind which part of the collection was hidden in 1944 (during World War II).

Short of time, when the Germans arrived and spotted the damp plaster on the edges of the walls, they shot Sant’ Andrea in the head.

Florentine Painter after Francesco Rosselli, The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria 16th–17th century, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria Corsini.
Florentine Painter after Francesco Rosselli, The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria 16th–17th century, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria Corsini.

What do you hope those who come to view the collection come away with after their visit?

I hope that people will leave the exhibition having had a very rich experience, not just with the paintings, but the way we have chosen to contextualise them.

At the back of my mind always, are the people who might have loved to travel to Italy, but have never been able to.

In a small way we have brought Italy to Auckland. Having seen the show, we can see the similarities (and the differences) between our own lives and our histories, and feel the richer for it.

The Corsini Collection is on now until Sunday 21 January 2018.

Main image: Detail of Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Glorification of the Corsini Family: Sketch for the Ceiling Fresco of the Presentation Room of the Palazzo 1694–95, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria Corsini.

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