The Frick Collection is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to Luigi Valadier, subtitled “Splendor in Eighteenth Century Rome.” To me, the name Valadier evoked only the Casina Valadier, a building on the Pincio, in Villa Borghese, where I would meet friends for coffee. (It has now been refurbished and is also a restaurant and event space.) It turns out that the neoclassical Casina was built by the architect Giuseppe Valadier who was the son of the Luigi of the Frick show. Luigi (1726 – 1785) was a master draftsman and designer and a silver- and goldsmith. His parents had moved from France to Rome and his father too was a silversmith – Luigi’s career began in his father’s workshop. Luigi and his assistants produced objects, both religious and secular, for the pope, for noble families and for the tourists (foreign aristocrats) for whom Rome was an important destination on the Grand Tour. Although Valadier’s workshop produced hundreds of objects, most of the silverware and gold was pillaged and melted down during the Napoleonic wars so relatively few works survive today.
The Frick show is divided into three sections. One focuses on religious works, including the complete set of silver and gilt bronze statues from the altar of a cathedral in Monreale. Another is dedicated to secular objects – my favorite is a silver coffee pot with a wooden handle. The third part revolves around what I would call more whimsical works of art that use and include a remarkable range of materials. For the pope, Valadier mounted spectacular antique cameos in a frame that includes other cameos and antique gems. They are rather astounding. Yet the highlight of this section is a “deser” or large table centerpiece comprised of small recreations of ancient temples, arches and obelisks made of an incredible array of stones, marbles and metals. It’s an intricate and stunning masterpiece. All in all, I was glad to learn about this artist who amazed me where I didn’t expect to be amazed.
There are still a few weeks left to see the Met Breuer’s retrospective of Marisa Merz. Merz, who was born in 1926, is the only female member of the Turin-based Arte Povera movement and spent much of her career in the shadows of well-known men, including that of Mario Merz, her husband. This exhibit brings her into the forefront and her works are revelatory, both intimate and grand. Arte Povera’s distinctive trait was the use of cheap or discarded materials to create works of art that are often on a monumental scale. Marisa Merz arranged her works in her house, rather than in a gallery, and they seem to have arisen from her home life and base regardless of their size. There are about 100 pieces in this show and it is strange, moving and beautiful, worthy of its name: “The Sky Is A Great Space.”
A lovely exhibition at the Frick showcases the drawings of Andrea del Sarto, the Florentine sixteenth century artist. The show highlights the creative process and the role of drawing in the Renaissance workshop. The drawings on view at the Frick span del Sarto’s career. They are amazingly nuanced and mostly in red and black chalk. Possibly the most striking drawings are the various head studies, amongst which are the Study for the Head of Julius Caesar – most elegant – and the expressive Study for the Head of Saint John the Baptist. Also in the exhibition are three finished paintings, including a masterful (the draping of the sleeve – wow!) Portrait of a Young Man and an innocent yet sensuous Saint John the Baptist from Palazzo Pitti.
Glassblowing as a technical breakthrough in the making of glass occurred in the first century BC. Glass vessels could thus be made more easily and new shapes and decorations were produced. Inflating glass in molds that were carved with designs created vessels of varying shapes with complex decorations in relief on their surfaces. Ennion, probably from Sidon in today’s Lebanon, was a master craftsman in one of the earliest glass workshops in the first century AD. He was among the first glassmakers to incorporate his name into the inscription in the mold’s design and his pieces were well-known and popular. His vessels have been found all over the ancient Roman world leading to the conclusion that they were traded throughout the Mediterranean. Today there are just over 50 known pieces by Ennion in collections. A small exhibition at the Metropolitan museum gathers 24 of them, many still intact, and highlights their delicacy, sophistication and timelessness. The show includes pieces by other makers of the period and is all together informative and beautiful.