Post-classical history

4 Artifex Viator

As Vasari recounts in Part I of the Lives, the mobility of Giotto and his pupils eradicates monstrous styles, disseminating the modern manner in their stead. Presumably the reader can now witness the upward trajectory of central Italian style undisturbed. Artistic achievements, and not place with its attendant connotations of potentially harmful or salubrious aria, would seem to take center stage. It was not his intention, Vasari declares, “to discover their [artists’] numbers, their names, and their countries, and to tell in what cities, and exactly in what places in those cities, their pictures, or sculptures, or buildings were now to be found.” Such a dry inventory would lack that element quintessential to historical writing—the author’s judgment. Vasari might appear, then, to relegate the significance of geography. And yet, the 1568 edition exhibits those very tables that Vasari would seem to belittle. Compiled by Vincenzo Borghini, the indices for artists’ names designate regional origin and place of employment: “Iacopo dalla Quercia Scultor Sanese,” “Tiziano da Cadore. Pittore,” “Tofano Lombardino Milanese. Architetto.” Borghini’s longest index is the “Table of places where works described are located” (fig. 4.1). Columnar lists over sixteen pages set in elegant type cover at least fifty-eight cities along with outlying areas, these subsumed under the category “fuor d’arezzo,” or “fuor di fiorenza,” for example. Indices along with other paratextual material such as tables of contents often served as a selling point for early modern printers, and the compilers of lists boasted of their diligence in gathering entries. Indices and other instruments like commonplace books accelerated consultation for the reader coping with “information overload.” But the index of place-names in the Lives might also have provoked a method of reading based not only on speed but also on the experience of location. Flipping through Borghini’s index, a reader could engage in virtual travel throughout the Italian peninsula, moving from inspecting the smallest and most private spaces, such as a collector’s cabinet or chapel, to perusing more public spaces, such as piazzas or church façades. The index serves as a roadmap of sorts to the Lives, charting the works artists leave in the wake of their itineraries within and beyond urban centers.1


FIGURE 4.1 “Tavola de’ luoghi, dove sono le opere descritte.” From Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piv eccellenti pittori, scvltori, e architettori, 1568. Typ 525 68.864, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


While compiling these indices, Borghini had encouraged Vasari to widen the geographic scope of the Lives, “to have a greater number of things from Genoa, Venice, Naples, Milan and in sum, from those principal cities.” In addition to calling for a universal history of the arts, Borghini’s recommendation draws attention to the importance of location for the writing of history. Cicero, other classical authors, as well as fifteenth-century humanists, such as Flavio Biondo, made frequent reference to history’s relation to geographic representation. The yoke binding place and narration of events appears in a revealing passage in Alessandro Lionardi’s Dialoghi dell’invenzione poetica (1554). When discussing historical protagonists, Lionardi claims, “two things need to be considered, its parent and the other, the place where someone was begot. As far as place concerns it ought to be considered the site and the nature and the quality, and the origin, might, nobility and customs of those who live there.” The speaker even goes so far as to state that the parent is both “father and fatherland, a common starting-point of procreation.”2

Lurking beneath Lionardi’s stress on patria as a generative force is the assumption that place plays a key if not determining role in shaping the dispositions of historical figures, a brand of geographic essentialism shared by the discourse on aria. Patria is thus not only an indicator of birthplace; it is also the point of origin for an individual’s public manifestation of personal traits. A parallel strand of thinking can be found in the realm of natural history, where patria informs the qualities of plants. According to Pliny, the various types of wine produced in Italy demonstrate that “it is the country [patriam] and soil [terrain] that matter and not the grape ... since the same wine has a different value in different places.” The claim that patria is a significant factor in agriculture also appears in works closer to Vasari’s own time, such as in Luigi Alamanni’s poem La coltivazione (1546). The proficient gardener, as the speaker of Alamanni’s verses sees it, searches for the patria most dear to his plants, be it “arid terrain, valleys or mountains.” In early modern horticultural practice, natural historians were keenly attuned to the exigencies of patria, devising elaborate schemes to replicate the appropriate conditions of foreign species’ original habitats.3

Vasari likewise designates patria as a causal force giving rise to artists’ talents. In the “Preface to the Entire Work,” he claims that the Tuscan soil (terren toscano) brings forth “beautiful talents every day,” a sentiment already expressed in the dedication to Cosimo I, where the artists to be discussed “are almost always Tuscan, and for the most part Your Florentines.” In the preamble to his compatriot Parri Spinelli, Vasari affirms: “At times, nature, being a benevolent mother, makes born in a patria an extraordinary talent, which honors it, glorifies it, and gives it fame.” Patria nourishes rivalry, as Vasari avows in regard to Siena: “It is clearly seen throughout ages past that in a patria never flowers one artist with whom many others ... do not compete.” Vasari states that Florence produced at the same time and place eminent individuals—Brunelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, and Masaccio—who in competing with one another benefited the art of later generations. Furthermore, the diversity between homelands explains the incongruence of talent in the Italian peninsula. Vasari’s praise for extraterritorial, non-Tuscan artists is thus often backhanded: “Although in Tuscany talents in painting marvelously flowered in all times, nevertheless in other provinces in Italy ... there came to be awakened always some person that made art in those places held to be excellent. . . . But when in such cities some become excellent, they are admired and esteemed by those people due to the small number that that country produces, as was Ercole da Ferrara the painter, who was a student of Lorenzo Cossa, truly admired and considered excellent.”4


As much as Vasari asserts the reciprocity between artist and patria, he acknowledges the need for artists to leave their places of birth to receive specialized training elsewhere. The prelude to the life of Niccolò d’Arezzo is among the passages in Part II that receive the most sustained attention to this theme. Vasari dwells on the causes of his compatriot’s departure from Arezzo, with the city, specifically Florence, emerging as a community of artists willing to instruct others in specialized knowledge: “Not always true is the old proverb of we Tuscans: ‘sad is the bird who is born in a mean valley,’ because even though the majority of men ordinarily remain more than willingly in the country where they are born, it is often that many still go elsewhere to learn what at home they could not, it being common (aside from large cities, of which however are not many) that each particular place poorly is furnished for their needs, and most of all in the sciences and in those bright and distinguished arts that give profit and fame to he who endures labor.”5

Although bursaries awarded by princes largely enabled artists to travel for study purposes, Vasari’s language depicts Niccolò’s mobility as self-directed. Underscoring migratory artists’ forthrightness is the eventual and necessary severing of ties with one’s patria. For Niccolò, Fortune gained him fame, but this glory caused him to be “injured by his family, such that he was forced to go elsewhere.” Vasari’s suggestion that Arezzo is a backwater is surprising, given that, as a native Aretine, he reveals a favorable stance toward the two Aretine painters described in Part I—Margaritone and Spinello Aretino. Yet the very reason why Arezzo is praised in Part I becomes in Part II a liability. Although the maniera greca disappears from that city, little else is said to replace it. To be sure, Vasari claims that “Giotto and Taddeo and Jacopo di Casentino had executed there [Arezzo] many things.” In a letter written to his compatriot Pietro Aretino in 1539, Vasari appears more forthcoming about the state of the arts in Arezzo, along with his ambitions to advance it: “Don’t doubt that, provided heaven grants me the energy, I will struggle to such a degree ... just as Arezzo (where up to now there have only been mediocre painters), has flourished in arms and letters, could, through me, make its breakthrough as I pursue the studies I have begun.”6

What makes, then, a city a viable artistic center in Vasari’s eyes is not only the existence of distinguished artworks, but also the presence of a notable artistic community. His insistence on the città as a place where “masters might teach him [Niccolò] and lead him to his goal” recalls the etymological roots of città in the classical notion of civitas, an association of individuals living together under shared laws. It is in this vein that medieval city encomia praise alongside the urbs of a place—its walls, palaces, and streets—the city’s congregation of eminent individuals. Later sources that aggrandize cities also stress a locale’s inhabitants. Cristoforo Landino’s preface to his commentary on Dante’s Commedia (1481) pays tribute to Florence’s collection of citizens distinguished in fields such as doctrine, theology, eloquence, music, trade, law, painting, and sculpture. Likewise Michelangelo Biondo’s Della nobilissima pittura (1549) aligns the city not just as an epicenter of physical works of art, but also as the habitat of artists. After citing the famous anecdote in which the city of Rhodes is spared due to its possession of a painting by Protogenes, the speaker states: “I say that a good painter in every case ought to be honored as a good citizen, since he is as much as a part of a city as he is a citizen.”7

As for the realm of images, a fifteenth-century Florentine engraving represents an urban setting in which sculptors, goldsmiths, astrologers, and musicians engage in their respective arts, all of whom are subject to the astral influence of Mercury who proceeds overhead in his chariot (fig. 4.2). In this piazza, artists see and are seen, unified by both work and a network of mutual glances. The Dome of the Florence Cathedral on the left, along with the dense conglomeration of buildings such as churches, crenellated palaces, loggias, and workshops make up the urban stage. Indeed, this city backdrop resembles Sebastiano Serlio’s later designs for theatrical productions (fig. 4.3). The assertion of a city as an assembly of learned individuals also manifested itself in pageantry, as for example in one of the displays constructed for the entry of Joanna of Austria in Florence. In addition to representing learned individuals such as Machiavelli, Bruni, and Palmieri, at the bottom of the image were putti “bearing books, globes and compasses, reading and listening, demonstrating the natural attitudes and dispositions of the talents of this city towards the study of letters and sciences.”8

For Vasari, then, the concentration of eminent individuals and artistic activity in the city is a sine qua non for a young artist’s education. Cennini also had suggested this, remarking: “If you are in place where many good masters have been, so much the better for you.” Yet while the very term “education” connotes a process of “leading” or “bringing forth,” the words Vasari employs in the passage concerning Niccolò—imparare and apprendere—suggest via their etymological roots the actions of “obtaining,” “seizing,” or “acquiring.” Artistic instruction leads to further gains, such as profit, fame, greatness, and immortality, though not without toil. Vasari tightens this link between learning in a city and gain by imagining the consequences if Niccolò had not gone to Florence: “If these tricks of the world had not fallen upon Niccolò di Pietro Aretino, he would never have left Arezzo, nor would have ever acquired glory or fame: in fact, like a pod of some excellent seed left from forgetfulness inside a crack in a wall, he would have been lost forever.” Here Vasari draws on the widely diffused metaphor comparing instruction to biological growth, as when Lionardi likens education to “nourishing and raising well a plant or any other thing produced by nature.”9

Yet what of gain in terms of style? On this account Vasari is more reticent. In the 1550 edition, he does not discuss with whom Niccolò trained or the results of apprenticeship, only declaring that “upon arriving in Florence and following the instinct of nature, he applied himself to the art of sculpture.” The impact of having come to Florence is compressed into one line: assessing a marble statue of an Evangelist he attributes to Niccolò, Vasari states: “And he was praised for this since no better relief in the round was seen, as is seen later in those masters who follow the maniera moderna, and also he changed towards it [la mutò] completely.” This evaluation is not without significance: it suggests that coming to Florence entailed a conversion, from one particular style (which Vasari does not specify) to the maniera moderna. Furthermore, Niccolò imports “good grace” and buona maniera upon returning to Arezzo. In the 1568 edition Niccolò’s repatriation has further implications since Vasari claims that he brought a sculpture “having been begun before in the German manner [d’ordine tedesco]... to completion perfectly,” thus suggesting the purifying effects of the Florentine maniera moderna specifically in the provinces. But in relation to Niccolò’s other work in Florence (which included the competition for the Baptistery’s doors) and his activity in Milan, Borgo San Sepolcro, and Bologna, Vasari refrains from elaborating on any link between mobility and style as he had done with such intensity in the preface. Niccolò’s Life emphasizes not so much the stylistic consequences of relocating to cities. Rather, it underscores the importance of an urban environment for an artist’s instruction, with Florence representing the paradigm of the city.10


FIGURE 4.2 Attributed to Baccio Baldini, The Children of Mercury, c. 1465. Engraving (25.8 × 18 cm). British Museum, London.


