Artibus et Historiae no. 66 (XXXIII), 2012

252 x 232 mm
ISSN 0391-9064

GAVIN WIENS – Spaces Made Strange: Architectural Oddity as Devotional Catalyst in the Passion Sequence of Duccio’s ‘Maestà’ (pp. 9–28)

This analysis is intended to elaborate upon some of the existing accounts of possible meanings for the Passion sequence from the reverse side of the fourteenth-century high altarpiece of Siena Cathedral, the Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna. I will argue that the Passion sequence was designed for multiple levels of reading depending on the spectator’s specific faculties of comprehension. At the basic level the Passion sequence provided the viewer with pictorial narratives of the biblical historia that could be read in a literal sense. Beyond this level, however, the structure of the Maestà provided visual cues that acted as points of entry for the contemplation of the invisible figural meanings that lay behind Christ’s Passion. These points of entry appear throughout the Passion sequence in the form of disruptions in the logic of the field of representation through the manipulation of architectural elements. Such figural “movements” were encouraged by the peculiar layout and design of the Passion sequence from the reverse of the Maestà.

CYRIL GERBRON – Fra Angelico, les Médicis, les Mages et le concile de Florence. Une histoire de temps entrecroisés (pp. 29–48)

Fra Angelico, the Medici, the Magi and the Council of Florence. A History of Temporal Intertwining of the Past and Present


The article deals with four paintings commissioned by Cosimo (‘il Vecchio’) de’ Medici and his son Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (‘the Gouty’) from Fra Angelico. In the main panel of the San Marco altarpiece and the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi in his chapel at the Florentine Dominican friary, Cosimo used an event of the past – the Epiphany – to commemorate a recent occurrence, the council of Florence, in order to assert the prestige and piety of his family and to legitimate his power and wealth. The iconography of these two paintings is directly related to the celebrations of the Feast of the Magi, which used to temporarily transform Florence into a new Holy Land. The paintings also have an astrological significance linked to the idea of astrologically determined destiny of Cosimo ‘il Vecchio’ or to the providential role of the city of Florence in achieving the unity of the Church.

In the case of two panels of the Armadio degli argenti it was Fra Angelico who himself proposed a reflection on the current situation of the Church, referring to the Adoration of the Magi painted for Cosimo. The sufferings endured by Christ prefigure the divisions in the body of the Church as well as the afflictions experienced by the Greek Church in the years preceding the fall of the Byzantine Empire. By intertwining the past with the present in a very complex manner, these paintings bring about the problem of the notion of time, as understood by the people of the fifteenth century, a perception significantly different from ours.

BARBARA BAERT – The Legend of the True Cross Reconsidered: A Discovery in the Grotto Church of Andria, Italy (fifteenth century) (pp. 49–74)

The Santa Croce church in Andria (Bari, Italy) preserves an unknown fifteenth-century mural cycle with the Legend of the True Cross. The cycle contributes to the dissemination of the theme in Europe, and outside Tuscany in particular. Moreover the program in the grotto–church contributes to the cult and the perception of the Legend of the True Cross in a Mediterranean and eremitical context, revealing an important mediating role of the Byzantine East. In short, this article analyses the cycle of Andria in its iconographic tradition and the specific syncretic models between East and West, and, finally, contextualizes this Legend of the True Cross in the so-called civiltà rupestre.

ALISON LUCHS – Verrocchio and the Bust of Albiera degli Albizzi: Portraits, Poetry and Commemoration (pp. 75–98)

When fifteen-year-old Albiera degli Albizzi died in Florence in 1473, her grieving fiance Sigismondo Della Stufa sought to preserve her memory through a marble bust and a series of elegies by leading poets of his time. The bust and its sculptor, Morandus, have proved elusive. This essay seeks his identity in the circle of Verrocchio, a favorite sculptor of Sigismondo’s close friend Lorenzo de’ Medici. Two busts of women attributed to Verrocchio, in the Frick Collection and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, are considered with reference to the bust of Albiera, and to possible messages in their costumes and compositions. The elegies for Albiera included a narrative poem by Poliziano which has been called a forerunner to his masterpiece, the Stanze per la Giostra, celebrating another famous Florentine beauty who died young, Simonetta Vespucci (1453–1476). Given the recent precedent of Albiera, it may be that a bust as well as poems commemorated Simonetta. A candidate is proposed and connected with a related Botticelli portrait. Speculating on the appearance and fate of the bust of Albiera, this study invites further reflection on the character of posthumous ideal portraiture in Quattrocento Florentine painting and sculpture.

