Post-classical history


Mobility in Vasari’s Lives


Lorenzo Lotto, St. Lucy Altarpiece, detail of fig. 1.8

1 Mobility and the Problem of “Influence”

15 August 1554. The Feast of the Assumption in Loreto at the Santa Casa, the Virgin’s birthplace miraculously transported from Nazareth to this city on the Adriatic coast. Here in this pilgrimage site, where as Montaigne described, ex-votos from so many places and princes cover the Holy House’s walls with silver and gold, the itinerant painter Lorenzo Lotto has decided to end his peripatetic existence. He inscribes the following entry in his account book: “Item, so as not to have to travel anymore in my old age, I have resolved to end my days in this holy place, having made myself an oblate for the rest of my life.” It is ironic, or entirely appropriate, that in a location where so many vectors of mobility converge (portable cult object, crowds of foreign pilgrims, a city fortified against Ottoman forays) that Lotto comes to rest. However prosaic, the entry in his Libro di spese diverse registers, as Peter Humfrey has noted, “an undeniable pathos, as well as a sense of exhaustion” due to a career spent in frequent mobility.1

Just how itinerant Lotto was can be gleaned by a brief summary of his life. Born in Venice, about 1480, Lotto consistently describes himself as a “pictor veneziano” in the many notarial acts, wills, and letters that document his artistic activity. Early on in his career, he departs for the nearby town of Treviso, where he signs an altarpiece as “LAURENT LOTU’S IUNIOR,” a self-declared testament to his relatively young age. Although Treviso as a dependent in the Venetian empire may not qualify as thoroughly foreign territory, it was from here that Lotto’s mobility would accelerate: in 1506 he leaves for the town of Recanati in the Marche, part of the Papal States, before working in fresco at the Vatican Palace in Rome three years later. Lotto returns to the Marche and from there ventures north to Bergamo, staying there from 1513 to 1525. Thereafter Lotto returns to Venice for almost a decade, only to recommence a peripatetic existence in his fifties, an age approaching the life expectancy of sixteenth-century artists. Lotto returns to the Marche in 1533, undertaking commissions in Jesi, Ancona, Macerata, and Cingoli. From 1540 he changes residences between Venice and Treviso and declares in 1546 his plan to spend the rest of his life in “my native Venice,” expressing a wish to be buried in the cemetery of the Dominican Santi Giovanni e Paolo, “according to their rite, and dressed in their habit.” Despite this intention to stay put, Lotto becomes increasingly mobile during the last decade of his life. He repeatedly moves house in Venice before departing in 1549 for Ancona, then Jesi, and finally Loreto, where he inscribes the aforementioned entry declaring his intention never to move again.2

True, Lotto was hardly the only artist of his generation to have a mobile life trajectory. His compatriot Sebastiano del Piombo, three years his junior, left the lagoon in 1511 to pursue a career in Rome. Raphael, also three years younger than Lotto, had a peripatetic path, moving from Urbino to Florence to Rome. Pordenone, also probably born in 1483, moved through a circuit of northern Italian towns—Spilimbergo, Villanova, Mantua, Cremona, Piacenza, and Cortemaggiore among them—and traveled to Alviano in Central Italy. Even Titian, so closely identified with Venice and the aesthetic of colorito, came to that city as a child from the town of Pieve di Cadore and counted Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino, Bologna, Augsburg, and Rome among his destinations. The majority of painters, sculptors, and architects of the early modern period in the Italian peninsula could easily be classified as itinerant, given that mobility, receiving commissions, and spreading one’s reputation often went hand in hand. In Martin Warnke’s estimation, the history of Italian art from the fourteenth century onward could be understood in terms of artists moving between two entities, the city-state and princely court. The sack of Rome by Imperial troops in 1527 and the siege of Florence approximately three years later destroyed artists’ careers and works of art. But these tumultuous events also pollinated artistic styles—think of Giulio Romano in Mantua, Sansovino in Venice, and Polidoro da Caravaggio in Naples—owing to artists fleeing Rome.3

Lotto, then, is not remarkable for having mobility as a leitmotif in his biography. What is unusual, however, is the tone of volition, at times insistence, regarding an intention to depart from a particular location. According to a contract dated 17 July 1517, Lotto stipulates that his apprentice, Marcantonio Cattaneo di Casnigo, be prepared to follow his master in whatever city or land, be it “throughout Italy or outside Italy, the Gallic parts, or Germany.” The artist repeatedly expresses his intention to travel in a series of letters dated 1524–32 written from Venice to the governors of the Consorzio della Misericordia in Bergamo. Most likely wishing to expedite completion and payment for the intarsia panels he designed for the high altar of Santa Maria Maggiore, Lotto draws upon a language of obligation and urgency. To take letters from one year, 1527: “I, having to go to the Marche” (3 February); “time being wanting, I, having for some days to travel to the Marche to bring my work to completion” (22 February); “it has become incumbent upon me to go to the Marche” (15 July). Almost a year and a half later, in November 1528, Lotto declares he might abandon Italy entirely.4

Art historians have drawn a connection among three circumstances: Lotto’s perpetual and willful mobility, his exposure to a plethora of regional stylistic idioms, and his proclivity to mutate his style because of, or in some cases, in spite of, his physical displacement. Humfrey observes that “Lotto’s extensive travels in the Italian peninsula meant that he had a wider experience of different pictorial cultures than did the majority of his Venetian colleagues.” Some works display an interest in Netherlandish painting, while others demonstrate Lotto’s scrutiny of Dürer, Raphael, and Leonardo. Luigi Chiodi expresses a similar sentiment: “Antonello, Correggio, Carpaccio, Titian, Giorgione, Raphael, the Lombards, artists from the Veneto, Northerners, Tuscans, Romans, archaic religious painting, Grünewald, Altdorfer, Bellini, Melozzo, the Dutch, the Mannerists: was Lotto all of this?” Alexander Nagel comments that Lotto’s work sheds light on “how the very question of center and periphery took shape in the artistic culture of sixteenth-century Italy” and asks “what this question had to do with the emerging historical and regional awareness of artistic tradition that marks the period.”5


These observations become more concrete if we examine them in relation to a selection of Lotto’s works. In any diachronic cut through an oeuvre, we would hardly expect an artist’s style to remain the same. What distinguishes Lotto, however, is his tendency to transform his manner of working even in those paintings completed at relatively tight chronological proximity to one another. In those works from vastly different periods, Lotto’s style remains markedly more elusive and difficult to categorize according to region or school. It is not a coincidence that for the supreme connoisseur of the twentieth century, the American art historian Bernard Berenson, Lotto posed an appealing challenge. As we shall see through the following “motivated descriptions” of just a few of Lotto’s works, the artist’s propensity to modulate his style can often, though not always, be understood in light of his change in place. More important, focusing upon Lotto as an extreme case study of a traveling artist in relation to his unruly style allows us to zero in on a more global issue. This artist’s approach to painting raises the larger problem of determining how art historical thinking might assess and interpret the causal link between the biographical fact of an artist’s travels and the effect of stylistic change. The proverbial elephant in the room is one of the building blocks of art history—the concept of “influence” as it pertains to mobility.