FIGURE 4.3 Sebastiano Serlio, “Scena Comica.” Woodcut. From Il primo [-secondo] libro d’architettura, 1545.


It is not only due to education that Vasari recommends that young artists migrate to urban centers. The notion of civitas implicit in his conception of the city also implies habitation in a restricted spatial setting, a situation that breeds competition. In the Life of Perugino, Vasari alludes to such competition taking place in intense spatial proximity. As a youth, the Umbrian artist is said to have asked “any man whom he knew to have seen the world, in what part of the world the best craftsmen in that called were formed.” The response to Perugino’s question was invariably Florence, where “more than in any other place ... men became perfect in the arts.” Among the reasons for that city’s preeminence, Vasari cites the atmosphere of struggle: “If a man wishes to live there, he must be industrious, which is nothing else than to say that he must continually exercise his intelligence and his judgment, must be ready and adroit in his affairs, and finally, must know how to make money, seeing that the territory of Florence is not so wide and abundant as to enable her to support at little cost all who live there, as can be done in countries that are rich enough.”11

This is civitas stretched to its limit; while the city may be an ideal location for an artist’s training, that very density of artistic talent can also become a stumbling block. Florence is not unique in being a locus for competition; the Sienese praised their competitive artists, and Venice is described as a place where artists “exercise the same profession, imitating one and another in competition.” Vasari also depicts Venice as a city that allows style to be formed in the course of training, yet also fragmented when individual personalities disperse in pursuit of their respective careers. As examples, he offers “Vittore Scarpaccia, Vincenzo Catena, Giovan Battista da Conegliano, Giovannetto Cordelliaghi, Marco Basarini, il Montagana, who were Venetians, and had been dependent upon the style of Giovanni Bellini.” Though splintering into a list of names, these artists ultimately come to be identified with an encompassing entity, be it an individual (Bellini) or a location (Venice). The title of the chapter in which this passage occurs—“Vittore Scarpaccia et altri pittori viniziani e lombardi”—emphasizes this impulse toward grouping along personal and regional lines. It could be argued that this classificatory scheme diminishes the individual style of each of these northern Italian (i.e., non-Florentine) practitioners. Yet of Ghirlandaio’s pupils, Vasari states: “Left were his disciples David and Benedetto Ghirlandai, Bastiano Mainardi da San Gimignano and Michele Agnolo Buonarotti Florentine, Francesco Granacci, Niccolò Cieco, Iacopo del Tedesco, Iacopo dell’Indaco, Baldino Baldinelli and other masters, all Florentine.” Despite the varying regional origins of these artists, the city emerges as a classificatory tool that contains within its walls the identity of artists who practice therein. Vasari’s narration of mobility to the city, then, is paradoxical: for while emigration suggests the permeable barriers between geographic entities, the process of training and working within a city seems to restrict the ex post facto classification of an artist, and by extension his style, in respect to that urban center.12

That movement accentuates Vasari’s qualitative sense of geography becomes especially apparent when he ascribes travel not as a conscious undertaking but as the result of celestial influence. In the prelude to Niccolò’s Life where he remarks on artists’ births in places ill-suited to their needs, Vasari explains how they are removed from their provincial origins: “These men, not due to nature, but to that celestial influence [influsso] that wants to take them to the summit, are taken from their unhappy countries and led to those places where they might easily make themselves immortal. Wanting to guide, the heavens adopt such diverse ways that one cannot assign them a rule, inducing some [to leave] due to friends or relatives, others to exile or crimes committed by themselves, others due to poverty and for infinite strange reasons to absent themselves from their patria.”13

Whereas Vasari had considered artists’ journeys an assertion of self-will, here they are wholly subject to influence, their actions recounted in the passive voice (sono cavati . . . condotti), while astrological force assumes the agency of volition (vuol conducere al sommo). Influence acts in regard to location, making distinctions between “unhappy countries” and places where artists can achieve enduring fame. This locational, as opposed to personal, influence is also present in early modern astrological thought, as when Ficino, in Book III of De Vita, states: “It would be worthwhile to investigate exactly what region your star and your daemon initially designated you to dwell in and cultivate, because there they will favor you more.” Given this presumed correspondence between microcosm (earth) and macrocosm (celestial bodies), mobility in the world was also subject to the travel of the stars and planets above. Some voyagers might consult such authorities as Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos 4.8, which discussed advantageous or unfavorable planetary signs for embarkation. But more than making a specific allusion, Vasari is subscribing generally to the idea of astral influence, wielding it as yet another metaphorical tool in his arsenal to explain how artists gravitate toward cities. Even so, Vasari undercuts himself, suggesting that for all of the order and prognostication astrology might promise, mobility seems to follow “no rule.” This openness, while perhaps beguiling for the modern reader, has its merits. It permits Vasari to navigate in and through a discursive field spacious enough to deal with the complexity inherent in mobility’s causes and their effects. What emerge clearly enough are favored targets of mobility, Florence chief among them.14


Departing from Arezzo and traversing northwest over the Arno floodplain, Niccolò’s journey reinforces Florence’s standing at the apex of regional hierarchy. The artist’s descent into that valley of rivalry, where he must be “ready and adroit in his affairs,” is hardly untroubled. Greeting him will be fierce competition, with the acquisition of the maniera moderna a potential gain. For Vasari, this innovative style is a homegrown Florentine phenomenon. Paolo Uccello’s experiments with perspective, Ghiberti’s sculptural relief, and Masaccio’s figural and spatial illusionism combined with wrenching emotional expression are among the episodes in the art historical narrative for which the Lives provided the master blueprint. Vasari also acknowledges the almost magnetic pull another metropolis has on artists and their ways of making and thinking about the visual arts: Rome.15

In crafting the story of artists migrating to Rome, Vasari confronts profuse though often contradictory traditions and perceptions about the Eternal City. Rome with its walls, gates, bridges, and palaces is the city of infinite marvels, as reported in medieval pilgrimage accounts. But Rome is also a decrepit body, immersed in corrupt air and “gnawed away by old age” due to its decadence. On an even more physical level, the plethora of miraculous icons and relics in the city invite moments of pause, worship, and veneration through touching and kissing. Yet the sheer number of these objects and other monuments to be beheld compels incessant movement, even wandering and misdirection, a sense conveyed by the sinuous curves, open walls, and undulating Tiber in fifteenth-century cartographic representations (fig. 4.4).16


FIGURE 4.4 Piero del Massaio, “Roma,” from Ptolemy, Cosmographia, c. 1472. LATIN 4802, folio 133, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Vasari certainly contends with these and other notions about Rome. But in the case of the artist traveling there in Part I, Rome emerges as a field of artistic labor, a construction site of sorts. The city with its riot of classical ruins calls for the implementation of skills, both physical and mental, to make sense of this disordered toolkit and eventually employ its parts for artistic composition. The artist contemplates and measures, performs acts of divination and digs into the earth, draws antiquities from afar and inspects details. Perhaps the most evocative early modern image of this idea of working with pieces of Rome, using the city as a source material is Herman Posthumus’s Landscape with Roman Ruins (1536). Drowned in layer after layer of architectural fragments, dislodged sculptures, and mural paintings, the figure in the foreground nonetheless assiduously studies this morass, extracting principles of design with his triangle and compass with eye and hand (fig. 4.5).17

Several of the most important Florentine artists in Part I undertake the hard, often perilous journey over the Apennines to reach the caput mundi. Like Niccolò d’Arezzo, they gravitate toward a major city for the purposes of learning. In the case of Rome, things, and not just a community of artists, constitute the source of knowledge. Masaccio, “stimulated by his affection and love for art,” travels to the city “to learn and surpass others; and this he did.” Donatello goes to Rome “to imitate the antiques to the best of his ability.” But it is in the Life of Brunelleschi, based largely on Antonio Manetti’s biographical account from the 1480s, that Vasari pays the most sustained attention to the pivotal sojourn in Rome. Confronting an unstable landscape and capsized ruins, Brunelleschi undertakes a journey in Rome itself, a voyage that moves from a wonder at beholding ruins, a tactile engagement with them, and finally a shearing of all traces of the maniera tedesca to purify architecture. A Florentine protagonist is placed on the ground, on the battlefield of style to convert disorder into order.18

At first glance, Brunelleschi’s initial impression of Rome may appear nothing more than a rhetorical flourish. After selling a small farm in Settignano to fund his journey, Brunelleschi arrives in Rome and is awestruck: “Seeing the size of the buildings and the perfection of the bodies of the temples, he was absorbed [astratto] and seemed out of sorts [fuor di se].” Even so, one of the terms that characterizes Brunelleschi’s response—astratto, referring to the act of drawing away—is significant and polyvalent. Vasari at times deploys astratto to depict artists who diverge from social norms, the example par excellence being the eccentric Piero di Cosimo. Vasari also mines another vein of meaning that courses through astratto, the sense of being taken up in contemplation. Botticelli’s fresco of Saint Augustine in the Ognissanti demonstrates “that profound cognition ... that only exists in persons sensitive and withdrawn continually in the investigation of the most lofty and difficult things” (fig. 4.6). Though surrounded by instruments of scientific learning such as an armillary sphere, geometric diagrams, and a clock, Augustine is taken up in consideration of another and higher realm, having just become aware of Saint Jerome’s death in Bethlehem. This meditative connotation ofastratto isconsonant with the term’s appearance in devotional literature, as when Saint John Chrysostom declares, as stated in a Latin translation of the Greek father, that “the soul desires to withdraw [astraere) from worldly things and convert them to spiritual exercises.”19


FIGURE 4.5 Herman Posthumus, Landscape with Roman Ruins, 1536. Oil on canvas (96 × 141 cm). Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna.


FIGURE 4.6 Botticelli, St. Augustine, 1480. Fresco (152 × 112 cm). Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence.

