home ART, CITY BEAT, CULTURE, CULTURE Rare 18th-century painting on display at Uffizi

Rare 18th-century painting on display at Uffizi

By Samantha Woodward

The Uffizi Gallerie degil in Florence is now showing the famous 18th-century piece An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) painted by Joseph Wright of Derby. 

The rarely-loaned painting is coming to Italy for the very first time ever in an exhibition entitled “Art and Science” and is being loaned by the National Gallery in London.

The lending of this piece of art to the Uffizi represents a strong cultural bond between London and Florence. The two cities have exhibited great strength through their appreciation for the arts and telling of history through them. 

London and Florence “share an illustrious history for inspiring global progress in art and science,” the British Minister of State for Media and Culture John Whittingdale said, “ This exhibition at  the Uffizi Gallery celebrates our commitment to building strong and lasting connections between our two nations through cultural exchange.”

Wright of Derby centered his pieces around man’s response to scientific research and discovering during the 18th century. Experiment was inspired by Robert Boyle, an Irish chemist in the 17th century who created a vacuum using an air pump.

The painting, oil on canvas, is a candle-lit scene inviting the viewer to become apart of the scene themselves as the central figure peers outwards, exhibiting wonder, and inquiry. Wright of Derby was known for his contrast between light and dark colors to show emphasis and symbolism. 

Wright of Derby was referred to as the “first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution” according to F.D. Klingender, a 20th-century art historian. His background in portrait art training enabled him to capture accurate and active depictions of the reactions of his figures to the discoveries they were witnessing.

The artist’s approach to human reaction in the wake of scientific discovery resonates with audience members today do a differing degree that it did in the 18th-century. The technological advancements of today, although far more complex and high-speed than that of the creation of the vacuum, still play a crucial role in how humans interact with others and express emotions.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi said that “Wright of Derby’s painting confers a monumental quality on man’s response to scientific experimentation.” He captured pure human excitement for the unknown in an era of discovery and invention. 

The exhibit curator, Alessandra Griffo, says that this painting was not only a milestone in the history of English 18th-century painting but also a mirror to human reaction during the time of a pandemic and “responses to scientific research – indifference, awareness,  reflection, curiosity or fear… “

The exhibit will be open until Jan. 24, 2021.