Recent years have seen much vocal skepticism about the validity of connoisseurship. This is, at least in part, the legacy of Erwin Panofsky, some of whose opinions seem to demand the exclusion of the act of viewing from the interpretive task. Less noticed, however, has been the widespread reaffirmation during these same years of the centrality of connoisseurship within the discipline of art history. As exemplified by the integrative approach of Ernst Gombrich, the work of art consists precisely in an equilibrium between our sensate and conceptual ex-periences of it. Connoisseurship, a specialized way of knowing, is associated with other forms of knowledge in an interconnected web of understanding—the whole cloth of the history of art. Connoisseurship, as in the French tradition chosen here as an example, brings one from the physical properties of the work itself to the delectation of the senses and of the mind.
A Dantesque theme of Justice is symbolized through a series of 21 frescoes of uomini fa-mosi, including two donne illustri, which were painted, with surviving inscriptions and dates, for the Sala del Consiglio of the Palazzo del Commune of Lucignano in the course of the fif-teenth century. From the beginning, the poet’s view of the Law dominates the first triad of images commissioned for the legal chamber. Julius Caesar, Constantine the Great, and Noah appear as representatives of pagan antiquity, Christian history, and Hebrew history, respec-tively, but they were also selected for a more important reason: in late-medieval times, all three heroes were regarded as the founders of Rome. The Roman connection relates to the significance which Dante accorded Rome in terms of world history and world rule, while the figures’ link with Janus, who precedes them, derives from Dante’s larger appreciation of Italy as the fruit of the creation of Rome and the beginning of civiltas.
The miniature at the beginning of the “Office for the Dead” section from Charles d’Angouleme’s Book of Hours depicts a defeated Centaur being ridden by a wild woman while two men and Death attack them furiously. The scene is somewhat problematic. The general understanding is that it represents a Centaur battling the Lapiths. However, the inter-pretation of the subject as purely mythological does not explain its inclusion in the “Office for the Dead”. The article suggests that the miniature expresses the idea common since antiquity, of a contest between man and beast as a symbol of the struggle against dark forces. The Cen-taur and the wild woman form a single unit—the personification of vice in terms of Christian allegory. The private nature of the Book of Hours leads one to infer that Charles used the alle-gory of ths struggle with the Vices for his own political vendetta against his rivals, conveying in this enigmatic miniature his bitter enmity towards those who had wronged him.
Donatello’s stucco reliefs and bronze doors for the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo were com-missioned by Cosimo de’ Medici and his brother, Lorenzo, to complete the decoration of the funerary chapel of their parents. The iconography of this sculpture establishes the sacristy as a family monument and clearly points to Cosimo’s branch of the family as the ruling dynastic line of the Medici. The stylistic references in the doors to early Christian forms associate the Medici with the history of San Lorenzo, a building whose first dedication dates to the late fourth century, thus establishing their presence in this part of the city to which they had moved only in the late Trecento. The selection of saints on the Apostles’ Doors metaphorically represents the Medici’s importance in Florence and to the Papacy and, furthermore, suggests specific connections to the Council of Ferrara/Florence (1438–1439), which Cosimo had financed.
“Muscipula diaboli”? A Pseudo-Mousetrap in the Adoration by Lorenzo Lotto in Washington
The object on which Lorenzo Lotto signed and dated the Adoration of the Christ Child in the National Gallery in Washington, located in the lower right corner of the painting, has in the past been identified as a mousetrap. To this instrument — according to an old study by Meyer Schapiro — were attributed antidemonic powers of special symbolic significance re-lated to Christ’s incarnation. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the object is simply a piece of wood with a mortise at one end, of the type that was used in the sixteenth century to hold the stand of a picture frame. Deprived of a precise symbolic meaning, this holder consti-tutes an ideal linking element between the figure of St. Joseph, the carpenter whose handi-work it evidently is, and the painter Lotto who put his own signature on it. Lotto’s interest in Joseph, which remained constant throughout his career, is connected with the cult of the saint that developed in Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century, particularly in Bergamo, the city in which Lotto lived for twelve years, painting the Adoration of the Christ Child there in 1523. The signature on the piece of wood is, moreover, an allusion to the skills and tools of the artist’s craft.
Lorenzo Lotto 1506: The Asolo Altarpiece
In this study the author proposes that the Madonna in the altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto in the cathedral of Asolo (signed and dated “LAVRENT.LOTVS IVNIOR M.D.VI”), which was previously thought to have been commissioned by the local Battuti Confraternity, may in fact be identified as Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia, and Domina of Asolo. The author bases his conclusion on a comparison with the portrait of Caterina by Gentile Bellini, as well as on historical and social considerations. It is probable that the iconography is that of the Virgin Immaculate, to which the Queen is explicitly compared in a poem commissioned in her honor by the Duke of Milan. Some of the landscape elements may be interpreted both as symbols of the Immaculate Conception and as references to Caterina’s personal history.