What is striking about Vasari’s decision to dramatize Brunelleschi’s reaction to Rome as astratto is that instead of withdrawing from the world, the architect becomes absorbed in the flotsam of ruins. He is taken up in meditating on the skeletal buildings before his very eyes. Vasari periodically deploys astratto to suggest an almost obsessive drive to undertake a journey in the pursuit of seeing works of art. Thus Amico Aspertini, “as a person distinct [astratto) from others, went throughout Italy drawing and portraying everything, good and bad, in relief and painted.” Because Lorenzo Luzzo, also known as Morto da Feltro, “was as taken up [astratto) in the innovation ... of the grottesche,” he went to Rome in his youth, searching for every example of that art form he could find. In other period texts, the quality of being astratto delineates the thoughtful viewing of art aroused in the course of a journey. Dolce’s L’Aretino, the subject of Chapter 6, opens with Fabrini, a Florentine visitor to Venice, defined as being “all absorbed in that contemplation” of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Thomas Aquinas in Santi Giovanni e Paolo.20

Brunelleschi, however, remains neither stationary nor spellbound in the face of Rome’s urbs. Roused from meditation, he pursues a more active encounter with ruins. The reader learns that along with his traveling companion Donatello, he measures cornices and projects ground plans. Paying no heed to time or expense, the two Florentine artists work incessantly. “There was no place,” Vasari states, “either in Rome or beyond in the Campagna, that they left unvisited, and nothing of the good that they did not measure, if only they could find it.” Brunelleschi’s approach to these architectural fragments occurs on a number of spatial and topographic levels: vertically (to examine the cornices), horizontally (to examine buildings’ layout), both within the historic center and outside the city walls. Manetti in his rendering of the episode states that Brunelleschi saw ruins existing in a number of positions, “both standing or fallen down for some reason or other—which had been vaulted in various ways.” It is this fervor to examine the ruins in all of its dimensions that accounts for early antiquarians’ tendency to represent architecture and ornament from a variety of angels and positions. In one folio in the Codex Barberiano, Giuliano da Sangallo depicts such elements as though rotated in space, ready to be put to a variety of uses for the enterprising artist (fig. 4.7).21

In addition, Vasari contends that Brunelleschi’s probing into these ruins is both all-consuming and selective. “And since Filippo was free from domestic cares,” Vasari recounts, “he gave himself over body and soul to his studies, and took no thought for eating and sleeping.” Architecture was Brunelleschi’s only intent, and by this term Vasari understands a particular species of building practice: “I mean the good ancient Orders, and not the barbarous [barbara] and German [tedesca], which was much in use in his time.” This ascetic behavior underscores the status of these antiquarian studies as akin to a spiritual or philosophical investigation. As the Dominican philosopher Tommaso Campanella would later claim, it was through such fasting, which “served to awaken and order drowsiness” that prophets, such as Elias and Daniel, “acquired sharpness in spirit.”22


FIGURE 4.7 Giuliano da Sangallo, “Pulley, Structural Details,” 1465. Ink on parchment (45.5 × 39 cm). Cod. Vat. Barb. Lat., fol. 70r, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

Though Brunelleschi immerses himself in ruins, he rejects the Gothic. Vasari reiterates this refusal even to dialogue with this building style toward the end of the architect’s Life. “He is all the more worthy of praise,” Vasari declares, “because in his time the Gothic [maniera tedesca] was held in veneration throughout all Italy and practiced by old craftsmen.” As evidence of the Gothic’s diffusion, Vasari provides a list of significant buildings, both within and beyond Florence. In naming one of these—the Certosa in Pavia—the polemical nature of the modern manner becomes all the more apparent. For with its sumptuous façade, encrusted with figural and grotteschi ornament in marble, porphyry, and serpentine, the Certosa would seem difficult to shun and discount (fig. 4.8). Montaigne, for one, would describe this surface as “all of marble, richly worked, of infinite labor and impressive appearance.” But Brunelleschi’s exclusion of the Gothic demonstrates that travel also involves choosing what not to see.23

Some further points of comparison: Raphael’s letter to Pope Leo X in which he imagines a Rome stripped of architecture alla maniera tedesca and restored to its antique grandeur offers another example of such a discriminatory vision. Guidebooks to Rome published during the Counter-Reformation prioritizes sites from the “purer” Early Christian past, while overlooking those buildings that evoked the criticism of Reformation protest. Further afield, Coecke van Aelst’s depiction of Constantinople in his woodcut series Moeurs et façons des Turcs (after 1553) documents this selective viewing. While depicting classical and Ottoman monuments, such as Theodosius’s obelisk and the Firuz Aga mosque, the print does not represent Byzantine-era churches, thus lending the impression that the span between the fifth and fifteenth centuries failed to exist (fig. 4.9). While van Aelst’s print has been called an instance of reportage, “the act of reporting, the content of a report, depend upon a decision as to what is worth reporting.” The ideological import of this selective viewing is of course historically specific. Yet a common thread in this array of examples is the notion that the act of looking is rarely empirical or all-encompassing. For Vasari, Brunelleschi’s decision to ignore the “Gothic” shapes his ethnic and historical identity as an agent who resists the prevailing style of a certain people and time.24

If Brunelleschi’s investigation of Roman monuments is selective, it is also profound in the sense of embracing ruins in the depths of the Roman soil. Vasari recounts that when Brunelleschi along with Donatello came upon “pieces of capitals, columns, cornices, and bases of building buried underground,” the pair would not pass over the chance to examine these precious remnants. Instead, “they would set to work and have them dug out, in order to examine them thoroughly.” Leonard Barkan has stressed how the labor of unearthing statues in early modern Rome provided a stimulus for artistic production that served as an alternative to religious devotion, observation of nature, or documentation of historical deeds. Brunelleschi’s archaeology focuses especially upon the hunt to reach antique fragments. The journey to Rome not only demands a horizontal motion through space, but also a vertical penetration to release embedded fragments. Here too Vasari highlights the tactile rapport between traveling artist and ruin, between body and stone.25

So esoteric and potentially profitable is the labor of extracting ruins that it becomes likened to the art of divination. In Rome, Brunelleschi and Donatello dress eccentrically and are popularly known as treasure hunters. According to a rumor spreading throughout the city, the pair “studied geomancy to discover treasure; and this was because they had one day found an ancient earth ware vase full of medals.” Brunelleschi and Donatello seem to come upon the vase full of medals by chance, employing them for the practical purpose of making money. But to some, their activities appear to be one of divination. Like the geomancer who casts points, draws figures, and extrapolates to perceive a hidden order or someone’s fortune, proceeding through the Roman cityscape involves the exercise of surveying and discerning the meaning of scattered fragments. Akin to the discourse surrounding the term astratto, this passage associates the material engagement with concrete vestiges with exploration that demands the mental exercise of foretelling. Significantly, Vasari comments that appreciating Brunelleschi’s own physical appearance necessitates an act of divination: though “most haggard in person,” his virtue and talent are hidden like “veins of gold” beneath the earth’s surface.26

The correlation between antiquarian investigation and geomancy lasts only momentarily. Vasari recounts that Donatello returns to Florence, leaving Brunelleschi alone among the ruins. Far from weakened, the architect’s desire to inspect antiquities now almost reaches a fever pitch. Adding one clause onto another, Vasari’s prose conveys a sense of relentless interrogation, one that involves observation, endurance, and touch. Brunelleschi refuses to rest until he has drawn “every sort of building—round, square, and octagonal temples, basilicas, aqueducts, baths, arches, colossea, amphitheaters, and every temple built of bricks.” From his drawings, he grasps the intricacies of construction techniques, ways to bind and clamp with ties, how to encircle vaults. Brunelleschi discovers how to connect stones with iron bars and dove-tailing. He even goes so far as to penetrate into stones themselves. Beneath each of these great blocks, he uncovers drilled holes “meant to hold the iron instrument, which is called by us the ulivella, wherewith the stones are drawn up, and this he reintroduced and brought into use afterwards.”27


FIGURE 4.8 Bernardo da Venezia; façade by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, Antonio Mantegazza, Cristoforo Mantegazza, and others, Certosa di Pavia; detail view of the façade, begun in 1396; façade, 1473–1540.


FIGURE 4.9 After Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Procession of Sultan Süleyman through the Hippodrome. From Moeurs et façons des Turcs (Customs and Fashions of the Turks), 1553. Woodcut (29.8 × 38.9 cm). Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.85.7a, b), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


FIGURE 4.10 Giorgio Vasari and workshop, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Presenting a Model of San Lorenzo to Cosimo, 1556–58. Fresco. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Brunelleschi’s inspection is comprehensive, embracing the gamut of building typology in respect to shape (round, square, octagonal), function, material components (brick and stone), comprising as well the machines necessary to insert these elements to form a vault. In their seminal account of artists’ behavior, Rudolf and Margot Wittkower compared the encounter with such powerful models as antiquities to conversion or epiphany, the result being the eradication of the artist’s former style. Brunelleschi’s exposure to ancient buildings, however, does not supplant his prior training. In his account, Manetti contends that the architect draws upon his experience as a goldsmith in Florence to understand how architectural units cohere into an integral whole. In the past, Brunelleschi had crafted “clocks and alarm bells with various and sundry types of springs.” He applies this understanding of minute timepieces to monumental structures, conceiving “different machines for carrying, lifting, and pulling.” In one of his frescoes for the Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari collapses the architect’s engagement across a range of scales into one scene (fig. 4.10). Along with Ghiberti, Brunelleschi is portrayed presenting a model of San Lorenzo to Cosimo il Vecchio. Artists and patron point to miniature naves, roof, pilasters, and façade, holding the handcrafted object within the palms of their hands. In the background, artisans and apprentices execute the “full-scale” work of assembling a colonnade, sculpting capitals, and lifting material up several stories with pulleys and manpower. Whereas this fresco locates this compression of small- and large-scale labor firmly within the ambient of Medici Florence, in the textual realm, the origin of this work takes place amid the cityscape of ancient Roman antiquities.28


Brunelleschi as a traveler in Rome assumes different roles, digger and diviner, discriminating observer, handcrafter, and abstract thinker. However, the architect’s ultimate contribution to style in light of his mobility is his acuity in establishing differences between the architectural orders. As Vasari recounts in the preface to Part II of the Lives, architects before Brunelleschi who practiced the maniera tedesca committed the crime of creating injudicious mixtures. “Their ornamentation was confused and very imperfect,” he condemns, “for they did not ... distinguish one Order from another, whether Doric, Corinthian, Ionic or Tuscan, but mixed them all together with a rule of their own that was no rule.” From Vitruvius onward, architectural theorists such as Alberti, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Serlio, Palladio, and Scamozzi censured these mixtures, comparing them to monsters. As is apparent in illuminated editions of Horace’s Ars Poetica, the combination of incongruous parts, a human head, horse’s neck, feathered torso, and fish tail, engenders strange creatures (fig. 4.11). Brunelleschi disentangles these monsters. Vasari announces that the architect “distinguished the different Orders from one another—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.” This clarity becomes a refrain in architecture’s revival: it appears in Brunelleschi’s Life (“He recovered the ancient moldings and restored the Tuscan, Corinthian, Doric and Ionic Orders to their original forms”); the preface to Part II (“one Order was distinguished from another, and it was shown what differences there were between them”); and the preface to Part III (“Order was the separating of one kind [genere] from another . . . with no more interchanging between Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Tuscan”).29


FIGURE 4.11 Initial from Quintus Flaccus Horatius, Opera, 1501. Ms. D’Elci 516, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence.

Mobility beckons the traveler to create order from unfamiliar disorder. This notion enjoys currency beyond the domain of art literature. In early modern natural history, scientists undertook arduous expeditions to make and analyze distinctions between various botanical species. In his Histoire des plantes (1557), the Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens declared that the hardships of his profession included “the diligent and timely examination of all plants and the careful reading of many ancient authors: that is, much work, long travel, and constant devotion.” The famed botanist Carolus Clusius (1526–1609) traveled throughout Spain, Portugal, and the Alps and was compared by his contemporaries to a modern-day Ulysses, though without the vices of the classical hero. In describing the hundreds of plant species he examined during his journeys, Clusius relied on establishing differentiae, whose categories included the morphology of leaves, stems, petals, color, geographic distribution, taste, and smell. Despite the fact that some prominent naturalists such as Conrad Gessner (1516-65) claimed that words, not images, best conveyed differences between plants, some botanical treatises did deploy illustrations to show foreign species and the distinctions among them. Francisco López de Gómara’sHistoria general de las Indias (1552) and Mathias Lobelius’s Kruydtboeck (1581) align plants together in a format that enables the reader to compare and contrast (fig. 4.12). The juxtaposition of specimens finds a parallel in architectural treatises that pack the orders and capitals one against the other within a single folio page, ready for observation and discrimination (fig. 4.13).30


FIGURE 4.12 Colored woodcuts. From Matthias Lobelius, Kruydtboeck oft Beschrijvinghe van allerley Ghewasser, Kruyderen, Hesteren ende Gheboomten, 1581. Museum Plantin-Moretus, Antwerp.

