Last shades of summer: first tones of fall

Editorial Staff Exhibitions

The month offers a last chance to catch some of summer’s notable exhibitions: Islamic ornament in Frankfurt; baroque splendor in Florence; and Dufy ceramics in Ghent. Europe’s big event in September is the Twenty-sixth Biennale in Florence.

The Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt gets philo­sophical about the meaning of ornament.
In a small but insightful temporary exhibition of approximately forty objects set into its new permanent display of Islamic applied arts, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt compares and contrasts Western versus Islamic concepts of the term ornament. James Trilling’s statement that “Ornament is decoration in which the visual pleasure of form significantly outweighs the communicative value of content” (Ornament: A Modern Perspective [Seattle, 2003]) is used to summarize the Western attitude of ornament as surface decoration with no intrinsic meaning, or value. By contrast, the show points out that the Arab world has no equivalent translation of the word ornament, although the Muslim avoidance of depicting human forms led to an art replete in patterns.  Exquisite Persian artifacts—ceramics, bronze works, and richly decorated manuscripts from the museum’s collection—offer another interpretation in which pattern, repetition, abstraction, and transmutation playfully inspire intense observation.

The show suggests that ornament should be interpreted as “an intrinsic part of the artistic language of a culture that cannot be measured by European standards.”

Das Ornament: Spiel, Ordnung, Schönheit (Ornament: Play, Order, Beauty) · Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt · through October 25 ·

Fernando I de’ Medici
Florence celebrates the artistic pa­tronage of Ferdinando I de’ Medici four hundred years after his death with the aim of at last finishing his never-completed Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes).

The special superintendent of the Polo Museale of Florence and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure together commemorate Ferdinando I de’ Medici with an exhibition at the Museo delle Cappella (Museum of the Medici Chapels) and at the Chapel of the Princes. Focusing on the years of his 1587 to 1609 reign as grand duke of Tuscany, the show (and its accompanying catalogue, in Italian only) glosses over the long-held suspicion that Ferdinando poisoned his elder brother and sister-in-law in order to gain the duchy. Rather, he is here celebrated as the benign leader who reestablished Tuscan independence and bolstered artistic production through his lavish patronage, which everywhere reinforced this image.

The exhibition looks especially closely at two of his commissions. The first is the extensive festivities and related decorations created for his 1589 marriage to Christina of Lorraine, granddaughter of Catherine de’ Medici, queen of France. Triumphal canvases created for the wedding, three of which have been newly restored, have been reunited for the first time in centuries. The assemblage sheds new light on festival celebrations of the time, while providing a nuanced look at the overlapping of older and younger artists then at work in Florence.

The Chapel of the Princes above the Medici tombs, which Ferdinando began in 1604 as his and his family’s mausoleum, is also explored in depth. Dazzlingly rich pietre dure elements created for the altar during the duke’s lifetime and dispersed in 1799, as well as extant drawings and plans, hint at his intentions. The show also explores the numerous subsequent proposals and modifications up until the “temporary” wooden structure, which was hastily erected in 1937 and which remains there to this day. The curators hope that their exhibition will not only shed light on the artistic achievements of Ferdinando’s epoch but will also inspire a respectful completion of an altar that the duke would be proud of.

Ferdinando I de’ Medici, 1549-1609: Maiestate Tantum · Museo delle Cappelle Medicee, Cappella dei Principi, Florence · through November 1 ·

Dufy ceramics
Belgium’s Design Museum Gent presents an in-depth look at ceramics by Raoul Dufy.

The French artist Raoul Dufy, often inaccurately pigeonholed as a fauvist, is renowned for applying his exuberant, colorful vision to diverse objects and mediums. He switched effortlessly from painting, drawing, and engraving to designing textiles, tapestries, wallpaper, and theatrical sets. He also, from 1923 until 1930 and then again from 1937 to 1939, worked in ceramics, which the Design Museum in Ghent showcases in Belgium for the first time.

Including many pieces from French and Belgian private collections, the exhibition features the vases that Dufy made in collaboration with the Catalan master ceramicist José Lloréns Artigas as well as the miniature “apartment gardens” that he later created with Artigas and Catalan architect and landscape designer Nicolás Rubió y Tudurí. Dufy’s flowing brushstroke emphasizes the infinite circularity of the vases and, in the numerous examples with aquatic themes, lends a watery quality to the hard surface of the fired earthen vessels. Examples of Dufy’s decorative paintings place his ceramics into context.

Raoul Dufy Ceramics · Design Museum, Ghent · through October 11. ·

Florence Biennale
Florence’s biennial international antiques fair, opening September 26, proudly celebrates its fiftieth anni­versary this year.

Housed in the resplendent baroque rooms of the Palazzo Corsini sull’Arno and with an installation by the designer Pier Luigi Pizzi, the Twenty-sixth Biennale—Mostra Mercato Internazionale dell’Antiquariato presents objects and artworks as sumptuous as its venue.  Treasures such as an early seventeenth-century Neapolitan veneered and inlaid stipo (chest), which Walter Padovani of Milan will display; or an eighteenth-century pair of marquetry chests of drawers “ad urna,” which Antichità Barbara Cesaro of Padua will offer, feel at home amidst the palazzo’s ornamented interior.

Powerhouse galleries such as J. Kugel Paris, Pelham of London, and Grassi Studio of New York lend the fair an international flavor. However, seventy-two of the roughly ninety dealers scheduled to show there are Italian and many of the foreigners plan to showcase Italian art and objects. Åmells of Stockholm and London, for example, will feature Antonio Bellucci’s luxuriant Diana Sleeping; while Trinity Fine Art of London will display a glazed terracotta cherubim by the Florentine master Andrea della Robbia.

Twenty-sixth Biennale—Mostra Mercato Internatiozionale dell’ Antiquariato (International Antiques Fair) · Palazzo Corsini, Florence · September 26 to October 4 · www.biennaleantiquariato.

Images from above:
Bustan [Orchard] by Sa’di, Iran, 16th-century edition. Stamped and tooled leather binding; gold and pigments on paper; 9 7⁄8 by 6 1⁄2 inches (page size). Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt.

Music or Opera Garden by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), c. 1927. Tin-glazed earthenware; height 16 1⁄2, width 12 5⁄8, depth 5 1⁄8 inches. Private collection © ADAGP.