ECKART MARCHAND – His Master’s Voice: Painted Inscriptions in the Works of Domenico Ghirlandaio (pp. 99–120)

Often overlooked in the art historical literature, inscriptions are virtually omnipresent in Ghirlandaio’s oeuvre. They appear as monumental lettering in his Cycle of Famous Men, chapel decorations and altarpieces, as handwritten notes in his St. Jerome and Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi, and on a tablet that is pinned to the wall of a painted room in a scene in the Santa Fina Chapel. Some of them address with direct speech those depicted, others appear as historical inscriptions within the narrative, others again simply name figures or give a work’s date of execution. The article draws out how even the most basic inscriptions (often through the choice of their location) are carefully integrated into the semantics of these images. Still, in contrast to contemporaries such as Gozzoli, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Ghirlandaio apparently showed little interest in the aesthetic or antiquarian dimension of lettering and marked the authorship of his work through the insertion of self-portraits, rather than words or dates. These, it is argued, are regularly employed to forward the cause of the patron. Thus, they appear in painted architectural sites that were associated with the patron. Acting upon his patrons’ taste for ancient words and lettering, Ghirlandaio employed the authority and weight granted to the written word, ancient languages, and classical lettering to heighten the appeal of his paintings among the social elites and to forward their social claims.

EDWARD GRASMAN – A Salute to You: Expansion under the Wings of Saint Mark (pp. 121–132)

The leading question in this paper is how to explain the frequent combination of the symbol of Venice, the Lion of Saint Mark, and the text Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus, which combination forms a vital part of the so-called myth of Venice. This paper defends the opinion that the text Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus has been connected with insufficient arguments with Saint Mark’s legendary dream on the lagoon and instead builds up an argument in favour of the proposition that the combination of symbol and motto, of martial animal with irenic message, was developed at the very end of the fourteenth century, when as a reaction to the war on Chioggia Venetian expansion started on the terraferma. The combination of the Lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of Venice, with the motto of the city, Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus, accompanied this move to the terraferma which was presented by the Venetians as an act to secure peace in all of Italy.

ALMUTH LUCKOW – Das Caritas-Motiv in Tizians „Tempelgang der Maria“ (pp. 133–152)

Charity in Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin

Titian’s painting, commissioned in 1534 by the oldest confraternity of Venice, the Scuola di S. Maria della Carità, is commonly understood as a monumental history painting, following the Venetian narrative tradition.

This view seems to be based on a misunderstanding. Titian did not intend to paint a storia observing the rules of continuity and chronological order, but his objective was to illustrate the role of the brotherhood in Venice in several scenes. The motto of the confraternity was carità and its patroness was the madre della carità. The major theme of the picture deals with this motto, Charity, the biblical Caritas, which encompasses both love for one’s neighbour and love for God. The double sense of the word accounts for the formal division of the picture – the partition between the secular and the religious.

Mingling with the people, the brothers are contributing to general welfare and peace in Venice by their presence and activities. The cardinal dressed in red can be identified with the historic figure of Bessarion, once a member of the brotherhood and here a symbol of religious tolerance. Mary’s elderly parents, integrated in the procession of Titian’s contemporaries, symbolize the timeless unity of the brothers and enhance their spiritual merits. According to the Byzantine tradition, they have just offered their beloved child to God by bringing her to the Temple. The mountains behind them send the smoke of this sacrifice up to heaven, like two immense natural censers. The Virgin herself offers her own life to God. Her voluntary sacrifice is the highest act of Caritas. Her companions, personifications of Faith, Hope and Charity, remain in the lower, “human” area – the Virgin is placed in the divine sphere symbolized by the golden mandorla. The elderly egg-seller outside of the staircase represents the opposite of Charity: she is the incarnation of avarice and egoism.