Mobility can go only so far in highlighting differences in two incongruous bodies of learning such as architectural theory and natural history. Over the early modern period, botanists’ work in cataloging differentiae greatly increased the number of known plant varieties. The some four hundred species recognized in antiquity expanded to several thousand by the year 1600. By contrast, Brunelleschi’s identification of the differences between the architectural orders reduces the number of their combinations and permutations. In his view, according to Vasari, an Ionic volute added to the Corinthian order is not a new variety of acceptable Corinthian. It is a hybrid monstrosity that should be discarded. As much as Brunelleschi’s stylistic priorities take place in the polemical arena of the Lives, the aesthetic of restraint also appears in his built work and that of his followers. To take but one instance, the Pazzi Chapel, with its rhythmic and disciplined Corinthian capitals and pilasters along with limited ornament, could be read as a battle cry against the riotous excess of the maniera tedesca as seen in the Certosa in Pavia (fig. 4.14). The designer further asserts a hierarchy of the orders, calling on the delicate Corinthian to carry the architrave above, while below the Ionic occurs in the balustrade. While these statements may ring as platitudes, locating their relation to the problem of mobility is critical. Artists such as Niccolò d’Arezzo journey to Florence and experience a gain in style. Brunelleschi in Rome, authorized by his intimate handling of ruins, takes the license to reduce and refine style. With body and hand he sorts, categorizes, and eventually eliminates. Mobility when executed by the appropriate (Florentine) protagonist achieves order and purification.31


FIGURE 4.13 “Six Types of Columns and Capitals (Masculine Doric, Feminine Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Attic, and Tuscan).” Woodcut. From Cesare Cesariano, Di Lucio Vitruvio Pollione De architectura libri dece, 1521, c. 62r. Warburg Institute Library, London.


FIGURE 4.14 Design traditionally attributed to Filippo Brunelleschi; design also attributed to Michelozzo di Bartolomeo; completed under Bernardo Rossellino, detail from front elevation of Pazzi Chapel, design c. 1423/24–29; construction 1442–c. 1465. Santa Croce, Florence.


Rome is not the only major artistic center the traveling artist confronts. The Venetian mainland territory of Padua, famed throughout Europe for its university, constitutes another site in Vasari’s topographic imagination. As one sixteenth-century Venetian governor remarked, “Without the studio Padua would not be Padua.” Even so, a tradition of civic encomia also noted the city’s artistic life and monuments. Michele Savonarola’s Libellus de magnifics ornamentis regie civitatis Padue (c. 1446) praises artists once active in Padua, among them Guariento, Giusto, Giotto, and Altichiero. He also portrays the Basilica of Sant’Antonio, commonly known as the Santo, in evocative detail, comparing the interior to a labyrinth due to its intricate network of staircases, corridors and pathways. As described in Bernardino Scardeone’s Historiae urbis Patavii (1560), a work whose readers included Vasari and Philip Sidney, Padua boasted copious ancient statuary, classical inscriptions, places of worship and relics, aside from illustrious painters, sculptors, architects, goldsmiths, and calligraphers. Conveying this sense of cultural abundance is the frontispiece’s view that tightly compresses lead roofs, domes, and towers within a seal-like oval frame (fig. 4.15).32


FIGURE 4.15 “PATAVIUM.” Woodcut (200 × 167 mm). In Bernardino Scardeone, De Antiquitate Urbis Patavii, 1560.

It is to this dense artistic and urban milieu that “Donatello da Fiorença,” as he was called in contemporary documents, would journey in 1443. Among the significant commissions he executed for the Santo were a bronze crucifix (1444-49) and a complex ensemble for the high altar composed of life-size statuary and relief panels (completed 1450). Just outside the basilica, Donatello realized the Gattamelata (1444-53), a bronze equestrian statue that commemorated the captain general of the Venetian forces Erasmo da Narni (fig. 4.16). These works would after their completion eventually penetrate Paduan cartographic representations. In a city view printed in Jacopo da Foresti’s world chronicle, Donatello’s equestrian monument assumes a prominence and scale comparable to that of a civic palace (fig. 4.17). The Florentine artist’s contribution to this northern Italian cityscape also appears in local sources. Even before the Santo altar complex was finished, records dated 23 April 1448 note payments for a temporary wooden construction “to show the design of the altar to foreigners,” a statement that refers to the Santo’s importance as a destination for pilgrims. In turn, Savonarola compares Donatello’s equestrian statue to a triumphant Caesar, while Scardeone reproduces the artist’s signature located beneath the horse’s front hooves in his collection of the city’s noteworthy inscriptions (fig. 4.18). Although Vasari had portrayed in Part I northern Italian connoisseurs possessing outmoded taste, the Paduans in Donatello’s Life now express distinct appreciation for his style and more generally, the modern manner. Amazed by the Florentine artist’s skills, the Paduans “did their utmost to make him their fellow-citizen, and sought to detain him with every sort of endearment.”33


FIGURE 4.16 Donatello, Gattamelata, 1444–53. Bronze statue, marble base on limestone pedestal, statue (340 × 390 cm). Pedestal and base (780 × 410 cm). Piazza del Santo, Padua.


FIGURE 4.17 “Padoua citta preclarissima.” Woodcut (141 × 81 mm). In Jacobus Philippus Forestus Bergomensis, Supplementum, Supplementi delle Croniche . . . , 1553.


FIGURE 4.18 Transcribed inscriptions from Bernardino Scardeone, De antiquitate urbis Patavii, 1560.

Given how closely these sources attempt to bind Donatello and Padua, how is the artist’s experience in the Veneto elaborated in the Lives? If mobility to a city establishes an intimate bond with both artists and monuments, how then does Vasari shape Donatello’s rapport with a region that lies far beyond Tuscany and by implication, positive stylistic norms? Embarking on this path of inquiry does not presuppose that Vasari diminishes Donatello’s presence in Florence. In fact, Vasari duly notes the artist’s ties to the city, as if the artist’s allegiance needs to be confirmed before he is allowed to wander. His Life forthrightly begins: “Donato was born in the year 1383 in the city of Florence, and by its citizens and its artists was for the most part called Donatello, and in many works he signed himself in this way.” The brief statement fastens Donatello’s ties with Florence on several levels: it announces his birthplace; embeds him within a Florentine community of citizens and artists, a move reinforced by the presence of possessive pronouns; and finally, it declares that he assumed the diminutive sobriquet of “Donatello” conferred by that community through the public announcement of his signature.34

Later on in the biography, Vasari further accentuates the inhabitance of Donatello’s works in Florence. They are spread throughout the city, in S. Croce, the Baptistery, the Mercato Vecchio, Or San Michele, and the Cathedral, along with its bell tower. In identifying the location of Donatello’s sculptures, Vasari draws heavily upon Albertini’s guidebook Memoriale di molte statue e picture sono nella incylta cipta di Florentia (1510). In his dedication, Albertini states that he has organized his guidebook according to the city’s four quarters to spare the time of those who have come to see la bella patria. Vasari, by contrast, adopts a different method for his topographical rendition of Donatello’s sculptures. He guides the reader from the city’s eastern end at S. Croce to the Cathedral, and from these public monuments proceeds to describe the works found in the private residences of the Medici, Pazzi, and Martelli families. This virtual itinerary demonstrates the extent to which Donatello’s work has saturated the urban space of Florence, from outskirts to the city center, from façades into the interiors of private homes.35

Donatello might thus be said (or accused) to have not one, but two or several patrias, one where he was born, trained and works (Florence), others where he achieves further honors (Padua). Citing Cicero, Scardeone declared that this dual allegiance was often seen in distinguished men: Cato was a Roman citizen but also a native son of Tusculum. But the apparent tension between Donatello as a Florentine sculptor active in Padua dissolves upon closer inspection. Unlike Brunelleschi, who peruses and touches the physical vestiges of ancient Rome, Donatello has virtually no interaction with Paduan artistic life or monuments. In Vasari’s account of the Gattamelata, the commission, technical execution, and realization of stylistic aspects in bronze occur in speedy succession. Surging like a battering ram in Vasari’s prose, these deeds are due to Donatello and him alone. Even in the rare instance when the sculptor does look at local works of art, he cannot but fail in departing from their stylistic guidelines. A chaplain requests Donatello to execute a St. Sebastian in wood, offering as the prototype a sculpture that was “old and awkward” (vecchio e goffo). Striving to imitate the subpar exemplum to placate the patron’s wishes, Donatello nonetheless realizes a superior version with “his goodness and usual skill.”36


FIGURE 4.19 Lombard illuminator, “Artisans in Their Workshops,” fifteenth century, from Libro De Sphaera, Ms a.X.2.14=Lat.209, Biblioteca Estense, Modena.

Looming large in Donatello’s Life is what is left unspoken, what Wolfgang Iser refers to as blanks, those “unseen joints of the text ... that prompt ideation on the reader’s part.” A curious examiner then might seek to lay bare the mortar between the sculptor’s journey and the spontaneous, unaided realization of bronze works. Donatello’s self-sufficiency, his indifference to the Paduan artistic landscape comes into conflict with an array of typological models and comparative material. For the Gattamelata monument, Donatello most likely relied on northern Italian examples of equestrian statuary, the Este Monument in Ferrara, Pisanello’s drawings and medals that represent horses, not to mention antique examples of the genre, the Regisole in Pavia, or the bronze horses gracing the façade of San Marco in Venice. During his decade-long sojourn in Padua, Donatello himself may have assembled a study workshop of sorts which brought together coins, drawings, gemstones, and casts, and humanist circles possibly congregated to discuss these small-scale antique objects. The reader also must disbelieve that Donatello, as Vasari implies, single-handedly cast enormous bronze works. As an illuminated miniature makes plain, northern Italian centers, particularly Padua, possessed a long tradition of manual expertise in metalwork which included casting, surface finishing, and embellishing (fig. 4.19). According to records documenting the progress for the Santo sculptures and Gattamelata, Donatello drew upon and interacted with an extensive team of craftsmen of differing nationalities and expertise. They included not only the local Paduans Niccolò Pizzolo, Bartolommeo Bellano, and Giampiero da Padova. The very names of the other craftsmen and specialists indicate their diverse points of origins and professions: Zuan da Pixa (Pisa), Urbano da Cortona, Polo de Antonio da Raguxi (Ragusa), Luixe de la Zuecha spizial (apothecary), Zuan Magnan ferarulo (ironworker), to name but a few. As the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli would remark around a century later, Donatello always had some eighteen to twenty assistants on hand; otherwise “he would never have completed the altar of St. Anthony in Padua, together with other works.”37

If Vasari passes over in silence Donatello’s link to a network of artistic and personal associations, it does not follow that he is an insensitive viewer. The authority that Vasari so beguilingly holds is due to his apt language that captures the more salient aspects of Donatello’s style. In the Santo panels he underscores their “beautiful and varied compositions with such variety [copia] of fantastic figures and diminishing perspectives.” Prominent indeed in these works are figural abundance, variety, and perspectival constructions. In the composition The Miracle of the Newborn Child participants in profile, three-quarters, and inverted poses converge toward the hanging canopy as they listen to the baby declare his parentage out loud (fig. 4.20). The contrast between gilding and bronze scatter light and accent the depth of the foreshortened ceiling’s coffers and arches. Spatial representation becomes even more pronounced in other panels, such as in the Miracle of the Wrathful Son whose perspective construction verges on the didactic. Of course, aside from mentioning figural variety and diminishing perspectives Vasari does not go into any further detail about these bas-reliefs. Had he not examined these works, he may have simply been extrapolating from Donatello’s other relief compositions that demonstrate a similar concern with dense figural groups and foreshortening (fig. 4.21).38


FIGURE 4.20 Donatello, High Altar of the Santo, Relief Showing the Miracle of the Newborn Child, 1446–50. Bronze (57 × 123 cm). Santo, Padua.


