An exhibition of exceptional importance and beauty is dedicated to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini of Venice’s miniature collection. Illuminated manuscripts and pages that document the high level achieved by book illustration in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance are being presented to the public for the first time. It was then that the art of the miniature flourished throughout Europe, accompanying and enriching religious and profane texts, patiently written and painted by calligraphers and illuminators in monasteries, convents and secular studios. Prestige clients celebrated themselves with high quality pictures in the secret pages of books for reading and prayer. The resulting historic pathway leads on from the Romantic age to the followers of Raphael and Michelangelo. The big figured initials and friezes of the pages of the large codices used by the chorus for divine song document at a high level the move from Byzantine art to the new language of Cimabue, Giotto and the Sienese painters, the naturalism and the studied refinement of the late Gothic and then the perspective and brilliant dictums of the Renaissance. Works by the main illuminators active in the Italian peninsula are present in the collection and among them also famous painters.
Although some entire manuscripts are included in the collection and also in the exhibition, the specific nature of the Cini collection is that it is largely made up of pages or fragments taken from codices, membra disiecta separated from their original context and collected mainly because of the pictures they contained, as is true of only a few other European and American collections. The story of the collection and its specific nature are thus fundamental and as such open the exhibition. The phenomenon of the ancient and modern reuse of miniatures is introduced through some highly significant pieces: the collage of miniatures taken from different codices, the cutting, the miniature that becomes a painting to be exhibited vertically and the copy. The works in the central room are displayed rather according to chronological and geographical order, with the aim of giving an overall view of the main illumination schools in the Italian peninsula. But here, too, an effort has been made to always relate the work to the peculiarity of the collection. Nuclei of sheets and cuttings of initials taken from the same volumes or attributed to related masters and workshops are grouped in the cabinets, which evoke those of a collector. In this staging curated by an exceptional partnership, that of the Milan-based Studio De Lucchi, it is fundamental and will remain an outstanding exhibition example.
Special display cases then show the illuminated manuscripts, among which several stand out in particular: the sumptuous, tiny Libro d’Ore illuminated for Ludovico Il Moro as a gift for King Charles VIII, a masterpiece of Lombard illumination from the end of the fifteenth century, the Martirologio used by the Confraternita dei Battuti Neri di Ferrara, richly illuminated by two distinct illuminators at the beginning and end of the fifteenth century, and the fifteenth-century copy of Petrarch’s Canzoniere decorated in the Florentine area.
The exhibition title is intended to emphasise that the making of these illuminated works is the fruit of the work of ‘mindful hands’. Calligraphers, pen decorators and brush illuminators, also working together, were able to achieve results of a superb quality. Their time, slow and with close observation, is the time and the way of looking that visitors are also called on to make today so that their eyes may see and understand. Only in this way will the senses and mind of modern man grasp that which in the past was a perfect relationship between word, image and music.
In the last rooms the communication of the past makes way for the multi-media of the present through the work of the Madrid studio Factum Arte, directed by Adam Lowe.