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SPECIAL TICKETED EXHIBITION

August 24, 2017 – January 14, 2018

A Favorite of the Medici

Visitor takes a closer look at the back of a painting.
According to his biographer, Dolci would recite the litany "Ora pro nobis (pray for us)" between each brush stroke and sometimes write inscriptions on the back of his canvas. The Medici’s Painter included a fine example of such a canvas, so visitors were able to see Carlino’s tiny florid script. Photo by J Caldwell.

The Nasher Museum was proud to present The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th-Century Florence, the country’s first-ever exhibition of the remarkable paintings and drawings by Carlo Dolci (1616-1687). A favorite of the Medici court, Dolci was a celebrated and popular artist in his day, but his personal and original interpretation of sacred subjects fell out of favor in the 19th century. The Medici’s Painter invited us to see this artist with new eyes. The meticulously painted and emotionally charged works that were carefully selected for this exhibition, from U.S. museums as well as important private collections and major museums in Europe, allowed for a reassessment of an Old Master painter whose reputation deserves to be restored.

Dolci was a precocious child, entering the workshop of Jacopo Vignali at the age of nine. Very early, his extraordinary gifts as a painter were discovered by Don Lorenzo de’ Medici and other powerful persons in Florence, who recognized Dolci’s remarkable ability to render details from nature, especially facial features and hands, as well as complicated drapery. As a boy and throughout his life, he was called “Carlino” (little Carlo), possibly because of his short stature and humble character. He was also extremely pious. If not diligently practicing drawing or developing his painter’s craft, he often could be found praying in Santa Maria Novella.

When it comes to the art of painting, in the future the world would be less beautiful if every century did not have its Carlino.

Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, 1681-1728

In Florence

In 1632, when he was 16, Dolci opened his own workshop in Florence. One of his pupils was Filippo Baldinucci, who would become the leading connoisseur in Florence, and the author of the official biography of his “beloved Carlino.” Unlike most of his contemporaries, Dolci refused most commissions for large altarpieces and frescos. Baldinucci tells us that, rather early in his career, Dolci vowed to paint only religious works. A handful of portraits have survived, however, including the exhibition’s dashing Portrait of Stefano della Bella, which demonstrates Dolci’s skill in capturing the sitter’s personality as well as every fold and ruffled edge of the multi-layered linen collar.

The Medici’s Painter also contained a rare still life, Vase of Tulips, Narcissi, Anemones and Buttercups with a Basin of Tulips. The Medici coat of arms in the middle of the gilded vase suggests it was a commission he could not turn down. Dolci’s real desire, however, and his spiritual mission, was to paint intimate depictions of divine subjects that would inflame the faith of those who viewed them.

The Medici’s Painter gave us an opportunity to study Dolci’s painstaking application of paint using ultrafine brushes, and only a few bristles, or the concentration it took to make tiny details look so real, as in the lace on the cloth beneath the Christ child’s feet in the foreground of The Virgin and Child with Lilies from Montpellier. One of the first things visitors will notice about a Dolci picture is his brilliant sense of color, achieved by his access to expensive materials, such as real gold and ground lapis lazuli, which accounts for the beautiful blues. There is often a high finish that gives the surface a smooth, enamel-like quality.

Visitors enjoying the exhibition on Family Day. Photo by J Caldwell.

Dolci the Perfectionist

Dolci’s technique was time-consuming and exacting. He was notoriously slow, a perfectionist who might take as long as 11 years to finish a canvas to his own satisfaction. Another habit contributed to the inordinate length of time: According to his biographer, Dolci would recite the litany Ora pro nobis (pray for us) between each brush stroke and sometimes write inscriptions on the back of his canvas. The Medici’s Painter included a fine example of such a canvas, so visitors were able to see Carlino’s tiny florid script.

“Dolci was an incredible colorist and an impeccable draftsman,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “Visitors will delight in his perfect rendering of hands and faces — and will be dazzled by his colors, such as the intense blue made from ground lapis lazuli.”

Catalogue

The Medici’s Painter was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Davis Museum at Wellesley College ($35, Yale University Press). The Medici’s Painter features essays by Straussman-Pflanzer and other leading early modern scholars: Francesca Baldassari, Edward Goldberg, Lisa Goldenberg Stoppato and Scott Nethersole.

The catalogue was edited by exhibition curator Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European art department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The catalogue is available at the Nasher Museum Store.

Modern Art Notes Podcast

Host Tyler Green interviews curator Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European art department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts

While at the Nasher

Peruse the mini website for this exhibition while it was on view at the museum.

Organization & Support

Nasher Museum Director Sarah Schroth with Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, during the opening event for The Medici’s Painter. Photo by J Caldwell.
Nasher Museum Director Sarah Schroth with Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, during the opening event for The Medici’s Painter. Photo by J Caldwell.

The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th–Century Florence was organized by the Davis Museum at Wellesley College and curated by Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European art department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

At the Nasher Museum, this exhibition was made possible by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, with additional support from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation; the E.T. Jr. and Frances Rollins Family Foundation; Patricia Roderick Morton; Katie Thorpe Kerr and Terrance I. R. Kerr; the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Foundation, in loving memory of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian; Lisa Lowenthal Pruzan and Jonathan Pruzan; Kelly Braddy Van Winkle and Lance Van Winkle; Caroline and Arthur Rogers; and Karen M. Rabenau and David H. Harpole, M.D.

This project was supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.

At the Davis Museum, the exhibition was generously supported by the Wellesley College Friends of Art at the Davis Museum; Davis World Cultures Fund; E. Robbins ‘92 Art Museum Fund; National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts Museum Program Fund; Anonymous ‘70 Endowed Davis Museum Fund; Wentz Museum Program Fund; the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.; and the Office of the Provost and Dean of Wellesley College.

Audio Guide

Embark on a journey, traveling back to Florence to the middle of the 17th-century to meet an extraordinarily gifted painter and draughtsman, affectionately known to his contemporaries as “Carlino,” or little Carlo, – possibly because of his short stature and humble character.
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