News | Published: Fri 29 Oct 2010

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Faces of 17th-century Rome to go on display in new exhibition

An exhibition opening on Tuesday at the Fitzwilliam showcases the lifelike portraits prints of Italian artist Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630).

Galileo and his contemporaries: Portraits by Ottavio Leoni (2 November 2011 - 13 February 2011) brings together over thirty works, executed when this Rome-based engraver and draughtsman was at the height of his powers. Produced in the last ten years of Leoni's life, when the city was emerging as a melting pot of new ideas in science and art, these prints capture the faces of those writers, composers and artists whose individual and collaborative creativity gave birth to Baroque Rome.

These include Galileo Galilei, whose struggle with the church and his final falling out with Pope Urban VIII strained the allegiances of other old friends in the exhibition; Urban himself and the Barberini relations that he made into powerful cardinals, attracting accusations of nepotism; the dandified Duke of Bracciano, whose portraits can be dated by the length of his quiff; a series of writers, including the sworn enemies Marino and Stigliani; the composer Quagliati who brought elements of the new music of Monteverdi to Rome.

So naturalistic are Leoni's depictions of his subjects that his print of Galileo has recently been used as key evidence to investigate the astronomer's deteriorating eyesight. This research will be the subject of a free lunchtime talk at the Museum by ophthalmologist Peter G. Watson (RCS, FRCOphth) on 17 November 2010.

This exhibition, which features prints drawn from the Museum’s own collections, also offers the chance to see five drawings by Leoni on public display for the first time, lent by the Master, Fellows, and Scholars of Downing College in the University of Cambridge.


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