Post-classical history


In Il passaggio per Italia, Federico Zuccaro establishes mobility as a theme in and of itself voiced in the first person. But his work also reveals mobility’s uneasy and ambivalent rapport with the concept of style. The elliptical stance on maniera, the almost willful suppression of travel’s impact on the mechanics of Federico’s eye and hand, had ample precedent in the writings of Vasari, Armenini, and Dolce. Travel as aesthetic experience and leisure instead of the hard and weary path, be it in terms of actual physical displacement or the allegorical journey, is the resounding leitmotif. Like a bravura sketch of ink and wash, the shades of difference between mobility for learning, leisure, commissions, or curiosity blur into one another, difficult to extricate in their complexity.

But if mobility continued to be unruly in Zuccaro’s thinking and work, there would emerge a space where it would eventually find standardization and control: the Accademia di San Luca, the famed organization for artistic instruction established in Rome in 1593. Active in the academy’s inception and early management, Zuccaro attempted to codify the fruits of mobility, or mitigate its potentially distracting effects, within this institution’s teaching program. Granted, the travels of artists and objects played a critical role in galvanizing the Accademia di San Luca’s most significant precedent, the Florentine Accademia del Disegno. After Michelangelo’s death in Rome on 18 February 1564, Vasari and representatives of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici swiftly made arrangements to have the divine artist’s corpse transported back to his native city. Designated an honorary rector of the Accademia del Disegno just a year before, Michelangelo and his obsequies assembled the institution’s competing factions of painters, sculptors, and architects in a public show of unity. Repatriated to Florence, Michelangelo’s body was a “great treasure” to his city, as Vasari declared, and would be honored and celebrated as a relic. An episode approximating furta sacra, clandestine relic theft and removal to a new location, constituted a major public event in the Florentine Accademia del Disegno’s early institutional history.1

Documents related to the constitution of the Roman Accademia di San Luca also stressed the significance of mobility, though in more practical terms than the furtive transport of prized artist remains. Pope Gregory XIII’s foundational brief of 1577 stated that the Accademia di San Luca was to serve those talented youths “who from every part of the earth arrive in Rome to dedicate themselves to exercise their arts.” Federico Zuccaro, in a gesture similar to his fellow artists Girolamo Muziano and Tomasso della Porta, made provisions in his will, dated 1603, to establish a foresteria, or lodging house, for these young artists. Though these plans were never realized, Zuccaro expressed the desire that rooms in his own home “should serve as a hospice for poor young students of the profession, strangers [coming from] across the mountains as well as the Flemish and [various] foreigners, who often arrive without a home base.” The hardships of relocation, which Zuccaro’s will hoped to mitigate, were necessary if young artists were to gain artistic knowledge and skills not available in their homelands. Students had conventionally reaped the benefits of mobility—varietà—through self-directed study and travel. As Vasari’s biography of Raphael suggested, the courtly artist’s residence in different cities, each with its particular regional idiom and specialty, contributed greatly to his synthetic style. Even within the deposit of diverse stylistic modes that was Rome, roaming was necessary. Zuccaro’s Life of his older brother visualized how young artists had to assemble an education by fits and starts. Taddeo wanders between the façades of Polidoro da Caravaggio, sculptures in the Cortile Belvedere, and frescoes by Raphael and Michelangelo while at the same time eking out a living as a day laborer artist. In meaningful contrast, the precepts of the Accademia di San Luca offered, at least in theory, the efficient acquisition of varietà in one locale. Through the publication Origine e progresso dell’Accademia del Disegno a Roma (1604), Zuccaro and his mouthpiece Romano Alberti envisioned a wide-ranging curriculum: drawings and cartoons of reliefs, heads, feet, and hands; studies after the antique and Polidoro’s frescoes; landscape views; animals; examinations of life nudes (warm weather permitting); the production of models in wax and clay; and representations of architecture and perspective. Rome was certainly “a studio stuffed with the best masters,” as the seventeenth-century painter and critic Giovanni Baglione put it. But their different and competing sets of skills, their performance of mobility and the positive effect of varietà, needed to be organized if the visual arts were to replenish and renew themselves for further generations of young artists. Furthermore, according to the Origine e progresso, “virtuous men of letters and lovers of our profession” would be present at theoretical discussions of the Accademia “to season and perfect each proposed discourse and our argumentation.” These interested “gentlemen, art lovers, and men of letters” external to the profession stressed the importance of “formation” for artists in the sense of inculcating certain social mores and worldliness. The intellectual and social impact of mobility, then, would constitute the very walls of this place of intense instruction. The Accademia, once called the Università dei Pittori, promised a universal education.2

