British Museum blog

Renaissance under review

Hugo Chapman, Exhibition Curator

Andrea Mantegna, Allegory of the Fall of Ignorant Humanity

I’ve just got back to my desk from the press launch of the exhibition and although it’s just gone midday I feel exhausted. I gave a 10 minute speech to the assembled journalists in the Reading Room and then fielded a few questions. Thankfully the grandeur of the setting, with Sidney Smirke’s Pantheon-inspired vault above us and the beauty of the Renaissance drawings, had a calming effect.

Only time will tell whether this will wear off once they return to their computers to write their reactions to the exhibition. So far the reviews have been excellent, but will the drawings of Verrocchio, Leonardo and the others conquer all?

Tonight it’s the launch party with hundreds of guests invited. Sadly all the curators at the Uffizi in Florence, who I was so looking forward to showing around the exhibition, have been prevented from coming by the volcanic ash. It’s a subject worthy of a Renaissance allegorical painting: Vulcan trampling on Mercury (the gods of volcanoes and the arts respectively) but with Fame blowing a trumpet, and perhaps the party loving Bacchus, providing a more positive spin on events.

In the exhibition there’s an eye-catching, if somewhat bleak, allegory of this kind showing mankind, represented by a blind woman, being led to a precipice by a variety of dodgy characters including Deceit, Ignorance and Folly. This is definitely an image one should keep in mind during this election period.

I imagine it will feel a little odd to be in the exhibition with quite so many people. Over the last weeks I’ve grown used to the space with just a handful of people putting up the drawings. An exhibition that has for the past three years existed first in my head, and then in the evolving plans of the designer, will finally be viewed.

Aside from the predicted laid-back and unimpressed reactions of my two teenage sons, I hope that the opening crowd like what they see.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Image caption: Andrea Mantegna, Allegory of the Fall of Ignorant Humanity (‘Virtus Combusta’) About 1490-1506

Filed under: Exhibitions, Italian Renaissance drawings, , , , , , ,

5 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Hugo,
    Good Luck with the exhibition, although i am sure you won’t need it. wish i could come over from New York! Unbelievable beauty, isn’t it amazing these things exist? i actually love the drawings more so than the paintings a lot of the time and they just looked at them as blueprints for paintings. Michelangelo actually burned most of his drawings before he died-can you imagine? Thanx for the blog, really great.
    All the best,
    Lida Drummond


    • Lida, thanks for your best wishes for the show which is open to the public today. You’re right the drawings are chance survivors and it’s amazing that fragile pieces of paper have made it through five centuries. Michelangelo would have hated seeing his working studies on the walls, but one comes away from looking at them with a greater admiration for his creative genius.
      Hugo Chapman, Exhibition curator


  2. Agnes says:

    I spent more than 3 hours at the exhibition this afternoon and of course I will visit it more than once. It’s a wonderful exhibition, I liked how you have used the videos, and the “parcours” of the exhibition itself allows the works to echo each other. It was nice to lose my way, to have the impression that the exhibition was endless. And the beauty of the dome just above is enhanced by the beauty of the works of art below. Thank you!


  3. Lizzie Fane says:


    I’m so excited to come and see the Italian Renaissance Drawings exhibition at the British Museum – even 4 years down the line your ‘Michelangelo drawings: Closer to the Master’ exhibition is still discussed among friends and my favourite of all time. Can it be trumped?! Looking forward to finding out…



  4. Beverley says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition especially with the audio accessory. My favorite pieces were the above drawing, the cheetahs and leonardo’s possible drawing of an early tank (the cone shape military vehicle).

    It was fascinating to see the methods and paper/vellum used and the comparison of the sketches with the finished painting.

    I had not known about the exhibition until posters showed up outside our local train station last month which is a shame but am now set to receiving updates from the museum hurrah!


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