252 x 232 mm
SPECIAL ISSUE ON THE QUINCENTENNIAL OF
GIORGIO VASARI’S BIRTH (1511–2011)
GUEST EDITOR: LIANA DE GIROLAMI CHENEY
252 x 232 mm
SPECIAL ISSUE ON THE QUINCENTENNIAL OF
GIORGIO VASARI’S BIRTH (1511–2011)
GUEST EDITOR: LIANA DE GIROLAMI CHENEY
As Vasari told the story, he was encouraged to write the Lives by Paolo Giovio (1483/6–1552), a major literary figure who specialized in biographical history. Giovio, a Pliny enthusiast, collaborated with Vasari on every phase of preparing the first edition of the Lives and influenced Vasari to adopt the model of Pliny’s Natural History. Although Vasari denigrated the Roman precedent, Pliny’s biographies of artists were the primary model for his enterprise. Vasari organized the proems of the Lives in a variety of ways that depend on the Natural History. He took up a number of Pliny’s theoretical positions. In addition, Vasari adopted Pliny’s schematic, but comprehensive, history of art told through the lens of collected biographies of artists who were generally organized by school and by a master-pupil sequence and structured to reveal the technical development of Italian art.
This essay analyzes the text of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists across both editions in order to reconstruct the history of landscape painting in Italy as Vasari tells it. First, the advancements made in landscape within each of Vasari’s three eras of art are elucidated, with attention being paid both to landscape painters Vasari particularly praises, and to the innovations in media, technique and content that he notes in each period. Second, after Vasari’s chronology for the invention, development, and final perfection of landscape painting is set forth, the study examines the striking changes made between the 1550 and 1568 editions of the Lives, suggesting these changes show two things: Vasari’s in creasing awareness of Northern European contributions to landscape painting, and his desire to establish Italian painters as preeminent in the invention and continued practice of the genre. Taken together, the history of landscape painting Vasari chooses to tell, and the modifications he makes to this history, show the importance of landscape painting in the Lives as a marker both of a painter’s dexterity and of his ingenuity.
Giorgio Vasari: The Carrying of the Body of Christ
This essay examines the iconography of one of Giorgio Vasari’s first paintings The Carrying of the Body of Christ of 1532. The study consists of three parts: (1) the reconstruction of the history of this painting; (2) an artistic analysis of the classical and Mannerist influences employed by Vasari in the painting; and (3) a suggested iconological interpretation of the image.
In The Carrying of the Body of Christ, Vasari depicts through the mediation of Christ’s death a visual testimony of salvation for the Christian devotee. In the creative realm, Vasari composes a new artistic fusion: the imitation of antiquity with Mannerist aesthetic. This artistic mutation creates a new invention in the depiction of the istoria of the passion of Christ. In the spiritual realm, the istoria of the carrying of the holy body is a transitory time from the descent from the cross to the deposition, and His interment.
In depicting this theme, Vasari invites the viewer to also reflect on the transformation of the Christian church after the Sack of Rome in 1527. The selected moment in the painting is of great significance. It is a pause before burying the precious body of Christ. For the carrying of the body to its resting place, Vasari composes a visual silence and a spiritual suspended movement for viewers to meditate on mortality, but with the hope of salvation through Christ’s death.
Giorgio Vasari: Restoration of The Carrying of the Body of Christ
This essay explains the process of restoration employed in the cleaning of The Carrying of the Body of Christ of 1532, at the Museo di Casa Vasari. Careful documentation is provided not only on the physical process of the restoration of the painting, but also on the stylistic contributions that Vasari imprints in the early stage of his artistic career. With the employment of reflectographic diagnostics highlight, new discovery and observations were noted in the manner in which Vasari approaches the application of painting and compositional design. Traces of a preliminary drawing were discovered under the painting. This process of composing a painting would become an indispensable technique in Vasari’s artistic production, as discovered in the restoration of the Wedding of Ester and Ahasverus of 1548 at the State Museum of Medieval and Modern Art (Museo Statale d’Arte Medioevale e Moderna) of Arezzo.