However lofty the Accademia’s ideals, the manifesto that is the Ordine e progresso describes the institution’s beginnings in rooms within and nearby the church of Santi Luca e Martina beneath the Campodoglio. The minutes from the first meeting, 14 November 1593, refer to the “seats, benches, tables, desks, and similiar other things . . . with an image of the glorious Virgin and St. Luca”—the bare and essential equipment for the classroom setting. Francesco Alberti’s etching A Painter’s Academy (c. 1625) remains a vivid visualization of the Accademia’s teaching ambitions (fig. E.1). A skeleton placed on a pedestal constitutes a stationary focal point in an otherwise animated pedagogical field. To the far left, in what might be a visual pun, an older teacher and students look at a series of eyes and anatomical pupils, part of the ABCs of disegno that also include drawings of “noses, mouths, heads, hands and feet.” In a reference to Raphael’s School of Athens, a huddled team examines with a compass various geometric shapes, an important skill for understanding the boundaries of forms. Further to the right, youngsters mold figures of equally youthful appearing and gesticulating models. More advanced students inspect the innards of a cadaver. Other pairs and trios of students measure a foreshortened archway with a straight edge and draw after casts of a limb hanging from a nail. And on the back wall hang paintings of the Crucifixion, a half-length portrait, landscape along with additional casts above of busts, hands, feet, and a torso. Alberti’s print represents not only the progressive stages of this studio’s curriculum, from the alphabet of painting to dissection. The scene also points to the desire to contain the lessons of mobility within a unified setting. No longer, the print argues, must students migrate to acquire training in different specialties. Dürer may have planned to ride to Bologna to learn the secrets of perspective, Raphael to Florence to learning coloring from Fra Bartolommeo, and Perino del Vaga and Vasari himself throughout Italy to acquire flexible and swift compositional skills. At the very least, the academy as institution writ large provides the foundation and points of comparison for artists who supplement their academic training with travel. A figure in the background of the print also demonstrates that mobility can regenerate the Accademia’s student body in an ongoing process. A new pupil trying to gain entry arrives with a letter of introduction, an artist in the making. Rome, as Armenini declared, and more specifically its hosting institutions, render the city an inn (albergo) and haven(ricetto) for eager artists.3


FIGURE E.1 Pietro Francesco Alberti, A Painter’s Academy, c. 1625. Etching (40.5 × 52–58 cm). ETH Graphische Sammlung, Zurich.

The Accademia, then, administrates and institutionalizes mobility to serve specific ends. This space of control and ordered progression on the path of style belies the potentially chaotic effects travel might have for artists and their pupils. Of course, the frequent dismissal of the impact of an artist’s mobility on his style, manifest through either outright hostility or passing over the issue in silence, might be entirely expected given the campanilismo (an anachronistic, though still convenient term) of sixteenth-century writers on art. That artists traveled, studied, and received recognition outside their homelands presents an uncomfortable biographical fact for writers whose patriotic allegiances constitute one of the major assumptions in their works. The obvious cultural parallel at this time that one might turn to would be the questione della lingua, the fierce debates which erupted throughout the Italian peninsula over which regional dialects ought to achieve supremacy and standard usage. The anxiety and disregard in relation to the effects of an artist’s travels upon his style were hardly eradicated with the close of the sixteenth century. A hundred years after the appearance of Vasari’s Lives, even during an epoch when the aesthetic of eclecticism increasingly appears in the works of artists and art theorists, a measure of uneasiness regarding mobility and stylistic change endures. Take the example of Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice (1678), a history that underscores the significance of Bolognese tradition conveyed through the biographies of such artists as Francia, the Carracci, Guido Reni, and Domenichino. A careful reader and critic of Vasari, Malvasia decries the arrival of the maniera greca in Italy, especially “certain Madonnas, painted on panel in Constantinople,” which due to popular devotion ruin the good taste of artists and viewers alike. Rectifying this flow of foreign style that causes painting to regress, Bologna as the “true school of artists” and homeland of such painters as Franco, Marco Zoppo, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Primaticcio, and Niccolò dell’Abate provides Rome, Padua, Spain, and France with praiseworthy works of art. In addition, one well-known sonnet in praise of Nicolò dell’Abate published in Malvasia’s volume is often taken as a manifesto of catholic regional taste, and would correspondingly seem to advocate for an artist to travel throughout Italy so as to acquire the best of the peninsula’s regional styles. The poem’s speaker declares that the good painter will have at his hand the disegno of Rome, the movement and shading of Venice, as well as the coloring of Lombardy. All the same, such a rigid and totalizing taxonomy operates under the assumption that Venetian or Lombard painters are somehow inextricably bound to their region’s stylistic specialty, a view that disallows the possibility, say, for a Venetian painter to surpass his Roman counterpart in disegno. Nonetheless, this taxonomic system is useful insofar as it contains the uncomfortable historical phenomenon of artists changing their style as they traveled. However fragile it may be in reality, the dyad that binds an artist’s ethnic identity (e.g., Venetian) with a corresponding regional style (colorito) functions as a seemingly reassuring constant in the often haphazard chain of events coloring the narrative flow in artists’ biographies.4