This realistic painting with its non-realistic details shows Venice as an actual Utopia, a place where both dimensions of Charity are realized – a community without any conflicts at the beginning of the Reformation.


LOUISE MARSHALL – A Plague Saint for Venice: Tintoretto at the Chiesa di San Rocco (pp. 153–188)

Tintoretto’s narratives of the life and miracles of St Roch for the cappella maggiore of the Venetian church of San Rocco have been overshadowed by the master’s overwhelming achievement in the adjacent Scuola di San Rocco. Executed over several decades, the four laterali are usually analysed in isolation from each other and from their original placement and purpose. This article reintegrates these pictures as a coherent, planned sequence and suggests new readings in the light of confraternal, citywide and pan-European devotion to St Roch as a plague saint. Comparison with little-known earlier cycles of Roch, not previously brought to bear on Tintoretto’s paintings, sheds new light on artistic and patronal choices at San Rocco. In a carefully orchestrated interplay between visual imagery and embodied presence, Tintoretto’s paintings articulated the commissioning confraternity’s vision of their heavenly patron and shaped devotees’ approach to the saint, whose relics in the high altar were a magnet for those seeking protection against the scourge of bubonic plague.

FRANCESCA ALBERTI – La ‘Descente de croix’ de Daniele da Volterra: iconographie, fonction et contexte (pp. 189–238)

Daniele da Volterra’s Descent from the Cross: Iconography, Function and Context

For a long time Daniele da Volterra’s Descent from the Cross was thought to be permanently damaged by Pietro Palmaroli’s incautious restoration. Described by Davidson as “a dispossessed ghost, the shadow of a once extraordinary presence”, the fresco has recovered some of its former splendour thanks to a restoration campaign that ended in 2005, which allows us to study the picture from a new perspective, taking into account not only its “revolutionary” stylistic qualities but also its innovative iconography, conceived as a support for the worshipper’s devotion.

In the first part of the article the modernity of the fresco’s composition is considered by closely looking at the preparatory drawings and by enhancing their role in the artist’s creative process. The complex iconography is then carefully examined in order to reveal the fresco’s theological content and its liturgical “performative” function. While the priest was celebrating mass in the small Orsini Chapel,  the painting reminded the viewer about the sacramental dimension of Christ’s death. Moreover, the absence of wounds on Jesus’ body and his presentation as an offering recalled the resurrecting power of his sacrifice. Daniele da Volterra also enhanced the role of the Virgin not only by placing her parallel to the painting’s surface and in a position that echoes that of her son, but also by creating, with the Holy Women, a sort of “mourning” configuration, which presents Mary as a Corredemptrix and Coadjutrix of the human race. This symbolic comprehension of the storia is enriched by another original motif: the conversion of Longinus, which takes place on one of the ladders. In the picture, the ladder becomes an allegory of the scala cœli and the Roman soldier, who is holding Christ, is an exemplum of spiritual ascension.

Although the choice of the Descent from the Cross certainly fitted the funerary function bestowed on the chapel by Elena Orsini, the theological content of the fresco shares interesting relations with the devotional practices of the Minim friars, who had signed the contract with the artist. After having considered the most important aspects of the friars’ spirituality with regard to the picture, the paper re-examines the circumstances under which the fresco was displaced during the sixteenth century. The reconstruction of the original stucco frame, in which the fresco was once placed, shows the significant role that this monumental structure used to play, by linking the Descent from the Cross to the frescoes on the lateral walls of the chapel. Furthermore, the decorative syntax of the framing exhibits, with some irony, the artist’s inventiveness, which was explicitly related to that of Michelangelo by means of two bas-reliefs, originally at the entrance to the chapel.