Vittore Carpaccio’s Young Knight Reconsidered
Carpaccio’s Young Knight in the Collection of Baron Thyssen-Bonemisza in Lugano is usually considered the first known independent full-length portrait in Italian painting, its model being variously identified and the painting dated from 1495 to about 1520. Since the mere physical evidence which the work offers appears ambigous, this study tries to unravel its mystery by focusing on one of its major symbolic motifs – the combat between the f alcon and the heron waged high above the young hero. The motif figures in two late-sixteenth-century Nuremberg emblem-books, where it seems to have originated in the work of Albrecht Dürer. Particularly the recto of fol. 12 of the so-called Prayer-book of Emperor Maximilian I (1515) shows a drawing which bears an amazing similarity, in both its overall conception and several conspicuous details, to the Lugano painting. This can be explained as follows: Dürer’s drawing represents a recollection of the painting by Carpaccio which the German master saw on his second sojourn in Venice (1505–1507), and which consequently must have already been, if not completed, then in an advanced state. For reasons unknown, the painting re-mained unfinished or unsigned until 1510 (or even later). For that matter, the period of 1505–1507 provides terminus ante quem for the decisive stage in the gestation of Carpaccio’s Young Knight in Lugano. Of necessity related to this is the need to revise its status of a straightforward portrait painting.
John Ruskin in 1860 drew attention to Veronese’s humorous and sympathetic use of do-mestic animals in his religious paintings. The paper begins with the example cited by Ruskin, the paintings commissioned for the Coccina family palace at the beginning of the 1570s. Veronese’s humorous treatment of animals is a feature of his work from all stages of his career and, in the great Feasts, was combined with a feeling for decorum. The animals underline the narrative without distracting from the central message.
A comparable approach can also be found in Veronese’s treatment of the programme and of the Olympian gods and goddesses in the fresco cycle of the Villa Barbaro at Maser. This approach is extended to his mythological paintings, where the eroticism of Giulio Romano is defused through a sense of wit, which was developed from an older Quattrocento tradition.
Caravaggio’s contemporary Mannerist critics charged him with excessive naturalism and a lack of due regard for the antique, but a closer scrutiny of the artist’s compositions reveals that several of them were based on Classical models, in some cases even referring to works which were known only from literary sources. Caravaggio frequently combined the study of the material vestiges of ancient art with a meticulous observation of nature — which to him was not an antithesis, but rather a necessary complement of the Classical tradition. The tracing of the antique inspiration of the Borghese Gallery Boy with the Basket of Fruit and the Boy with a Bunch of Grapes (formerly known as “Bacchino Malato”), of the Uffizi Bacchus, and also of the Capitoline St. John the Baptist with a Ram, the Uffizi Medusa, the Victorious Amor in Berlin-Dahlem, and the Sleeping Amor in the Pitti, provides not only a clearer insight into the meaning of each of these various pictures, but also a better understanding of Caravaggio’s realism.
The Eyes of the Sinner: Observations on Rembrandt’s 1636 Blinding of Samson in Frankfurt
One of Rembrandt’s most fascinating early works is the large painting, dated 1636, called The Blinding of Samson, in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. Until now, in dealing with this work art historical research has, for the most part, been limited to the plausible, though by no means definite, hypothesis that Rembrandt gave the painting as a present to Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Stadholder, Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, to thank him for acting as intermediary between the artist and the court.
The focus of the present study, however, is on the iconography of the picture, since Rem-brandt broke significantly with post-medieval tradition in his representation of the subject. Thus, for example, in contrast to Rubens and his followers, Rembrandt not only shows the hero’s capture but also — very graphically — the cruel act of his eyes being put out by the Philistines. Rembrandt used as a model for the prone Samson the figure in a copper engraving of 1566 by Cornelis Cort, after Titian’s painting Tityus, now in the Prado.
In keeping with the biblical exegesis of contemporary reformist theologians, Rembrandt, who was apparently familiar with the popular preaching on this theme, stresses the moment of destruction of Samson’s eyesight, which was seen as God’s punishment for the whoring about with the pagan Delilah; it was his eyes that were struck because through them he had let him-self be led into sin by looking upon Delilah, thus delivering himself into her hands.
There are no serious technical, historical, and formal arguments against the possibility that five pictures ascribed to Joos van Gent were commissioned for the Gubbio studiolo of Duke Federigo da Montefeltro. The probable arrangement of its decoration is reconstructed here, and the cultural background, which determined the choice of the iconographical program, is discussed. The decoration, based on the Neoplatonic concepts of Ficino and Landino, appears to represent an encomium of the owner as having pursued a successful path to wisdom through action and through contemplation. Some formal peculiarities of the paintings are thus accounted for.