On display at Museo Novecento and Palazzo Vecchio from September 30 to February 4 are over 30 works by the London-born artist Cecily Brown, who resides in New York. The series on show is inspired by the Temptations of Saint Anthony, a subject treated by the young Michelangelo when he was asked by his master Ghirlandaio to copy an engraving by Martin Schongauer. A similar copy from a private collection is exhibited alongside the works, forming part of the intriguing dialogue between the contemporary and the extraordinary artistic heritage of the Renaissance.
The title chosen by the artist reflects the instability and continuously moving nature of our lives, while also evoking the ascetic life, spiritual battles, and privations of the saint. Brown is currently featured in a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, with her works on show in Florence for the first time.
The display in Palazzo Vecchio provides the rare opportunity to see a lesser-known room, Bianca Cappello’s Camerino, continuing the dialogue between contemporary art and the great figurative art of the past centuries. Brown exhibits a single canvas in the former dressing room of Bianca Cappello, the mistress of Duke Francesco I de’Medici. The room has a small window that allowed her to secretly observe goings-on in the Salone di Cinquecento. The work on show conceals a naked female body, with personifications of the Three Graces, Andromeda and Leda.
The distribution of weight and colours elicits both personal and universal emotions, with an extraordinary beauty that may also be quite frightening. Cecily Brown elaborates, “The minute there is a clear image, the mind settles. And I don’t want it to settle. I like the restlessness, the openness and the ambiguity that are all there when there’s a constant shift going on.”
Her sumptuous painting style is dynamic yet controlled, as curator Sergio Risaliti commented, “Over the years, Cecily Brown has managed to appropriate a new expressive language, which combines a profound analysis of the great western figurative pictorial tradition with the experiences of the American avant-garde, in particular those of abstract expressionism”.
Brown graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1993 and has worked in New York since 1994, creating works that merge the figurative of the past with contemporary languages. Her distinctive works interweave many influences, taking her fascination with the Old Masters, Romanticism, and the Impressionists along with other contemporary and popular culture influences, fueling her tackling of traditional subjects rendered original. Risaliti details, “Her way of painting comes close to the performance, to a kind of ecstatic ritual that never loses control and lucidity, demonstrating the ability to confront both the greatness of the past and the radicalism of the twentieth-century avant-garde”.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of workshops and tours, and can be visited from 11am to 8pm, every day except Thursday.