KATHERINE M. WALLACE, WILLIAM E. WALLACE – Seeing Chiari Clearly (pp. 239–246)

The altarpiece in the Tedalini Chapel of San Silvestro in Capite, Rome, painted by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari (1654–1727) is not only the artist’s masterpiece, but also an intelligent synthesis of some of the most innovative art in Rome. Painted on the cusp of the eighteenth century, Chiari’s masterwork represents a type of altarpiece which continued to exert an influence throughout the century – that of the Madonna and Child imagined as a statue come to life before the faithful viewer. Although Chiari is principally known as an important pupil of the highly successful Carlo Maratta, in this case, Chiari surpasses his master. Chiari reinvigorates the altarpiece tradition by returning to the most innovative works of Caravaggio, but makes them palatable to a contemporary audience. In hindsight, Caravaggio is the greater artist, but it is important to recognize that Chiari was once the preferred artist, successfully articulating a taste that would be dominant in eighteenth-century aesthetics.

TIMOTHY DE PAEPE – Painting, Drama and Discomfort: The Great Painters’ Hall of the Antwerp Saint Luke’s Guild (1664–1810) (pp. 247–268)

Between 1664 and 1810 the Great Painters’ Hall of the Guild of Saint Luke, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the rhetoricians, had a unique place in artistic life in Antwerp. The hall was decorated with paintings and portrait busts by Antwerp artists, both famous and relatively unknown, and served many purposes: as a reception room, museum, theatre, among others. This article wishes to recreate the original appearance of the hall and reconstruct its art collection. Furthermore, the author argues that the art collection was not haphazardly assembled, but that both the artworks that were displayed in the hall and the plays that were performed there worked together to convey a number of messages relevant to the artists, to the city and to those in power.

JOHN BLAKINGER – ‘Death in America’ and ‘Life’ Magazine: Sources for Andy Warhol’s ‘Disaster’ Paintings (pp. 269–286)

This essay presents new sources for Andy Warhol’s Death in America paintings. Produced between 1962 and 1964 for the artist’s international solo debut at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris, this discrete group of silkscreened canvases, part of the artist’s grisly Disaster series, depicts car wrecks, suicide leaps, electric chairs, race riots, most wanted criminals, and atomic explosions. New evidence from Life magazine challenges conventional approaches to Warhol’s use of appropriated media imagery and suggests that the artist manipulated rather than merely reproduced his sources for these paintings. Warhol violently transformed images from a Life magazine photographic essay portraying an idealized vision of America’s small towns. The artist also mimicked the visual elements of advertisements in Life magazine yet changed their narrative content. By subverting idyllic images of postwar American life, Warhol engaged in a critical and highly intentional artistic practice. This essay additionally considers the possible political effect and international reception of the Death in America paintings.

TERESA GRZYBKOWSKA – Andreas Stech’s Portraits of Johannes Hevelius in Gdańsk and Oxford. At the Origins of the Portrait of the Early Modern Scholar (pp. 287–316)

The present article deals with two portraits of the brilliant astronomer, the citizen of Gdańsk (Germ. Danzig), Johannes Hevelius (1610–1687). One of the paintings, since 1681 has been held in the Gdańsk City Council Library, now known as the Polish Academy of Sciences Gdańsk Library. The second portrait, donated by the astronomer in gratitude for accepting him into the Royal Society of London for the Promotion of Natural Knowledge, since 1679 had been held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, after which, in 2001, it was moved to the city’s Museum of the History of Science. Recently the barely visible, yet legible signature of Andreas Stech (1635–1697), located to the right of the astronomer’s finger touching the celestial globe: Andr. Stech | pinxit 167[?] has been discovered and deciphered in the Oxford portrait. Placed next to each other during an exhibition in Gdańsk in 2011, the paintings did not make an impression of having been painted by two different hands. The signature on the Oxford portrait settles the matter – both paintings are by Stech. The painter was constant collaborator with Hevelius, the author of the astronomer’s other portraits, including those in the frontispieces as well as scientific illustrations in the scholar’s works. The iconographic uniqueness of the Gdańsk original and the Oxford replica confirm that it was the astronomer himself who determined the painting’s iconography. Hevelius wanted to be remembered as a rational scholar with a Cartesian countenance, admiring the work of Creation but also researching it empirically. Together with the artist he rejected the vain and melancholic tradition of representing astronomers. A new type of portrait of the early modern scholar was created in collaboration between the scholar and the artist – that of the specialist in a specific branch of knowledge.