Post-classical history

6 The Domain of Style

For all of its emphasis on varietà as a theoretical bridge that spans the gap between artists’ mobility and stylistic change, Vasari’s Lives locates the fountainhead of that varietà by and large in central Italian artists and artworks. Raphael acquires his varietà primarily in Tuscany and Rome, thus underscoring Vasari’s claim for these regions’ artistic superiority. With an arsenal of concepts such as patria, aria, contagion, and exile, his language reveals the tension and dilemmas that arise when artists travel beyond locales to which they have pledged allegiance. And this stress on central Italy raises the question of whether writers on art who take another region as their focus offer similar or varying conceptions of mobility.

There was no lack of art literature originating from regions other than Tuscany or the Papal States. To venture momentarily south: in fifteenth-century Naples, the scholar Bartolommeo Fazio dedicated several chapters of his De viris illustribus (1456) to painters, sculptors, and, most notably, to the Flemish works of art present in the King Alfonso I’s collections. In the next century, around 1524, Pietro Summonte, a civil servant and university lecturer, would compose an epistle that recounts the migration of artists and objects that characterized the cosmopolitan patronage of Neapolitan sovereigns who ruled a kingdom that stretched from Sicily to Catalonia. Like Fazio, Summonte also calls attention to the strong presence of Flemish objects, such as the tapestries after Rogier van der Weyden’s designs and the small-scale oil paintings by Petrus Christus. He even recognizes that Colantonio, whom he calls “nostro napolitano,” followed “the work of Flanders and the coloring of that country.” The infiltration of foreign cultures is not wholly embraced in the epistle, however. Summonte decries the fact that “for a certain time in this country, as in other parts, one did not make but Pisan works, German works, French and Barbarian [works].”1

The wax and wane of interest in artistic mobility within Summonte’s single epistle also characterizes much of the art literature produced in northern Italy, notably in the Republic of Venice. By the early to mid-sixteenth century Venetian authors and artists themselves would compose a body of work that calls for comparisons to Vasari’s monumental enterprise. Summonte had, in fact, addressed his letter to the Venetian patrician Marcantonio Michiel, who may have had the intention of using the notices on artists in Naples as part of a larger undertaking to collect biographies of painters and sculptors, the Vite de’ pittori e scultori moderni. However, an anonymous commentator in one manuscript copy of Summonte’s letter remarked that Michiel ultimately abandoned his project “due to a very large and complete book having been printed in Florence,” a reference to the publication of Vasari’s Lives in 1550. Michiel’s other works include a description of Bergamo’s artistic monuments (Agri et urbis Bergomatis, 1516) and theNotizie del disegno, an inventory of artworks in Padua, Cremona, Milan, Pavia, Bergamo, and Venice. At one point in the Notizie, Michiel refers to “Barberino Veneziano [Jacopo de’ Barbari] who went to Germany and Burgundy, and having adopted the art of those countries, executed many things.” Yet aside from this tantalizing instance, the heavily topographical focus of Michiel’s surviving work oriented his attention to recording artworks in specific locales rather than speculating on the subject of artists’ mobility.2

Another Venetian work predating Vasari’s Lives is Paolo Pino’s Dialogo della pittura (1548). A pupil of Savoldo, Pino portrays in his work a learned conversation between two painters, the Venetian “Lauro” and his Florentine counterpart “Fabio.” The former mentions the Lives before its publication: “Giorgio da’ Rezzo ... as a true son of painting, has united and collected in his book ... all the lives and works of the most famous painters.” However, the centerpiece of the dialogue is painting’s relation with the qualities of disegno, invenzione, and colorito, with the issue of artists’ mobility raised only briefly toward the end. A young painter’s life, Fabio states, should include “going to the most noble parts of the world ... making with the marvels of his works his wide road to immortality, giving his paintings to lords and great men, who can and should sustain such virtue.” Like Vasari’s characterization of Giotto’s travels around the Italian peninsula, Fabio’s conception of mobility would seem to result in distribution, rather than exchange, of an artist’s style with artistic milieus in foreign destinations. Admittedly, the Dialogo’s well-known declaration that “if Titian and Michelangelo were in one body ... one could call this the god of painting” refers to the process of mescolanza and the concept of varietà which Raphael undertook and achieved in his formational journeys. Yet how mobility plays a role in composing such a body that unites disegno with colore is not set out in any explicit manner.3

In the wake of Michiel’s and Pino’s writings comes the Venetian work that most considers mobility, style, and geography as topics of interest. This is Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogo della pittura (1557), also titled L’Aretino in homage to the author’s close friend Pietro Aretino, himself a prolific critic of the arts. (To avoid confusion and repetition between names and the historical personage and character both named Aretino, I will henceforth simply refer to this work as Dialogo, though it is more frequently calledL’Aretino.) Unlike Vasari, who considered himself foremost as an artist making a foray into the realm of letters, Dolce was a prolific, if highly derivative, author. His output, typical of polymaths of his time, embraced a diverse range of subjects: translations of classical works (among them La poetica d’Horatio, 1536, and Ovid’s Le trasformationi, 1553); the proper status and behavior of women (Dialogo della institution delle donne, 1545); memory treatises (Dialogo . . . nel quale si ragiona del modo di accrescere e conservare la memoria, 1562); the properties of colors (Dialogo nel quale si ragiona della qualità, diversità e proprietà dei colori, 1564); and the types of stones and gems (Libri tre . . . nei quali si tratta delle diverse sorti delle gemme che produce la natura, 1565). Also part of Dolce’s oeuvre, which consists of more than one hundred volumes, are tragedies, comedies, emblem books, scores of narrative poems, sacred verse, and sonnets, as well as biographies of Dante, Boccaccio, and Charles V. It was not without reason that the most common epithet applied to Dolce in his day was “l’infaticabile”—the tireless one.4

Dolce’s catholic interests, however, did not preclude him from participating in the regional polemic incited by Vasari’s unabashed championship of Tuscan and Roman artists. Part of the Dialogo’s extensive title (Dialogo . . . nel fine si fa mentione delle virtù e delle opere del Divin Titiano) borrows the moniker of “divine” that Vasari so assiduously applied to Michelangelo, and bestows it instead upon Titian (fig. 6.1). The format of the Dialogo itself betrays the quarrels between regions: like Pino’s own Dialogo,Dolce’s work stages a debate between a Venetian and a Florentine, in this case the naturalized Venetian “Aretino” against the Tuscan literary figure Gian Francesco Fabrini. Even the work’s first historiated initial, depicting two players with racquets volleying a ball, suits the dialogue format’s polemical nature (fig. 6.2).5

Dolce’s promotion of Venetian artists and artworks broaches the question of how, if at all, he reconciles this allegiance with artists from the Republic frequently traveling from and pursuing careers beyond its borders. Gentile Bellini, Lorenzo Lotto, Sebastiano del Piombo, and Titian, for instance, all spent time in varying degrees away from Venice. Their absence, whether brief or extended, also raises the issue of whether certain stylistic ideals are attainable regardless of place, or whether a locale’s particularities, such as aria, trump artistic agency. As we shall see, Dolce makes pains to contain Venetian artists within the geographic and stylistic confines of the lagoon. The main protagonist here is Titian, whose works and physical person become firmly associated with the city’s civic halls, palaces, and even façades. Titian’s time away from Venice only underscores this city’s artistic superiority, even in Rome. And when artists of lesser caliber venture onto the terra ferma and beyond, they must prepare themselves for a critical reception of their wandering. How does Dolce police the borders of his chosen territory and how does mobility potentially challenge the integrity of that domain?


