A haven in the crowds of Florence

Queuing for art seems to be the order of the day. David Hockney at the Royal Academy is drawing big crowds. But by far the biggest blockbuster of them all is the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery which has brought together a good number of his extant paintings (he was never over productive!) and as such is advertised as a ‘once in a life time’ experience. But it doesn’t make for satisfactory viewing and it’s not only in London that large queues abound, it’s just as bad abroad.

If you thought that the wait for entry at the Louvre was bad enough, you should try the queues outside the Uffizi in Florence. Mass tourism and a thirst for art is the culprit and of course there is a universal desire to see the great artworks of the Italian Renaissance. Safe behind large sheets of bulletproof glass, you can just about see the Botticelli’s Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Leonardo’s Annunciation above the heads of the assembled crowd. However, for quality viewing in Florence head instead to the Marino Marini Museum. It’s in a deconsecrated 15th Century Church called Saint Pancrasio and is an important showcase for this unjustly neglected Italian Sculptor’s work. It is not often that churches can be turned into successful contemporary spaces but in this case the conversion works and it compliments the modernist style of the artist presented, with galleries and viewpoints sympathetic to the range of the artist’s drawing, painting and sculpture. It’s a great place to sketch in and its tranquil setting allows for uninterrupted opportunities to study and sketch the artist’s work.

Of course the shock is to find modern art in Florence at all, although these days many would consider that an artist working in the middle years of the 20th Century is no longer part of the contemporary scene. Marino Marini (1901-1980) was an Italian Sculptor who, along with Giacomo Manzu (1908 – 1991) was one of the best known figurative Italian sculptors of the last century. His strongest work was made in the 1940s and 5Os when his themes – the human figure and horse & rider seemed fresh and significant. His contemporaries were Henry Moore in England, Alberto Giacometti and Germaine Richier in France. They all worked figuratively or in a semi abstract/figurative manner that showed expressive handling of their material and a concern for the human condition. In this Museum the visitor can see a wide range of Marini’s work which includes drawings, paintings, etchings, plasters and finished bronzes with the horse and rider his most famous and recurring motif.

As with other successful artists with international reputations, the expectation to be continuously creative leads Marini into repetition and to the making of larger and larger works for corporate clients. Henry Moore is a good example of this gargantuanism, as is Calder and Claus Oldenberg. This often resulted in a reduction in quality and in this Marini is no exception. By the later 1960s a new wave of Italian Sculptors – the Arte Povera Group – principally Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merze seemed to be much more exciting and relevant to the times with Kounellis actually bringing live horses into the Galleria L’Attico as part of his installation work ‘Untitled (12 horses)’ 1969 and another where a live parrot is included sitting on its perch. (These days an attendant is necessary to stand with the parrot and indeed the horses.)

Kounellis (12 horses)

In time we will be queuing round the block to see the work of the Arte Povera group. Meanwhile the quietest gallery in Florence is available for the student to study, draw and admire the work of the great Italian Sculptor Marino Marini.

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