The Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale's new exhibition of paintings from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, will make you long for a Christianity for Dummies guide or at least a set of biblical CliffsNotes. As the posted introduction makes clear, we are about to embark on a long exploration of the Christian path of redemption. It will take us from the creation of Adam through the sacrifice of Isaac to the Annunciation, and from there on to the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
But there is no need to abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Abundant wall text will guide you through this journey. And you'll need it — unless you re willing to settle for the most superficial of museum experiences, or you already happen to be a scholar specializing in Bible studies or Italian Renaissance painting. Get ready to read, and be prepared to commit a little time to the show, which is for neither the faint of heart nor the short of attention span.
The exhibition is the latest in the Museum of Art's series of religious-themed extravaganzas, following 2003's "Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes," 2006's "Cradle of Christianity: Jewish and Christian Treasures From the Holy Land," and the more recent "Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art." The good news is that "Offering of the Angels" is far less object-oriented — the emphasis is on painting rather than artifacts. There are 45 works, mostly oil paintings, along with a couple of huge tapestries.
The Uffizi is one of the oldest and greatest repositories of religious Renaissance art outside the Vatican. The gallery's collection is so vast that some of these works have never been on public display until now, and many others have never traveled outside of Italy. MoA is the first of four American destinations for the show, which previously traveled to Madrid and Barcelona.
The presentation gets under way with Jacopo Da Empoli's massive The Creation of Adam (1632). It's a startlingly earthbound interpretation of an event familiar to most of us from the grandeur of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendering. Here, God is a bent, bearded old man whose touch of life seems almost pedestrian.
The nearby The Sin of Adam and Eve, from the early 1600s, is a much more vibrant work in which the original couple looks surprisingly modern. The painting is labeled "after Frans Floris," an artist from Antwerp, although a handout confuses it with a tinier, tamer version of the same scene by an anonymous Florentine painter. Not a good sign for an exhibition so heavily dependent on its supplementary materials.
From here on, the show proceeds more or less chronologically. An early highlight is the magnificent Sacrifice of Isaac (1550-55) by Jacopo Robusti, the Venetian artist better-known as Tintoretto. The painting captures the dramatic moment when an angel stays Abraham's hand just as he is about to sacrifice his son.
The exhibition hits another high point midway through with a series of images portraying Mary and Joseph with the young Jesus and Saint John. Bartolomeo Schedoni's miniature panel The Child Jesus Points Out Passages of the Old Testament to the Virgin in the Presence of Saint Joseph and the Young Saint John, from the early 17th Century, is typical. An eerie touch common to several of these paintings is the way one or both of the children clutch a cross-like object that prefigures the Crucifixion.
Aside from Tintoretto, the other big-name artist included is Alessandro Di Mariano Filipepi, more commonly known as Sandro Botticelli. He's represented by just one painting, the Madonna With Child of circa 1466-67, restored in the 19th Century. The wall text informs us that his famous Primavera, The Birth of Venus, and The Adoration of the Magi are also in the Uffizi collection.
At some point, you may find "Renaissance fatigue" setting in. I succumbed somewhere between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. It's not that the art itself goes downhill — there are impressive paintings right up until the end. Rather, the religious subject matter may wear down all but the most rigorous devotees of Christian iconography.
The capper comes in a form of crass commercialism all too common these days. Instead of allowing visitors to leave the exhibition in a state of meditative calm, the museum hits us up for cash, first with a donation box for the Uffizi Gallery (the Medicis must be rolling in their graves), then with a little gift shop peddling its wares. I couldn't help recalling the story of Christ driving the money changers from the temple.