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Patti Smith tours Revealing the Early Renaissance

April 4th, 2013

Giotto di Bondone Italian, about 1266 – 1337 The Peruzzi Altarpiece Tempera and gold leaf on panel 105.7 x 250.2 cm The North Carolina Museum of Art

Giotto di Bondone, Italian, about 1266 – 1337, The Peruzzi Altarpiece, tempera and gold leaf on panel, 105.7 x 250.2 cm, The North Carolina Museum of Art

A guest post by Sasha Suda, coordinating curator of Revealing the Early Renaissance and AGO assistant curator of European Art

Patti Smith and curator Sasha Suda look at Pacino di Bonaguida's painting The Chiarito Tabernacle.

Patti Smith and curator Sasha Suda look at Pacino di Bonaguida’s painting The Chiarito Tabernacle.

On March 9, 2013, Patti Smith came to the AGO to preview the Revealing the Early Renaissance exhibition. In preparation for her arrival, I read an interview where Patti described the inspiration that St. Francis brought to her work: “In this period of my life his idea of simplicity and of being close to nature is what I wish to aspire to. It’s simply his example. It’s that simple. He is a holistic example of how to conduct oneself in the world.”

In that same interview, she discussed helping to restore one of Giotto’s frescoes from his famous fresco series at the church of St. Francis of Assisi. This boded well — we have four works by Giotto in the exhibition, and even one image of St. Francis painted by the master himself (far-right panel in The Peruzzi Altarpiece, above).

Patti’s passion for the art on display was palpable as soon as she entered the exhibition space. It was clear that she had seen a great deal of medieval and Renaissance art — she hardly needed a guide.

After taking in the art, Patti asked me a question that addressed one of the exhibition’s most meaningful nuances: who was Pacino di Bonaguida and didn’t he seem to be doing something far more mystical than the other artists in the show?

Pacino di Bonaguida (active about 1303–about 1347) The Crucifixion ca. 1315–20 Tempera and gold leaf on panel Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, (cat. 1980, n. 19.) EX.2012.2.16, cat. 4

Pacino di Bonaguida (active about 1303–about 1347), The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20, tempera and gold leaf on panel, Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, (cat. 1980, n. 19.), EX.2012.2.16, cat. 4

Specifically, Patti asked about the Longhi Crucifixion (see left) painted by Pacino. “Why is the background black?” Pacino approached imagery in new ways — painting the black background to accurately depict the biblical account describing the darkness that followed Christ’s crucifixion. “I’m sure that Pacino was a mystic,” I explained to Patti. “He chooses the theological resonance of darkness over the opulence of a gold background.” My favourite part of this painting, I confessed, was Mary Magdalene’s hair — “Isn’t it wild?”

Patti took the painting in for a moment more, and but it wasn’t until that night that I realized what she had been thinking about. During her performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, she incorporated our conversation into her song Beneath the Southern Cross (click here to watch her perform the song and hear what she had to say).

Seeing and hearing Patti Smith riff off of Pacino di Bonaguida, the great early Renaissance manuscript painter, was one of my best-ever curatorial moments. Thanks, Patti.

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