Michelle Ong And The Marco Polo Society Bring Renaissance Masterpieces To Hong Kong


May 31, 2018 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

A major exhibition of Italian Renaissance masterpieces opened last month, thanks to Michelle Ong and the Marco Polo Society

Michelle Ong never thinks small. When appointed chairman of the Marco Polo Society, a non-profit organisation that fosters cultural exchanges between Italy, Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China, in September last year, she set her sights on showcasing the artistic legacy of “the Boot” in an ambitious new way.

Her endeavour came to fruition last month with the opening of Shaping the Human Body: Florentine Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance, an exhibition of 10 key masterpieces from the period at the University of Hong Kong. A series of associated lectures and workshops will also take place during the exhibition’s three-month run at the University Museum and Art Gallery.

“Knowledge broadens the mind,” Michelle says. “I wanted the Marco Polo Society to spearhead something that would cater to that end. Italy has such a wealth of artistic and historical treasures. I felt it our duty to showcase such riches.” 

The exhibition certainly fulfils that goal. The sculptures include two works by Donatello from the 15th century, two by Giovanni della Robbia from the 16th century, and a Valdambrino from the 14th—three of the most illustrious names in the pantheon of Renaissance masters.

Most of the sculptures belong to prominent private Italian collector Luigi Bellini. The exhibition is the result of a collaborative effort by Michelle, Italian Consul General Antonello De Riu, William Figliola, the founder of the Italian Arts Foundation, which represents Bellini, and Florian Knothe, director of the HKU museum.

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“The project fell into place because the right players were involved and strived to make it happen,” says Michelle. “We had the good fortune to work incredibly well together,” adds Antonello. “The museum, too, was an incredible asset. These sculptures deserve to be presented in an academic space—this is it.” Florian jumps in: “Being part of HKU, our programme certainly has a focused educational reach. We’re thrilled to be able to display these sculptures.”

As for the core of the show, Florian says, “It’s a study of the human body and how that study changed through that particular period of history. We want to present some Renaissance pieces that still bear a connection with the aesthetics of the preceding Gothic period, and from there move on to the Florentine artists that made the Renaissance as we think of it.”

Adds Antonello, “It’s an opportunity, really, for people in Hong Kong to understand the European culture of that time, its artistic reach and influence through the centuries.”

The exhibition, which is free, is somewhat of a continuation of the museum’s 2013 display of Venus by the Florentine Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, one of Italy’s national treasures.

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“FIF was a sponsor back then, so I guess there really is a thread here,” says Michelle, referring to the non-profit First Initiative Foundation she set up to promote the arts in Hong Kong. “As chairman of the Marco Polo Society, I hope to do more projects of this kind. It’s all about bridging cultures, history, people. Not everyone can visit the Uf zi in Florence. This is a way to offer a glimpse of Italy’s legacy. And for people to learn.” She pauses. “The more you learn, the more you want to learn.”

Shaping the Human Body: Florentine Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance runs until August 12 at the University Museum and Art Gallery of HKU. umag.hku.hk

See also: Exclusive: The Marco Polo Society’s Shaping the Human Body Exhibition Opening

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