FIGURE 6.1 Title page from Lodovico Dolce, Dialogo della pittura di m. Lodovico Dolce, intitolato L’Aretino, 1557. *IC5 D6874 557d, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


FIGURE 6.2 Initial from Lodovico Dolce, Dialogo della pittura di m. Lodovico Dolce, intitolato L’Aretino, 1557. *IC5 D6874 557d, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


It seems moot to question the art historical commonplace that Dolce’s Dialogo serves as the Venetian rebuttal to Vasari’s emphasis on central Italian art. Yet so entrenched is this conviction that the means by which Dolce places Venice on center stage in his treatise—literary tone, narration, allusions, argumentation—is often overlooked. In this respect, consider the thread that runs through the widely diverging theoretical speculations of Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, and Pierre Bourdieu: the apparently neutral category of “setting” is never an unmediated entity; space comes into being as a social and discursive construction by those who build, inhabit, move, and converse within a given place. Likewise, the Venice as represented in Dolce’s Dialogo serves as far more than a backdrop. From the dialogue’s rambling turns, digressions, and repetitions emerges a portrayal of Venice as a highly dense and interconnected network of artists, artworks, and critics. The city’s self-representation, furthermore, materializes via the exclusion and erasure of those native artists that become mobilized and dare to wander unduly beyond its confines.6


FIGURE 6.3 After Cesare Vecellio, View of Piazza San Marco, 1520–1600. Woodcut (377 × 581 mm). British Museum, London.

Just as the woodcut view of Florence on the title page conveys to the reader the chief geographical setting of Vasari’s Lives, the beginning lines of Dolce’s Dialogo immediately identify Venice as the focal point that orients the speakers’ discussion. The protagonist Pietro Aretino initiates this process in his address to his counterpart Giovanni Fabrini: “Just two weeks ago, my dear Fabrini, I happened to be in the beautiful church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. I had gone there in company with the learned Giulio Camillo for the mass of St. Peter Martyr. It is celebrated daily at the altar which has over it that large canvas telling the saint’s story: a divine depiction, painted by the delicate hand of my distinguished friend Titian. So I saw then what appeared to be you looking all intently at that other painting—the one of St. Thomas Aquinas which the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini carried out in tempera many years back, along with other figures of saints. And had it not been that both of us were diverted by Messer Antonio Anselmi, who took us to the house of Monsignore Bembo, we would then and there have made a surprise descent upon you, with the intention of holding you prisoner with us for the whole of that day.”7

Maps of Venice such as Jacopo de’ Barbari’s monumental print offer a view from an elevated distance, as if the city were seen from the towering mast of a ship anchored in the lagoon. And later prints such as a woodcut after Cesare Vecellio further dramatize the virtual visual experience of seeing Venice from afar: a Turkish acrobat gingerly walks a tightrope strung from the bell tower of San Marco, with the piazza and indeed the entire city a hundred meters below (fig. 6.3). By contrast, the opening lines of theDialogoimmediately pinpoint and insert the reader within a specific location. The sites in this initial scene progress like a stack of dolls nested within one another with an ever increasing specificity. The locational focus zooms from Venice (as stated in Dialogo’s dedication) and Santi Giovanni e Paolo to the altar of St. Peter Martyr, then to Titian’s painting of the subject and finally to Bellini’s altar-piece of St. Thomas Aquinas. Enmeshed are the speakers’ observations of these paintings: Aretino looks at Fabrini, who, in turn, is looking at Bellini’s painting. The speakers’ actions and statements also underscore the Dialogo’s intense focus on Venice. Aretino’s knowledge that mass is held every day at the altar of St. Peter Martyr demonstrates a familiarity with the city’s liturgical rhythms. Despite an itinerant career that took Dolce to Urbino, Ferrara, and Rome, the reference to the casa di Bembo— perhaps an illusion to the imposing Gothic palazzo near the Rialto bridge—is a concrete reminder of Cardinal Pietro Bembo’s and his family’s centuries-long association with Venice. Even Fabrini, a foreigner in the city, is described as being wholly absorbed (“tutto astratto”) in contemplating Bellini’s painting, an expression that evokes a posture of immobility and rootedness in Santi Giovanni e Paolo.8

In intensifying his focus on specific altarpieces, Dolce removes from his purview other significant Gothic and early Renaissance works inside and outside the church: Tullio Lombardo’s tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin and Andrea Verrocchio’s equestrian sculpture of Bartolomeo Colleoni. But while Dolce shaves away a plethora of now canonical monuments, at the same time he saturates the city with a slew of letterati. Their works are not described at any length, perhaps an impediment for a dialogue that begins in media res. But this very lack of explanation speaks to the existence of at least some readers who would be familiar with their names, if not their oeuvres. The squad of literary figures includes Aretino himself, the author of the famous six volumes of theLettere,hundreds of which concern art and artists. His counterpart in the Dialogo and recipient of at least two of his letters, Giovan Francesco Fabrini, wrote works on the Tuscan dialect, the interpretation of Latin, and the vernacular, in addition to translating and writing commentaries on the works of Virgil, Horace, and Terence. Giulio Camillo, also mentioned in Aretino’s Lettere, composed the Idea del Teatro. This was an exposition of “all things that are in the world ... that pertain to all sciences and all the noble and mechanical arts,” published in 1550 by Torrentino, incidentally the same year and press as Vasari’s Lives. A collector of portraits, medals, and figurines, Cardinal Pietro Bembo was another correspondent of Aretino’s and composed treatises on models for the vernacular (theProse della volgar lingua) along with the famed Gli asolani, a series of Neoplatonic dialogues taking place in the bucolic court of Queen Caterina Cornaro of Cyprus. Bembo’s secretary Antonio Anselmi, too, was addressed in Aretino’s Lettere.9