FIGURE 4.21 Donatello, The Ascension with Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, 1428–30. Carved marble in low relief (40.9 × 114.1 × 60.5 cm). Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Vasari’s tantalizingly brief though favorable assessment of the Santo narrative panels reiterates the dilemma that pits regional sympathies against historical progression. Aside from the sculptor’s work in Florence, Donatello is active on a relatively wide geographic stage. A Genoese patron requests a bronze bust sufficiently light so as to facilitate its transport. Vasari also recounts that Donatello exports sarcophagus sculptures to Naples, executes the famous pulpit in Prato, carves a tabernacle in Rome, and realizes panels for the Baptistery in Siena, among other locations. That Donatello achieves these works outside Florence raises questions about Vasari’s localization of style. In principle, the visual arts should progress steadily over time toward the terza maniera. Donatello’sLife is placed after the biographies of “lesser” sculptors such as Jacopo della Quercia and Niccolò d’Arezzo. The position in the sequence suggests greater proximity to the maniera moderna, embodied above all by Michelangelo. Yet within Donatello’s Life, this onward march toward a more perfect style becomes endangered. Taking the assumption that later works demonstrate more artistic maturity, it would follow that Donatello’s works in Padua would be more stylistically advanced than those in Florence. The possible inference that Donatello’s more exceptional works are found outside Florence would challenge the bond between work of art and patria, a union that Vasari takes great pains to uphold.39

Due to this three-way struggle between style, historical progression, and place, Vasari repeatedly claims that Donatello exists outside his time. In the preface to Part II, after delineating the characteristics of the artists of the second age, he states: “But although he was in their times, I have not completely made up my mind about Donato, whether I desired to place him among those of the third [age], since his works compare with the ancient good ones: I will say that in this respect one can call him the rule [regola] for the others, for having only in himself all the parts that are scattered piecemeal among many; since he brought motion to his figures, giving them a certain liveliness [vivacità] and immediacy [prontezza] that can exist in modern works and similarly, as I have said, in ancient ones.”40

Donatello’s anomalous temporal position enforces rather than weakens the scheme of ever advancing style since he is “a normative figure, a rule [regola] for his age.” Yet by extending the relevance of his style beyond the boundaries of his time, Vasari suggests that Donatello’s style is universal, applicable to all historical epochs. The very term universale characterizes Donatello, along with Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Masaccio toward the end of the latter’s Life. Vasari also employs the term universale to comprehend artistic worth in respect to time and space alike, a usage consonant with the growing genre of universal histories in the early modern period. Donatello’s privileged status that allows him to surpass the boundaries of historical epochs correspondingly permits him to transcend the bonds of geography as well. Exceptional figures are granted the license to extend beyond their expected frames of reference. Their contributions to art pertain to all ages and places.41

To stress the universal acceptance of Donatello’s style, Vasari describes the reactions of audiences in Florence and Padua with similar terms. In the Calvacanti Annunciation in Santa Croce, Donatello “demonstrated so much facility and mastery in that work that it does not fail to amaze.” Astonishment (stupore) also circumscribes the Paduan response to the equestrian statue of Gattamelata: Donatello “not only amazed he who saw it then, but every person who can see it at the present.” So too does Donatello’s altar in the Santo in Padua evoke the reaction of wonder: “The stories of S. Antony of Padua, which are in low relief, [were] executed with so much judgment that the excellent men in that art remained marveled and amazed.” The concept of stupore crosses geographic boundaries, flattening any differences in regional response to works of art to create a broad plane that coordinates appreciation of Donatello’s style.42


Donatello reigns supreme, irrespective of time or place, immune from local “influence,” be it in the form of persons or works of art. Vasari does, however, acknowledge the Florentine artist’s impact on the Paduan sculptor Bartolomeo Bellano. Imitation characterizes the relationship between foreign master and native pupil: “So great is the force of copying [forza del contraffare]... that things copied well often appear to be those of the master.” Likewise, Bellano, or Vellando of Padua, as he is called, studied so much the style and method (la maniera e il fare) of Donatello that “he remained in Padua, his patria, heir to Donatello’s skill [virtù].” In the first statement, model and copy, the act of imitation and its effects, are the chief characters. In the second, foreign master (Donatello) and native student (Bellano) stand in, respectively, for these roles. Bellano’s subscription to the foreign model renders him subordinate to his Florentine master, an “heir”—another term that emphasizes the act of receiving—who remains tied to his artistically inferior patria. As Vasari elsewhere states, the act of contraffare is certainly necessary. But it is in and of itself insufficient “to arrive at the perfection of art.” Yet Bellano fails in even equaling the style of Donatello. Deploying a spatial metaphor of ascent, Vasari claims the viewer can recognize in Bellano’s works “an extreme desire to arrive to the level of Donatello, to which nevertheless he did not arrive, it being a place too lofty with a most difficult art.” The man of letters Pomponius Gauricus put it more bluntly in his treatise on sculpture (1504): Bellano was ineptus artifex, a clumsy artist.43


FIGURE 4.22 Donatello, David with the Head of Goliath, begun c. 1459. Bronze, height (185 cm). Museo nazionale del Bargello, Florence.


FIGURE 4.23 Bellano, David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1470–80. Gilt bronze, height (28.6 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of C. Ruxton Love Jr., 1964 (64.304.1).

This is not the sole instance when Bellano the Paduan concedes to a Florentine counterpart. Later in his Life we read that along with Verrocchio, Bellano receives the commission in Venice to realize the equestrian statue commemorating the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. But Verrocchio, “knowing himself, as indeed he was, a better master than Bellano,” becomes infuriated at the news of the shared commission: the work should be his and his alone. Like his forebear Donatello, who dropped and smashed a bronze bust in a thousand pieces due to the ignorance of a foreign Genoese patron, Verrocchio destroys his model due to the Venetian authorities’ presumption. The Florentine artist returns home only to regain the commission and return to Venice, his payment doubled. By contrast, a highly displeased yet resigned Bellano leaves Venice “without making a fuss or being resentful in any way.” He returns to Padua, content “with the works he had made and with being loved and honored, as he always was, in his homeland.”44

Vasari reinforces the dichotomy that pits superior center and its mobile artists (Florence / Donatello) against inferior periphery and stagnant pupils (Padua / Bellano). Or so it seems. When taken from a broader perspective, the rapport between regions and their artists is more intricate. Bellano may indeed be a Paduan beyond all measure, forever in Donatello’s shadow. Even Scardeone with his strong Paduan affiliations calls Bellano the Florentine master’s dilectus discipulus, his “beloved student.” It does not follow, however, that Bellano remains tethered to his native city. As Vasari himself relates, Bellano executed prestigious commissions far beyond the Veneto. He supposedly travels to Rome during the reign of the Venetian Pope Paul II, realizing there a bust of the pontiff and designing a staircase for the Palazzo Venezia. In Perugia, he casts a monumental full-length statue of the Pope, once placed outside the cathedral of S. Lorenzo. Documents external to the Lives chart Bellano’s wide-ranging mobility. In October 1456 he was probably in Florence because payments made in connection with Donatello’s bronze group Judith and Holofernes refer to “Bartolomeo di Belano da Padova.” Further afield, Bellano along with Gentile Bellini journeyed to the Ottoman court in response to Sultan Mehmet II’s request for a component painter and sculptor. His testament dated 7 September 1479, drawn up before his departure, forthrightly states, “I, Bartolommeo Bellano . . . sculptor of Padua will go to Constantinople.” Given the Veneto’s ecclesiastical, mercantile, and diplomatic links throughout the Italian peninsula and the larger Mediterranean basin, a “peripheral” artist such as Bellano lead a cosmopolitan career.45

As for Bellano’s failure to approach Donatello’s style, here too does Vasari’s regional polemic stand on unstable ground when confronted with visual evidence. Due to irretrievable losses of such monumental works as the statue of Pope Paul II, Bellano’s critical reception necessarily depends upon his surviving oeuvre that includes, among other pieces, small bronzes. Their scale and undeniable reference to Donatello have often reinforced the perception of Bellano as a derivative and lesser imitator. Yet what one discerns in these objects is an accentuation of certain features in Donatello’s prototypes (figs. 4.22 and 4.23). Though alluding to the Florentine artist’s rendition of the subject, Bellano in his David adorns the hilt with volutes and greatly widens the blade’s width. The sword’s enhanced presence relative to the David’s contrapposto figure emphasizes all the more the biblical narrative of the giant’s death. Cast, sharpened, and gilded, the sword may even point to the craft of metalwork itself. Amplification recurs in Bellano’s Old Testament relief panels for the Santo (fig. 4.24). In the Samson destroying the temple, Bellano takes the spatial representation and figural diversity Vasari identified in Donatello’s compositions one step further. Degrees of relief and, most prominently, the running frieze of dolphins, “the swiftest of all other creatures,” as Pliny the Elder described them, tumble down, disintegrating and therefore alluding to a once coherent spatial structure. Bellano shrinks the size of figures, thus increasing the number and variety of men, women, and children in diverse postures. Focusing on a particular dramatic moment, Bellano agitates and animates this diversity that provokes the expression of utter panic.46


FIGURE 4.24 Bellano, Samson Destroys the Temple of the Philistines, 1484–90. Bronze. Basilica del Santo, Padua.

No matter how much Bellano pursues a style of aggregation, in Vasari’s view it would be inconceivable for an artist in Padua even to approximate Donatello’s work. But Donatello himself is vulnerable, especially when separated from his homeland. He may be immune to foreign “influence,” but this resistance has limits. In Padua, Donatello is “held as a miracle and praised by every intellectual.” But in spite of this continual praise, the sculptor decides to repatriate. If he stayed away longer, “all he knew he would have forgotten.” In Florence, the city Dante famously censured in the Inferno due to her malicious citizens, Donatello receives incessant criticism (biasmo). And such criticism, Vasari reasons, “would give him reason to study, and consequently, greater glory.”47

Mobility’s detrimental effects upon memory arise once again. In the preface to the Lives, the commotion of artists and objects around the Mediterranean hinder the writing of a secure history record. In Donatello’s case, protracted time away from Florence triggers amnesia that threatens memory of his acquired knowledge. Like the cutting of Samson’s hair, removal from Florence is debilitating. A Florentine artist, Vasari suggests, must maintain ties to his homeland since there and only there does the act of making work in beneficial dialogue with responses of praise and blame. The artist’s workshop is not an insulated place where handiwork is executed in silence. The doors of the Florentine bottega are open to critical appraisal instrumental in achieving stylistic excellence. The episode of Donatello’s mobility thus offers an occasion to discern Vasari’s mnemonic topography. If Rome and Florence are the locations where great deeds of the past are revived and remembered, then places beyond this focal point are where Lethe, that mythical river of forgetfulness, meanders and flows.


