The Great Rustici Emerges From the Shadows





FLORENCE — By the time Giovanfrancesco Rustici’s bronzes for the Baptistery of Florence’s cathedral were being cast at the end of 1509, Leonardo da Vinci had left the city forever, never to return.

Vasari declared the bronzes “the most perfect and harmonious by a modern master” and nothing to rival them was made in Florence until the arrival in the city of Giambologna nearly half a century later. Rustici’s “Preaching of St. John the Baptist,” hoisted into position over the Baptistery’s north door in 1511, was reputed to be the result of some form of collaboration with Leonardo, the exact nature of which remains uncertain.

Rustici was one of the great Renaissance sculptors in his own right, but his reputation has been obscured by his small output, now widely scattered. After being in place for nearly 500 years except for a brief period during World War II, his statues over the north door were removed in 2006 to rescue them from the effects of weather and air pollution.

After a painstaking program of cleaning and conservation, the statues now form the centerpiece of a revelatory exhibition at the Bargello Museum: “The Great Bronzes of the Baptistery: Giovanfrancesco Rustici and Leonardo,” curated by Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi, director of the museum, Tommaso Mozzati and Philippe Sénéchal. The nearly 40 pieces in bronze, terra cotta, marble, maiolica and on panel and paper come from 19 collections in Europe and the United States....

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