This portrayal of Venice as a hub of literati is consonant with one of Dolce’s sources, Francesco Sansovino’s Dialogo di tutte le cose notabili e belle che sono in Venetia, first published in 1556 and subsequently edited and enlarged through the course of the sixteenth century. As the title indicates, this guide stages a dialogue between a Venetiano and a Forestiero, a foil that resembles that between the naturalized Venetian Aretino and the Florentine Fabrini. Aretino’s reference to his intellectual coterie is also reminiscent of one of the chief themes running throughout Sansovino’s work, namely portraying Venice as being saturated with prominent citizens. The title page announces that the book’s two volumes “fully and with every truth” contain descriptions of Venice’s huomini letterati, in addition to those of “famous senators,” “princes and their lives,” “all the patriarchs,” “sculptors and their works,” and “painters and paintings” (fig. 6.4). Within the Dialogo itself, the Forestiero declares that Venice “is a country ofvirtuosi,” to which the Venetiano replies, “in fact, the copiousness of excellent men here is great.” The Venetiano proceeds to go through a roll call of these notable citizens, naming the city’s musicians, literati, and craftsmen of silk and wool and proclaiming along the way that “there are more illustrious men in Venice than in ten other cities.” However, this very impulse to categorize the citizenry according to a given activity would seem to preclude the possibility of Burckhardt’s “universal man” of the Renaissance, let alone any crossovers from one category to another. This scheme of classes may also reflect Venice’s guild system, whose rigidity, according to some scholars, endured longer than in other Italian city-states. In this respect Dolce differs from Sansovino: Aretino identifies Titian as “my illustrious friend,” a phrase which bespeaks a rapport that facilitates transactions across categories, in this case, between painters and writers. In Venice, the Dialogo suggests, the visual arts can constitute a magnetic point that brings literary figures and artists themselves into discursive relation with another.10


FIGURE 6.4 Title page from Francesco Sansovino, Delle cose notabili che sono in Venetia, 1570. *IC5 L2358 548ce, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


As the Dialogo unfolds, this civic encomium converges on one particular site, the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, or Great Council Hall. The assembly point for all Venetian patrician men aged over twenty-five years, the Sala also functioned as a de facto gallery of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venetian narrative painting until a disastrous fire in 1577. A view engraved several years after the fire shows that the chamber continued to bring a legislative body, painted histories, and portraits of the Doges together within one location (fig. 6.5). The crowds of patrician men seated in rows that follow the print’s rough perspectival construction seem to rival the numerous figures saturating Tintoretto’s Paradise (1588–1592) hanging above the Doge and his party.11

Aretino and Fabrini arrive at the topic of the Great Council Hall via a discussion of painting’s various uses. These include devotional veneration, navigation, and battle plans. Aretino also declares that painting on palace façades, provided it is executed “by the hand of a master of quality,” offers more delight than incrustations of precious materials such as marble and porphyry. In addition, painting can ornament the interior of such buildings, and as examples, Aretino cites the following halls: “It was not without reason, then, that the Popes I named earlier commissioned from Raphael the frescoing of the apartments in the Papal Palace, and from Michelangelo that of the Sistine Chapel and the Pauline Chapel; and in the same way this illustrious Government of ours had the Sala del Gran Consiglio painted by various artists who were more or less skillful, even as the style of the times was rough, and not yet capable of producing pictorial excellence. Subsequently it called on Titian to do two canvases there. And would to God that his brush had done the painting in its entirety; for then perhaps this same Sala today would be one of the most beautiful and respected sights in Italy.”12

The Sala’s importance as the epicenter of Venetian art becomes all the more emphasized when it is compared to other monumental painting cycles. Aretino makes these comparisons with a battery of conjunctions (six in this passage alone). The grouping together of Raphael’s Stanze, Michelangelo’s Sistine and Pauline Chapels, and Titian’s work in the Sala points to a logic that regional and patronage-focused art historical studies may not sufficiently stress. Such monumental painting cycles across a geographic expanse could evoke comparisons with one another; they were hardly isolated incidents in which a patron sought to express political and cultural aims to a local audience alone. Vasari wrote in a letter to Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici that his decorations for the Salone dei Cinquecento would “surpass all the halls constructed by the Venetian Senate and those of all the kings and emperors and popes who ever were.” Although these rulers may have had numerous treasures, Vasari explained that “not one of them would have in their territories a body of murals so great and magnificent.”13


FIGURE 6.5 Published by Giacomo Franco, Il gran Conseglio dell’eccelsa Republica Venetiana, nel quale si riducono i nobili col Sern. Principe a creare magistrati, di bellissime pitture ornato, 1580–1620. Engraving (200 × 246 mm). British Museum, London.

The Venetian Sala is not only a forum of artistic achievement. This prestigious location also witnesses the accelerating flow of stylistic development, with Titian as chief catalyst. Titian is the harbinger of a new stylistic age that supersedes those painters who worked “according to those rough ages” (secondo quelle età rozze), namely painters of the Trecento and Quattrocento. Note that in his other writings, Dolce did not always negatively assess fifteenth-century painters. In his treatise on gems, he includes Giovanni Bellini among those artists to rival the ancients. Nevertheless, the Dialogo relegates the Bellini to advance the notion of Venice as a possessor of her own progressive history of the visual arts. Such an assertion clashes with Vasari’s history of style which took central Italy as its chief geographic setting, leaving other regions frozen in a stylistic stasis, bereft of history and therefore artistic achievement.14

The Dialogo may endow Venice with its own history of stylistic acceleration, yet this history itself is hardly comprehensive. Notably absent is any mention of how the Byzantine icons, relics, and architectural fragments proliferating in Venice might figure in the history that Aretino posits. This blind spot is a far cry from Cardinal Bessarion’s declaration made in 1468 that on entering Venice, he and his fellow Greek exiles felt as though they were entering “another Byzantium” (quasi alterum Byzantium). The bronze horses taken from Constantinople’s Hippodrome, the Tetrarchs, and the Pillars of Acre were among the prominent Byzantine spolia embedded in San Marco, not to mention other Byzantine precious objects populating the church’s treasury, the cycle of mosaics, and the highly venerated Nicopea icon kept in the sacristy.15 In one of his inventories Michiel describes the panel cover of a relic of the True Cross which Bessarion donated to his Venetian confraternity as displaying figures “alla Grecca,” and the work on the whole as “opera Costantinopolitana.”16 Despite the unmistakable presence of Byzantine works of art in Venice, one of the few instances in which the Byzantine world is mentioned equates that civilization with iconoclasm. Aretino states: “Certain emperors, especially Greek ones—laid an embargo on the use of images.” He does mention Titian’s supposed early training with the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccati, who executed several mosaics for the façade of San Marco. Yet Aretino declares that Zuccati immediately sent Titian to the Bellini workshop, thus denying the possibility that Titian might acquire the principles of art via a medium associated with the Byzantine world. Instead, the protagonists of Venetian art are limited to the triad of Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian, the last of whom leads style’s ascent through his work in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio.17

