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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Offering of the Angels exhibit at Chazen highlights religious works by major Italian artists
Madonna's greatest hits
on
Botticelli's <i>Madonna and Child</i>
Botticelli's Madonna and Child

The UW's Chazen Museum of Art is offering a glimpse into the past - from 300 to 600-plus years ago - through Nov. 25. Here, at Offering of the Angels: Paintings and Tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery, visitors can admire rarely seen works from one of Europe's most famous museums: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Madison is this touring show's only Midwestern stop.

Like many exhibitions of Renaissance and Baroque art, Offering of the Angels explores Christian themes through familiar subjects such as the Annunciation, the Last Supper and the creation of Adam. Madonna-and-child depictions abound. The show highlights major artists from the Western art canon (Botticelli, Tintoretto) and lesser-known ones whose names have vanished from history (an artist identified only as "17th-century Nordic painter").

Works by Italian masters dominate this show, so I felt a little guilty for being most drawn to The Sin of Adam and Eve, a Flemish painting from the early 17th century. Its palette is chillier than those of the Italian works it accompanies. To modern eyes, it's a bloodless, unsexy depiction of sins of the flesh. Eve has a kind of cool, androgynous perfection, and her eyes don't meet Adam's. The serpent barely registers at all; instead, I gravitated toward a moody landscape on the painting's right side.

It's interesting to contrast this work with the one hanging to its left. Here, the serpent steals the spotlight by appearing as a grotesque human-snake hybrid with horns and wings.

Botticelli's graceful Madonna and Child - also known as the Madonna of the Loggia - better represents the show. In this painting from circa 1466, the Madonna has a smooth, almost boneless anatomy. The piece's impressive, ornate frame reminds viewers that the show's works are devotional.

Christ carries a cross on his back in Luca Giordano's The Ascent to Calvary, a 17th-century work that illustrates Baroque artists' love of dynamic diagonal composition. Though Giordano portrays deep suffering with much gravity, he indulges in richly colored drapery and detailed musculature, two other hallmarks of Baroque art.

Though Offering of the Angels is primarily a painting exhibition, a few tapestries are tucked between the canvases. To help visitors experience this medium in another way, the museum will offer tapestry-weaving demonstrations this fall. For details about these events - and the many other activities surrounding the show - visit chazen.wisc.edu.

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