The Renaissance at Auckland’s Aotea Centre

E School of Athens

The Stetson Group is offering New Zealand this Summer a feast, not only for the eyes, but also for the mind by exploring some of Europe’s High Renaissance masterpieces in a unique multimedia production.

The exhibition “Renaissance The Age of Genius” at Auckland’s Aotea Centre opening in January, will be different to traditional art gallery visits. The gallery space will be transformed from floor to ceiling into an impressive synchronisation of masterworks by Giotto, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian, Pieter Bruegel, Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Durer, all seen from different angles using sophisticated high-tech video projection, accompanied by exquisite polyphonic compositions of the time.

However, the exhibition is not just about beautiful paintings and fine music, but inspiration and transformation. During Europe’s Renaissance, these artworks changed the way people felt and saw the world. They made people think and feel differently which led to ground-breaking discoveries and new social movements and political systems.

To achieve this, the Renaissance went back to the past to gather wisdom for the future. They turned to ancient civilisations that existed more than a thousand years earlier. New and enlightened solutions were found in the world’s ancient wisdom, producing a thriving civilisation with one foot in the past and the other foot in the future. Connecting the present with the past for the good of the future caused more innovative ideas to emerge. Other movements were born such as the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and Scientific Revolution. It all started with art!

Through the arts, the Renaissance drove one of the world’s most comprehensive philosophical systems ever. The arts showed the ability of the human person to rise to the challenges of the day.

What inspired Lorenzo de’ Medici, one of the Renaissance’s most famous figures, in addressing those challenges was not just physical beauty. It was the beauty seen by the mind’s eye which delights in so many more ways than aesthetic beauty. The Renaissance’s humanistic principles were reflected in every aspect of life which allowed for the creation of more beauty in the world than ever before.

Beauty became convertible with other transcendental properties such as “being” (ens) itself. Its exemplar was probably when Raphael recast some of the greatest minds of classical antiquity as his contemporaries all together in his famed “School of Athens”, a highlight in the Auckland exhibition.

Leonardo da Vinci features as Plato alongside a younger Aristotle with the profile of Perugino. Michelangelo features as Heraclitus, and Bramante as Euclid or Pythagoras. Great thinkers of the day are gathered together with ancient minds sharing their ideas and learning from each other. Raphael even portrayed himself amongst them as Apelles in a conversation with Zoroaster, Ptolemy, Perugino, and Il Sodoma as Protogenes, an artist amongst the greatest thinkers of all times gathered together under one roof.

Renaissance art holds clues to surpass the achievements of the past, as the Renaissance itself surpassed the achievements of classical antiquity. Therefore, this exhibition provides an opportunity for us today to look back in order to craft our world for the future, which is actually the meaning behind a famous Māori whakataukī “ka mua, ka muri” (“walking backwards into the future”).

However, not only does this exhibition offer the wisdom that Mātauranga (Māori knowledge) always held, it weaves Renaissance art together into an entirely homogenous entity accompanied by associated musicology. Such a unity is what the Renaissance was. But it is also what traditional Māori knowledge always has been, multi-disciplinary and holistic.

This is why the exhibition could be particularly meaningful for us in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sadly, we have abandoned this vision today in mainstream New Zealand society by separating the fields of knowledge, especially the humanities, into exclusive specialised areas. In so doing, we have lost that distinctive universality of knowledge that the Renaissance acquired and Māoritanga never abandoned.

In revisiting these Renaissance masterworks today, we can find insights and inspiration from the past to deal with current issues. They show us how every present moment can benefit from the past; that the past is tired to the future, inspiring us to move forward looking back at what went before us. Otherwise, we could forget the greatness gone before us.

Therefore, arguably, this exhibition is particularly worthwhile for our nation’s leaders. It will inspire them by immersing them in a world of art that changed the world. But it is also valuable for everyone else because it will educate us to put the power back into the hands of the people who are inspired.

That is what is likely lacking nowadays, an inspirational and holistic education to mobilise the right people into action. It is what Lorenzo the Magnificent did for his people that sparked the Renaissance, and it could be what this exhibition does for us today.

The exhibition opens on January 4th, 2023. VIP evening visits include a 30-minute live unscripted presentation before entering the gallery space for a 40-minute immersive experience.

  • Dr Christopher Longhurst

Photo: The School of Athens by Raphael

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Michael Otto

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