Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300 – 1350

Giotto di Bondone (Italian, about 1266 - 1337) / The Peruzzi Altarpiece, about 1310 - 1315

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

On view through 10 February 2013

16 March – 16 June 2013 / Art Gallery of Ontario

Though Los Angeles has only been an incorporated city since 1850, it is quickly catching up to the major art capitals of the world.  Its patrons have always been happy to look forward to the modern era, but with an exhibit of this scale we have the rare chance to look back to 1300 Florence, as textiles and banking and a rising middle class set the stage for one of the richest and most exciting periods in art history.

Compared to the East Coast and Europe, California museums have a small and scattered permanent collection.  However, under the careful eye of curator, Christine Sciacca, a few pieces have blossomed into 95 objects from 48 lenders – an exhibit that began to take shape in 2006, and bridges the change from Middle Ages to Renaissance Florence, up until the moment of the Black Plague in 1348.

The first thing you will see in the Exhibitions Pavilion is a wall-size photograph of contemporary Florence foregrounded by the Arno River, with the Duomo bursting in the center of the frame.  It is a sight many a visitor will recognize from their own travels, and as the gallery tour begins we are thrust back to the 14th century and an age when manuscripts like Dante’s Divine Comedy were brought to life with astounding illustrations by the likes of Pacino di Bonaguida.

Beyond illustrated texts there are panels and paintings from Bernardo Daddi (his “The Virgin Mary with Saints Thomas Aquinas and Paul” will be seen all around town this winter, advertising the exhibit) and Giotto di Bondone, whose “The Virgin Child with Saints and Allegorical Figures” is one of the most fascinating pieces on display.

It’s not a collection of recognizable pieces, necessarily, but rather one that sets the scene of a burgeoning artistic hub, putting paintings, panels and manuscripts into context and telling the story of a thriving city, so flush with art, faith and commerce that we may never see the likes of it ever again.