First to the works themselves: at the outset of his career Lotto would, as we might expect, strongly adhere to the stylistic conventions of his native Venice. The paintings from this period testify to Lotto’s training, in all probability in Alvise Vivarini’s workshop, and his awareness of stylistic trends in the lagoon. These include a precise, almost lapidary definition of facial features, an interest in landscape, and an exploration of tonality, light, and meteorological effects via the oil paint medium. Take, for instance, St. Jerome in the Wilderness, a panel signed and dated 1506 (fig. 1.1). To be sure, the fact that this work was executed not in Venice but in nearby Treviso raises the question of Lotto’s activity in the “periphery.” All the same, Treviso is located only about thirty kilometers to the north of Venice, about a day’s journey away, either by horseback on the ancient via Terraglio or by barge floating on the Sile River that feeds into the lagoon. The sixteenth-century architect Michele Sanmicheli compared Treviso to a limb attached to the body of the metropolitan lagoon. Treviso was not so much the periphery, but rather an extension of the center itself, or to put it another way, slightly “off-center.”6

Correspondingly, Lotto’s Trevigian panel might reasonable be described as Venetian. He follows the fifteenth-century Venetian workshop practice of applying successive layers of oil paint upon a well-gessoed panel. Lotto also adheres to the compositional formula deployed by his predecessors such as Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano (fig. 1.2). St. Jerome, deep in penance and meditation in his oratory, occupies the foreground. Behind him is the view toward relinquished civilization. Through a number of compositional decisions, Lotto firmly anchors Jerome’s body and book in the surrounding wilderness. These include the saint’s domelike head that resounds in the boulder’s rounded ends and the open folios with their bindings which are the formal origins of the fractures in the rock face.7

Of course, closer observation of the panel restrains the impulse to apply the regional label of “Venetian.” For if by “Venetian” we mean the stylistic priorities of only those artists born or active in Venice and the Veneto, then such a designation fails given Lotto’s recourse to the German artist Albrecht Dürer’s engraving St. Jerome (1496) (fig. 1.3). But we might also expand the definition of Venetian to include not only what was produced there, but also what was readily available via transport of goods in Venice. This enlarged designation, then, would account, as Humfrey suggests, for Lotto’s “small-scale Düreresque landscape,” due to its “sudden contrasts of scale,” “the breaks in spatial recession,” and “jagged silhouettes.” Now the problem of Dürer’s activity and reception in Venice is complex and cannot be delved into here. Dürer himself was present in Venice executing his altarpiece Virgin of the Rose Garlands for the church of San Bartolommeo the very year Lotto’s panel was completed. Suffice it to say that Lotto was not alone in employing Dürer’s landscape formulas as model, a trend that corroborates the painter and art theorist Paolo Pino’s observation that northern artists excelled at landscapes due to their exposure to the wilderness of their homelands. In light of Lotto’s close examination of Dürer, his panel could loosely be considered a colored version of the German artist’s engraving. In a practice not unlike watercolor applied to black-and-white prints, it seems as though Lotto has applied delicate tonal transitions within the swerving contours of Dürer’s incisions.8

However much Lotto’s engagement with Dürer complicates what we mean by “Venetian,” his allegiance to that school of painting seems unshakable when compared to his version of the subject executed approximately three years later during his sojourn in Rome (fig. 1.4). Retained is the landscape background, albeit with the inclusion of St. Jerome adoring the cross, with its anthropomorphic rocks and tree trunks that recall Lotto’s coloristic elaboration of Dürer’s engraving. Yet in lieu of the Treviso panel’s dense vegetation are trees with feathery leaves and a sunlit rolling countryside, all evocative of landscape backgrounds in Umbrian painting. Replacing the castle in the first St. Jerome is a structure reminiscent of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Most dramatically, instead of an emaciated ascetic, we confront a classicizing muscular saint. The figure testifies to Lotto’s examination of Roman art, be it sculptures of river gods or, in the Vatican Palace, Raphael’s Diogenes in the School of Athens or Sodoma’s vault paintings above. It is as though Jerome’s Trevigian physique has now in Rome been inflated and swollen, transformed from mortified flesh to monumental body.9


FIGURE 1.1 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Jerome in the Wilderness, c. 1506. Oil on panel (48 × 40 cm). © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot. Louvre, Paris.


FIGURE 1.2 Giovanni Bellini, St. Jerome Reading in a Landscape, 1480–85. Egg tempera and oil on wood (47 × 33.7 cm). National Gallery, London.


FIGURE 1.3 Albrecht Dürer, St. Jerome in the Wilderness, 1496. Engraving (32.4 × 22.8 cm). British Museum, London.

Many art historical narratives describe and implicitly favor those artists who, on arriving in Rome, adapted their style according to the taste for all things antique. Raphael is often championed for having developed his human figures from their harmonious proportions in Urbino to weighty, even exaggerated monumentality in Rome. Lotto, however, stands in contrast to those artists who relentlessly elaborated while in Rome the expressive possibilities of the monumental nude. He moves at either extreme of standard classical proportions, at times exaggerating the figure, other times restraining or abandoning it altogether. And it is no accident that these modulations occur in conjunction with his comings and goings to and from central Italy, his activity in destinations at some remove from artistic centers.10

To restrict ourselves for the moment to Lotto’s paintings of St. Jerome, take one of his depictions of Jerome executed while in Bergamo around 1513–15 (fig. 1.5). In this devotional panel, Lotto’s departure from Rome raises compositional opportunities for combining figure and background which otherwise might be atypical. There can be, in other words, a geographical component to artistic license. First, regarding the lunging Jerome, the shift from the calm monumentality of the seated figure in the Roman version is utterly striking. Lotto stretches a protean Jerome in either direction, from tensed toe to the hand grasping the cross. The position of the cerulean book echoing his cloak and the diagonal landscape further emphasize the body’s pulled and elastic proportions. To be sure, Lotto’s representation does not mark a complete rupture with classicizing prototypes: among his models for his strung-out Jerome may have been one of Michelangelo’s reclining nudes painted above the Erythrean Sibyl. The elongation of a nude figure is alsoa distinctive feature in Raphael’s Stanza dell’Incendio, particularly in the muscular youth hanging from the wall in The Fire in the Borgo (1514). More generally, St. Jerome could be linked to a victory encased in a commemorative arch’s spandrel, an iconographic parallel that might lend triumphal associations to the saint’s ascetic devotion.11


FIGURE 1.4 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Jerome in the Wilderness, c. 1509. Oil on panel (80.5 × 61 cm). Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome.


FIGURE 1.5 Lorenzo Lotto, The Penitent St. Jerome, c. 1513–15. Oil on panel (55.8 × 40 cm). Muzeul National de Arta al României, Bucharest.

And yet, less expected in Rome would be the coupling of Lotto’s elastic quasi-nude with this landscape. For Lotto’s portrayal of this wilderness displays both stylistic regression and incorporation of foreign models. Retained from the Roman panel is the architectural structure in the distance which alludes to Castel Sant’Angelo and, by consequence, to knowledge of that city. Nonetheless, Lotto reverts to the miniature-like handling of paint and delicate tonal transitions he pursued in the Treviso panel to render the lush landscape. Still-life details such as the bird’s skeleton, snakes, and the trompe l’oeil grasshopper exhibit his awareness of the emphasis placed on such details in painting north of the Alps. It is as though Lotto, having located himself northward, relocates in turn his style with Venetian and Lombard painting practice. This is not just the product of stalwart artistic agency. Lotto’s stylistic modulation reflects most likely a dialogue with the expectations of this panel’s Bergamask patron, still to be identified.12


