Enfilade

Exhibition | Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on September 17, 2017

Now on view at the Bargello:

Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory and Its Progeny of Statues
La Fabbrica della Bellezza: La manifattura Ginori e il suo popolo di statue
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 8 May — 1 October 2017

The exhibition is divided into six thematic sections illustrating the transformation of sculptural invention into works of porcelain. The first section opens with an 18th-century life-size bronze Venus, a copy of the celebrated Medici Venus in the Uffizi Tribune. Sculpted by Massimo Soldani Benzi in 1702, the bronze was commissioned by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein and still forms part of the present prince’s collection, this exhibition marking its first return to Italy in over 350 years. It stands side by side with a large porcelain Venus made by Gasparo Bruschi in 1747–48, probably using the plaster moulds which Carlo Ginori purchased from Soldani Benzi’s workshop. The two Venuses are, in turn, displayed alongside a monumental porcelain Mercury based on another Classical statue in the Uffizi Tribune. The Mercury, now in the Ginori Lisci Collection, is on display for the very first time in this exhibition, not only with the Venus but also with the monumental Fireplace alongside which it stood in the old Museo di Doccia until 1962, because the Museo Ginori has kindly granted the loan of the two most important works in its entire collection: the Medici Venus reproducing the celebrated statue in the Uffizi Tribune, and the monumental Fireplace specially restored for the exhibition.

Tempietto Ginori, modeled by Gaspero Bruschi, 1750–51; glazed and painted porcelain, heigh 167 cm including ebony base (Museo dell’Academia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona).

The second section is devoted to the superlative Ginori Tempietto Ginori, a masterpiece by Gasparo Bruschi which Carlo Ginori himself donated to the Accademia Etrusca in Cortona. The Tempietto, of exceptional sophistication in terms of its technique and design and unique in terms of its size, summarises in concentrated form not only the artistic aims but also the political aspirations of the manufactory’s founder. Specially restored for the exhibition, it is returning to Florence for the first time since 1757. Alongside it we have Giambologna’s small bronze and wax models of Mercury, from the Bargello Collection and the Museo Ginori respectively, which inspired the Mercury atop Gaspare Bruschi’s Tempietto.

The next room hosts two large, complex bronze and porcelain versions of the Pietà. In 1708, Soldani made the model for the large Lamentation over the Dead Christ, of which numerous versions are known. Carlo Ginori purchased the plaster moulds—some of which are on display in the exhibition—which were used for the porcelain version that the Marchese Ginori gave to the influential Cardinal Neri Corsini around 1745. The group was made in fifty-nine different porcelain parts, individually fired and then assembled by the manufactory’s craftsmen in Sesto Fiorentino.

Somewhat smaller but equally sophisticated in terms of their execution are the groups of Judith with the Head of Holofernes that comprise the exhibition’s fourth thematic section. Gaspare Bruschi’s porcelain version, on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum, is displayed in an unprecedented dialogue with Agostino Cornacchini’s terracotta model, the first sculptural study for this popular group.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ, after Massimo Soldani Benzi, 1745–50, glazed porcelain, height 71.5 cm not including ebony base (Rome: Palazzo Corsini).

This is followed by Soldani’s precious bronze ‘pictorial’ relief depicting the Passing of St. Joseph and the wax model based on the bronze, from the Bargello Collection, which are on display alongside the preparatory study in unfired clay, it too in Italy for the very first time, testifying to the Ginori Manufactory’s plan to produce porcelain versions of it—none of which have, however, survived.

The exhibition’s ‘grand finale’ is the monumental porcelain Fireplace, an absolutely unique work, which may be attributed to Doccia’s chief modeller Gasparo Bruschi and to Domenico Stagi, a stage set designer and painter of quadrature. The piece is a veritable triumph of technical mastery and ornamental sophistication. Its upper part hosts porcelain versions of works by illustrious sculptors, the oval bas-relief with ‘putti distilling flowers’ after a bronze by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi and copies of Dawn and Dusk which Michelangelo carved for the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the Medici Chapels.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue rich in new research, published by Mandragora in both Italian and English. The catalogue entries explore the manufactory’s artistic and political history, using essays focusing on the works on display to set Ginori’s porcelain sculpture, whether monumental or on a smaller scale, in the broader artistic and political context of the time, and presenting a number of important new attributions. The catalogue also contains fascinating input from experts in the manufacture of porcelain, not only reviewing the manufactory’s history but also illustrating previously unpublished material and highlighting the unique technical nature of Ginori’s inventions.

La Fabbrica della bellezza has also served as a formative experience for two university students who have taken part in all of the various phases in the development of the exhibition project and drafted the catalogue entries on the basis of an apprenticeship agreement with Florence University’s SAGAS Department. The exhibition and catalogue have been designed and produced with a grant from the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, with the sponsorship of Richard Ginori and with the collaboration of Firenze Musei; Opera Laboratori Fiorentini and Arteria have also contributed in their capacity as partners for the layout and transport respectively.

In addition to acquainting the general public with an exceptional chapter in the history of Florentine sculpture, the exhibition also sets out to draw the attention of Florentine and international public opinion to the fate of the Museo di Doccia. The generosity of international loans for the exhibition points to the intense interest in the the museum and the manufactory shown by numerous institutions both in Italy and abroad. In that connection, we would like to express our special gratitude to HRH Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein for granting the exhibition his lofty patronage.

Tomaso Montanari and Dimitrios Zikos, eds., Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory and Its Progeny of Statues (New York: ACC Publishing, 2017), 160 pages, ISBN: 978 88746 13496, $30. Also available in Italian.

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Note (added 17 September 2017) — Aileen Dawson provides a review of the exhibition in the current issue of The Burlington Magazine (September 2017), pp. 748–49.

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