The removal of heavy layers and stratified coats of paint, which made the pictorial surface dull, unveiled a bright and colourful palette. This rich pictorial surface reveals Giorgio Vasari‘s assimilation of artistic manifestations of the Cinquecento art.
New Documents on Giorgio Vasari’s House in Arezzo
“Di Giorgio Vasari e delle sue pitture che sono in Arezzo” is an unpublished manuscript dated around 1834, drawn up by the painter Raimondo Zaballi who documented Vasari’s work preserved in the city. Of particular interest is the detailed description of the paintings by Giorgio Vasari in his house of Borgo San Vito and its restoration work carried out by the same Zaballi in 1827.
Linking this to some unpublished source documents kept in the Vasari Archive and reviewing the critical success of the paintings in his Arezzo home, proposals are put forward on the dating of the paintings in the Camera delle Muse and in the Room of Fame and the Arts. Likely, in this last room there existed a pictorial decoration from the period preceding Vasari, dating from the first half of the seventeenth century, not attributable to Zaballi. The paper concludes with an unprecedented and unusual discovery of a date on a detail of the frescoes in the Sala del Trionfo e della Virtu.
The Frescoes of Giorgio Vasari in the Sala dei Cento Giorni: Framing, Personifications and Theatricality
Through a specific study of the sparimento of the frescoes painted in the Sala dei Cento Giorni by Giorgio Vasari in 1545 for cardinal Alessandro Farnese, this paper intends to emphasise the problem of the function of margins in this decorative cycle.
Art historians have generally drawn attention to the narrative scenes painted in the frescoes, whose subjects illustrate the episodes from the pontificate of Paul III. The present study, on the contrary, focuses on the margins of those representations. In Vasari’s frescoes, the peripheral painted architecture is populated with personifications of virtues. The distribution of these significant figures within the fake architecture ensures the effectiveness of the rhetorical system – planned by the historian Paolo Giovio – centred on Paul III as ideal pope.
This framing structure is, in fact, comparable with a theatrical bocca di scena that encircles the painted storie. The relationship between Vasari frescoes and contemporary theatre architecture has been already pointed out in previous studies of the subject; but the parallel is not simply a morphological one. The relationship is also relevant in the narrative sections of the frescoes: they do not show actual events of the pontificate of the Farnese pope, but rather present his likely deeds related to the Aristotelian concept of verisimilitude. Reconsidered by L. Castelvetro in the 1570s, this notion becomes central in the theory of Poetics but also in the development of modern drama. Vasari’s sparimento participates in and activates the iconographical programme devised by Giovio, adding to it a supplementary dimension in pointing out the illusionistic power of Painting and Theatricality. On the walls of the Cancelleria, histories (exempla virtutis of the Farnese pope) become History taking advantage of the framing structure and the figures placed within it.
Giorgio Aretin Invenit: Observations on Vasari’s Designs for Prospero Fontana
In Cinquecento art, the fundamental principle of any artistic activity was drawing (disegno). For Giorgio Vasari disegno involved practical and theoretical considerations. During the span of his artistic career, the Aretine artist found himself more than in one occasion in the role of a “modern designer” – an inventor of figurative repertoires and of entire compositions, which originally were created by others artists or patrons.
This type of artistic activity as a “modern designer” was not limited to the creations of drawings, or inventions from his collaborates, e.g., the imprese in the decoration of Palazzo Vecchio, but also included the labour of supervising artistic initiatives of other artists, who were not active in his bottega. A clear example is the case of the Bolognese Prospero Fontana, who during his artistic career engaged in a privileged relation with Vasari. From their collaboration, Prospero assimilated complex artistic notions as well as artistic repertoires in the formation of his work. This essay traces aspects of their collaboration, paralleling them with readings in Vasari’s Lives. The goal is to reveal Vasari’s thoughts on the process of exchanging drawings among artists as in the example of Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo.
