Florence, after fifty years Henry Moore's Warrior with Shield returns to Palazzo Vecchio

Back on display in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio is Henry Moore's warrior with shield.

From May 18, 2021 to January 9, 2022, Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture Warrior with Shield will return to Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, fifty years after the exhibition that first brought it here. The work will be displayed in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Sala Leone X, among the most representative rooms. The exhibition, curated by Sergio Risaliti, artistic director of the Museo Novecento, is sponsored by the City of Florence, organized by MUS.E and created in collaboration with the British Institute of Florence and Opera di Santa Croce. The installation is connected to the Relocated series of projects, which in past years featured Medici tapestries and the Chimera of Arezzo.

After the major exhibition held at the Forte di Belvedere in 1972, Henry Moore decided to donate the work to the Tuscan capital: it was first made in 1953-54 and then presented precisely on the occasion of the famous Florentine retrospective. The sculpture should have been placed in the Loggia di Saturno, in the Palazzo Vecchio, but due to various vicissitudes it never got there. The artist asked for its return, and the Warrior returned to England. Only in the 1980s, thanks to a resumption of discussions with Moore’s heirs and the interest of the British Institute of Florence, to which the work was donated at the behest of the artist’s family, did the bronze return to Florence. Following an agreement between the Florentine municipal administration and the British Institute itself, a formula of long-term loan for use was reached, and it was decided to place the bronze in the first cloister of the monumental complex of Santa Croce, where, to this day, it has been preserved.

In the early 1970s, while Moore was deciding to donate the Warrior with Shield to Florence, the city’s then Mayor Luciano Bausi was working to acquire a second work by the artist, Figura distesa, then kept in Berlin, the cost of which amounted to £35,000. The Warrior would have been added to that acquisition, but the sum needed to bring the Distended Figure to Florence could not be reached, and in the end the plan to acquire this second work failed. Meanwhile, in 1974, Warrior with Shield returned to the city. Set-up difficulties delayed its placement in the Terrace of Saturn, and the sculpture was temporarily presented in the third courtyard of the Palazzo: this placement jeopardized the work’s metal patina, which had been intended for indoor display.

Ten years later, in 1984, Henry Moore received a photograph taken by David Finn showing the sculpture ’abandoned’ in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio. The artist also learned of the epithet “monument to the stump,” with which Florentines gleefully mocked it, and decided to demand its return. The City, which had meanwhile lost all rights to the latter, was forced to send it back to England. The affair caused quite a stir, and the new mayor, Massimo Bogianckino, pledged to return the sculpture to Florence. In the aftermath of Moore’s death, in August 1986, Maria Luigia Guaita and the then British Consul wrote to her daughter Mary and widow Irina also appealing to the memory of the 1972 Florentine exhibition. Eventually, Irina Moore decided to donate the Warrior to the British Institute of Florence, and the work was able to return to the city for which it was intended. The work was then placed in the cloister of the monumental complex of Santa Croce, near the “urns of the forts,” where it is usually displayed.

Today the Warrior returns to the Palazzo Vecchio. The work combines the influence of classical statuary and careful observation of natural forms. Surrounded by the frescoes of the Hall of Leo X, the figure of the maimed youth triggers, albeit at a distance of a few meters, a significant dialogue with Michelangelo’s Genius of Victory and the battle scenes that decorate the Salone dei Cinquecento. Moore, a committed pacifist who had been through no less than two world wars, celebrates heroism by highlighting the inhumanity of all fratricidal conflict.

“Moore’s maimed warrior,” said Culture Councillor Tommaso Sacchi, “seems to admonish us in the face of new contemporary wars, be they against an invisible virus or those that are battering the Middle East in these hours. It is a great honor to host it here in Palazzo Vecchio, close to the location originally planned by Moore himself and that in the past did not materialize, almost as a compensation for an artist who loved Florence very much and left us an unforgettable exhibition at Forte di Belvedere.”

“Years ago,” added Museo Novecento director Sergio Risaliti, "we undertook a scholarly project entitled Relocated, intended as an act of recomposition between artworks and original contexts. Shining examples of this were the reunion in Palazzo Vecchio of the Medici Tapestries designed by Pontormo and Bronzino and the Chimera of Arezzo, temporarily relocated to the Sala Leone X, where Cosimo I had wished to exhibit it in his time. Today another piece is added to those initial intentions, reaffirming a cultural vision that sees in the critical study of the historical-artistic heritage and its continuous reinterpretation a strong point on which to insist in order to get out of the doldrums of a historicization stuck without ifs and buts. Returning to the places something of their original composition and vice versa to the works their original context, can in certain cases help in the reading of remote meanings and new suggestions. Today in Sala Leone X enters Henry Moore’s Warrior with Shield, who had imagined its placement in Palazzo Vecchio in the aftermath of his anthological exhibition at Forte di Belvedere. A wish is finally given reality today. And how good it is to come across the dramatic monumentality of this Warrior, an expressive measure that had eluded us in the albeit magnificent cloister of Santa Croce, where Moore’s work found a home in the 1980s. It is surprising to see how much new energy the works emanate with simple shifts of place. How much power they recapture and how much magnetism. How thrilling to feel the plastic vibration of this Warrior, a work that celebrates Moore’s staunch pacifism without neglecting the heroic courage of those fighting for freedom. What a thrill to be able to read in these modern forms the poetic precedents of Michelangelo, present just a few steps away from the Leo X room with the Genius of Victory. No less significant is the dialogue with Giorgio Vasari ’s frescoes in this room, with images of magniloquent bodies that derive, too, their forms from Buonarroti’s sublime lesson. In addition, the light from the windows enhances the modeling, offering an opportunity to enjoy the patina treatment of the bronze. I would like to close with another cue. Outside the Palace stands the giant David symbol of the young shepherd warrior defender of republican freedom. Here we admire Moore’s Wounded Warrior no longer a neoclassical image of an athletic hero but a timeless evocation of a humanity that shields against the folly of war: of every war and every violent act."

"The Henry Moore Foundation enthusiastically welcomes the return of Warrior with Shield to Palazzo Vecchio for this exhibition," said Sebastiano Barassi, director of Henry Moore Collections & Programs. "This was the place Henry Moore originally envisioned for the sculpture and where it was displayed until 1987, when it was moved to the cloister of the Basilica of Santa Croce, a building much loved by the artist. Moore created this cast of the Warrior specifically for Florence. We are pleased to celebrate an important new chapter in the history of his relationship with the city, which began nearly a century ago with his first visit in 1925, and which we hope will continue to flourish long into the future."

"Between Henry Moore’s Warrior with Shield and the monumental complex of Santa Croce," added Irene Sanesi, president Opera di Santa Croce, "an extraordinarily deep relationship has been established. The work, placed in the first cloister, found a natural space in this place where memory, history and art are inextricably welded and where the power of the past is contemporary and serves to look to the future. The Warrior with Shield is a work that is as relevant as ever: today it recalls humanity’s struggle against the pandemic and the memory of the heroes who have fought and are fighting the terrible virus in every part of the world. It is no coincidence that the Opera di Santa Croce plans to remember those heroes with a monument that will be emblematically erected in the very first cloister, a few dozen meters from Moore’s Warrior."

Florence, after fifty years Henry Moore's Warrior with Shield returns to Palazzo Vecchio
Florence, after fifty years Henry Moore's Warrior with Shield returns to Palazzo Vecchio

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