The honors that a Florentine artist such as Donatello enjoys are not restricted to the Veneto. Like an epicenter of a cataclysmic event, Florence is the origin of seismic waves that propagate throughout Europe. This is certainly true in the case of movable works of art. In an expanse of text that stretches from the Lives of Jacopo della Quercia to Luca Signorelli, Florence and Tuscany emerge as a bustling export hub. Michelozzo sends architectural designs to Jerusalem and Rome along with objects in marble and bronze to Genoa; Filarete and Antonio Rossellino dispatch their works to France; Perugino’s paintings “filled not only Florence and Italy, but France, Spain and many other countries,” much to the profit of merchants. So frequently does Vasari mention these portable goods that the preeminence of Florentine art might be said to depend on the mobilization of “home-grown” products.48

When the Tuscan artist himself works abroad, the rhetoric of propagation becomes all the more marked. At the Neapolitan court, for instance, artistic activity is largely a Florentine affair. Never mind that King Alfonso I patronized the Spanish artist Jacomart and the Dalmatian sculptor Francesco Laurana in addition to possessing works by the Netherlandish painters Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. In Vasari’s account, Florentine artists shape the urban fabric of Naples ex nihilo. Giuliano da Maiano designs for Alfonso I the now-destroyed Palazzo del Poggio Reale along with its fountains and courtyards. His compatriots whom Vasari calls Pietro del Donzello fiorentino and his brother Polito paint “the entire palace inside and outside with histories of the said King.” Outside the palace’s confines, Giuliano designs for public squares and noble residences fountains that punctuate the city’s subterranean waterways. In other built work attributed to him, Giuliano exports domestic architecture characteristic of his native city. The Palazzo Como, highly reminiscent of the Palazzo Strozzi with its rusticated and ashlar façade and monolithic structure, seems to have been lifted from Florence and inserted directly within the Neapolitan cityscape (fig. 4.25).49

Aside from fashioning Naples’s metropolitan face, Giuliano is responsible for Alfonso I’s architectural language of triumph. Not only does Vasari mention the architect’s design of the Porta Capuana with its “many trophies, varied and beautiful.” Giuliano is erroneously credited with the most significant fifteenth-century monument in the city, the white marble triumphal arch that adorns the Angevin Castelnuovo fortress (fig. 4.26). It was in fact the Catalan Guillermo Sagrega, not Giuliano, who was theprotomagisterfor the Castelnuovo arch. Sagrega also oversaw a team whose members’ names indicate their diverse geographic origins: Pietro da Milano, Paolo Romano, Isaia da Pisa, and Andrea dell’Aquila. Nonetheless, Vasari attributes to Giuliano alone the arch’s ornamental excess, the “infinite number of figures” that narrate the “marble histories and several victories of that king” (fig. 4.27). So grateful is Alfonso I to Giuliano for these services that upon his death in Naples, the monarch bestows elaborate obsequies that include fifty men in mourning and a marble tomb.50


FIGURE 4.25 Circle of Giuliano da Maiano, Palazzo Como, c. 1485–90. Naples.


FIGURE 4.26 Pere Joan, Pietro di Martino da Milano, Francesco Laurana, and others, detail of the lower half of the Triumphal Arch of Alfonso I of Naples, c. 1452–58 and 1465–71. Marble. Castelnuovo, Naples.


FIGURE 4.27 Pere Joan, Pietro di Martino da Milano, Francesco Laurana, and others, detail of soldiers from the Triumphal Arch of Alfonso I of Naples, c. 1452–58 and 1465–71. Marble. Castelnuovo, Naples.

From crafting triumphal imagery for a ruler, the Florentine traveling artist himself arrives at a foreign court in triumph. Vasari recounts that Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, hears Florentine artists in his employ praise the work of their compatriot, Benedetto da Maiano, Giuliano’s brother. Corvinus summons Benedetto, who while still in Florence on behalf of the monarch executes a pair of chests “inlaid with wood with the most difficult mastery and incredible labor.” Artist and works of art then undertake the journey to the Hungarian court and, akin to a ruler arriving in triumph, they are duly commended. Not only does Benedetto receive royal honors befitting “a skillful person of fame” from Corvinus himself. When the chests arrive, the king goes to see them “disembarked according to his wishes and desire, and with trumpets and other sounds holds a festive celebration.”51

The artist and work of art receiving a public celebration had surfaced previously in the Life of Cimabue. Admiring crowds of people bear the Rucellai Madonna (actually by Duccio) in procession “with much rejoicing and trumpets.” Even a visiting foreign monarch, Charles of Anjou, is brought to see the enormous panel along with “all the men and women of Florence, with the utmost rejoicing and in the greatest crowd in the world.” In Benedetto’s case, Vasari displaces this public celebration to a foreign court. Mobility from afar combined with the quality of artworks enhance the renown accorded to the artist and his creations. The dimension of sound, from oral reports that diffuse reputations to the heralding fanfare, further heighten the physical presence of artist and object in the reader’s imagination.52

Despite the strain of heady triumph, the trumpet blast of fame is hardly everlasting. This is especially so when the mobile artist repatriates. The Life of the Florentine artist Dello Delli demonstrates that honors won abroad are at times disregarded and give rise to mockery. Though he came from humble circumstances, Vasari relates, Dello’s fortunate employment at the Spanish court gains him both wealth and a knighthood. He returns to Florence “only to show his friends how from so much poverty that had once tormented him he rose to such grand riches.” Yet the Florentines fail twice to recognize Dello’s honors. The first snub occurs when the general Filippo Spano de gli Scolari, victorious against the Ottoman Turks, protests that honors received abroad should remain exclusive to himself. Next, Dello undergoes public humiliation when, wearing luxurious brocade, he rides a horse and preens around the Vacchereccia, the goldsmiths’ quarter, only to receive the scorn of those artisans who were once his friends in youth. “Envy was no less active against him in his own country,” Vasari explains, “than malice had been formerly when he was very poor.”53

The lambasting of Dello’s privileges won abroad recalls the mockery directed against Gentile Bellini in the aftermath of his sojourn at the Ottoman court. Sultan Mehmet II granted the Venetian artist honors that included a knighthood and a golden chain, a mark of prestige usually awarded to persons of high ranks such as ambassadors. Gentile’s full-length portrait, executed by either himself or Giovanni Bellini, proudly depicts him wearing the golden chain and scarlet toga with the maniche dogali, wide sleeves with linings usually worn by the patrician class (fig. 4.28). It was due to such aggrandizement that Gentile’s contemporary the satirical poet Andrea Michieli called the painter an “ignoramus” and “the arrogant knight of the Golden Spur.” Vasari colludes in this pattern of grudging behavior, though in his case, the sultan is the target of slight disdain. Drawing upon the widespread and erroneous notion that Islamic civilizations forbade all pictorial representations, Vasari claims that Gentile Bellini’s realistic style overwhelms Mehmet II, “unable to believe that a mortal man [could] represent the objects of nature so vividly.” The sultan’s inexperience with figural representation and astonishment recalls other “primitive” viewers of Western art, such as the North African pirates who release Fra Filippo Lippi from his captivity due to his realistic portrayal of them. Mehmet II, who bestows the greatest honors to a Venetian painter, is a patron who ultimately lacks knowledge of painting altogether.54


FIGURE 4.28 Detail from Gentile Bellini and Giovanni Bellini, Saint Mark Preaching in Alexandria, c. 1504–7. Oil on canvas (347 × 770 cm). Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

For both Florentine and Venetian artists, triumph abroad can be met with derision, either at home or later in the harsh arena of their fortuna critica with its attendant regional biases. However caustic the domestic reception of honors received at foreign courts, this response seems benign when compared to the mortal consequences for artists who transmit foreign artistic techniques into Florence. An exception to the rule that Tuscan artists are shielded from foreign “influence” is the introduction of oil painting. The absorption of this technique into Italy appears at first to be a case of untroubled mobility and smooth acquisition of alien knowledge. As Vasari recounts, Netherlandish artists were the first to develop the skill of applying onto panel successive layers of pigments bound with oil which achieve the effects of vivid coloring, beauty, and harmony. Patrons such as the Medici, the Duke of Urbino, and King Alfonso I prized paintings by Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Dieric Bouts, Petrus Christus, Justus of Ghent, and Hugo van der Goes, and their works populated the collections in Florence, Urbino, and Naples. Vasari calls the technique a “secret,” and despite the oils’ pungent odor, other artists could not decipher or replicate the process. It is only when the Sicilian artist Antonello da Messina journeys to Bruges that the knowledge of painting in oils can be released to an Italian artist. The artist must travel and be on site to loosen what Pamela Long has termed “proprietary attitudes towards craft knowledge.” Antonello’s behavior affirms the sixteenth-century physician Paracelsus’s defense of wandering for the pursuit of learning. “The arts are not all confined within one’s fatherland,” Paracelsus reasoned, “but they are distributed over the whole world ... hence they must be gathered together, sought out and captured, where they are.”55

As Vasari and later interpreters of Antonello’s mobility suggest, van Eyck graciously conveys these secrets to his Italian counterpart. The nineteenth-century Belgian historian painter Joseph-François Ducq’s rendition portrays a harmonious encounter between the two artists: van Eyck dressed in elegant robes and painting the Van der Paele Madonna receives Antonello who, as Vasari claims, brings “presents of many drawings in the Italian manner and other things” (fig. 4.29). The studio becomes a trading zone of sorts where native artist imparts skills, while foreign visitor offers his host examples of the presumably higher knowledge of disegno.56


FIGURE 4.29 Detail from Joseph-François Ducq, Antonello da Messina in the Studio of Jan van Eyck. Oil on canvas (37 × 47 cm). Inv. 991.22, Musée de Brou, Bourg-en Bresse.

