Despite Raphael’s sudden death at the outset of the project, the decoration of the Sala di Costantino crowns his work in the Vatican Palace. The frescoes were executed by his garzoni, whose claim that they had carried out their master’s ideas and been guided by his spirit is here examined and, with some qualifications, supported.
Dominating the large ceremonial hall are four epic scenes purporting to be tapestries so finely woven as to be mistaken for paintings. They celebrate major turning points in the life of Constantine the Great, ranging from his vision of the Cross and defeat of Maxentius to the triumph of the emperor over himself in becoming a Christian and surrendering Rome to the papacy.
Raphael’s purpose and methods as a history painter are illuminated through an examination of the visual and literary sources upon which he likely drew. The reader climbs the Arch of Constantine with Raphael, as it were, to follow the artist’s reconstruction of the historical events depicted in its reliefs in the light of texts readily available to him, including a source that has not previously been considered in this context. The sala paintings of The Vision of Constantine and The Battle o f the Milvian Bridge in particular reflect Raphael’s careful study of the successful military strategy employed as much as they do his concern for the pictorial and poetic effectiveness of his work.
The painting Laocoön of c. 1610 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) is a famous anom-aly in El Greco’s oeuvre: at no other time did he paint a scene from pagan mythology, and he rarely attempted moralizing allusions. Instead of seeking links which the artist never intended, it could well be more rewarding to consider the presence of the fortified town in the back-ground. This is Toledo, the city with which El Greco’s life aan work were closely bound. The interpretation proposed here is that he may have been commissioned by its citizenry to com-memorate a stormy chapter in the city’s past, in the guise of an ancient myth.
If the true subject of the painting is the doomed uprising against imperial rule which began in 1520, some of the naked figures may perhaps be identified as rebel leaders, and the Trojan horse in front of the town gate may symbolize the treachery with which the enemy gained en-try into Toledo by signing a treaty that was favorable to the besieged insurgents, but which was soon ignored. The tragic consequences for the comuneros were a vivid historical memory for the proud inhabitants of El Greco’s adopted city.
Michelangelo’s design for the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, which es-sentially dates from the late 1530s, articulates the functional and symbolic character of the existing building. It had two stories, with the offices of the municipal government housed in the upper one and those of the leading local guilds in the ground floor portico. The new facade reflects this distinction between political order and reason and the city’s commercial life.
The facade is strictly architectural; statuary is confined to the balustrade. The assertively heterodox Ionic order of the portico contrasts sharply with the Vitruvian Corinthian ordi of the upper story. Yet the hierarchical ordering of forms of human activity and of artistic id-iom is deconstructed by the subtle insinuation of transgressive motifs from the lower into the upper story. The resultis a dynamic composition that expresses both Michelangelo’ s artistic commitments and his response to the evolving sociopolitical environment.
Empress Helena Discovers and Tests the True Cross: A Refound Early Work by Hans von Aachen
An important altarpiece by Hans von Aachen, Empress Helena Discovers and Tests the True Cross, long believed lost, was rediscovered a few years ago in a private collection. The painting was commissioned by Count Otto Heinrich von Schwarzenberg in 1586 for his family’s funerary chapel in the cemetery of the Franciscan church in Munich, but disappeared in Austria following the demolition of the church. Based on previously unknown source mate-rial as well as on a comparative analysis of the presentation drawing and the final painting, the work can be dated between 1586 and 1588. Although the preliminary drawings were made while the painter was still in Venice, the painting itself was executed in Munich. This is the first work by Aachen, other than his bourgeois portraits, in which central Italian influences are replaced by elements of the Venetian style.
A Flagellation of Christ in the Museum of the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Rome
The painting of The Flagellation of Christ in the collection of San Paolo fuori le Mura is both stylistically and iconographically complex. Its purpose is to stimulate pious meditation on the Passion. The architectural elements suggest that it is the work of a Lombard artist working in Rome in the 1520s or 1530s.
A fine unpublished musical painting that was sold at auction in 1978 under the title “The Concert”, with further identification limited to “northern Italy, 16th century”, is here shown to be not a genre scene but an allegorical work painted by Niccolo Frangipane in the 1560s. Its stylistic features and choice of motifs still reflect the influence of Giorgione.
The theme of the picture, now in a private collection in Celle, Germany, is musical crea-tivity, and more specifically the superiority of the Renaissance conception of inspiration as its source over the medieval tradition of the study of mathematical rules. Underlining the point is the presence of the god Apollo, leader of the Muses, in the form of the laureatus. The combi-nation of mythological and bucolic motifs raises the work onto a literary plane far removed from the level of a simple genre scene. That the painter did not intend to record a social gath-ering is evident from the inaccurate depiction of the instruments and the fact that they are not actually in use in the scene.
Inventarium omnium et singulorum bonorum mobilium of Michelangelo da Caravaggio “pittore”
Recently discovered documents concerning Caravaggio included among others, a seques-tration inventory of the artist’s belongings. The inventory was dated August 26, 1605 and was issued on request of Prudenzia Bruna, the artist’s creditor and landlady of the apartment in which Caravaggio was living at Vicolo dei Santi Cecilia e Biagio in Campo Marzio in Rome, close to the Palazzo dell’Ambasciata di Toscana (the residence of Cardinal Del Monte). Studying of the items listed in the inventory allows an insight into Caravaggio’s every day’s life and into the working routines of this great artist. It enables to monitor different stages of the creation process; it shows for instance that one of the paintings made for Santa Maria Del Popolo in Rome was still in the artist’s studio in August 1605. Further analysis of the inven-tory also sheds light on the figure of Francesco, Caravaggio’s “garzone” (companion). It be-comes apparent that Francesco could not have been identical with the artist known as Cecco Del Caravaggio or Francesco Buoneri (“nome senza quadri”).
Additions to Carlo Carlone’s Oeuvre in Bohemia
The Italian painter Carlo Carlone (1686–1771) was invited to Prague in 1727 to decorate the interior of the Gallas Palace in the Old Town. That same year he executed two altarpieces elsewhere in Bohemia, The Apotheosis of St. John Nepomuk for the chapel of the Sternberg castle at Smirice, and The Annunciation to St. Joseph for the high altar of the chapel of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception at the Piarist college at Slaný (Schlan). The latter paint-ing, while not unknown, was inexplicably ignored in the art historical literature on the college. Now that the work has been restored, Carlone’s virtuosity and sureness of touch can once again be fully appreciated.
The Architecture of the Superficial: Venice and Tuscany
Early on in the work of John Ruskin, both Venetian and Tuscan architecture receive attention within the framework of his original theories on the contrast between the “chromatic” architecture of the South and the “structural” architecture of the North. By 1850 Ruskin’s primary focus is on Venice as a unique meeting point of the Byzantine and Gothic traditions; and he is as concerned with social and cultural history as he is with art. Only after 1870 does he turn to Tuscany as the historical modelfor his new thinking on the direction of society, augmented by classical subjects connected with sculpture, Greek civilization, and mythology.