Yet the Sala cannot completely embody this history, for as Aretino laments, Titian did not paint the hall in its entirety. Painters since at least the fourteenth century had been contributing to the Sala’s pictorial cycle, which depicted Doge Sebastiano Ziani’s mediation in 1177 of a conflict between Pope Alexander III and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. In the early fifteenth century, such painters foreign to Venice as Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello were commissioned by the Republic to execute the history in fresco. In 1474, Gentile Bellini had begun another rendition of the cycle in canvas, as his predecessors’ frescoes were already falling into disrepair. In his guide to the city, “De origine, situ et magistratibus venetae,” the Venetian chronicler and diarist Marin Sanudo referred to this series of campaigns in the Sala as a renewal (renovatio) of a well-established pictorial tradition. Aretino acknowledges these paintings anterior to Titian only to disavow their worth. And yet he concedes that Titian contributed but two canvases to the Sala, the first showing the emperor kneeling before the pope (1523) and the second the so-called Battle of Cadore (also known as the Battle of Spoleto, 1538). His language makes plain that his wish for Titian to have painted the entire cycle in the Sala remains just that, an unfulfilled yearning. Here Dolce’s topographic focus enters a hypothetical city space, speculating on what might have been.18


FIGURE 6.6 Title page from Laudivio de Vezzano, Lettere del gran Mahvmeto imperadore de’Tvrchi: scritte a diversi re, prencipi, signori, e repvbliche, con le risposte loro; ridotte nella volgar lingva da m. Lodovico Dolce, 1563. Ott 251.1.15*, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Disappointment, however, is relative. That the Sala does not completely manifest Aretino’s visions pales in comparison to the prohibition in those cultures to eschew images altogether. Aretino concludes his speech on the Sala and on the use of painting in general by stating: “In the present context I refrain from saying anything else, except only that, amongst the barbarous customs of the infidel races, the one which is the worst is their refusal to allow the making in their country of any painted or sculpted image.” Without painting, Aretino claims, “we would not possess either a place to live in or any of those things which are associated with civilized custom.”19

Aretino makes his point with a forceful turn of phrase. He emphatically repeats the “che” introducing his damning observations (“che non comportano, che in fra di loro”) and points to the cultural divide with the glaring demonstrative “them.” His condemnation is based on the widespread assumption that in the Ottoman Empire—the Islamic culture with the closest ties to Venice—images were forbidden. It does not follow, however, that Dolce the author was indifferent toward the Turks. He had published the Lettere del gran Mahumeto imperadore de’ turchi, a translation of Laudivio Zacchia de Vezzano’s compilation of epistles supposedly written by the Ottoman sultan. The title page layout is so similar to the Dialogo that the two works—one on Renaissance art theory, the other on the Ottomans—could be mistaken for one another on first glance (fig. 6.6).20

Yet in the passage cited above, the speaker Aretino fashions once again a curtailed historical version of Venetian painting and Ottoman patronage. Passed over in silence is Gentile Bellini’s diplomatic mission in 1479–81 to the Ottoman court for the purpose of painting Sultan Mehmet II’s portrait. Even Vasari mentions this commission. The Lives does acknowledge that painting “was prohibited by Mohammedian law,” but in the same sentence Vasari describes the sultan’s favorable reaction to Bellini’s naturalistic style as one of “great stupor.” The Venetian historical record, furthermore, did not neglect Gentile’s voyage to Constantinople and Sultan Mehmet II’s appreciation of painting. Sanudo recorded in 1479 that the sultan requested the Venetian state send him “un bon pytor.” After Gentile was selected and completed his mission, Sanudo later noted that the artist “was well regarded by the Signor Turco and was made a knight; and he had him paint some things, especially a Venice.” Other fifteenth-century witnesses such as Maria Angiolello, Francesco Suriano, and Domenico Malipiero also commented on the sultan’s wish for a painter to be sent to the Ottoman court. The last of these, in fact, reported that Mehmet II sought “a good painter who knows how to make portraits.” In the 1490 edition of his history of the world, the Supplementum chronicarum, Jacopo Filippo Foresti da Bergamo recounted that “when the emperor [i.e., Mehmet II] beheld the image so similar to himself, he admired the powers of that man [Gentile] and said that he surpassed all other painters who ever existed.”21

The sultan’s patronage of Gentile continued to be reported well into the sixteenth century. Francesco Sansovino related in numerous editions of his Venetia città nobilissima et singolare that beneath one of the paintings executed for the Sala, Gentile inserted an inscription that called attention to the honors he received from the Ottoman sultan: “Gentilis patriae dedit haec monumenta Belinus / Othomano accitus, munere factus Eques” (Gentile Bellini has given these monuments to the fatherland / Having been summoned by the Ottoman and made a Knight as a reward). Furthermore, medals based on Gentile’s portrait of the sultan and perhaps even a version of the portrait itself circulated in both Venice and the Italian peninsula as a whole, thus challenging the notion that the “infidels” placed a universal ban on images and image-making (fig. 6.7).22

The Dialogo was not alone in repeating the myth of Islamic aniconism and hostility against the arts. Like Vasari, Michelangelo Biondo implies that restrictions are attached to the choir of the Muses “in the extremes of Arabia.” In Sansovino’s exposition on Turkish laws and customs, Dell’historia vniversale dell’origine et imperio de tvrchi (1560), the narrator opens the section entitled “Of Their Temples” (“De Tempii loro”) by stating, “They have rather large and sumptuous temples called in their language (Meschit), in which I did not see any images at all, aside from these words written in the Arabic language.”23 Yet the narrator in his description of Constantinople acknowledges that the Ottoman capital is hardly bereft of images. He observes in the Hippodrome, for instance, the so-called snake column, the bronze Hercules taken as spolia from Hungary, and the obelisk of Theodosius engraved with scenes in relief. Aretino’s statement regarding the Ottoman use of images is less subtle and more polemical: the customs of the “infidels” serve as a convenient foil against which to assert the prominence of painting in Venetian civic life.24


FIGURE 6.7 Designed by Gentile Bellini, Portrait Medal of Sultan Mehmet II, 1480. Bronze, diameter 9.4 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