Like Padre Resta’s diagram that deliberately charts the transmission of the technique, Vasari proceeds to chart the successors to the art of oil painting. Antonello returns to Italy to “allow [his] country to participate in this useful and beneficial secret.” While in Venice, he transmits the skill to Domenico Veneziano. In turn, during a stay in Florence, Domenico instructs Andrea del Castagno “in the order and method of coloring in oil, which in Tuscany was not in use.” Painting in oils does not pass exclusively to Florence: Vasari states that Galasso Ferrarese learns the technique in Venice and “brought it to Ferrara, such that later he made infinite figures in that style, that is spread throughout Ferrara in many churches.” Even so, it is in Florence where this smooth chain of transmitting technique breaks, and what is more, ends in dramatic fashion. The incident in question is Andrea del Castagno’s supposed murder of Domenico Veneziano. Though highly proficient in disegno and the difficulties of art, such as foreshortening, Andrea lacks the skill of painting in oils. Feigning friendship, though envious in reality, he secures the oil technique thanks to Domenico’s tutelage. Shortly thereafter, Andrea hides behind a street corner waiting to ambush his rival. With weapons made of lead, he smashes Domenico’s lute and stomach, beats his head, and leaves his colleague on the ground to die.57

Vasari’s anecdote is fabricated: Domenico, in fact, outlived his murderer by four years. But there were certainly documented instances when artists were murdered out of envy. In the autumn of 1577, the engraver Michelangelo Marrelli, formerly in the employ of the renowned print-maker Antoine Lafréry, stood accused of killing his colleague Gerolamo da Modena due to professional jealousy after the latter’s disfigured corpse was found in the Tiber River near the Ponte Sisto. The physical conflict between Andrea and Domenico, however, is best understood not as a matter of historical error. As has often been noted, the fatal altercation is a metaphor for the regional polemic between Florentine disegno and Venetian colorito. The brutal result of this conflict, Domenico’s murder obliterates oil technique’s association with a foreign location. Foreign craft becomes absorbed in a native artistic repertoire. Vasari observes, for instance, that in his paintings for the chapel of the hospital Santa Maria Nuova, Andrea the Florentine artist demonstrates his ability “to handle colors in oil as well as Domenico, his rival.” Furthermore, the painters “acquiring and amplifying the skill” of oil painting are either Florentine or central Italian: Perugino, Leonardo, and Raphael.58


Vasari modulates his portrayal of artists’ travels such that the act of mobility takes on highly inflected forms and patterns. The traveling artist competes, makes sense of the chaos of ruins, instructs local pupils, and escapes from overly prolonged sojourns away from his homeland. Artists experience a variety of responses—from acclaim, to mockery, to physical harm—when active abroad. In Part II, Vasari offers a further type of travel, that of allegorical pilgrimage. As always, he selects a character, in this case the fifteenth-century painter Benozzo Gozzoli, to personify this strain of mobility. With the brevity and tone of a biblical parable, he introduces the artist’s Life: “He who walks with toil upon the road of virtue, although it is (as they say) rocky and full of thorns, at the end of the ascent, finally finds himself upon a wide plain, with all longed-for happiness. And looking down below, seeing the mean passages taken by him with peril, he thanks God for having led him to safety .... In this way, restoring past troubles with the joy of the present good, he strains without labor to make known to those who look at him how heat, ice, sweat, hunger, thirst, and discomforts that torment him in acquiring virtue, free others from poverty and lead to that secure and tranquil state, where the weary Benozzo with great satisfaction rested.”59

Highly reminiscent of Petrarch’s arduous climb up Mount Ventoux, this convoluted passage with its intertwining clauses and deviating gerundive phrases befits the traveler’s tortuous progress. In figuring artistic practice as a journey, Vasari draws on a metaphor that extends back to the origins of theoretical discussion about artistic invention. Ancient texts such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric represented artistic invention as a trajectory through metaphorical space. The discourse on techne (craft, art, or skill) was enmeshed in a web of spatial metaphors: poros (means, passageway), hodos (way, road), and topos (place). Vasari’s predecessors made ample use of this imagery. Cennini asserts that what leads the artist through a metaphorical gate of triumph is the practice of copying from nature, described as “the most perfect guide you might have and the best helm.” Leonardo continues this comparison between imitation and a journey, yet adds knowledge of science as the crucial element of the artist’s equipment: “Those who devote themselves to practice without science are like sailors who put to sea without rudder or compass and who can never be certain where they are going.” Specifically, he cites perspective as “the guide and portal, and without this nothing is done well.” At the far end of the early modern spectrum, the simile between painting and a journey reaches an explicit form in Marco Boschini’s La carta del navegar pitoresco (1660). As the title and subtitle explain, Boschini’s work professes to be “the map of pictorial navigation. Dialogue ... divided into eight winds which lead the Venetian boat across the high seas of painting.”60

Artists even fashioned themselves as voyagers. Notably, the most evocative examples pertain to artists north of the Alps, perhaps due to the accomplishment of undertaking the difficult and costly rite of passage to the Italian peninsula. Maarten van Heemskerck’sSelf-Portrait with the Colosseum (1553) in which the painter commemorates his sojourn in Rome counts among the best-known portraits of “artist-as-voyager.” The phenomenon of artists representing or being represented as travelers in other regions also occurred in the printed book. The architect and ambassador Jean Pélerin refers to himself in his De artificiali perspectiva (1505) as Viator, an epithet that alludes to his extensive travels throughout France. The woodcuts in his treatise replicate monuments in Angers and Paris, among other places. In the print showing the courtyard of his own home stands a “Carreta Pelegrina” with a verse inscription on the hardships and pleasures of travel (fig. 4.30). The theme of the artist as wayfarer through both geographic and allegorical space is especially acute in Hendrick Goltzius’s print of the Tabula Cebetis (1591-92). The engraving saturated with figures ostensibly represents a Stoic interpretation of life as a journey winding between virtue and vice. Goltzius inserts portraits of himself and those of his workshop amidst the print’s many protagonists. Included as well are volcanic landscape features that refer to his own southern Italian journeys, envisioned as remedies for poor health, to the Solfatara volcano in Pozzuoli. Interweaving personal travel account and meditation upon moral pilgrimage, the print becomes what Tristan Weddigen has called a “biotopography.”61


FIGURE 4.30 Jean Pèlerin, “Carreta Pelegrina.” Woodcut. From De artificiali perspectiva, 1505.

Why the portrait of the artist as traveler especially manifests itself in northern visual culture merits further investigation. And yet, the vita hominis peregrinatio or homo viator, the idea of human life as a pilgrimage culminating in heavenly rest upon death, is a pan-European phenomenon, crossing the domains of both word and image. Vasari’s description of Gozzoli resonates with the “cammin di nostra vita” from Dante’s Commedia in addition to Christian interpretations of Ulysses as a wandering soul longing to return to heaven, the lost patria. As Hugo Tucker has shown, this idea of the homo viator pervades early modern literature and printed editions of earlier works: the Tabula Cebetis (1490s), Guillaume Du Bellay’s Peregrinatio humana (1509), Guillaume de Deguileville’s Le roman des trois pèlerinages (c.1515), and Marguerite de Navarre’s Les Prisons (1547) are but a few instances that interpret the homo viator from Christian, Stoic, or Neoplatonic perspectives.62

The theme of the homo viator was hardly confined to the textual realm. The sequence of woodcuts in Fra Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) portrays the dream journey of the main protagonist, Poliphilo, traveling through a landscape littered with fantastical architectural ruins as he attempts to reunite with his love, Polia. In one of the first woodcuts (fig. 4.31), a dense conglomeration of gnarled branches conveys Poliphilo’s immersion within “a woodland full of briars and brambles,” while the rhythmic repetition of tree trunks enhance his motion through the forest. The imagery of the homo viator also appears in the scores of emblem books printed throughout the sixteenth century, such as in Gilles Corrozet’s Hecatomgraphie (1540) and Georgette de Montenay’s Emblemes, ou, Devises chrétiennes (1571) that includes an engraving showing a wayfarer in pilgrims’ garb journeying to “the celestial city” (fig. 4.32). Ripa’s Iconologia overo Descrittione dell’Imagini universali (1593) recommends the theme ofErrore be illustrated with wayfarer bearing a staff since “all the works either of the body or of our intellect are a voyage or a pilgrimage, after which, not bending, we hope to arrive towards happiness. This Our Lord Christ showed us.”63

In likening artists’ labor to a spiritual journey, Vasari modulates the homo viator into artifex viator. To enhance the comparison, he applies the topographic metaphor to the progress of style. In the very passage where he likens the arts’ rebirth to a resurrected body, Vasari states that the arts “from a small beginning lead to the summit [la somma altezza] and from this so noble level fell into extreme ruin.” But eventually they “rose again [risalita] in our time.” The image of style’s difficult yet successful ascent pervades theLives. In the preface to Part II, the arts depart “from a humble beginning ... and finally arrive at the climax of perfection.” Toward Brunelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti, Uccello, and Masaccio, artists from Vasari’s own time have “a singular obligation to these first ones, who through their labors showed us the true path to reach the supreme level.” Likewise, Vasari begins the preface to Part III by declaring that these exemplars allowed artists from the third age to “rise and lead themselves to the highest perfection [la somma perfezzione], where we have modern works more celebrated and of great value.” A testament to the power of this figurative language a generation later is Raffaele Borghini’s Il Riposo (1584). Here, the sculptor or painter progresses after years of study to the “mountaintop” (alla cima d’un monte), rendering Vasari’s metaphor even more explicitly topographic.64


FIGURE 4.31 “Poliphilo in the Hercynian Forest.” Woodcut. From Francesco Colonna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499.


FIGURE 4.32 Pierre Woeiriot, “Wanderer.” Engraving. From Emblemes, ou, Devises chrétiennes, 1571.

The summit of this pilgrimage is not a place of superior isolation. True to its etymological origins in the Latin summus, the summit represents the quantity generated from the addition of numerous stylistic terms. Shortly after Vasari declares that the arts have reached their summit in his own day, he defends this claim by enumerating the stylistic qualities—regola, ordine, misura, disegno, grazia—present in the terza maniera. Vasari employs sommo to describe Michelangelo, attributing to the divine artist greatness in all disciplines. Since in Michelangelo the three arts “appear united together, he is revered greatly [sommamente]... such that he deservedly ought to be called singular sculptor, great painter [pittore sommo], and most excellent architect.” Characteristically, Vasari locates this mountaintop in his favored region. God confers Michelangelo upon Florence since “Tuscan minds have always been among other [peoples] highly elevated and great [sommamente]... they being most devoted in their labors in all disciplines above any other people of Italy.” By contrast, artists originating outside of central Italy need to travel to achieve greatness. If they fail to do so, this immobility leaves an indelible stain on their reputation. Correggio would have attained “the highest of levels” (al sommo de gradi) if he had left Lombardy and come to Rome, where he would have improved his style by studying both antiquities and distinguished modern works.65


When figured as an allegorical voyage, an artist’s mobility leads him to a summit, the culmination of various stylistic features. In Gozzoli’s case, toils (fatiche) refer not only to the many paintings he realized over his life’s journey. Fatiche also alludes to the diversity of subject matter within those works, a quality signaled through the terms copia or coposità. We might most readily association copia with Gozzoli’s frescoes, begun in 1459, of the Journey of the Magi for the Palazzo Medici’s private chapel. For a more public manifestation of stylistic abundance we must turn to Pisa. Gozzoli’s twenty-four frescoes of the Old and New Testaments in the Camposanto (1468-84), destroyed during World War II, exhibit a plethora of figures, still-life objects, and landscape backdrops. As photographs of the frescoes demonstrate, an ordered compositional framework sets the stage for an almost unruly excess in variety. In The Curse of Canaan, the rhythmic intervals of trees, columns, and pilasters guide the viewer from scene to scene, while myriad groups of men, women, and children in diverse costumes along with animals animate the foreground (fig. 4.33). Diane Cole Ahl has noted how Gozzoli adheres in both dimension and figural saturation to the Camposanto’s existing decorative cycles executed by Piero de Pucci, Taddeo Gaddi, Antonio Veneziano, and Spinello Aretino (fig. 4.34). Gozzoli might thus be understood as accentuating, if not surpassing, the quality of profusion set down by these predecessors and rough contemporaries, notably Ghiberti in the east doors of the Baptistery and further afield, the frescoes of Ghirlandaio and Rosselli in the Sistine Chapel.66

Completing these works, Vasari declares, would have required an “army of painters.” But Gozzoli alone brought the paintings—“very abundant (molto copioso) in animals, perspectival renderings, landscapes, and ornaments”—to their finished state. Vasari observes that Gozzoli’s fresco depicting the Flood and Noah’s Ark displays “the most beautiful compositions and abundance offigures [bellissimi componimenti e coposità di figure].” And to underscore Gozzoli’s display of copia, Vasari cites an epigram inscribed on the scene representing Joseph and His Brothers. The verses urge the beholder to look upon the many “birds, fish, and fierce monsters,” and “children, youths, mothers and aged parents / whose faces breathe always with apt expression.” The artist, proclaims the speaker, not nature, “created this resemblance of such varied figures,” declaring that “what Benoxus painted, now lives.”67

By interrelating allegorical mobility with copia, Vasari discloses a period way of thinking that stands as an alternative to passive “influence.” In other words, the result of Gozzoli’s pilgrimage through life is his abundance of pictorial knowledge. And as we will see, the relationship between allegorical mobility and copia will extend to include actual travel as well. But for now, a few remarks regarding the parameters of copia as an art critical term: while copia in Gozzoli’s case carries the burden of the traveling artist’s load, this charged word relates to a family of similar concepts. Alongside copia/copiosità, Vasari employs varietà and diversità to signal multifariousness in subject matter and styles. There is, of course, a key difference in these concepts: copia is quantitative, whereas varietà/diversità is qualitative. Nonetheless, the two concepts constitute a pair of fraternal twins. Alberti recognized this when he evoked varietà and copia as a united couple in defining good composition: “That which first gives pleasure in the istoriacomes from copiousness and variety of things. In food and in music, novelty and abundance please. . . . So the soul is delighted by all copiousness and variety.” Variety, of course, must temper copiousness. Otherwise, Alberti warns, “it is not composition but dissolute confusion” which painters would create. Even so, the very fact that Alberti deals with the pair copia/varietà in the same compressed passage testifies to their mutual dependence.68


FIGURE 4.33 Benozzo Gozzoli, The Curse of Canaan, 1470. Fresco. Camposanto, Pisa.


