Part of peculiar quality of Piero della Francesca’s paintings stems from the fact that he placed his knowledge of natura phenomena in the service of expressing preternatual meaning. The particular form of a coral amulet on the neck of the Infant Christ in the Montefeltro Altarpiece (and the Senigallia Madonna) demonstrates this remarkable combination and reveals Piero’s previously unsuspected knowledge of and interest in human anatomy. The article is the result of collaboration between Miriam Redleaf, M.D., an Otolaryngologist (head and neck surgeon) at the University of Chicago, and Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Art Historian at Princeton University.
Evidence is marshalled to reconstruct anew the 1470s decoration of the studioli in Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino and Gubbio palaces. The symbolism of their décor epitomizes a combination of both the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, which art historians have long regarded as a contradiction, given the room’s purpose (it was where the prince could devote himself to scholarly pursuits, temporarily free from political preoccupations). However, contemporary documents are brought forward to reveal that the function of Federico’s studioli was extended to include secret negotiations: hence their decoration was devised consciously to illustrate both facets of the prince’s life.
Exhibitions today seem to be conjured up for a wide variety of reasons, most of them irrelevant to the materials assembled with significant risk to the vulnerability of the works themselves. It was, therefore, an unexpected pleasure to find that what might have promised but slight utility as a project should, in its realization, prove not only moving and enlightening but also stimulating in affording useful comparisons and provoking reflection on a theme still only partly confronted in the literature. In the case of Jacopo Tintoretto's portraits we are now in a position to settle some of these questions due to the splendid recent exhibition held in Venice to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the artist's death.
The catalogue of the early works of Jacopo Tintoretto has been seriously distorted by the accretion of paintings by later associates and followers. Among them is Giovanni Galizzi, a Bergamasque active in Venice from 1543 to 1565. By folio following a chain of connections from his two signed and dated altarpieces, some twenty works previously attributed to Tintoretto can be assigned to Giovanni. Almost all his paintings after 1550 are based upon prototypes by Tintoretto and show signs of the kind of collaboration that could have occurred only in a large and busy shop, indicating that Giovanni worked in Tintoretto’s studio itself. Among Giovanni’s collaborators was the Flemish Marten de Vos, reported to have been present in Tintoretto’s shop in the early 1550s.
The recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel frescoes has revealed a new Michelangelo. He is now widely loved and praised as a great painter, but this is hardly how he was regarded in the Cinquecento. Early writers thought very highly of the design and invention of his work, yet in the actual craft and technique of painting they held him in lower esteem. Even otherwise sympathetic critics, such as Giorgio Vasari and Raffaello Borghini, recognized that Buonarroti was not as a good a painter as Leonardo, Raphael, Correggio, or Titian. Many now criticize the post-restoration appearance of the ceiling as flat, gaudy, and cheap in appearance, and they blame the Vatican restorers. But, in light of Michelangelo’s critical fortune as a painter, it is worth asking the question: might not Michelangelo himself be to blame? His works look appealing today not because he was a good painter by sixteenth century standards, but because styles and tastes have changed.
Erwin Panofsky invented the term paysage moralisé and applied it in the interpretation of three paint-ings: Raphael’s Allegory (Dream of a Knight), Piero di Cosimo’s The Discovery of Honey, and Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love. He was mimicked to some degree by such authorities as Miliard Meiss and Frederick Hartt (“Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion”); Mantegna’s Madonna of the Rock. This type of interpretation – although it has to recommend it an allowance for some admixture of moral doubt in the otherwise sunny world of Renaissance theories of virtue as they are usually reconstructed – reeks of ideological concerns (personal, philosophical, and political) of the 1930s–1950s and 60s. Panofsky’s interpretations have often been rejected piecemeal since, but the bi-polar model of Renaissance morality they implied remains largely unchallenged. A tension between, and potential for conflation of, the concepts of paysage moralisé and disguised or concealed symbolism is also discussed.
In a detailed analysis of the illusion of light in Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, the author proposes that Caravaggio’s innovations as a colorist go beyond the popularization of tenebrism. Rather, he discovered a way of managing colors that eschewed the Renaissance practices of tonal unity and continuous modeling, instead setting up juxtapositions of colors to enhance the appearance of saturation and brightness and employing discontinuous modeling to enhance the perception of contrast and unity. His approach is compared to earlier Renaissance paintings by Raphael and Leonardo, and to several works of his contemporary reformer of coloring, Annibale Carraci.
When Masaccio and Brunelleschi created the apparent diminution of the Holy Trinity fresco barrel vault, they depended on the orthographic and stereographic projection techniques informing medieval astro-nomical instruments of measure, especially those inscribed on a widely admired siting and surveying device known as the astrolabe. Using these projections, medieval astronomers had structured a perfectly ordered macrocosmic space according to a set of coordinates directly useful to an artist wishing to chart the reflected perfection of a measured and measurable microcosmic space. The diagrammatic protocols governing astronomical graphics were based not only on the belief in the geometrically perfect universe, but also in the idea that the abstract mathematical point could be thought of as a substitute for the seeing human eye. The astrolabic articulation of these two ideas represent a symbolic sanction and a technical underpinning for the fundamental elements of Renaissance perspective as they exist in the Holy Trinity fresco: the relationship between the viewer and the horizon line, the transfer of projected coordinates from one plane to another through a process of rotation, and the mathematically controlled, proportionate relationship of transverse quantities.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Corésus et Callirhoë. Scene of Sacrifice and “Théâtre des ombres”
Fragonard’s La Grand Pretre Corésus se sacrifie pour sauver Callirhoë (1765, Paris, Louvre) is Fragonard’s last and most important history painting. This study refers to a broad range of sources and influ-ences (Sebastiano Ricci, Giambattista Tiepoli, Guarini’s ”Il Pastor Fido”, Racine, the iconography of the “Arria and Paetus”-theme) which helped to shape the final version of the “Corésus”. A somewhat unusual chiaroscuro and a peculiar compositional arrangement (position of the columns) suggest that the beholder is watching a kind of “shadow theatre”, perhaps an oniric version. Diderot took up this clue in his famous description the “Salon de 1765”. He was moreover the only critic who accepted the androgenic aura of the High Priest.