These stylistic maneuverings, Lotto’s calibrations according to place, do they show verve, virtuosity, or self-critique? The question becomes all the more pressing if posed in relation to the first major work Lotto executed in Bergamo, an altarpiece commissioned by Alessandro Colleoni Martinengo (fig. 1.6). With its architectural representation and disposition of saints, Lotto’s altar-piece marks a return to ideas about composition that harken back to his Venetian training. Yet we also see the tempering of the Central Italian idiom Lotto exhibited in the Roman St. Jerome panel as well as in other works executed in the Papal States of the Marche. For in reverting to the compositional formulas set out by Giovanni Bellini and his contemporaries, the Colleoni Martinengo altarpiece in Bergamo diverts and redirects a prominent art historical narrative. This scholarly perspective sees the major stylistic priority of sixteenth-century artists as reviving antique ideals of monumental human form and proceeding later in the century to elaborate them into a mannerist aesthetic. To name but one foreign artist in Rome who exemplifies this viewpoint, Sebastiano del Piombo’s work increasingly exhibits his response to the heroic muscular human form proposed by Michelangelo. Lotto did not entirely relinquish ideas gleaned from the antique he encountered in Rome and Central Italy. The lurching figures that stone St. Stephen are citations from the Laocoön group, for instance (fig. 1.7). But these references to the antique human form are located in the predella, absent from the altarpiece’s main field. Furthermore, Lotto’s use of the crowning angels has been linked to the agitated flying cherubs in the altarpieces of Fra Bartolommeo, possible evidence of a sojourn by Lotto in Florence. Yet this “foreign” stylistic reference is accompanied with allusions to more local models, based as they are on Milanese prototypes. St. Sebastian and the shadowy grottolike space recall elements from Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. The coffered barrel vault and pilasters encrusted with ornament are reminiscent of Bramante’s architecture in Milan or, more locally in Bergamo, Amadeo’s jewel-like Colleoni Chapel, erected to honor the memory of Bartolommeo Colleoni, the adoptive father of Lotto’s patron.13


FIGURE 1.6 Lorenzo Lotto, Colleoni Martinengo Altarpiece, 1513–16. Oil on panel (520 × 250 cm). San Bartolomeo, Bergamo.


FIGURE 1.7 Lorenzo Lotto, The Stoning of St. Stephen, 1516. Oil on panel (51.2 × 97.1 cm). Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti, Bergamo.

If forced to extract the principles governing Lotto’s stylistic change under the circumstance of mobility, we might articulate them through the following dialectic. On the one hand there is the geographic dimension of license. Arriving in a place as a foreign artist grants, or in fact demands, at times the performance of novelty. Clauses “with skill and ingenuity” or “as best as he can” in artists’ contracts stipulate a certain degree of quality. But these phrases may also be interpreted as offering artists room for pursuing pictorial solutions which differed, and surpassed, preexisting local models. On the other hand of this dialectic is site specificity. By this term, I am referring to Lotto’s tendency to couch his novelty in compositional settings native and particular to a painting’s destination. This impulse toward spatial or topographic familiarity in turn has the potential to enlarge the work of art’s field of references. Lotto himself commented upon artists’ practice of “understanding the place and site and light and every other respect” for a commission. Thus in the case of the Colleoni Martinengo altar-piece, there is the literal framing of frenetic angels in the process of rigging up banners and wreaths within an architectural setting that draws upon Veneto-Lombard models. The otherworldly manifests itself in the here and now.14


FIGURE 1.8 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Lucy Altarpiece, 1532. Oil on panel (243 × 237 cm). Pinacoteca Communale, Jesi.

The dialectic between license and site specificity also seems at work in Lotto’s altarpiece that he completed in 1532 for the Confraternity of St. Lucy in Jesi (fig. 1.8). Prior to overseeing the shipment of this panel, Lotto had spent nearly a decade in Venice. While there, Lotto’s work for his native city adapted to the compositional formats and modes of coloring practiced by artists active there. A case in point is Lotto’s St. Nicholas altarpiece (1527-29), which in its tonal transitions and figures with their grand rhetorical gestures and expressions responds to Titian (fig. 1.9). Yet in the St. Lucy altarpiece for Jesi, some three hundred kilometers south of Venice not far from the Adriatic coast, Lotto departs from the Venetian custom of formulating a congregation of saints in a shared architectural space. He demonstrates instead a license to play with, even defy, accepted Venetian conventions of arranging figures. For one, he transposes a narrative episode of St. Lucy’s life and martyrdom from its expected position in the predella below to the altarpiece’s principal field above. Furthermore, unlike in the St. Nicholas altarpiece, also dedicated to a particular saint and commissioned by a confraternity, St. Lucy does not frontally address the viewer. Dressed in a vibrant yellow that clashes with surrounding blocks of color, Lucy defiantly stands in profile with a Leonardesque finger thrust in the air. In contrast to the tranquil assemblies in Venetian altarpieces, Lotto’s St. Lucy is an inert figure amidst an agitated crowd of at least fifteen panders who are attempting to remove her. Another instance of Lotto’s license may consist in the inclusion of a black slave. A drawing most likely taken after the preparatory sketch for the main panel shows two running putti, a compositional decision that follows the pattern by Bellini and others of placing such accessory figures in the foreground (fig. 1.10). In the final version, however, Lotto imports the exotic element of a black attendant whose dark flesh contrasts with the skin of the running child and Lucy’s bright complexion.15


FIGURE 1.9 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Nicholas in Glory with Sts. John the Baptist and Lucy, 1527–29. Oil on canvas (335 × 188 cm). Santa Maria dei Carmini, Venice.


FIGURE 1.10 Copy after Lorenzo Lotto, St. Lucy before Paschasius. Black chalk, brown ink, pen (drawing), wash with brown (20.8 × 19.4 cm). © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot. Louvre, Paris.

But along with this geographic license Lotto exhibits an impulse toward site specificity. The contract indicates that the patrons expected the altarpiece to be of greater “beauty and facture” than his panel of the Entombment, also located in San Floriano, which he had completed previously for another Jesi confraternity. The dense narrative scene in the St. Lucy altarpiece’s main panel may thus recall and attempt to surpass the multifigural composition of his Entombment. That a brotherhood was Lotto’s patron could account for the artist’s decision to insert Lucy within a varied group of male figures. In addition, the black attendant with her delineated facial features, hair, and dangling earring attests to nearby Ancona’s status as a location for the slave trade.16


FIGURE 1.11 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Lucy before Paschasius and St. Lucy Harnessed to Oxen, 1532. Oil on panel (32 × 69 cm). Pinacoteca Civica, Jesi.


FIGURE 1.12 Lorenzo Lotto, Teams of Oxen, 1532. Oil on panel (32 × 69 cm). Pinacoteca Civica, Jesi.

Furthermore, Lotto cites Jesi’s urban fabric and setting. The cityscape in the central predella panel resembles components of the city’s architecture. The arcade with its Corinthian columns, echoed in the main panel, recalls the loggia designed by Andrea Sansovino in 1519–25 for the Palazzo della Signoria (fig. 1.11). The buildings in the third predella panel can be seen as variations on the brick constructions, crenellation, and window treatments that Francesco di Giorgio Martini conceived for civic and private palaces throughout the city (figs. 1.12, 1.13). And the coastline visible in the distance suggests Jesi’s vicinity in the Adriatic littoral. Lotto’s architectural structure and ornament may even refer not just to a particular place, but to specific construction events. Notarial documents contemporary with Lotto’s contract indicate that stonemasons were paid for the shipment of stone from Dalmatia and the manufacture of columns, bases, and capitals for the loggia of the Palazzo della Signoria. Lotto’s site specificity also applies to the cultural use of this topographic space. While the church interior pictured in the first predella panel may not be able to be linked definitively with the interior at the altarpiece’s destination, the some forty hanging ex-votos and lit candles allude to devotional ritual (fig. 1.14). Lotto’s altarpiece, then, registers a degree of decorum to temper his license, an attempt to locate inventive narrative solutions within credible and appropriate settings.17


FIGURE 1.13 Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Andrea Sansovino, Palazzo Communale, Jesi. 1486–1551. Lala Aufsberg, Bildarchiv Foto Marburg.


