Until April 2023, the art-loving public can view the restoration in-progress of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Allegory of Inclination, at Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence – the home of Michelangelo. From September 2023 to January 2024, the museum is hosting an exhibiton spotlighting Artemisia's tribute to Michelangelo and the 'science' behind the veil.
Meeting Artemisia Today
Artemisia’s compass-bearing allegorical figure (1616) has the North Star as guide, tributes the glories of Michelangelo, gives a nod to Galileo, and bears a striking resemblance to Artemisia herself. During its conservation, sponsored by Calliope Arts and Christian Levett, the canvas has been removed from its ceiling heights, and placed in the museum’s Model Room for once-in-a-lifetime close encounter. The public is invited to experience ‘Artemisia UpClose’ and discover the avant-garde restoration science whose under-the-surface mysteries are yet to be revealed. The project, which also foresees select refurbishment of the museum and a future exhibition focused on restoration findings, will keep Artemisia in the spotlight – literally and figuratively – until January 2024. ‘Meet Artemisia’ on weekdays, in the home-museum where she worked while five months pregnant, receiving a salary three times that of her male counterparts, and earning the esteem of her patron, now shared by posterity.
Following the painting’s restoration, the art-loving public will have the opportunity to pore over the results of the project’s detective work, says co-donor Wayne McArdle. “Scheduled to run from September 27, 2023 to January 8, 2024, Casa Buonarroti’s ground-floor exhibition rooms will host a show that shares our ‘virtual journey beneath the veil’. Artemsia’s Inclination carries a mariner’s compass, thought to be a nod to her friend Galileo’s theories on magnetism and movement, painted the very year the church declared him a heretic.
“The exhibition," says museum director Alessandro Cecchi, “will spotlight conservation findings and explore the context surrounding the painting’s creation, including the significance of her Florentine debut and her key relationships with Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and the city’s cultural milieu.”
It seems only fitting that the ‘Artemisia UpClose’ exhibition should focus heavily on the science side of restoration. Infrared research, reflectology, digital microscopy, x-rays and radiographs, multispectral imaging – are all techniques being used to restore the painting to the public’s eye – providing us a privileged view of her technique, as participating institutions raise awareness of the artist’s Florentine period, her achievements, and the important network of friends she made. May Artemisia’s network of friends grow to include many of us from modern times who admire – and strive to protect – her art for posterity. The show’s English language exhibition catalogue (The Florentine Press, 2023) will be flanked by the Italian language publication ‘Buonarrotiana’ series (2023 edition) featuring specialist studies on Artemisia and her time, followed by a lecture series with major scholars in response to the show. Participating international scholars include Mary Garrard, Sheila Barker, Elizabeth Cropper and Janie Cole.
“‘Artemisia UpClose’ foresees a plan to refurbish, revamp lighting and raise awareness for Michelangelo’s house the execution of a new, custom-made lighting plan for the Gallery Room, which is a treasure trove of ‘contemporary art’ from the seventeenth-century perspective,” says co-donor Christian Levett, of a project that involves the refurbishment of several areas within the museum, including improvements affecting the Model Room, Gallery, museum entrance hall and ticket office. “The project also foresees the creation of museum signage to make Casa Buonarroti’s story more accessible to the public,” explains Levett, whose experience at the helm of the Mougins Museum makes him keen on enhancing the public’s overall museum experience. “We are shining a spotlight on Artemisia in her ‘artistic home’ in Florence. It was the first museum ever to tribute an artist, and in it, Michelangelo is depicted as a divinity. With her painting, Artemisia played a role in determining how he is seen by posterity, and while she was at it, she tied his fame to her own.”
Casa Buonarroti and Florentine Perspectives
“Casa Buonarroti is Michelangelo’s home, but it is also ‘the birthplace’ of Artemisia’s legend – the larger-than life persona she built, in paint and in personality. She learned to read and write in Florence, but despite being newly literate, but she had the skill and the smarts to impress the greatest minds of her day,” says Margie MacKinnon, Calliope Arts co-founder and project donor. Her relationship with the city, which began with an introductory letter from her father, to Grand Duchess dowager Christina de Lorraine, was one in which she built foundational relationships – with Galileo, opera composer Francesca Caccini, and her lover Marenghi, and of course, Michelangelo the Younger, the academician and poet, who spent 30 years devising his palace’s seventeenth-century halls, where Artemisia’s painting resides.” The Younger, who paid her 3 times what her fellow painters earned for their own work on the ceiling – was to be namesake to her daughter Agnola who died before baptism. Florence would see the birth of Artemsia’s five children, and the death of all but one – as well as the creation of some of her greatest artworks. “The Inclination became her first real ‘business card’ that aided her emergence onto the Florence art-and-culture scene, a cultural climate in which she would later produce some of her greatest paintings – including her Judiths – for the Medici court,” MacKinnon concludes. “We are delighted the public can view Artemisia’s professional start though this painting. The Inclination’s guiding star, is ours as well – as the project reveals Artemisia’s fascinating development as a painter and a person.”
Led by Casa Buonarroti Foundation and Museum, this restoration is sponsored by Calliope Arts and Christian Levett. Project Coordinator Linda Falcone. Head conservator Elizabeth Wicks. Media Partners: Restoration Conversation / The Florentine. Special thanks to the Archaeological Superintendence for the Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Florence.
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Photos: Calliope Arts Archives, Ph. Olga Makarova