This is not to say that seventeenth-century writers on art did not acknowledge the “influence” of mobility upon style. In his Abrégé de la vie des peintres (1699), the French critic and diplomat Roger de Piles notes that “one has seen some painters who, having followed the Taste of another Country, have passed from one style to another, changing this way and that.” All the same, de Piles suggests that this phenomenon is not altogether favorable. As a result of such stylistic vacillation, he concludes, “thus are made some very ambiguous Paintings for whom it is difficult to determine the Author.” This uneasiness toward artists who crossed regional and national boundaries of style did not remain restricted to the art theoretical realm. The methods of display in galleries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often allowed the question of mobility and stylistic “influence” to fall literally between the frames of paintings hanging upon the wall. The Electoral Gallery of Düsseldorf, as indicated in a catalogue of that collection compiled by Nicolas de Pigage and issued in 1778, demonstrates that Italian, Flemish, and Dutch paintings were displayed according to their regional schools. This display method found precedent in the cabinet pictures of David Teniers II, dating to the 1640s, which represent the collection of Archduke Leopold William. These portable pictures, settled upon the gallery’s walls, have reached the end of their journey and constitute a three-dimensional atlas of style (figs. E.2 and E.3).5


FIGURE E.2 Christian von Mechel, La Salle Italienne, Trosième Salle. Engraving. From Nicolas de Pigage, La Galerie Électorale de Dusseldorff, 1778.

Early modern writers on art subdue or overlook the role of mobility as they attempt to formulate a notion of style as a discrete regional and national entity. It is no surprise, then, that the burgeoning genre of art history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries inherited this selective method of representation. Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764) is an early instance of conjoining the concepts of Art and History in a book title. Winckelmann relied on the idea of the Einflüsse des Himmels, the influence of the heavens, to explain the conformity of appearance, language, and artistic style among peoples (Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians) and, consequently, the variation of style among these diverse ethnic groups. Nor does he limit his speculations on ethnic style to the ancient world. He observes that even in later times, “German, Dutch, and French artists, when they do not depart from their lands or their Nature, are, just like the Chinese and the Tartars, recognizable in their paintings.” Moreover, this adherence to a certain style of painting applies in the case of the traveling artist. “Rubens,” Winckelmann declares, “even after a sojourn of many years in Italy, painted his figures as though he never left his homeland.” The essentialist notion that culture and climate were firmly linked was perpetuated by thinkers as diverse as Kant, Montesquieu, Taine, and Lanzi. Yet this theory of environmental/geographic determinism would also inform later art historical texts. A work no less seminal than Heinrich Wölfflin’s Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (1915) predicts that “the time will soon come when the historical record of European architecture will no longer be merely subdivided into Gothic, Renaissance, and so on, but will trace out the national physiognomies which cannot quite be effaced even by imported styles.” Furthermore, Wölfflin concludes his book by equating the consequences of artists’ journeys with confusion in styles, which in turn “brings with it elements which are not understood and remain foreign.”6


FIGURE E.3 David Teniers II, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (with Teniers’ Self-Portrait) among His Works of Art in the Archduke’s Gallery in Brussels, 1653. Oil on canvas (70 × 86 cm). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

Thus, the uneasiness or reticence which Vasari, Dolce, Armenini, Zuccaro, and others adopted toward mobility and stylistic change penetrates through the bedrock of later art theory, and eventually art history itself. If this discourse follows the straight and narrow path in its negative and laconic stance toward mobility, by the same token the representation of artists’ travels opens up the discourse surrounding artistic subjectivity. Early modern writers on art conjure a plethora of subject matter as they grapple with the task of representing an artist’s progression through geographic space. Mobility emerges as a threshold onto a remarkably wide expanse of subjects that complement those of rhetoric, poetics, and other disciplines conventionally considered in art historical scholarship to be the sole neighbors to art literature. Indeed, the frequent recourse to topics as diverse as astronomy, geomancy, medicine, climate, food and drink, dancing, memory, costume, germination, and religious pilgrimage demonstrates the extent to which mobility facilitates traffic in words, and thereby ideas between art literature and the liberal arts. And the very fact that mobility evokes a motley assortment of topics conceives the traveling artist or the artist in general as much more than a synecdoche for the eye and hand; mobility embraces the possibility of positing the traveling artist as a breathing, eating, drinking, moving, in other words, organic ensemble. Leon Battista Alberti declared the artist to be “almost another god among mortals.”7 Yet in contrast to artifex deus, artifex viator transpires in sixteenth-century art literature as a fraught character, at times praised in foreign courts, germinating the seeds of his style, other times in flight or beset by mal’aria. This representation not only complicates the narrative of the “rise of the artist” that so often colors art historical scholarship. It also bears critical consequences for understanding works of art as products of a creator coming to terms with an ethnic, geographic, and natural historical environment.

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