FIGURE 1.14 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Lucy at the Tomb of St. Agatha, 1532. Oil on panel (32 × 69 cm). Pinacoteca Civica, Jesi.


How much Lotto would adapt his style is perhaps best revealed by looking at the work he executed in Venice after periods of time away from his native city. Upon his return, Lotto would at times adjust his mode of painting to what could have been considered “Venetian.” But Lotto’s realization of this stylistic label was out of sync with current ways of composition and coloring. Like an emigrant who returns to his homeland only to find his native language has evolved, leaving his way of speaking frozen in the past, Lotto’s style was what might be termed geographically anachronistic, having become archaic during his absence. His approach to the task of painting was out of place since it was out of joint with time.

These observations are best exemplified in a significant commission Lotto received in Venice, the altarpiece depicting St. Antoninus distributing alms (1542) in Santi Giovanni e Paolo (fig. 1.15).18 Lotto did not shun all stylistic tendencies then current in the city. Take, for instance, the crowd of petitioners in the foreground—veiled women seeking dowries for the unmarried or assistance for the blind, the indigent in tattered clothing, the poveri vergognosi, decent folk too ashamed to beg. In a remarkable entry in his account book, Lotto records that he had studied paupers from life to portray this impoverished crowd. All the same, the painter drew on relatively recent figural models to assemble a lively and agitated company. The faces in profile, outstretched arms and grasping hands, upturned necks and twisting torsos bring to mind the lunging bodies in Titian’s Assumption (1515-18) and, more immediately, his St. Peter Martyr altarpiece, completed in 1530 and installed just across and down the nave. Lotto also makes effective use of the convention of the curtain suddenly parted by flying putti to reveal the scene before the viewer. Most memorably deployed by Raphael in the Sistine Madonna (1512-13), this dramatic device was also used by artists active in the Veneto and nearby Lombardy, as seen in Moretto’s altarpiece for San Giovanni Evangelista in Brescia.19


FIGURE 1.15 Lorenzo Lotto, St. Antoninus Altarpiece, 1541–42. Oil on canvas (332 × 235 cm). Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.

In spite of these concessions, several elements render the St. Antoninus altarpiece out of sync with tendencies in Venetian altarpiece compositions. The hierarchical figural arrangement, with the saint at the summit of a triangular schema, is a system Lotto repeatedly employed throughout the course of his career. This formula, while expected in the first decades of the sixteenth century, must have appeared archaic by the time Lotto completed his altar-piece in 1542. The same is true regarding the architectural representation coextensive with the altar frame and the viewer’s space. It is revealing that when Titian executed a composition that also portrayed the distribution of alms, his altarpiece for the church of San Giovanni Elemosinario (1545-47), he dissolved the hierarchical formula altogether, putting the saint in direct contact with petitioner (fig. 1.16). Such is the similarity in subject matter between the two altarpieces that Titian’s work implicitly critiques, even rebukes, Lotto’s recourse to a style more suited to at least a generation or two earlier. Also seemingly retardataire in the Sant’Antoninus altarpiece is the meticulous attention to objects—sacks full of coins, the golden and crystal crozier, the silk miter, leather-bound books, perhaps among them the saint’s Summa theologica,and most noticeably the Anatolian and Para-Mamluk rugs with their intricate field patterns draped over the stone parapets. Lotto retained the approach to style that was to be increasingly obsolete in the wake of Titian’s innovations and the arrival of Central Italian artists such as Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Salviati to the lagoon in 1541–42. This lends a geographic dimension to anachronism, a phenomenon most often considered exclusively in historical terms but in Lotto’s case provoked by his displacement.20


FIGURE 1.16 Titian, San Giovanni Elemosinario, 1545–47. Oil on canvas (264 × 156 cm). San Giovanni Elemosinario, Venice.


We would be better served with an examination of Lotto’s entire oeuvre so as to have a better grasp of his propensity to modulate his style while on the road. Also wanting is consideration of the visual currents and possible points of artistic contact Lotto encountered in Treviso, Rome, Bergamo, and the Marche, the smorgasbord of his many destinations. Desirable as well would be probing into the cultural circles Lotto frequented, be it Bernardo de’ Rossi’s Trevigian humanist entourage, his Bergamask mercantile patrons, or Venetian Dominican friars. Such an investigation would establish whether texts or other artworks composed in these milieus might have any bearing on Lotto’s physical and stylistic vagabondage.

But there is a concern more pressing than carrying out these interpretative strategies, commendable, tried, and true. More urgent and critical is reflection on the thought processes that have buttressed the foregoing discussion of Lotto. Our analysis has pursued the following chain of logic. First, we have broached the event of Lotto’s mobility, his travel from one place to another. As a result of this displacement, we have posited there transpired an exposure to a style that was local, and therefore foreign and different from Lotto’s own mode of painting. Finally, we have suggested that Lotto’s own style, his painterly facture and way of composing, responds, adapts to, or manipulates that artistic “otherness.” In other words, we understand style as a function of mobility.

This process is not strictly linear or progressive. In the case of Lotto’s return to Venice, the artist regresses or retains a way of painting more in tune with the late fifteenth century than with his own time. All the same, we have imputed meaning to this interaction between change in place and a subsequent change in style. What is more, great liberty has been taken to apply words to this interaction, be it in pairs of opposition (geographic license versus site specificity), or single terms (adaptation, calibration, geographic anachronism). In using these words, we are paying homage, unconsciously or not, to one of the most fundamental yet problematic constituents of art history. It is known by a term that is so frequently used and obvious so as to become almost invisible. That term is “influence” as it pertains to mobility.

How innocuous “influence” appears as a term can be detected in a letter written by the art historian Erwin Panofsky to his colleague Fritz Saxl. Dated 22 March 1948, the letter responds to Saxl’s comments on a lecture Panofsky delivered on “Illustrated Pamphlets of the Reformation” while a visiting professor at Harvard. Panofsky wrote: “You may be very right in assuming that there may be some Raphael influence involved in Dürer’s Apostles (after all, they did exchange drawings and stuff); but it is difficult to put one’s finger on a specific figure. Do you know anything specifically similar?” And to Saxl’s suggestion that humanists’ distinctions between Latin rhetorical style affected Renaissance artists’ adaptation of classical forms, Panofsky countered, “perhaps it is not even necessary to assume a direct ‘influence’ of the humanists upon the artists in this matter: it may be that there is a kind of spontaneous revival . . . that manifested itself in the literary and visual sphere without any direct influence.” And finally, informing Saxl of his current research, Panofsky wrote, “I am trying to find more Italianisms in Roger van der Weyden after his trip to Italy in 1450 which I still firmly maintain to have taken place, ‘trotz Kantorowitz, Kaiser und Reich.’”21

Fritz Saxl never responded; by an uncanny coincidence, “Pan” wrote to “dear old Sassetto” on the very day of the latter’s death. Yet the letter shows that for these two figures who shaped much of the art historical lexicon, “influence” was a malleable term. It might refer to exchanges between artists and artistic traditions (Raphael and Dürer; south and north); the relationship between antiquity and the fifteenth century; or the dialogue between writers and artists (Bruni’s stylistic criticism), not to mention the impact of an artist’s travels on his style (Rogier van der Weyden’s “Italianisms”). Moreover, the letter alludes to the difficulty of detecting and proving the existence of such “influences.” Indeed, to read that Panofsky, an almost canonized figure in art history, asked the question “Do you know anything specifically similar?” is heartening.

