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As I’ve been out talking about my bestselling novel (Oil and Marble, art historical fiction about the real-life rivalry between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo), many people have asked where they can see great Renaissance art without traveling to Italy. Well first, stop that. Just go to Italy… but in the meantime (while you’re saving money and planning your trip to the peninsula), here are my suggestions for the top collections of Italian Renaissance art right here on American soil.
1: The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
The National Gallery holds the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the United States; that alone puts it at the top my list (I love this portrait; is Ginevra de’ Benci a PART of the Juniper growing behind her; where does she end and nature begin??). Besides the Leonardo portrait, the NGA also boasts works by Raphael, Titian and Fra Angelico to name just a few Italian Renaissance masters. Go for the Leonardo, stay for the gallery of glories.
2: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
A CLOSE second on my list, the Met is home to drawings by Leonardo, Raphael AND Michelangelo — with those three giants all under one roof, this museum will satiate any art-lover’s thirst for the Renaissance. While there, you can also catch works by Donatello, Fra Fillipo Lippi, and Botticelli. If you need a brush with Renaissance greatness to inspire you, the Met is a must.
3: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston
With a Raphael Room, Veronese Room and Titian Room (featuring Titian’s Europa, one of my personal favorite paintings of all times), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has a brilliant collection of Italian Renaissance masters — including a drawing Michelangelo made for his beloved friend, the lady Vittoria Colonna when he was in his 60s. All of this housed in a 15th-century Venetian-style palazzo that will make you feel like you have flown all the way to Italy.
4: Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth
The Kimbell boasts the only Michelangelo painting in the United States; art historians say it’s his first painting — a copy of the fifteenth-century German master Martin Schongauer. He made it when he was just 12 or 13-year-old and still an apprentice in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s studio. This rare Michelangelo secures the Kimbell’s place on this list, but their collection is also home to works by Donatello, Titian, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, Bellini, making this a true find of Renaissance rarities.
5: Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA
I may be biased — the Norton Simon is one of my favorite museums in the entire world — but I think this is the sweetest Italian Renaissance collection in the country. It’s small, but truly beautiful. There are pieces by Botticelli, Bellini, Giorgione, Donatello… And this Madonna and Child; Raphael was still young when he painted it — just 20 years old — and I love feeling the painter’s youth and promise in this gentle mother-son moment.
I adore this Veronese, held by the DIA. I think it’s the baby angels getting tied up in the red silk drapery up above… But it’s not just the Veronese that puts this museum on my list. Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Correggio, Parmigianino, Bronzino… The list of Renaissance masters at the DIA goes on and on.
7: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Boston collection centers around this triptych by the master painter Duccio (who helped usher in the Renaissance in the 14th century) and the Madonna of the Clouds relief by the Florentine sculptor Donatello (okay, it’s official. With that, I have officially referenced all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). The rest of the collection, which includes blue and white terra-cotta by the della Robbia family, will give you a real sense of what it felt like to live in Italy during the Renaissance era.
The Art Institute of Chicago may be better known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, but I love their Italian Renaissance collection. In Chicago you can see Botticellis, Titians, Tintorettos, Sartos, and Veroneses… The Botticelli pictured above — my favorite in Chicago — may not be the master’s most famous work, but it is a lovely example of the grace and love that permeates all of his works.
Fra Angelico, Veronese, Sarto, Tiepolo, Fra Filippo Lippi… plus a drawing of the Prophet Daniel (a study for the Sistine Ceiling) by Michelangelo. This Ohio Museum has a beautiful and varied collection of early to late Renaissance paintings and drawings. If you’re in Ohio, but have a longing for Italy, this museum in Cleveland may just satiate your need until you can take a trip to Europe.
10: Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, GA
The last museum is on my list because of its unique and long-term dedication to Italian Renaissance art. In 1961, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation donated 12 Italian Renaissance paintings to the museum and ever since then, the museum has focused on the study of Italian Renaissance art — they host many world-class exhibitions on the era every year. According to their website, the museum “is now regarded as one of the major centers of study of Italian Renaissance art in the country.”
Where are YOUR favorite Italian Renaissance works in the US?