Reviews, News and Commentary

Renaissance: The Age of Genius – A spectacular view of the art of the past

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Renaissance: The Age of Genius

Hunua Room, Aotea Centre, Auckland

From January 4

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples


Last year one of the great visual art treats was the impressive multimedia show  Michelangelo – A Different View which provided viewers with an extraordinary view of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

This week a similar  immersive exhibition opens at the Aotea Centre.  RENAISSANCE: THE AGE OF GENIUS  brings together about 500 works by the major artists of the Renaissance including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Giotto, Peter Bruegel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albert Durer. Each artist is presented in a four minute filmic sequence showing numerous works by the artist.

The images are of works from dozens of  art museums  around the world and  are presented using specialist multimedia projections which provide visitors with remarkable views of some the great works of art, many of which are difficult to see in their far-flung locations.

The forty minute filmic presentation opens with a magnificent view of Florence where many of the artists lived and worked. It is a view which would have been the same back in the fifteenth century.

This grand vista is followed by dramatic views of the ten artists’ works. Some are presented life size others in great detail such that the face of  Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” is shown five metres high showing not just the detail of the painting itself but also the crazed paint surface . You could never get to see such detail standing even s few  metres away from the painting in The Louvre.

The least impressive is that of the work of Lucas Cranach where his works are presented all the same size on a scrolling “exhibition” of his work.

There is no commentary to any of any of the sequences  but they all provide clever presentations and interpretations of the artist’s work. Some of Leonardo’s inventions such as his  flying machine have been animated to show the working mechanisms and number of his portraits demonstrate the way he was able to render faces with genuine human  qualities.

Animation also brings to life some of Bruegel’s paintings such as his “Hunters in the Snow” where the distant figures of skaters on the ice are seen moving.

With Titian  the works are elaborate stories of classical  and Christian mythology while the Botticelli sequence contains works such as his  “Nativity” which combines earthly and divine  perspectives. Botticelli’s “Primavera” and “Birth of Venus” are example of the influence of classical mythology on Christian ideas. This sequence also shows the evidence of animation with petals floating over the images.

The sequence on Giotto opens with his small angels floating in the brilliant Lapis Lazuli  blue sky. His works demonstrate the beginnings of  the move from stylisation to naturalness and three-dimensional portrayals of figures and landscape.

The dramatic Caravaggio sequence depicts the sweet charm of many of his figures along with the darker underside of human nature  with the swirling snakes of his “Perseus” as well as the premonition of death in his “St Jerome”

With Durer one is aware of his interest in close observation of his world, demonstrating an enquiring mind  very much like that of Leonardo as he records his environment as well as the faces of the people he painted.


Then there is the grandeur and enormity of scale with the work of Michelangelo and Raphael.

A major fault of the exhibition is the chronology of each artist, with no dates or titles of the works being shown so there is no real comprehension of their developments. There is a separate screen for each artist providing basic information of their careers and occasional details of work but these are of limited value.

The show lets one appreciate the development of perspective, the understanding of human anatomy, depiction of landscape and the combination of the mythic and local. One is also aware of how the human face, hand gestures  and posture are developed by the artists.

The exhibition is an art journey across two centuries of ground-breaking art but it is also a journey into the paintings in a unique experience.

New details are revealed, new connections between artists realised and new understandings gained

In seeing the detail of these works, one appreciates the gift of close observation and the skill in depiction which are the hallmarks of the great painter / genius. These are individuals who changed the way we see and understand our world and the ideas which maker our visual culture.

Its an exhibition which will entertain, educate, challenge and delight the whole family.

Bookings and times

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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