But if Panofsky felt at liberty to deploy “influence” in referring to a wide range of cultural interactions, later art historians would find this term difficult to stomach. A case in point is Michael Baxandall’s “Excursus Against Influence,” a section of an essay on Picasso and Cézanne published in Patterns of Intention (1985). Calling “influence” a “stumbling-block” and “curse of art criticism,” Baxandall condemned our keyword on two grounds. First, the term is misleading, confusing the roles of each actor in a given historical circumstance. The statement “artist or culture X influenced artist or culture Y” implies that the latter was a passive and indiscriminate recipient. In fact, Baxandall reasons, this statement most likely intends to suggest that Y exploited X as a resource. Furthermore, by divesting player Y of any agency, the phrase “X influenced Y” removes the necessity of asking for what reasons and under what circumstances Y interacted with X in the first place. “Influence” cloaks the need to account for cause and effect. In lieu of the word, Baxandall proposes a cloud of other terms that runs over nine lines of his text, “remodel, ape, emulate, travesty, parody.” In a tone of exasperation, he remarks, “It is very strange that a term with such an incongruous astral background has come to play such a role, because it is right against the real energy of the lexicon.”22

Other scholars have probed this broad and treacherous term. Exploring the “anxiety of influence” and the quest for originality, Maria Loh has demonstrated that painters’ strategic repetition of sixteenth-century styles and iconography constituted a crucial aspect in later art theory and practice. Whereas Loh takes a vertical cut in looking at the reception of Renaissance style, it is my intention to take a horizontal slice through the material, looking at “influence” as it pertains to traveling artists, their encounter with stylistic alterity, and their adaption and/or rejection of that alterity. This is not to discount artistic tradition and history. As will be discussed, mobility and art of the classical past become entangled for artists traveling to seats of antiquity. In addition, an artist’s arrival or departure was at times seen to jump-start the progression or decadence of historical time and style. But for the remainder of the present chapter I want to explore how “influence” smooths over debates on mobility, place, and style, and for that matter, the nature of cause and effect.23

To flesh out this claim, I will briefly discuss those instances when art historians and artists felt compelled to employ “influence” or its lexical alternatives to describe cross-cultural encounters, this last expression itself being an updated term for the concept in question. These commentators often availed themselves of the diagram as an explanatory instrument. Like a butterfly net, the diagram has the capacity to collect different species of information within its free-flowing and flexible mesh. It permits a set of relationships which otherwise might remain buried in ponderous prose to emerge almost instantaneously at the moment of viewing. These technical images allude to the chaos of influence as it pertains to mobility yet at the same time suggest the desire to order that very chaos. The diagram personifies several of the coordinates mentioned at the outset of this book: the prescriptive quality of mobility’s representation, the impulse to fix an artist’s origins, the collision of different styles, and the impact of that collision upon the flow of history. The diagrams under examination chaperon when, where, and how the tryst between mobility and style should take place, if at all.


First, to return to Panofsky and Saxl. In using “influence” as he did, Panofsky was acknowledging the assumptions underpinning the ancient concept of astral influence, a system that sought to elaborate ex post facto the mechanics of cause and effect. The classical Latin influxus and medieval Latin influentia refer to the fluid streaming down from the stars partly responsible for determining the birth, disposition, and destiny of human beings. In his handbook on child rearing, the fourteenth-century Dominican friar and cardinal Giovanni Dominici describes the force of influence as a chain effect: “The heavens influence the body, and according to such influence, the body bends the soul to a certain passion.” Influence could also elucidate the world’s variety. In the Mathesis,an astrological treatise written by the fourth-century mathematician Julius Firmicus Maternus and printed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the speaker contends that the colors, traits, customs, and characters we witness in a crowd of persons “are distributed to us by no other thing than the perpetual movement of the course of the stars.” As will be discussed, Cavalcanti, Pino, Vasari, Dolce, and especially Lomazzo deployed astrological influence to demystify the reasons underpinning artists’ different styles. But we should underscore the following: in the early modern period astrological influence does not operate as the chief term to describe artists’ mobility and the impact of that mobility on their style. Influence might deal with the vertical axis between stars and humankind and those predispositions that come with birth; and travelers did at times coordinate their voyages according to the propitious alignments of the stars. Yet influence in the thinking of the period rarely accounts for the stylistic effects of artists traversing space.24

In later centuries, however, influence as a causal notion would expand. It might explain the causes underlying a region’s artistic style or become a synonym for “foreign influence.” In his Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764), Johann Joachim Winckelmann dedicated two sections to the “influence of the heavens.” As he states in the introductory section, “just as visible and understandable as the influence of the climate on appearance is, secondly, its influence on ways of thinking.” Francesco Milizia stated in his Dizionario delle belle arti del disegno (1787) that “nature acts upon people, a people on men, and men upon the arts. The arts receive, therefore . . . an influence more or less through the natural causes that create the essential character of each country.”25Closer to our interests regarding cultural mobility, “influence” could signal arrival of the foreign. In Der Stil (1860-63), Gottfried Semper mentions that the grill form maintained its importance for “the Christian architectural style of the Middle Ages partly from antique traditions, partly through Oriental influences.” Semper’s remarks on this decorative form are not limited to these cultures alone. In explaining the tectonics of trelliswork, he compares and contrasts within just a few lines of text places, peoples, and civilizations—New Zealand, China, Arabia, and Byzantium, not to mention the Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans. The rapport between these dissimilar elements compressed within a few paragraphs can be compared to the impulse that propels a noteworthy example of diagramming “influence.”26

The diagram in question appears in Heinrich von Geymüller’s Die Baukunst der Renaissance in Frankreich (1893). Geymüller argued for recognizing “the diversity of Italian influences on the French Renaissance.” Comparing the French Renaissance to a child, Geymüller called the French Gothic style the mother; “the New, that which was not there before, the Italian, the Foreign, is the Father!” How Italian Formensprache transformed France’s “national Gothic architecture” was proposed in fifteen different interactions, among them “plaster casts sent from Italy to France,” “Italian readings of Vitruvius,” or simply “the influence of Italian paintings.” Geymüller suggested these influences could be not only described, but also charted over time. The graph “Perioden und Phasen des Renaissance-Stils in Frankreich von 1475–1895” illustrates this flow of “influence” (fig. 1.17). Packed within the diagram’s frame is a panoply of elements: chronological scale; Italian and French monuments; tendencies toward the bizarre, the Baroque, Nature, and the Gothic; and events such as the discovery of Pompeii. The forces that correlate these dissimilar entities are architects’ styles. What propels their interpenetration is the mobility of their ideas, designs, or these very individuals. Like a comprehensive index, the diagram offers a global view of Geymüller’s argument, allowing a feedback loop of reading and looking that moves from styles or monuments to their overall position within the sweep of history and eventually back to the particular detail.27

The diagram makes plain that the rapport between foreign and native artists, and thereby mobility as a whole, is critical for the development and progression of style. The scheme refers specifically to traveling artists for the waxing and waning of influence. The cluster of Italian artists such as Rosso Fiorentino, the Giusti and Serlio (letters A, B, and C, respectively, on the diagram) bring about the first crest of Renaissance style in Phase One. Like a map of a metropolitan transport system or water system, this diagram offers points of contact and exchange between disparate entities, distant in both time and place. The viewer is invited to register the influence of Bramante’s first manner on the Place de la Concorde, Bernini, and the façade of Saint-Sulpice. But if this chart suggests mobility’s role in the shaping of style, it also alludes to the intensely complex nature of travel when it reaches the difficult boiling point of representation. It is not happenstance that the author affixes the classicizing signature “H. V. GEYMÜLLER, Archit., inv. et del.” onto the diagram, thus suggesting a comparison with a masterpiece, and by extension, the intellectual labor involved in its conception. The diagram shows the intricacy of influence and its networks, but by the same token it allows mobility to travel only along certain preset routes. The pink stream leading from Pellegrino Tibaldi must lead toward the style of Louis XIII, the blue avenue of Maderno to the Louvre colonnade. Such prescriptions disallow connections to occur if they stray beyond these established highways. Mobility may be allowed and identified, but it must be directed.28


FIGURE 1.17 “Graphische Darstellung der Entwicklung der Perioden und Phasen des Renaissance-Stils in Frankreich von 1475–1895.” From Heinrich Adolf von Geymüller, Die Baukunst der Renaissance in Frankreich, 1898.