For all of his focus on Titian’s canvases in the Sala, Aretino does not fail to mention Titian’s paintings found elsewhere in Venice. Toward the conclusion of the Dialogo, Aretino recounts Titian’s biography to Fabrini. The painter’s curriculum vitae evokes a mental map and a virtual tour of the painter’s work through the city’s streets, squares, and canals. As Dolce suggested in his treatise on memory, if one is unable to travel, reading about places is a worthy substitute, for this activity allows one to visualize locations in the imagination. Likewise, Aretino’s narration of Titian’s paintings solicits a “bookish” engagement with topography. The excursion begins with the façade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the building directly on the Grand Canal that housed Venice’s sizable German merchant colony, where Titian paints a Judith “most wonderful in design and coloring.” Aretino then transfers the reader to the Grand Canal’s other side, to Titian’s altarpieces in the church and cloister of the Franciscan order. In the Church of San Nicolao, he paints an altar-piece of that saint, whose garments reflect “the glint and harshness of the gold, which seems genuinely woven in.” Further afield toward the southwestern edge of the city, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore displays the painter’s St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness. The conversation then returns to the setting of the Dialogo’s opening scene, the Dominican church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Aretino describes Titian’s St. Peter Martyr altarpiece at length, after which he assures Fabrini with suitable rhetorical flourish that “I refrain from going on further and telling you about the beauties of the invention, the design and the coloring; for they are known to you and to everyone.” Yet in spite of these references to points scattered across the city, Aretino’s tour terminates and culminates in the Sala. He acknowledges he has mentioned the civic hall more than once; nevertheless, he describes once again Titian’s battle and historical scenes, this time focusing all the more on details in these works. In theBattle of Cadore he mentions the hordes of contorted soldiers and galloping horses depicted “in a variety of forms” (fig. 6.8). But the focal point of his description is the young woman in the far right foreground. Having fallen into a ditch, she is attempting to free herself, her limb fast against the rock that “gives the impression not of painting, but of actual flesh.” Two copies after Titian’s battle piece—a painting in the Uffizi and an etching—render this telling detail. In both, the woman’s knee appears severed from the body and endowed with an agency of its own, penetrating into the very space of the viewer. So significant is Titian’s contribution in the Sala that the topographical survey that ranges throughout the wide breadth of Venice’s tract can conclude with commentary on a lone female figure, and a bodily fragment at that. It is as though a single limb is sufficient evidence of Titian’s contribution to the city and to the history of the visual arts.25


FIGURE 6.8 After Titian, Copy of the Battle of Cadore, sixteenth century. Oil on canvas (121 × 134 cm). Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.


The Dialogo’s identification of Titian’s istorie as the hallmark of Venetian painting was reiterated in a range of genres. In Sansovino’s Delle cose notabili, the Venetian guide declares to the Florentine visitor that in Titian’s paintings the viewer witnesses “the miracles of his divine intellect.” Venetia, citta nobilissima e singolare (1581), Sansovino’s expanded version of his guidebook, repeats this praise of the canvases. According to the narrator, the painter’s rendition of the emperor humbling himself before the pope “has been considered the rarest painting that was ever in this place [i.e., the Sala].” In the 1568 edition of the Lives, Vasari states that Titian’s battle scene, “taken all from life, is held to be the best of those histories that are in this hall and the most beautiful.” In a different vein, geographically oriented works also singled out the Sala’s pictorial cycle and Titian’s reputation. Venice occupies a major role in Tomasso Porcacchi’s account of the world’s islands, the L’isole piu famose del mondo (1572), which describes the Sala as the hall where “the major council of the nobility congregate: where there are paintings by the hands of the most excellent painters.” Under the section Huomini illustri di Vinetia, Titian is the only painter specified by name and is said to have surpassed nature itself. Notably, Dolce is included among the city’s illustrious literary figures, praised as one whose “labors and industry can more likely be admired than ever equaled.”26

Running alongside the axis that plots Titian’s reputation over time and across genres is another line within the Dialogo that plots the painter’s diffusion of fame through space. Aretino attests that “Titian’s fame did not confine itself within the bounds of Venice, but spread far and wide through Italy, and made many nobles eager to have him work for them—including Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, Federico, Duke of Mantua, and also Francesco Maria, Duke of Urbino, and many others.” However, this renown that reaches far and wide threatens to unfasten the bond between painter and the city that claims him as its own. Aretino recounts that Titian’s fame eventually reached Rome, leading Pope Leo X to invite the painter to that city such that the pontiff might possess “something divine from his hand.” Yet Aretino then suggests that Navagero along with his powers of eloquence prevented Titian’s acceptance of the papal invitation. For in losing Titian, Aretino explains, Venice “would be despoiled [spogliata] of one of its greatest adornments [d’uno de’ suoi maggiori ornamenti]”27

Vasari had often adopted a favorable posture toward artists’ journeys to undertake commissions for distinguished patrons. The Dialogo, however, celebrates Titian’s immobility and his adhesion to Venice. This stance is made manifest, in part, by designating the painter as one of the city’s chief ornaments. The Dialogo is, of course, not alone in employing the topos of artist as a place’s ornament. In the “Preface to the Whole Work,” Vasari states that part of his enterprise involves evaluating how much artists were “ornament and commodity to their countries.” The Latin epitaphs that conclude the biographies of Spinello Aretino and Antonello da Messina also hail these artists as ornaments to their fatherlands. While Vasari and Dolce both recognize the value of an artist to a patria’s reputation, Aretino’s speech especially emphasizes Venice’s almost binding ownership toward her chief ornamento, Titian. Titian’s presence via his paintings is built into the very urban fabric of Venice, especially given the painter’s work in the civic heart of the Republic (the Sala) and throughout the city as a whole.28

But is the artist as ornament merely an ancillary, though surely welcome, feature of a place? Period dictionaries, after all, define ornamento as an additive, an embellishment “that is added to what there is, to make it graceful and beautiful.” One of the chief architectural treatises of the early modern period, Alberti’s De re aedificatoria, says as much (6.2): “Ornament may be defined as a form of auxiliary. . . . Rather than being inherent [it] has the character of something attached or additional.” Still, the question of whether an artist as ornament is a necessary part of the whole may itself be misguided. In employing the topos in question, Vasari and Dolce both seem less concerned with assessing whether the artist as ornament is integral to their patria. Instead, they perceive ornament as part of a locale’s apparatus of display. As Hans-Georg Gadamer has argued, the ontological role of ornament does not consist in its auxiliary status, but rather in its capacity to represent. Although made in a context removed from the early modern period, Gadamer’s remarks resonate with Vasari’s and Dolce’s conception of ornament insofar as it addresses and generates a reaction on the part of the spectator. Vasari recounts in Fra Filippo Lippi’s Life that the citizens of Spoleto urge Lorenzo de’ Medici to allow them to keep the artist’s body, since their city had a dearth of “ornaments,” while Florence had a superfluity of famous men. In this case, the ornamento (Fra Filippo Lippi’s remains) is detached from its homeland, but nevertheless serves to display Florence’s cultural supremacy over its neighbors. Likewise, Aretino’s appellation of Titian as ornamento impresses the foreign visitor, Fabrini, and shows him a particular version of Venice, a place replete with paintings in the maniera moderna, with other artistic styles (the Bellini and the fifteenth century) and traditions (Byzantine/Islamic) pushed aside. Fabrini’s tour through the city, furthermore, demonstrates the efficacy of this representational apparatus. His sojourn in Venice has been consumed with viewing the city’s collection of Titians: “I have seen all of these works several times and they are divine; no other hands could have created them.” Thus, while some period sources might note ornament as additive, they stress its importance for a locale’s ultimate beauty and perfection.29

