Beyond the Permanent: Temporary exhibitions of stellar quality add richness to Italy’s already vast wealth of cultural attractions

While many visitors to Italy arrive with a checklist of well-established must-sees, including a plenitude of ancient monuments and museums so abounding in paintings and sculptures even their storerooms are overflowing, temporary exhibitions also offer marvelous opportunities to appreciate the country’s cultural wealth. Consider leaving some free time to catch an exhibition or two.

Cities on the main tourist paths all have palazzi that offer exhibits of painting, photography and other arts.

When in Milan, for example, check out Palazzo Reale, practically flanking the Gothic-style Duomo, or cathedral, in the city’s heart, for the venue often offers blockbuster exhibitions.

Those lucky enough to visit Milan in late spring this year, Palazzo Reale is hosting many of the relatively few surviving works of Antonello da Messina, the master Sicilian painter of the 15th century. Running through June 2, Palazzo Reale’s exhibit brings together some of the works that earned Antonello a reputation as one of the greatest portrait artists of his time. Only about three dozen paintings by the native of Messina, the Sicilian port city which was destroyed by an earthquake, are known to have survived to this day, and this thoughtfully arranged show brings together 20 of those works, including from Sicily, elsewhere in Italy, the United States and Britain. Unusual for his times, his portraits’ subjects seem to be personally engaging the viewer, sometimes with ironic or playful gazes.

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence is another venue to keep in mind when in the mood for top-notch exhibitions. Through July 14, the palace is hosting a show exploring the talents of Andrea del Verrocchio, a key artist of Florence’s Renaissance whose pupils included Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition features paintings, drawings and sculptures from museums in Europe and the United States, bringing together for the first time works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino and others who studied Verrocchio’s ways. The exhibition also includes a special section at Florence’s National Museum of the Bargello, famed for sculptures.

Coming as Italy marks the 500th anniversary in 2019 of Leonardo’s deaths, the Strozzi Palace show is a timely occasion to see how the artistic genius and other master painters of his times were inspired by Verrocchio and admire the prolific painting output during the heady artistic years of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s tenure in the Tuscan city in the late 1400s.