FIGURE 1.18 “Umbrien Marken.” From Karl Ludwig Gallwitz, Handbuch der italienischen Renaissancemaler, 1998.


Geymüller’s attempt to chart influence is not a singular moment, preceded as it was by chronographs by Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, Franz Mertens, and others. More recent art historical endeavors reveal the compulsion to categorize influence, and by doing so demonstrate the difficulty of restraining it within a diagram. Take, for instance, the sculptor and writer Karl Ludwig Gallwitz’s Handbuch der italienischen Renaissancemaler (1998). A vade mecum for the traveler or museum visitor, the handbook indicates the “dependencies and influences” among regional schools in the Italian Renaissance, 1410–1590. Any promise for clean categorization dissolves when the reader consults the turbulent maps of influence (fig. 1.18). A glance at chart III (Umbria and the Marche) evokes the sensation of being, as one reviewer put it, “afflicted with vertigo” due to the “labyrinth of arrows that connect various artists’ names and cities.” Along the vertical axis, Gallwitz maps out the rapport among masters such as Gozzoli, Perugino, Raphael, and Barocci. Foreign artists and cultures influence and are in turn influenced by the painters who occupy the diagram’s columnar spine. Squinting at the arrows, we see that Raphael influences Giulio Romano while in Rome and that Lotto’s arrival in the Marche influences the local painter Durante Nobili. Gallwitz himself acknowledges the problem of classifying artists who belong to various regions due to their mobility. Where to put Carlo Crivelli, justifiably a member of the Venetian, Paduan, and Marchigian schools? Gallwitz as a collector of Oriental carpets and a student of the arabesque form may have been partial to such intricate patterns. Yet the sensitivity to these loops and contours does nothing to diminish our impression that mobility and stylistic influence seem to call for chaotic representation.29

Do the diagrams of Geymüller and Gallwitz, though a century apart, exemplify a modernist aesthetic of angst and upheaval, a schematic equivalent of, say, Picasso’s Guernica or Ad Reinhardt’s satiric cartoon collages? The confusion arising from the colliding factors of mobility and stylistic influence has transhistorical, if not transgeo-graphic, dimensions. Observe the diagram, albeit pared down in comparison with our two previous examples, found in a margin in the 1550 edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Le vite de’ piú eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani (henceforth referred to as the Lives). Although a prolific painter, architect, and all-around artistic impresario attached to the ducal Medici court in Florence, Vasari is best known as the author and compiler of theLives,multivolume biographies ranging from fourteenth-century artists such as Cimabue to those of his own time, foremost among them being Michelangelo. Delicately colored so as to enliven the monochrome engraving, the title page with its view of Florence hardly conceals Vasari’s emphasis on that city and Tuscany more generally (fig. 1.19). Indeed, Vasari’s polemical view of artistic behavior and the merits of various regions in the Italian peninsula elicited the commentary of other artists and men of letters—including Federico Zuccaro, Francisco da Hollanda, El Greco, and Annibale Carracci—directly in the margins.30


FIGURE 1.19 Title page in Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri, 1550, Cicognara iv. 2390, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.


FIGURE 1.20 Annotations by Padre Sebastiano Resta in Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri, 1550, Cicognara IV.2390, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

The owner of this edition and the composer of the miniature diagram within its pages was no exception. This was the Oratorian, collector, and connoisseur Padre Sebastiano Resta whose life spanned the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As a compiler of artists’ drawings and avid reader of their biographies, Resta was no stranger to artistic mobility and their shifts in style. He was the author of a brief manuscript, Aggiunta e supplemento al Correggio in Roma, which speculated on the Emilian artist’s supposed travels to that city. This sensibility to categorize artists according to location, while also acknowledging their mobility from place to place, may have spurred Resta to configure this diagram in the margins of his Vasari. Here Resta clarifies for himself in the biography of Antonello da Messina how this artist facilitated the transfer of the oil painting technique from the Netherlands to Italy (fig. 1.20).31

In the time of King Alfonso

Gio. Da. Brugia [Jan van Eyck]

Ruggieri da Brugia [Rogier van der Weyden]

Ansse [Hans Memling]

Antonello went to Flanders to learn coloring from Gio.

Da Brugia

As is told in Vasari

M[esser] Domenico di Venetia

How Antontello taught coloring

Andrea dal Castagno32

Resta’s diagram sprouts next to a key sentence mentioning that the desire to acquire the secret of painting in oil “was held not only in Italy among the most elevated minds who practiced painting: but also still in France, in Spain, in Germany, & in other provinces in which Art was prized.” We first read that Jan van Eyck’s supposed discovery of the oil medium was prompted by a wish for a method to allow paintings to dry in the shade. (As though to retain the recipe’s ingredients in his memory, Resta draws a vase in the margin and writes “the invention of linseed and walnut oil.”) Van Eyck then instructs this secret to his pupil Rogier van der Weyden, who in turn hands down this knowledge to Hans Memling. Antonello while in Naples first witnesses oil painting in the work of van Eyck in the collection of King Alfonso. Impressed by “the liveliness of the colors and the beauty and harmony” of painting in oil, he ventures north to learn this skill from “Giovanni da Brugia” himself. Vasari informs the reader that Antonello returns to Italy to communicate this secret to his compatriots, in particular to Domenico Veneziano. The diagram distills the narrative that recounts the invention and transmission of the oil painting technique from master to student, from one location to another. It works as a set of tentacles that ramble over the scattered passages in Vasari’s text. Ultimately, the diagram as instrument reveals the inherent complexity of mobility and, what is more, the desire to contain that complexity within the cage of words and lines.33


What is it in the nature of mobility and style, that slippery “varnish from foreign parts” which calls for clarification via the diagram? How does mobility and stylistic “influence” become figured in the early modern imagination? “Influence” was most often an astrological concept dealing with the vertical relationship between the heavens and beings on earth. What, then, were the historically specific terms exploited to describe the horizontal relationship between an artist’s mobility across space and his artistic practice? How would such a lexicon inform our understanding or, simply put, our looking at works of art?

