The final week of February in Australia means, among other things, that another summer is almost over. Yet in contrast to the fleeting nature of lived experience, a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia calls attention to the enduring power of art to capture and convey human passions, fears, and values. A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence is a compact, forty-piece exhibition of Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces loaned by the Corsini family, a prominent Florentine dynasty whose origins can be traced back to the thirteenth century. The works on display demonstrate the Renaissance preference for religious and mythological themes, and capture the full range of dramatic intensity – from the gruesome to the deeply contemplative – that is characteristic of the art of this period. Surviving largely intact across the centuries, despite war and natural disaster, the collection makes its way to Perth from Auckland, for the final leg of its first-ever international tour.
Visitors are introduced to the Corsini family in the opening sequence of the exhibition: alongside a family tree and coat of arms are portraits of family members, and an etching of the palazzo Corsini in Florence. The Corsinis began as silk traders, before moving into the lucrative fields of banking and property investment, amassing wealth and power – and acquiring a taste for fine art. Juxtaposed with these familial artefacts is an important pairing of Guercino’s Saint Andrea Corsini (1630) and a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century copy of The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria. Together, they open the story of the collection itself as an exposition on the resilience of humanist values.