Given Titian’s instrumental role in Venice’s self-presentation, it comes as no surprise that his potential departure induces anxiety. Describing Titian’s possible mobility is the term spogliata, a word laden with connotations of booty seized during war. Of course, the other instance in the Dialogo where the word occurs bears milder associations, referring as it does to the comic situation of undressing someone in a masquerade. Elsewhere in Dolce’s oeuvre, specifically his treatise on the proper behavior of women, the expression spogliare ornamenti takes on a more sober tone: it refers to the situation in which a widow must indicate her bereft status by dressing in black and removing the ornaments she wore while her husband was alive. And when pertaining to the enforced physical displacement of persons or objects, spogliare’s darker connotations do come through. Varchi, for instance, employs the phrase spogliare ornamenti to describe the removal of works of art from Florence while the city was under siege in 1529. Working in the service of King Francis I of France, Battista della Palla, an enemy of the Medici, “removed from [spogliò] Florence many sculptures, paintings, medals and other antique ornaments [ornamenti antichi]... and sent them to King Francis, who ... enjoyed them marvelously.” While the term spogliata could be used lightly—Dolce employs it in the comic context of undressing someone—even here, the very meaning of “undressed” raises the specter of stripping, of nakedness, and other associations link it directly with the spolia taken from conquered cities. Titian risks becoming war booty, stripped from Venice by a rapacious Rome.30

Subsequently, it is with a tone of wariness that Aretino recounts the possibility of Venice losing one of her own ornaments, Titian, an incident averted thanks to Navagero’s persuasive powers. The triumph of the humanist’s eloquence may itself refer to the power of speech, and by extension, to the Dialogo itself. Such an allusion might inscribe the work within the well-worn analogy ut pictura poesis as well as within the culture of exchange between poets and painters which writers on art and artists themselves so often took pains to accentuate. However, the very fact that such eloquence needed to be deployed is in and of itself telling: while artists could be likened to the ornamenti encrusting a façade, they could wrest themselves from the bonds of civic rhetoric, or for that matter, from the city itself when faced with alluring prospects.31

This is perhaps why Aretino continually raises the competing issues of the geographic diffusion of Titian’s fame and the artist’s long-standing ties to Venice. Soon after the analogy of artist as ornament appears, he states: “His fame [Titian’s] passed into France as well, and King Francis the First did not fail to importune Titian with every sort of lofty stipulation, in order to attract the artist to him; but Titian never wanted to give up Venice, having come there as a small boy and chosen it for his home.” There may be some historical grounding to this, though no documentation of an official invitation from Francis I to Titian survives. More significantly, Aretino emphasizes the artist’s connection to Venice by exploiting the metaphor of the artist as a mobile good for whom various regions compete. As we might recall, Vasari draws upon this trope at several points: Gaddo Gaddi’s mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin so impressed his fellow Florentines that to retain him in Florence and fertilize that city’s artistic scene with his offspring, he was given a wife of noble birth with whom he had several children, among them the painter Taddeo Gaddi. Donatello’s works in Padua so impressed the inhabitants that they “sought every way and every type of affection to make him their citizen.” And Pordenone’s works in Piacenza received the praise of its citizens such that “in order to better reward him these gentlemen wanted to give him a wife, so as to enable him to honor again and embellish their city with his works.”32

Vasari, however, drew upon this notion of the artist as a mobile good only in those instances when the artist was working in foreign locales. As much as he proclaims Florence and Tuscany as the cradle of the arts, Vasari nevertheless clearly states that due to intense competition, these places cannot comfortably sustain all artists born there. Calling on the nemo propheta adage, he also stressed the need for artists to relinquish their homeland to receive due recognition. By contrast, Dolce’s representation of Venice does not exhibit a similarly fluid qualitative conception of place as that laid out in the Lives. The reference to patrons’ unsuccessful attempts to woo Titian underscores how much the artist is tethered to Venice. It is a union which cannot be rent asunder.


But for all of its attempts to keep Titian within the confines of the lagoon, the Dialogo does not suppress mention of Titian’s occasional journeys away from Venice. The physical labor of mobility and creating works of art abroad are set aside. Underscored instead is Titian’s presence before prestigious patrons and his capacity to attract audiences. Of course compared to some of his predecessors and contemporaries such as Carlo Crivelli, Lotto, and Sebastiano del Piombo, Titian is by no means an itinerant painter. This consummate master of Venetian painting, while enjoying foreign patronage at the highest levels, deftly avoided being pressed into work at courts abroad. Still, Titian’s biography was punctuated by intervals away from the Republic, with journeys undertaken in Padua, Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino, Bologna, Milan, Augsburg, and Rome. Aretino also remarks, albeit briefly, that Titian was not a native Venetian but rather born in the terraferma town of Cadore. Although acknowledging the painter’s brief sojourns in these locations, the Dialogo pushes the problem of mobility aside, focusing instead on Titian’s receipt of noble, papal, and imperial patronage. Indicative of this attitude is Aretino’s portrayal of the painter’s summons by Charles V to Bologna and Augsburg. The Holy Roman Emperor, Aretino recounts, bestowed on Titian a bevy of honors, granting him “privileges, subsistence, and rewards on a tremendous scale, even ordering a payment of a thousand scudi for a single portrait done for him at Bologna.”33