We could do worse than to follow Padre Resta’s lead and begin to answer these questions by interrogating the text he himself consulted, Vasari’s Lives. To take Vasari as a target to consider events in an artist’s life, particularly his mobility, may at first seem regressive, even radical. The Lives is, after all, a beguiling mix of fact and fiction. One of Vasari’s most fervent admirers, Julius von Schlosser, pointed out the Tuscan’s tendency to embellish his narrative with fictive anecdotes, dialogues, and epitaphs. This is no less true when it came to artists’ travels: “The itineraries of his artists almost all artificially constructed ad hoc and often contrary to true circumstances.” The enterprise of amending errors of fact in Vasari’s Lives would come to nourish a scholarly industry. Yet this insistence on verification has created a blind spot in scholarship, particularly in regard to artists’ travels. For when we triumphantly report that X artist was in Florence in year Y and not Z, we overlook a field of discourse which has the potential to unearth notions of style and artistic identity, among the very issues for which Vasari endures as a historical source.34

Instead of considering the Lives as a tracking device, I understand this text as an interlocutor that speaks to how mobility and style were in dialogue with the thinking of its time. I examine how Vasari and his fellow writers and artists depicted mobility, the tone and texture of their prose, the ornament of tropes and metaphors. This mode of analysis could be called several things—“close reading,” “explication de texte,” “thick description”—and indeed several of these approaches underline the emphasis I have decided to place on Vasari’s words and the texture of his prose. In this regard one particular issue concerns which edition of the Lives deserves the bulk of our attention. The second edition, published by the Giunti in 1568 and considered “definitive,” is the version most often consulted by scholars and indeed is analyzed in the present account. Vasari’s vision is often more crystalline in the first 1550 edition published by Lorenzo Torrentino insofar as the narrative culminates more straightforwardly in the artistic achievements of Michelangelo. Given that this book examines, in part, how the traveling artist’s encounter with place becomes a historical event in its own right, it seems reasonable to undertake an analysis of mobility in the edition where historical progression and narrative are at their most lucid and coherent. Furthermore, in the 1568 edition Vasari routinely excised the opening paragraphs of an artist’s biography in favor of supplementing more thorough information about an artist’s commissions. Yet these opening paragraphs, often neglected, provide fascinating glimpses into Vasari’s more proverbial thoughts and musings about mobility and artistic behavior. Finally, while the 1568 edition may provide more content, it is the 1550 edition where Vasari’s skill as a chronicler of the artistic process and style is at its most brilliant. Von Schlosser went so far as to say that Vasari’s capacity as a writer appears “purer and more artistic” in the first edition, a view reiterated by Luciano Bellosi, Aldo Rossi, and Rosanna Bettarini, who along with Paola Barocchi, the dean of Vasari studies, edited the authoritative editions of the Lives published by Sansoni beginning in 1966.35

As a man of letters and artist frequently on the road himself, Vasari is a voice that is tuned to how the performance of style exists in a symbiotic relationship with the practice of travel. What he has to say on the subject is relevant not only for the bookish fields of art theory and historiography. Attending to how mobility becomes represented informs that most basic yet significant art historical task, the act of looking and interpreting works of art. For when we diagnose the assumptions and logical consequences constituting Vasari’s portrayal of mobility we are refining a contemporary linguistic lens that scrutinizes an artist’s style. Even by itself, this instrument would be valuable, giving as it would an insight upon the discursive function of mobility in art literature. But also coming into focus are the parameters and, more important, justification for commenting upon artistic behavior and works of art in a historically plausible manner.36

What emerges from peering through this lens is how style becomes an instrument through which an artist can intensify, compile, or reject his understanding of place, both native and foreign, in its subtle degrees. Place—a thorny and historically contingent concept—raises questions in relation to other domains where style plays a role: artistic tradition and rivalry, master-pupil relations, humanist or vernacular learning, the devotional function of images, and politics, to name but a few. To phrase it another way: in broaching style’s rapport with place, mobility widens the horizons of our effort to interpret works of art. That location is the stage where human action occurs, thereby playing a role in attempts to understand those actions, is only part of the reason why this is so. Mobility as a dramatic event in an artist’s biography and career demands its depicter to question afresh the very nature of artistic experience, the relation of the self with the world at large.


In a compelling passage in the Life of Rosso Fiorentino, Vasari comments upon mobility’s disorienting effects. Up to this point in the biography, Vasari praises the Florentine artist’s bold draughtsmanship and graceful manner. It is all the more surprising, then, that Rosso meets failure after departing from Florence with his assistant Battistino and pet ape and arriving in Rome in 1524. There, he receives a commission to decorate the Cesi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace. According to Vasari, this work was the worst Rosso had ever painted. Speculating upon this fiasco, Vasari writes that Rosso was not the only artist to have suffered a decline on changing his location. Such metamorphosis in the face of mobility is, as Vasari calls it, “an extraordinary thing, and one of the secrets of nature” (cosa mirabile et occulta di natura).37

Seeking to make sense of artists’ transformation when on the move, Vasari proposes the following axiom: “He who changes his country [muta paese] or place of habitation [luogo] seems to change his nature [natura], talents [virtù], character [costumi], and personal habits [abito di persona] insomuch that he seems to be not the same man but another, and all dazed and stupefied [stordito e stupefatto].” Vasari’s principle sets forth a conception of the self that can be unsettled and transformed when subject to mobility. The texture of his prose conveys this destabilization, the tone and voice struggling and shifting from indicative declaration to more hesitant speculation in the subjunctive. Mobility’s profound effect is also evident on the philological level in Vasari’s rich stock of words. Closely reading this set of terms suggests how mobility can uproot implanted personal qualities. Mutar paese, for instance, not only signifies deserting one’s native place but also jettisoning a way of being and acting in the world. Naturaspeaks to the essence and reason behind the form of things. Virtù refers to the “habit of the mind, ordered to the manner of human nature, suited to reason”; costumi designates the “habit of the spirit”; abito is an “acquired quality due to the frequent use of operations that one can move from the subject only with difficulty.” If, as the adage goes, ogni dipintore dipinge se (every painter paints himself), this se, according to Rosso’s case at least, is beholden to movement.38

Vasari’s constellation of personal concepts is important for unearthing contemporary attitudes toward artistic mobility. It also leads to a passage that frames how taking mobility as a factor might inform an approach to looking at works of art. This is not to advocate the use of verbal discourse as scaffolding upon which to hang our observations in the air. The passage does, however, suggest a range of priorities and associations an informed viewer had in mind when looking at the work of a transplanted artist. Vasari’s conjecture as to why Rosso experienced such a transformation sets up a manner of looking according to a series of comparisons and foils: “This may have happened to Rosso in the air of Rome and on account of the stupendous works of architecture and sculpture that he saw there, and the paintings and statues of Michelangelo, which may have thrown him off his balance; which works also drove Fra Bartolommeo di San Marco and Andrea del Sarto to flight, and prevented them from executing anything in Rome. Whatever the reason, Rosso never did worse; and what is more, this work has to bear the comparison with those of Raffaello da Urbino.”39


FIGURE 1.21 Rosso Fiorentino, The Creation of Eve, 1524. Fresco. Santa Maria della Pace, Rome. © 2013. Photo Scala, Florence.


FIGURE 1.22 Rosso Fiorentino, The Fall of Man, 1524. Fresco. Santa Maria della Pace, Rome.

Vasari bases his explanation upon the frescoes The Creation of Eve and The Fall of Man, the only part of the Cesi Chapel commission Rosso completed (figs. 1.21 and 1.22). Given the frescoes’ condition—eighteenth-century visitors speak of mortar raining down from the church’s upper stories—these stylistic observations are a matter of delicate judgment. Even so, we can still discern an emphasis on the monumental nude and expressive facial features, interest in interlocking figures, and stretching limbs that couple figures but accent the border separating the painting’s fictive world from the viewer’s space. On a practical level, Rosso’s hyperbolic aesthetic in this upper lunette facilitates its contemplation for the visitor standing several meters below. We might also expand upon the sources of these exaggerated forms by suggesting parallels with the antiquities owned by the chapel’s patron, Angelo Cesi, an avid collector of books and classical sculpture. Alternatively, we could understand this hyperbolic aesthetic as a grand prelude, both formally and theologically, to the chapel’s dedication to the Annunciation, the subject that Rosso was to have painted for the altar.40

