Many opportunities are referred to as “once in a lifetime,” but most of the time, these are exaggerations. In fact, the phrase has become unreliable due to misuse.
However, the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in Manhattan is offering an opportunity that truly is available just one time – a chance to view sculptures that were created for the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, Italy, in the early 15th century. These incredibly beautiful pieces have never before left Italy and are not likely to do so again. There are works by sculptors such Donatello, Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco, Luca della Robbia and others. The name of the exhibition is “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello.”
The exhibition came about because the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the Duomo museum) is closed and undergoing an expansion. The museum’s director, Msgr. Timothy Verdon, was able to send a selection of sculptures exclusively to MOBIA, a jewel box of a museum located in the headquarters of the American Bible Society at 61st Street and Broadway.
One of the most talked about sculptures in the exhibition is a marble Donatello statue, known as Lo Zuccone (meaning squash head because the figure is bald), but believed to be the prophet Habakkuk. The figure seems about to speak. One is almost compelled to stand and wait for it to do so. My own favorite was Abraham and Isaac, in which Abraham is holding Isaac’s hair in one hand and a knife in the other while looking away. I stood there a while trying to decide whether this was the moment before he was to strike or the moment after God’s messenger stopped him from slaughtering his son. It is hard to tell because Abraham’s grip on the knife is not tense. I am certain that everyone who comes to this exhibit and has the chance to study the works in an intimate setting will find a favorite.
So important is this exhibition that MOBIA has organized a series of public lectures, along with courses for young professionals and college/graduate school students, and seminars for all. To visit the exhibition, to see these works, and to ponder the people and events portrayed from the Old and New Testament could certainly be a Lenten meditation. The exhibition will be on until June. Check out MOBIA’s website to find all the details and preview the exhibition.
A final and distressing note. MOBIA will have to find a new home. The American Bible Society has sold its New York headquarters and is moving to Philadelphia. I hope and pray that MOBIA does find a suitable location here in New York City. After you see “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello,” you will pray, too. New Yorkers cannot afford to lose this wonderful museum.