Titian encountered the emperor on at least four occasions, but Aretino here refers to two visits in particular, the first taking place in Bologna late in 1532, the second in Augsburg from January to October 1548. The speaker’s compressed remarks do not allude to the great tracts of land that separate Venice and Bologna to the south or the Alpine mountain ranges to be crossed en route to Augsburg. For all of its focus on Venice, the Dialogo bears none of the topographical sensitivity evident in works from other genres such as Flavio Biondo’s fifteenth-century Italia illuminata, of which a vernacular edition was published in Venice in 1548. Biondo describes, for instance, the rivers, marshes, towns, villages, and castles one passes in traveling to and around Bologna, along with an historical account of the city in Etruscan and Roman times. Distinct as well is Pius II’s Commentarii (1458-64), in which he recounts his journey along the Po and how the river “empties into the Adriatic, through three mouths.” Nor would it be reasonable to expect from theDialogo the romantic prose of Goethe, observing as he does the snow, pulsating atmosphere, and the elasticity of the air in the Brenner Pass during his journey from Carlsbad to Verona. Compared to other topographically oriented books, Aretino’s complete silence regarding the act of traveling dissolves the boundaries that define the shifting mosaic of European political entities. Instead, the symbolic currency of imperial honors and gifts, as well as the actual sums of money, function as a vehicle that bridges the distances between Venice and the courts that surround it on various points of the compass. If mobility is treated at all, it merely serves as the backdrop to stage an encounter between imperial patron and Venetian painter, with topography, alien artists, and artworks falling by the wayside. The issue of style, too, becomes eclipsed, an omission that is all the more remarkable given the likeness of the emperor which Titian executed in Bologna (fig. 6.9). In a nod to Venetian pictorial tradition, Titian exploits the canvas and oil medium to emphasize the surface textures of cloth, encrusted jewels, and fur. However, Titian’s full-length portrait of Charles V and a dog (1533) ultimately derives from that of Jakob Seisenegger, a German artist attached to the retinue of the emperor’s brother, Archduke Ferdinand, painted the year before (fig. 6.10).34

Titian’s travels to another court, that of the Gonzaga in Mantua, offer yet another example of how the artist’s mobility does not modify, subjugate, or enrich his own style. Instead, the execution of style jump-starts the mobility of an admiring audience that travels to behold the artist’s handiwork. After hailing the diffusion of Titian’s fame to the imperial court and even as far as England, Aretino turns to the patronage of Duke Federico II of Mantua. The speaker does not wish to pass over “how Titian painted in Mantua for Duke Federico, the features of the twelve Caesars, deriving them [trahendogli] in part from coins and in part from antique marbles.” Such is the perfection of these painted Caesars, Aretino claims; “countless people visit that city only to see them, in the belief that they are setting eyes on the real Caesars, instead of on paintings.”35


FIGURE 6.9 Titian, Emperor Charles V and Dog, 1533. Oil on canvas (192 × 111 cm). Museo del Prado, Madrid.


FIGURE 6.10 Jakob Seisenegger, Portrait of Emperor Charles V, 1532. Oil on canvas (205 × 123 cm). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Aretino’s remarks may give the impression that Titian’s work for Federico was a brief and one-time occurrence. In fact, his contact with the ducal court began as early as 1519, and after a number of sporadic meetings with Federico, the painter was regularly in the duke’s employ from 1529 until the ruler’s death in 1540. The execution of the Twelve Caesars series itself occurred over a span of time, from 1537 to 1540, with Titian either sending the paintings from Venice by ship or gondola, or traveling to Mantua himself to supervise the various stages of the cycle’s installation. Aretino notably does not allude to the other major cycle in Mantua depicting an ancient Roman subject, Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar (begun 1486). The variety which Titian imparted to his figures—depicted in profile and three-quarters, rotated at different angles and with assorted types of drapery—shares much with the fifteenth-century artist’s work. A print engraved and etched by the Flemish artist Aegidius Sadeler II after the painting of Titus imparts the visual dynamism that Titian’s now destroyed series may have conveyed (fig. 6.11). A half-length serpentine figure seen from the side, Titus vigorously twists his head and trunk, the curled ribbons falling from his hair replicating in miniature the movement of his entire body. Both fists firmly grasp the baton that cuts through the composition at roughly the same angle as the unfurling drapery and sword. Even the armor, with the scales washing over this Caesar’s back, appears animate. True, to speculate on the painting’s aesthetic qualities via a print, even one as competently executed as that of Sadeler, is a matter of delicate judgment. But the Dialogo at least credits a revitalization of the antique to Titian’s skill, marshaling the trope of the artist animating otherwise inert matter. Titian, Aretino declares, enlivens his classical sources to such an extent that he dissimulates the paintings’ status as objects: the audience, or so we are told, judges them to be the actual Caesars.36


FIGURE 6.11 After Titian, print made by Aegidius Sadeler II, D. Titus Vespasian, c. 1585–1629. Engraving and etching (348 × 242 mm). British Museum, London.

Titian’s style begets actions themselves, mobilizing an audience of near-infinite number who travel to Mantua to behold the effigies of Roman rulers. The vignette of Titian in Mantua testifies to the artist’s capacity to transform a location into a forum of spectatorship. Vasari, too, deployed this convention of an artist creating a work that attracts a foreign audience. Those instances in the Lives, however, involved Ghiberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Michelangelo, and others who carry out works in their patria, thereby rendering Florence an artistic center. The Dialogo elaborates on this commonplace: in Titian’s case, style effects mobility on the part of others in lieu of mobility “influencing” the artist’s style. Once displaced, the artist stands as the calm eye in a storm of movement that involves patrons, viewers, and objects alike. Charles V and his court travel to Bologna, ambassadors observing Titian relay reports, the paintings themselves are transported—and, in some instances, are damaged en route to their destinations. Even Titian’s sources—diminutive and static, coins and medals fitting in the palm of a hand—might be considered mobile media. To move from the particular to the general: an artist’s itinerant behavior can point, in turn, to mobile aspects of social context, an art historical category all too often considered local and static.37


The difficulty of understanding mobility itself as a context in its own right can partly be attributed to ambivalence in early modern sources toward artists’ travels. On this count, the Dialogo is hardly innocent. We have already mentioned Navagero’s successful attempts to dissuade Titian from traveling to Rome in 1513. This negative stance toward a Roman journey also occurs in Aretino’s narrative of Titian’s early days as a junior painter. He accounts for the unenthusiastic reaction to the painter’s first major public commission—the Assunta in the Frari—by explaining that “the clumsy artists and dimwit masses ... had seen up till then nothing but the dead and cold creations of Giovanni Bellini, Gentile, and Vivarino.” Eventually, public opinion turns. “The truth, little by little,” Aretino explains, “opened people’s eyes, so that they began to marvel at the new style found in Venice by Titian.” That the painter was able to formulate his style only within the confines of the lagoon is held as a miracle. Titian had not witnessed firsthand “the antiquities of Rome, which were a source of enlightenment to all painters.” Instead, Aretino locates the Titian’s greatness in preeminently local origins: “purely by dint of that tiny little spark which he had uncovered in all the works of Giorgione, Titian discerned and apprehended the Idea of painting perfectly.”38

