The Work of Markku Piri: A Finn in the Court of Medici

By Claudia Muratore (University of Virginia)

On a Wednesday evening in late March, the walls of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi were draped with floor-to-ceiling tapestries as they echoed with the reverberations of a great many voices of a great many languages raised in conversation and song. Those present had gathered to celebrate the opening of Finnish-native Markku Piri’s exhibition of his glass and paintings. It was a joyous and exciting introduction to Piri’s work: a Florentine choir and a Finnish soprano graced the audience with beautiful song, and a few of the several state representatives (from both Italy and Finland) in attendance, as well as Markku Piri himself, gave speeches to welcome the artwork to the Medici Palace. This exhibition opens at an especially relevant time for the Finnish people, as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of their independence this year.   Piri’s work will also be shown in Rome and Venice this year.

Though Piri’s work is not exactly homogenous with the centuries-old frescoes, tapestries, and paintings in the opulent and gold-gilded Palazzo Medici, Piri pays homage to the Renaissance era work with pieces inspired by Italian art and architecture. Piri notes that though he is from Finland, he feels most at home in the Mediterranean, which explains his interest in such an exhibition.  The exhibit itself is relatively small- only a few rooms off of one of the courtyards of the palace. Even still, the relatively small space contains a great deal- from tapestries to costumes to panels to giant strings of glass beads to paintings to glass, Piri’s work traverses a broad range of mediums and techniques.

For me, the most impactful aspect of the series lies in Piri’s ability to make the simple exquisite. Much of his art relies on modest components- geometric shapes, primary colors, symmetrical forms. But in creating his work, Piri possesses a unique talent for transforming these basic elements into astounding displays of brushwork and texture. Each work influences another piece, sometimes complimenting and sometimes contrasting one another. Beautiful pieces of glass are placed next to paintings that mirror each other’s geometric shapes and colors but take on entirely unique forms. In this way, the viewer feels as if no one piece in the exhibit can exist without the others; they are all related to one another.

Piri is especially adept at creating replicas of different pieces, yet varying colors, sizes, or textures to create a differences amongst the pieces. There is a special focus on the color blue in Piri’s work- various shades comprise different pieces of paintings and glass, perhaps indicative of his love for the Mediterranean.

To visit Piri’s recent exhibit in the Palazzo Medici is to witness an incredible fusion and harmony of Finnish and Renaissance art. Though the exhibit is not vast, each piece is a special and unique experience within itself, creating a fascinating and aesthetically pleasing visit for any viewer.

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