Botanical and Zoological Symbolism in Giorgio Vasari’s Paintings
Vasari was a refined artist of the Cinquecento, who – after the restrictions imposed by Savonarola during the Republican period – rediscovered nature in his paintings. While scientists and collectors of his time investigated nature for taxonomical reasons, Vasari examined plant and animal symbolism with a deep political and emblematic purpose. For example, the amphibious turtle depicted in the Room of the Elements in Palazzo Vecchio is an imaginary animal, celebrating Cosimo de’ Medici’s power on land and sea. In the Siege of Monteriggioni (Salone dei Cinquecento) a flowered plant of mullein (Verbascum) serves as an apotropaic amulet for the protection of artillerists and Florentine soldiers.
Caravaggio’s early biographers presented him as an artist who had no theory, who painted exactly what he saw without regard for the idealizing tradition of the High Renaissance. Bellori went so far as to state that Caravaggio “lacked invenzione, decorum, disegno, or any knowledge of the science of painting”. As late as the early twentieth century, he was considered to be an artist whose chief aim was to defy tradition and authority. Not until 1955, with Friedländer’s Caravaggio Studies, did a scholar systematically argue that Caravaggio both respected and responded to the work of many exemplary artists, including Michelangelo and Dürer.
By the 1980s, Caravaggio had ceased to be seen as an unlettered artist. Instead, scholars began to consider his familiarity with texts by contemporary theologians and writers of the ancient world. I propose another literary source for Caravaggio: Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. Vasari applied to visual artists the familiar ancient formula of biography – the lives of famous men as examples to be imitated by the reader. Interspersed throughout his book are comments on works of art and issues related to contemporary art theory. In short, the Lives was for artists a sort of textbook on fame and how to achieve it.
When Caravaggio arrived in Rome in 1592, he was virtually penniless and without a patron. His early paintings, made for the open market, were for the most part still-life arrangements and genre scenes. I propose that Caravaggio was, instead, competing on his own terms with artists whose fame was assured; to this end, he responded to passages in Vasari’s Lives. In several instances, Caravaggio’s early works reflect Vasari’s descriptions of paintings by artists as illustrious as Leonardo and Raphael – sometimes more closely than they reflect the paintings themselves.
Jacopo Bassano’s Flight into Egypt in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is a work of unparalleled sophistication. The Holy Family’s escape from Herod implies movement and Jacopo’s continuity of rhythm propels the figures forward despite the seeming hesitancy of the three young boys accompanying them. They have been described as careless and profligate youth. This article looks again at these travellers and their role in The Flight into Egypt.
The travellers do not appear in the biblical text, but are mentioned in the apocrypha and were commonly found in depictions of the event. Jacopo included travellers dressed as shepherds in both his earlier versions of the theme (Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa and Toledo Museum of Art). The journey they have embarked on cannot be any easy one, for the road they travel unshod is covered in small sharp stones. The Holy Family’s arduous journey and the patience with which they met adversity were held as exemplars that pious Christians were encouraged to imitate in their own passage through life. Through spiritual meditation a Christian might become ‘an armchair traveller’ as he internalized the events of Christ’s infancy and Passion. Pietro Contarini’s poem Christilogos peregrinorum, written shortly after 1513, recounts how the author and three of his friends dressed as shepherds and accompanied the Holy Family into Egypt so that they might recover the true spirit of religion and bring it back to Venice. It is surely not coincidental that Joseph serves as the shepherd’s interlocutor, since he was venerated throughout the Veneto as a protector against military attack and invasion. However, the suggestion that Jacopo emphasized Joseph’s role as La Serenissma’s protector by basing his likeness on Doge Andrea Gritti is unfounded. Titian’s portrait bears only a superficial resemblance to Jacopo’s Joseph in the Toledo and Pasadena pictures. Titian’s picture was painted at least fifteen years after Gritti’s death and around a decade later than the Jacopo’s two pictures. From the mid-1540s Jacopo repeatedly used a drawing of a local peasant as a template for his depictions of Joseph.
