Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, Old Master of the Anti-esthetic

THE DAILY PIC: In the Brooklyn Museum, a Renaissance sculptor who cherished antiquity's awkward moments.


THE DAILY PIC (#1623): Tourists may be better at using New York’s great museums than we locals are. We look in the paper to see what shows demand our attention, whereas visitors to town just head to the museums, Everest-wise, “because they are there,” then wander the halls until they seem something striking. That’s the old-fashioned, uncurated museum experience that we are in danger of losing as we obsess over the spectacle of special exhibitions. It’s the kind of undirected experience that leads to discoveries like today’s Pic: A pair of angels carved in around 1550 by the Renaissance sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a pupil of Michelangelo’s who works I recently spotted on a random, tourist-y visit to the European galleries at the Brooklyn Museum. The Daily Pic will linger in those galleries for the rest of this week.

Montorsoli’s gloriously clumsy, burly sculptures give the lie to the notion that the Italian Renaissance was about a commitment to “beauty” (whatever that is) that we’ve since lost. Look closely at Renaissance art, and you’ll see as much interest in the anti-aesthetic as you would in any 21st-century biennial. We just can’t recognize it, because the passage of time eventually aestheticizes anything old.

I wonder if that same phenomenon might just be the source of Montorsoli’s peculiar figures. Looking back in time for the supposed “perfections” of Greek and Roman culture, he may have come across sculptures from the fading years of the Western Roman Empire, and decided to root his own work in their bold awkwardness. The pedigree and age of such late-Antique art allowed Montorsoli to recast its failings as virtues. (Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Frederic B. Pratt)

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