Da Vinci’s Lady With An Ermine

At the moment, the hottest ticket in Berlin is for “Gesichter Der Renaissance” (Renaissance Faces), an exhibition now at the Bode Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of Renaissance portraiture, and includes the works of Italian artists Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, and Pisanello. There are paintings, busts, medals, and drawings depicting the development of portraiture as an independent genre. Although I’m not a fan of Italian Renaissance art, I do appreciate its beauty and technical skill. The exhibition is breaking all attendance records, and tickets are sold out within hours after the ticket office opens each day.

The Bode Museum located on Museum Island
Yesterday, I decided to see what all the excitement was about. After waiting 1.5 hours to purchase my ticket and then another 45 minutes to enter the exhibition, I wasn’t disappointed. Often these mega-exhibitions turn out to be all hype and no substance. Moreover, I feared the exhibition would be so crowded that I would be unable to appreciate the individual installations. I needn’t have worried. Only 300 people are allowed into the exhibit at one time, and the curators have made sure that there is plenty of room to display each individual work.

Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci
by Botticelli.
Simonetta died at the
age of 23 of tuberculosis,
a year after this was painted
The exhibition also uses the latest technology to enrich the experience. For example, the price of admission includes an audio guide but not just any audio guide. The audio guide is a Smart Phone that provides commentary about individual works and also has video commentary and musical accompaniment. You can see what the inside of a 15th century bust looks like, how works of art are arranged in an exhibition to maximize their appeal, and how imagining helps art historians discover more about an artist and his style of art. There is even a commentary just for children. I also learned how oils replaced egg tempera as the artist’s medium of choice.

Portrait of Giovanni di Francesco Tornabuoni
by Ghirlandaio
The exhibition travels to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art later this year (December 19th). However, some of the pieces can only be seen in Berlin since some of the lenders do not want their pieces to make the costly and dangerous transatlantic flight.