The Monster of Ravenna, a deformed creature from the 1500s, inspires an exhibition at MAR - City Art Museum

From Oct. 8, 2022 to Jan. 8, 2023, Ravenna's MAR is offering Prodigy Kid, an extensive exhibition by Francesco Cavaliere and Leonardo Pivi inspired by the deformed and prodigious creature born in the city in the 16th century.

As part of the seventh edition of the Contemporary Mosaic Biennial, the MAR - Art Museum of the City of Ravenna is proposing Prodigy Kid, an extensive exhibition by Francesco Cavaliere and Leonardo Pivi, on view from October 8, 2022 to January 8, 2023.

Curated by Daniele Torcellini, the exhibition is divided into three sections. The first two are dedicated to a selection of works created independently by the artists, in the course of their production. The third is dedicated instead to series of works made in collaboration. In fact, since 2018, Francesco Cavaliere and Leonardo Pivi have been collaborating in a shared work, layered and rich in terms of both meanings and media, with a predilection for mosaic installations, sculptures and objects, animated by performative actions, narrated and written words, and sound explorations.

The most recent series of unpublished works, conceived and created especially for the exhibition, is inspired by a well-known legend concerning the city of Ravenna: the birth of a creature suffering from severe physical deformities, which occurred in the first days of March 1512, the so-called Monster of Ravenna. In the social, political and cultural context of the time, the Monster of Ravenna is interpreted as an omen of the bloody battle that was fought in the very city of Ravenna between the League of Cambrai and the Holy League. Within a short time, news of the strange creature’s birth spread first to Rome, then to the rest of Europe, through written accounts, paintings, drawings and engravings depicting the monster’s likeness: from Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing, now part of the Codex Atlanticus, to the famous engraving published by Ulisse Aldrovandi in his Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiæ omnium animalium.

As the words and images of the time gave form and meaning to a hybrid body, so today the two artists, through the tools of narrative, writing, mosaic and installation transfigure the Monster of Ravenna into Prodigy Kid. In ancient, medieval and Renaissance tradition, the monster prefigures future events and warns of divine wills. Aware of the complex social and cultural dynamics that help define the contours of a legend, the artists emphasize the prodigious character of the Ravenna Monster, amplifying the sense of wonder at what appears to transcend the natural order of things. A nonconforming body, interpreted as an omen of war in the past, becomes a symbolic guide for exploring the infinite possibilities of the imagination.

Alongside this most recent series of works, the exhibition rooms on the Museum’s second floor are devoted to other collaboratively produced series. The Solimandante Cycle, created for the group exhibition Raymond, a satellite event of Manifesta 12, inaugurated the prolific partnership between the two and the interweaving of narrative, image and sound that characterizes their poetics. The cycle, presented in 2018 at the Grand Hotel et Des Palmes in Palermo and inspired by the fantastic and labyrinthine literature of Raymond Roussel, consists of “reading” mosaics and sculptures, a narrative and a sound setting, brought together in a forthcoming record by the U.S. label Poole Music.

The Anubis vs. Baboon series, presented in 2019 at Milan’s Gluck50 space, a venue for residencies and contemporary art interventions, is dedicated to the mosaic of Anubis, dating from the period between the second and fourth centuries A.D., preserved at the City Museum of Rimini. It depicts a mysterious cynocephalic creature among real and fantastic animals; the partially lacunar work has been the subject of study from formal, iconographic, material and conservation status points of view. In a unique balance between the modes of archaeological and art-historical research and artistic research, the artists shared the philological approach of the one and the imaginative approach of the other, with the aim of reactivating the mosaic in our present.

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Image: Francesco Cavaliere and Leonardo Pivi, Prodigy Kid I, detail. Courtesy of the artists

The Monster of Ravenna, a deformed creature from the 1500s, inspires an exhibition at MAR - City Art Museum
The Monster of Ravenna, a deformed creature from the 1500s, inspires an exhibition at MAR - City Art Museum

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