Focusing on the periods of Mannerism and the early Baroque, Strokes of Genius showcases over 80 masterpieces of Italian draftsmanship selected from the collection of Chicagoans Jean and Steven Goldman, including nearly 60 drawings never before seen in public. Recent acquisitions of works, ranging from a figure study by Baccio Bandinelli to a composition drawing by Salvator Rosa, are shown with two dozen significant drawings from the Goldmans’ original collection, including masterpieces by Pietro da Cortona, the Carracci, and Francesco Salviati. The exhibition, which features many of the Goldmans’ promised gifts to the Art Institute, also includes about 20 related works from the museum’s prints and drawings collection that provide greater historical context for this prodigious era of Italian art.
The exhibition focuses on “The Art of Composition” by displaying drawings from the late 15th to the mid-17th century according to their intended function. Organized by drawing type—figures, head studies, and compositional drawings—Strokes of Genius invites viewers to compare the use of media and technique in each category. Most were executed as working drawings to develop compositions for paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. Unique to this collection is the unusual opportunity to display more than one study for a single project; the multiple preparatory sheets for one commission allow viewers to witness the thought process of the artist as he searches for his form, rejecting and changing ideas. Two sheets by Francesco Vanni (1563–1610) for The Coronation of the Virgin, created for the Chiesa del Santuccio in Siena between 1610 and 1614, beautifully illustrate this process.
In addition to working drawings, the exhibition includes meticulously finished virtuoso presentation renderings that were executed as works of art in their own right, including a set of the Four Evangelists by Guercino (1591?–1666). The increasing demand for presentation drawings reflects the value placed on drawing as its own medium, capable of conveying artistic genius and worthy of collecting for its singular merits. In addition to well-known artists of the period, the exhibition includes a number of stellar works by masters who were once deemed minor, but have since been reconsidered by scholars.
An exhibition catalogue, prepared by independent scholars Jean Goldman and Nicolas Schwed, includes essays situating the collection within the context of Mannerism and examining the role of drawing in the business of art. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Art Institute will host an international symposium on Friday, October 31, titled “The Role of the Itinerant Artist in the Dissemination of Romanism in the 16th Century.”