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Renaissance Art and Its Continuators

The three-part exhibition project ‘Labelled by Vasari’ at the Arsenal in 2021–2024 juxtaposes works from The Pushkin Museum with contemporary art. The theme of the first exhibition was the Gothic period, while the second is devoted to the Renaissance and the Classical principles that it brought to international culture and art.

The Renaissance cast the foundations of modernity. Reviving the Antique world and the canons of Classical civilization, Italian humanists and subsequently the intellectuals of Northern Europe tried to restore the image of the ideal harmony between man and the world that, in their opinion, had existed in Classical art before being lost during the thousand years of the Middle Ages. The work of philosophers, writers, artists and scholars of the 14th–16th centuries preserved the achievements of Antique culture for generations to come. As the art historian Erwin Panofsky noted, ‘From the Renaissance classical Antiquity is constantly with us…. It lives in our mathematics and natural sciences. It has built our theatres and movie houses…. It haunts the speech of our cab driver…, and it is firmly entrenched behind the thin but thus far unbroken glass walls of history, philology and archaeology.’ Naturally, the influence of Antiquity is also felt in contemporary art, as one can see in the works of Russian artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that are exhibited here.

The exhibition presents a wide range of artworks from the collection of The Pushkin Museum — from paintings, graphic art and sculptures to books, medals and decorative art. These items stem from the Museum’s Departments of Old Master Painting, Graphic Art and Numismatics as well as its Research Library. Among them are paintings by Lorenzo di Credi, Sebastiano Mainardi and Willem Key as well as artists from the circles of Sandro Botticelli and Bernardino Pinturicchio; engravings by Andrea Mantegna, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Martin Schongauer; graphic works after drawings by Raphael and Filippino Lippi; bas-reliefs by followers of the sculptors Lorenzo Ghiberti, Giovanni della Robbia and Benedetto da Maiano; medals by Antonio Pisanello; and books by Sebastiano Serlio and, of course, Giorgio Vasari, after whom the present project is named.

These historical works are accompanied by contemporary art from The Pushkin Museum, private collections, and artists’ workshops that bears the mark of Renaissance culture and reflects its continuing influence on our worldview. The exhibition includes artworks by the Agency of Singular Research (Anna Titova and Stanislav Shuripa), Elena Artemenko, Maxim Atayants, Uldus Bakhtiozina, Pyotr Bely, Sergey Boyarintsev, Evgenia Buravleva, Egor Kraft, Valery Koshlyakov, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Alexandra Mitlyanskaya, Timur Novikov, Egor Plotnikov, Alexander Ponomarev, Mikhail Rozanov, Aydan Salahova, Maria Safronova, Natalya Struchkova, Olga Tobreluts, Ivan Chuykov, and Anton Chumak.

The different sections of the exhibition are devoted to key Renaissance notions, themes and images that have influenced the development of world culture. The exposition begins with reflections on the image of man and his changing place in the world under the impact of humanist philosophy. Next come examples of Renaissance piety and its new attitude to Biblical themes, followed by the key theme of the Antique canon and its continuation in the Classical tradition of European art. The exhibition then turns to the theme of nature, which Renaissance artists considered in a totally new light. The second-floor enfilade ends with a room dedicated to the role of science and rational cognition in Renaissance culture. Two special sections of the exhibition are located on the first floor of the Arsenal. One of them presents architectural engravings from the collection of Maxim Atayants alongside his own graphic works. The second section contains items of the 19th and 20th centuries from The Pushkin Museum that imitate Renaissance aesthetics.

The exhibition’s architectural design by Bureau Alexander Brodsky profoundly transforms the space of the Arsenal. The continuous, uninterrupted perspective creates an effect of infinity, recalling the trompe-l’oeil architecture of Renaissance paintings. The regularly spaced columns and gradually rising floor give a rhythm of calm and solemn ascent to the visitor’s movement, fully in keeping with the aspirations of Renaissance artists.