Vasari’s commentary calls for considering Rosso’s style in other terms, his displacement from Florence to Rome. More specifically, style becomes a function of establishing difference, with difference understood in terms of collisions in time, personal relationships, and most significantly geography. Svetlana Alpers may have quipped that “style is what you make it.” But as Philip Sohm observes, Alpers’s criticism of style’s inherent vagueness allows a degree of “semantic mutability.” And for Vasari writing on traveling artists, style is “what you compare it with.” As a narrative act that demands change in time, place, persons, and customs, mobility necessarily demands on the part of the depicter an examination of these changes. Mobility thus posits difference as style’s ontological foundation, unstable as quicksand as that foundation may be.41

Temporal difference—the narrative of Rosso before, during, and after Rome—occupies the background of Vasari’s remarks. Vasari builds up suspense by stating that Rosso was held in “the greatest anticipation” owing to the several drawings that had been circulated in Rome before his arrival. Next comes the story of his artistic failure. Supplementing Rosso’s reversal of fortune are several first-hand accounts that attest to his conflict with his fellow artists. One of these, Cellini’s autobiography, states that Rosso, “being a man given to backbiting, he spoke so ill of Rafaello da Urbino’s works, that the pupils of the latter were quite resolved to murder him.” Cellini goes on to say that Rosso even quarreled with Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, the intermediary who had procured for him the commission for the Cesi Chapel in the first place. Due to his disagreement with da Sangallo, Rosso was stripped of his commission and brought to the brink of starvation. Finally, we come to Rosso’s redemption. Vasari informs us that on leaving Rome, Rosso painted a Deposition in Sansepolcro reputed to be “very rare and beautiful,” while the rest of his biography recounts his achievements in Italy and, eventually, his triumph at the court of Francis I in France. The anticipation surrounding Rosso’s arrival in Rome, his momentary lapse, and consequent redemption invite the reader to take a temporal approach to his style, contrasting different stages of his career. We might compare the frescoes in the Cesi Chapel with his previous work on one hand. The figure of Adam in the lunette’s left side, for instance, recalls a reclining youth in the foreground in his Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well, a lost panel sent to England but known through copies. On the other hand, the interlocking figures in the Cesi Chapel anticipate hisDeposition from the Cross (Sansepolcro, San Lorenzo, Convent delle Sorelle delle Orfanelle) begun three years later, in 1527.42

Personal difference emerges as another category by which Vasari’s remarks about Rosso in Rome conceive the traveling artist’s style. We hear of the disorienting effect of Michelangelo’s work upon the newly arrived painter. This statement asks the reader to consider in what way Rosso may have been looking at the older master’s style to formulate his own version of the monumental nude. To take once again the reclining Adam, his pose is reminiscent of several figures on the Sistine ceiling, especially that of the Ancestor of Christ in the now destroyed Phares-Esron-Aran lunette. Furthermore, the Adam on the Cesi Chapel lunette’s right side is a similar though inverted rendering of the twisting form in Michelangelo’s Expulsion from the Garden. Such formal parallels corroborate Rosso’s defense against accusations that he ridiculed and wished to distance himself from Michelangelo’s style. As Rosso wrote to Michelangelo, “I understand that you have been told when I arrived here and entered the chapel you painted, I am supposed to have said that I would not adopt that manner [of painting]. It must be self-evident how silly that is.”43 Nonetheless, Vasari imagines Michelangelo as a magnetic force that simultaneously attracts and repels artists who come into his orbit, not only Rosso, but other Florentine artists such as Fra Bartolommeo and Andrea del Sarto. Writ large, mobility involves the encounter with a community of artists, both harmonious and contentious, with style signaling personal differences, acceptance, indifference, or concord.

The categories of difference outlined thus far are not distinct; they run and bleed into one another. We might interpret Vasari’s comments about Rosso’s negative comparison with the Raphael as personal difference (recall Cellini’s remarks about Raphael’s pupils wanting to murder Rosso). But Vasari states that what provokes the comparison is the proximity between the artists’ frescoes. Raphael’s Sibyls for the Chigi Chapel neighbors Rosso’s depictions of Adam and Eve for the Cesi Chapel. We therefore run into the category of locational difference. The fact that these two chapels are adjacent to one another fosters an examination of their dissimilarities and affinities as well. In this case, the stylistic differences between Raphael and Rosso are more pronounced than any parallels. Raphael links the members of his multifigure composition by repeating gestures, color schemes, and shapes of falling drapery (fig. 1.23). By contrast, Rosso’s nude figures are blocky discrete units, the left side of the lunette interacting little with its companion on the right. Vasari’s passage suggests that one of the tasks of a traveling artist, or any artist for that matter, is to establish a rapport, be it one of emulation or antithesis, in locational terms with other artists’ work.44

Geographic difference, that between Florence and Rome, is the major category into which these other varieties of difference are nested. The contrast extends beyond the wit of Tuscan proverbs which mocked the ancient capital (“Roma Roma ogni pazzo doma”: “Rome Rome where every madman reigns”). Vasari’s speculation upon Rosso’s failure in the Eternal City comprises a larger question: how does the traveling artist grapple with the interlocking components that constitute destinations, components that are often themselves in conflict with one another—the duration of a sojourn, other artists, their works and pupils, the location of a commission? Do artists calibrate their style in relation to these components? In turn, how should a writer on art such as Vasari represent this confrontation with geographic difference? Does this verbal representation have any bearing on an art historical consideration of style, and at that, an artist’s oeuvre and selfhood? Terminology is also at stake. For while we might use the words “geography” or “place” to describe the plentitude of experience the traveling artist faces, Vasari deploys the historically specific metaphor of Rome’s aria, loosely translatable as climate, to portray the interaction of various elements that make up a place. Consequently, we are led down another rabbit hole of interrogation: is this an isolated use of the term, and if not, where else and how does it manifest? What are the other metaphors current in the early modern imagination to enact the traveling artist’s style?45


FIGURE 1.23 Raphael and workshop, Sibyls, c. 1511. Fresco. Chigi Chapel. Santa Maria della Pace, Rome.

It has been my aim to point out how problematic “influence” regarding mobility can be, how this building block of art history is in need of examination. The pathway to this diagnosis has been tortuous. A discrete sample of paintings executed by the itinerant Lotto demonstrates the necessity of fashioning language to account for an artist’s change in place along with a corresponding change in style. “Influence,” however, puts a convenient lid upon the tumultuous relations between the biographical event of an artist’s travel, the performance of style, either in a foreign locale or upon repatriation, and the representation of these two preceding two in contemporary art literature. Diagrams, such as those plotted by Geymüller, Gallwitz, and Resta, attempt to depict the winding trails of “influence” in an orderly manner, but in doing so, they only reinforce the concept’s chaotic complexion. Early modern writers on the visual arts and artists themselves point out the baffling nature of mobility and the transformation of an artist’s way of working, even selfhood. Vasari’s speculation on Rosso’s unsuccessful Roman stay, for instance, offers one set of possible parameters—stylistic difference in respect to time, location, personal relations, and geography—to contemplate his work in the Cesi Chapel. But given this passage’s position in the Life of one individual artist, one wonders whether Vasari’s remarks are applicable to other artists and circumstances. Is it legitimate to cull this exceptional consideration of how mobility modifies an artist’s “nature, talents, character and personal habits” and transpose them to, say, the case of Lotto’s style? Does such a reading rooted in a voice and terms of the period neutralize the dialectic between “geographic license” and “site specificity” we identified in Lotto’s altarpieces? What these questions indicate, then, is the urgency to read Vasari’s depiction of mobility not pellmell in a few scattered instances, but throughout the course of the entire Lives. Considering the fact that his comments on artists are specific to a certain era, be it the Trecento or his own time, it seems reasonable to proceed in sequential order from the beginning, the Proemio, where the very origins of the arts unfold at the inception of history.

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