Hugo Chapman, Exhibition Curator
For the last couple of weeks we’ve been carefully installing the exhibition in the Reading Room. It’s been an exciting – if slightly nerve-wracking – time as the plans we’ve had in place for so long are finally realised.
Perhaps strangely for a drawings exhibition, the first work to be installed was a first-century classical marble sculpture of the Roman wine-god, Bacchus. He’s one of the star pieces in our Greece and Rome department and has just returned from a world tour of British Museum masterpieces.
The revival of classical art and learning is central to the artistic revolution that occurred in Italy in the 1400s – the French word Renaissance that we use to describe the period means rebirth and was coined by artists and scholars of the period to claim that they had revived the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. In truth the classical world had never disappeared, but it is true that artists began to look at ancient sculptures with a new intensity.
Marble figures like Bacchus encouraged artists to recognise the sensuality and beauty of the human body. The sculpted Bacchus presents an idealised vision of the perfect male body. Such are his charms that lipstick has had to be cleaned off him more than once – I’m hoping he will continue to cast his spell without us needing to wipe off the lip gloss.
But now we’re turning our attention to paper – so much part of our lives that we tend to take it for granted, but this exhibition transports us back to the 1400s when it was a new and precious material.
The Chinese invention of papermaking had been brought to Europe via the Islamic world. The invention of the printing press in Germany in the 1450s gave a huge impetus for papermaking, above all in Italy which was the most literate and urbanised region of Europe.
Renaissance paper was handmade from cloth fibres (not wood pulp as today) obtained from old clothes, sails and ropes.
Fortunately for us paper’s durability makes it possible for centuries-old drawings like those we’re displaying in this exhibition to travel safely. However, like the venerable voyagers they are, the Renaissance drawings from the Uffizi need time to rest after their journey from Florence. After a few days to acclimatise the Uffizi drawings will be ready to be hung on the walls of the Reading Room.
I can’t wait to see them out of their crates and on the walls.
Marble statue of Bacchus (Dionysus)
Drawings in storage, ready for display