Published: 14:27, April 19, 2024
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A century often overlooked finally gets into focus
By Zhang Kun
A painting dating back to about 1770 is among the exhibits at The 18th Century Masterpieces, reflecting cultural exchanges between the East and the West. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

From Goya and Tiepolo to Boucher and Chardin, the ongoing exhibition of paintings from the Uffizi Galleries in Shanghai includes 80 paintings by 50 European masters from the 18th century.

The fourth exhibition borne out of an agreement to present 10 exhibitions of art from the Italian institution at Bund One Art Museum over the next five years, The 18th Century Masterpieces runs until Aug 25.

The past few years have witnessed a number of exhibitions in Shanghai and elsewhere of masterpieces of European art from the collections of renowned museums such as London's National Gallery, Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid National Museum, and Nice's Matisse Museum.

"I think the time has arrived for Chinese audiences to know about the 18th century, an important period in Western art history, even though it is less known than, for example, the Renaissance," says Alessandra Griffo, curator of the exhibition.

The 18th century saw the emergence of many important artworks that are widely present and influential in modern and even contemporary art, says Xie Dingwei, founding director of the Bund One Art Museum.

It was also during this period that the Medici nobles ended their rule of Florence, which lasted just over 300 years. The last of the line, Anna Maria Luisa (1667-1743), bequeathed the family's art treasures to the city in 1737, after her brother Gian Gastone died without an heir. The art collected by the family and their successors are the foundation of the Uffizi's collection today.

An exhibited oil on canvas painting from 1753, A Lady in Turkish Dress Reading by Jean-Etienne Liotard from the Uffizi Galleries. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The majority of the paintings on exhibition are in China for the first time. Even in Italy, some are usually kept in storage as the Uffizi is being renovated and many rooms will not reopen to the public for several more years, Griffo tells China Daily.

She suggests that the audience compare the exhibition with Titian's Flora: Venetian Painting from the Uffizi Galleries, which is taking place upstairs at the same museum.

"The richness of color in Titian's art can be found also in some of them, though the artists make very different choices," she says. The palettes of 18th century artists featured more smooth and delicate hues, especially during the middle period from the 1720s to '70s.

"I think somehow Chinese people will appreciate this delicacy which is less evident in other periods."

Portraits of ordinary people, as opposed to royalty and clergymen, also began in this period, and children were included. The 18th century also witnessed the birth of tourism.

"You will find city views of Venice, Rome, Florence and Naples at the exhibition, which are the same scenes nowadays people come to Italy to see," Griffo says.

The curator has also included three paintings from China painted during the same period. The Grand Duke of Tuscany loved China and Asian themes so much that paintings from China were used to decorate his cabinets.

They depict scenes of silk processing, people traveling by carriage and countryside landscapes. "I think in this way you can see how East and West met," Griffo says.

If you go

The 18th Century Masterpieces: From the Uffizi Galleries Collections

10 am-6 pm, April 12-Aug 25

Bund One Art Museum, 1 Zhongshan Road East One, Huangpu district, Shanghai