In the Pasadena picture the travellers are accompanied by an angel with magnificent birdlike wings. In a sermon published in 1495, Fra Roberto Caracciolo asked why Christ would need a guardian angel. He concluded that a guardian angel was sent to point the way towards Christ’s Crucifixion and the promise of redemption and encouraged the listener to join the caravan of the stalwart travellers. In the Pasadena picture the angel points towards a tree stump, which is used as a visual premonition of Christ’s Passion. The shepherds at first glance seem to be false pilgrims who do not heed his gesture; one releases four cockerels from a basket while another selfishly guzzles the Holy Family’s provisions. However, cockerels were associated with Christ’s Resurrection and the promise of life after death. Like Saint Peter, who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed but later repented, this traveller may become a true pilgrim following the path that leads towards salvation. Likewise, his companion, who greedily drinks from a pilgrim’s flask, can be linked to the idea of salvation and redemption. His flask evokes the wine of the Eucharist and Christ’s sacrifice while his lance recalls the story of Saint Longinus, the soldier who pierced the side of Christ before deciding to follow in his footsteps.
As Fra Roberto explained, to follow the Holy Family on their pilgrimage prepares each of us for our own pilgrimage towards death. Jacopo’s Flight into Egypt is the pictorial equivalent of Fra Roberto’s sermon. It is a visual homily that asks the viewer to seek out the significant meaning of details. Its imagery reflects the changing religious climate of pre-Tridentine Italy; a time fuelled by fervent debate and passionate preaching. It is within this context that the picture’s didactic role as a meditative guide to the central mystery of the Eucharist can be best understood.
By emphasizing the violent confrontation between rushing warriors and a victim fallen to the ground, Raphael’s Expulsion of Heliodorus and Titian’s Death of Saint Peter Martyr respectively, established the paradigm of vivid-dynamic images imbued with rhetorical ornaments, especially enargeia. Such amplification of violence and affective impact directly recall Ciceronian oratory, that eloquent dialectic which Renaissance Rome perfected as a form of imperial propaganda and Venice inherited as a symbol of her new role as Nova Roma. Thus, the most animated and heroic inventions in the ouvre of Raphael and Titian can be analyzed through figures of speech which were recognized as intrinsic to painting already by the contemporary learned viewers.
Through an interdisciplinary study of ancient and early modern visual and verbal metaphors, this essay analyzes the role of enargeia in the representation of vividness and dynamism in those scenes in which the violent action seems to reoccur, according to the promises of the trope itself, before the beholder’s eyes. Raphael and Titian changed the connotation of mimesis from resemblance to existence, from imitation to animation.
For the wedding of King Sigismund August of Poland to Catherine of Austria in 1553 the bridal suite at Wawel castle was adorned with a set of Flemish tapestries. The decoration was immediately described by Stanisław Orzechowski in his Nuptial Panagyricus. Owing to several factors he could not see the figural tapestries well enough, so not all the details in his ekphrasis could be accurate. However, he rallied his vast classical erudition and imitated (in fact, emulated) a number of ancient sources, in particular the Tablet of Cebes. The material, workmanship and realism of the arrases were lavishly praised. The author’s visual culture was probably based on his extensive knowledge of classical literature. Although Orzechowski admitted that the nude First Parents depicted there aroused wanton members of the public, all of the scenes in the Garden of Eden series provided the royal couple with beneficial moral teachings.
To account for this paradox, a vast number of ancient, early Christian and Renaissance literary sources have been studied here in an attempt to find such an interpretation that would turn the alluring nudes to the moral benefit of the beholders. The justification could be found in the doctrine best expressed by St Augustine in his City of God. The impeccable nudes of Adam and Eve set before the bride and groom an ideal example of innocent marital feelings, recommended by Orzechowski to Sigismund August. According to Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, a secretary to the king, lascivious scenes could thus become ‘the material to exercise virtue’.