Jenny Saville at Museo Novecento

Multi-sited display of works by the renowned British artist.

Situated in the picturesque piazza Santa Maria Novella, the Museo Novecento is a well-known hub for contemporary and modern art. The museum dedicated to 20th century art is under the artistic direction of Sergio Risaliti, and is located in the former Spedale of the Leopoldine, imbuing the exhibition centres with a sense of history despite its inauguration in the relatively recent year of 2014.

The impressive space is divided into 15 exhibition halls and is home to two permanent collections: one, donated by Alberto Della Ragione consisting of works by Giorgio de Chirico, Mario Mariotti and Maurizio Nanucci, and the second is the legacy of Ottone Rosai. 

Currently on display in the temporary exhibition spaces are works by the renowned British painter, Jenny Saville. On show until February 20, 2022, the works by the prominent artist explore the human body in a striking engagement with both the past and the present, with traces of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning and even the great European pictorial tradition. 

The artist was born in Cambridge in 1970, and her paintings and drawings from the 1990s through to today make up the display. Her research is focused on the body, on flesh, and particularly on female subjects that are seen to be grappling with existence.

The exhibition also expands beyond the boundaries of the Museo Novecento with works also on display at the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo degli Innocenti, and Museo di Casa Buonarroti. These works are excitingly juxtaposed alongside masterpieces like those of Michelangelo, creating a unique dialogue between the Renaissance and her works which are figurative yet abstract. Accompanying the show is a busy calendar of events that includes guided tours, painting workshops, drawing courses, and ‘thought meetings’ around the exhibition that’s promoted by the Municipality of Florence, organized by MUS.E and supported by Gargosian. 

At the Museo Novecento, the works on display include Saville’s Rosetta II (2005-06), a large-sized portrait of a young blind woman portrayed as a cantor or mystic in ecstatic concentration. It will be visible both day and night above the altar inside the former church of the Spedale in an intriguing contrast with Giotto’s wooden crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella that’s visible from across the churchyard when the door is opened. 

Palazzo Vecchio, on the other hand, is the temporary home for the large-scale work titled Fulcrum (1998-99), which established Saville as a major contemporary painter when displayed as part of her first solo exhibition at Gagosian in New York in 1999. The room featuring the Bandini Pietà (c.1547-55) at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is host to Saville’s Study for Pietà (2021) that’s a condemnation of violence in a dramatic conversation with Michelangelo’s great work.

At the Museo degli Innocenti, viewers will find Saville’s The Mother (2011) positioned alongside Luca dell Robbia’s Madonna and Child (c.1445-50) and Botticelli’s Madonna and Child with an Angel (1465-67), as with Saville’s Byzantium (2018). Finally, Museo di Casa Buonarroti sees drawings by Saville positioned amongst the maestro’s sketches. 

The museum has also recently launched another “travelling” initiative, with its Outdoor project that plans to present 20th century paintings and sculptures in schools, hospitals, prisons, care facilities, and libraries from November through to May 2022 in a move to spread passion and awareness for 20th century art to a wider audience. 

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