FIGURE 4.34 Antonio Veneziano, The Return of Saint Rainerius to Pisa, 1384–86. Camposanto, Pisa.

Likewise, in the preface to Part III, the passage where Vasari takes more pains than anywhere else in the Lives to define resonant terms such as regola and ordine, varietà and copia are used in close association. Enumerating the stylistic attributes lacking in the artists of the prima maniera, he includes “the copia of beautiful costumes, the varietà of many bizarre things, grace in colors, the universal knowledge of buildings, and distance and vari età in landscapes.” Copia and varietà function similarly, referring grosso modo to pictorial diversity. There is, of course, no overt suggestion in this passage that copia/varietà is connected the mobility of artists and/or objects. As is often the case in the Lives, certain attitudes toward mobility rise, subside, and reemerge intermittently over the span of Vasari’s opus. We are not encountering period logic or philosophy, but rather a burgeoning field of art criticism about works of art and artistic behavior. Vasari, therefore, predictably resists a degree of logical rigor or consistency in his application of critical terms. The alliance between pictorial diversity and mobility will reach its most explicit articulation only in Part III, specifically with regard to the careers of Raphael and Perino del Vaga. Even so, Vasari tills the ground for this partnership in Part II. He begins to carve out conceptual room within copia/varietà to foreshadow how a style of heterogeneous abundance might be a sanctioned outcome of an artist’s travel.69


FIGURE 4.35 Filippino Lippi, Bracket Supporting Marine Creatures Sustaining a Tablet, c. 1488. Black chalk, pen and brown ink, and brown wash (191 × 120 mm). Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence.

What most characterizes Filippino Lippi, the son of the painter Fra Filippo Lippi, for instance, is “his copious invention in painting.” This artist, according to Vasari, was the “first who showed to the moderns the new way of varying costumes which embellished his figures ornately with antique costumes.” Aside from bringing to light grotesques and creating strange caprices, Filippino “never wrought a work in which he did not employ with great study the antique things of Rome.” Vasari enumerates these classical objects and costumes in a dizzying list: “vases, leggings, trophies, banners, helmets and ornaments from temples, headdresses, strange draperies, armor, scimitars, swords, togas, mantles, and many other diverse and beautiful things.” By embedding such variety in his paintings, Filippino “is owed the greatest and perpetual debt for having increased in that area the beauty and ornament of that art.”70

Filippino’s fertile imagination is in part responsible for the endless variety in his decorative schemes. At the same time, Vasari intimates this diversity is not only a result of the artist’s mental inventiveness. Intertwined with the production of these many all’antica details is a multifaceted terrestrial mobility. On the most immediate level, the very mention of cose antiche di Roma suggests Filippino had a firsthand knowledge of classical ruins, or he acquired an antique vocabulary by studying such portable media as drawings, prints, medals, or coins. Be it travel abroad or exposure to the foreign at home, Filippino’s approach to the otherness of classical ornament is to consume it whole. Here Vasari draws a distinction between Brunelleschi’s attempt to refine and weed out unruly variations in antique forms and Filippino’s free-wheeling and personal extrapolation from them. With the maniera tedesca safely out of the way, physical displacement can now whet the appetite for wholesale ingestion and expression of variety. Filippino’s drawings after the antique demonstrate an aggregation of figural, ornamental, and architectural details, all executed with a speed that attests to his fluency in this classical language (fig. 4.35). Inserted into an architectural framework of vases, scrolls, and shells, the artist’s drawings in Vasari’s own Libro de’disegni accentuate Filippino’s performance of variety in subject matter, composition, technique, and medium. At the nucleus of these diverse Christian and mythological scenes in ink, pen, and wash is the artist’s woodcut portrait (fig. 4.36).71

Departing from the generalities that open Filippino’s Life, Vasari offers specific instances of the artist’s mobility and its aftermath. The artist and his works are among the more mobile protagonists in Part II, with Spoleto, Lucca, Genoa, Bologna, and Hungary cited as destinations where his paintings can be found. Yet predictably enough, Vasari associates none of these locations with the rise of Filippo’s varietà. Instead, Rome is identified, albeit obliquely, as the wellspring of the artist’s diverse style. Unlike in the Lifeof Brunelleschi, Vasari does not state outright that Filippino investigated and studied antique ruins. Nor does Vasari acknowledge how Filippino embellished his major commission there, the Carafa Chapel in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with a plethora of grotteschi and all’antica ornament, this despite clear visual evidence that he did (fig. 4.37). It seems at this point, deep in the fifteenth century, that study of classical forms and depositing them in compositions is taken for granted as a key component of an artist’s journey to Rome.72


FIGURE 4.36 Giorgio Vasari, page from the Libro de’ disegni, framing and decoration, pen and brown ink and brown wash (597 × 465 mm). Oxford, Christ Church Picture Gallery.


FIGURE 4.37 Filippino Lippi, St. Thomas of Aquinas Confounding the Heretics, 1488–93. Fresco. Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome.

Consequently, the work that exhibits Filippo’s varietà at its utmost, the frescoes for the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, materializes in the wake of the Roman sojourn. To portray the Strozzi Chapel frescoes with their abundant heterogeneity, Vasari resorts to a seemingly interminable list to praise the frescoes, described as “so well executed with art and design that it makes every artist marvel to see the variety of its bizarre things, armed [figures], temples, vases, helmets, armor, trophies, spears, banners, costumes, leggings, head dresses, sacerdotal garments, wrought in such a beautiful way that he deserved the greatest recognition.”73

Brunelleschi had restored order and purity to classical ornament; what Filippino draws from the antique is bizzarie, a term that likens the cose antiche di Roma to the realm of the foreign (fig. 4.38). To be sure, Vasari often employs the word bizzaro to indicate a style that goes beyond the boundaries of realistic depiction. This resonant term, however, also applied to unfamiliar visual phenomenon. In 1542, Vasari’s close associate, the humanist and historian Paolo Giovio, requested an intermediary to ask the conquistador Hernán Cortés for a “bizarre idol from Temistitan [Mexico City] to display in my museum, alongside his portrait.” Furthermore, in his compilation of voyage accounts, Ramusio calls Aztec hieroglyphic images as bizzarrie due to their combinations of alien animals, flowers, and peoples “executed in diverse acts and ways.” Granted, each individual element in the Strozzi Chapel—a cornice, capital, or mask—may not seem in and of itself exotic. But in mixing these ingredients in unexpected combinations into a sort of grotesque, Lippi orchestrates a motley variety. He blends textures and media (stone, cloth, metal, ceramic), function (military and religious), and size (from vases to temples). It is tempting to compare Filippino’s bricolage with the additive nature of New World hieroglyphs, available to viewers in Vasari’s own time through such specimens as the Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus I, once owned by Pope Clement VII, or the Codex Zouche-Nuttall (figs. 4.39 and 4.40). The discourse of bizzaria unexpectedly brings together such highly disparate visual phenomena and underscores how unsettling the fruits of transcultural encounter might be. Moreover, the conceptual tent under which these two images stand—varietà—functions as an index of the biographical and mental event of moving persons and things.74


FIGURE 4.38 Filippino Lippi, Saint Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple, 1497–1502. Fresco. Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


FIGURE 4.39 Detail from Filippino Lippi, Saint Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple, 1497–1502. Fresco. Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

The labor of assembling varietà not only wins Filippino’s reputation in his own time. In heralding the artist as “the first who to the moderns showed the new way of varying,” Vasari claims that the value of a collection of these items lies in its status as an encyclopedia or commonplace book designating sources for future generations of artists. In this respect, Vasari’s description of the Strozzi Chapel evokes the long tradition of artists compiling taccuini di viaggi, or travel notebooks. Those of Gentile da Fabriano and Jacopo Bellini and the Codex Escurialensis, for example, contained patterns and models for study, recycling, or adaptation within new compositions. The critical move that Vasari makes is likening the work of art as a supplementary or ersatz “model book.” This, in turn, implies that the work of art might be a site of virtual travel for the stationary viewer as he hunts for motifs and ideas culled from abroad.75

Varietà, then, does not function as a static concept whose only worth lies in its pedigree in “high” art theory or dry classical rhetoric. Nor does this word solely refer to diversity in respect to subject matter, color, or gesture. Vasari expands the semantic boundaries of varietà such that it can also refer to the dynamic process of traveling, seeing, studying, collecting, and importing the foreign. There are, however, a number of restrictions imposed upon this process: classical models and/or precedents are permissible points of departure, while those sources originating from lesser artistic regions are deemed inappropriate. This brand of varietà also emerges deep in Part II, suggesting that it will only gain further strength as the Lives progress. Indeed, the biographies which follow Filippino’s Life could to an extent be understood to exemplify anti-models and models of varietà: Vasari criticizes Perugino for his repetitive and dry manner, Pinturicchio paints landscapes alla maniera de’ Fiamminghi in the Belvedere, and Luca Signorelli, after going to Florence to “see the works of masters then alive and those from the past,” proceeds to fresco his famous Apocalypse “with bizarre and capricious invention.”76


FIGURE 4.40 Leaf from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, 1200–1521. Painted deer skin (113.5 × 23.5 cm). British Museum, London.

As Part II comes to a close, varietà emerges as a marked feature of the traveling artist’s style. The path to this term has been tortuous rather than straightforward. From asserting the importance of patria and its generative force, Vasari acknowledges only certain cities possess the resources necessary for artists to realize accredited styles. For artists born outside metropolitan locales, emigration is compulsory. Even when the traveling artist arrives in an approved urban site, such as Brunelleschi in Rome, he may be compelled to adopt a literally hands-on approach to sort through and discard the chaos of visual phenomenon. The establishment of differences between these forms can constitute a usable thesaurus. Yet the act of making distinctions is equally occupied with pointing out what must not be the subject of pictorial imitation. Varietà enfolds within itself this collection of differences. The question, then, becomes how long and to what extent art literature will permit this term to define mobility and its most accomplished effects.

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