While acknowledging the worth of studying ruins, Aretino’s praise of Titian’s ability to discover a new style (nuova maniera) without seeing Roman antiquities contrasts with a recurrent assertion in the Lives: artists failing to make the journey to Rome fail as well in their artistic endeavors. In assessing Correggio, Vasari declares: “If Antonio’s talent had left Lombardy and had come to Rome, he would have performed miracles and would have challenged many who in his time were held to be great.” If Correggio had only studied antiquity, “he would have improved his works infinitely, and growing from good to better would have arrived at the highest level.” Vasari does not, however, universally condemn all artists who fail to make the pilgrimage to Rome, or immobility more generally. In his complimentary remarks on Cola dell’Amatrice, Vasari describes the architect as one who “stayed in Ascoli, never caring to see Rome or another country, living joyfully with his wife of a good and honored family.” The ironworker Caparra is “a person of the soundest body and religion, with a fantastic and stubborn mind; nor did he ever want to leave Florence, in spite of all the offers made to him, but in that [city] lived and died.” Nevertheless, it is thanks to those artists of the highest caliber, Vasari states, who studied antiquities that style reached its climax in the terza maniera.39

Titian, by contrast, performs miracles without even setting foot beyond the Venetian Republic. He is not beholden to witnessing antiquity, a claim affirmed by a quip uttered by Fabrini: “It does not fall to everyone’s lot to make the journey to Corinth.” This proverb bears a range of intricate connotations, but in this instance it indicates the futility, for Titian at least, of making the often mandated artistic pilgrimage to Rome. The origin of this proverb is explained in Strabo’s Geography as well as in Aulus Gellius’sAttic Nights, classical works which Dolce most likely knew through their editions printed in Venice over the course of the century. Both authors recount that the courtesans of Corinth, famous throughout Greece for their beauty, were highly coveted. Yet due to their exorbitant prices, not everyone could travel to Corinth and afford their services. Hence, the proverb conventionally referred to unattainable extravagance. Dolce’s contemporaries, such as Benedetto Varchi, employed the saying in this way. Yet attributing this particular sense to Fabrini is perplexing. On one hand, it would fit the Dialogo’s deemphasis of Rome to associate it with Corinth, a city known for its wealth and debauchery as testified by Strabo, Gellius, and St. Paul in his letters to the Corinthians. Sixteenth-century Rome, like Venice, was famous for its courtesans, whose numbers were bolstered by the many clerics who inhabited the city. At the same time, the proverb taken in its original sense would inevitably imply a lack of wealth on Titian’s part, a claim not borne out by the references to the thousands of scudi he received for his paintings.40

It should be noted, however, that Horace also cited this proverb in his Epistles (I, 17:36), a work that Dolce himself translated in the vernacular (I dilettevoli sermoni, altrimenti satire, e le morali epistole di Horatio, 1559). In Dolce’s rendering, the proverb takes on a different meaning, comparing the task of impressing princes to the futility of undertaking a lone voyage to Corinth to prove one’s valor. This use of the proverb fits in with the general subject of the epistle, which, as Dolce explains, argues for the need to acquire tranquility before forging relations with great men. Likewise, Fabrini’s use of the proverb may indicate that traveling to Rome was not required to achieve greatness as an artist. Titian avoids this arduous journey, and, moreover, the path he does take cannot be easily followed. As Aretino puts it, those artists who attempt to imitate Titian’s style are utterly disoriented, “outside their own road,” and “lost” (smarriti). The Dialogo’s representation of mobility draws together the discourses of physical journey and its allegorical counterpart, only then to discount the very worth of travelling in favor of affirming that which can be “found in Venice” (trovata in Vinegia).41


The Dialogo, then, minimizes the value of a journey south and the significance of style whose origins lay outside the Venetian Republic. And yet, the historical fact of Titian’s journey to Rome in September 1545 is not passed over in silence. While contemporary accounts testify to Titian’s enthusiastic impression of the city, the Dialogo represents Titian as a visiting marvel and critic. The historical Aretino and Pietro Bembo both left accounts of the painter’s entry into the city, where he was accompanied by an impressive escort of seven riders and an entourage provided by the Duke of Urbino. Upon his arrival, Titian was received at the Vatican, where, according to Bembo, he “never saw so many beautiful antiquities, which filled him with wonder, and made him glad that he had come.” Aretino proper also reported that Titian wished he had visited the city twenty years ago. In the same letter, Aretino urged the painter not “to lose yourself in contemplation of [Michelangelo’s] Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.” Also noteworthy is Titian’s customs form from his journey through the Papal States, which indicates that he returned to Venice with an assortment of classical marbles and casts, most likely gifts from the Farnese family, his patron in Rome. Despite the long trail of reportage penned by Dolce’s own associates, the Dialogo being as it is a treatise and not a biography conveys none of these events which testify to Titian’s interest in Rome. The impact of Titian’s mobility consists not in the transformation of the Venetian artist’s style, but rather in its recognition. According to the protagonist Aretino, Titian “was honored by [Pope Paul III] during his time in Rome by painting the Pope’s portrait and that loveliest of nude figures for the Cardinal Farnese, which Michelangelo saw with amazement more than once.” Thus, while Titian was purported by contemporary observers to have marveled at the sights in Rome, the Dialogo reverses this rhetoric of marveling: Titian and his painting of the Danae are the object, and not the subject, of a gaze of wonderment.42

Titian also emerges as an art critic in Rome, one who disparages his emigrant compatriot, Sebastiano del Piombo. Fabrini recounts that during the sack of 1527 Imperial troops had lit fires in the Vatican Palace, releasing smoke which damaged the figures in Raphael’s frescoes. Pope Clement VII subsequently commissioned Sebastiano del Piombo to repair the heads in Raphael’s paintings. Fabrini’s succinct remarks certainly gloss over the enormously destructive impact of the sack on Rome’s cultural and political life. Numerous orations and eyewitness accounts alike bewailed “the murder of priests, the scattering of martyrs’ bones, and the violation of the will of God,” as one humanist, Pietro Alcionio, declared in his speech Among the Greatest Anguishes, written while held prisoner in the Castel Sant’Angelo. However much contemporaries lamented the mutinous pillaging of their city, the Dialogo exploits this cataclysmic event to demonstrate Titian’s prowess as a critic of the visual arts, and at that a critic of his own compatriot, the Venetian turncoat Sebastiano del Piombo: “Now when Titian came to Rome, and was passing through these rooms one day in Sebastiano’s company, he concentrated his thoughts and his eyes on a study of the Raphael frescoes, which he had never seen before; and when he reached the part where Sebastiano had restored the heads, he asked the latter who the presumptuous and ignorant fellow was who had put daubs on these faces—in ignorance, of course, that Sebastiano had reworked them, and seeing only the unbecoming contrast between the other heads and these.”43

The breezy tone of the gerunds (trovandosi, andando) that open this passage suggests a nonchalant walk through the papal chambers, with none of the elaborate machinery of papal etiquette that might restrict the two painters’ leisurely tour. The casual mood of this visit, however, changes abruptly once Titian turns his attention to Raphael’s works. With the word “fiso,” which indicates a halt in motion, Fabrini relates the depth of Titian’s concentration, emphasized all the more when we read that he looks with the dual faculties of thought and vision (col pensiero e con gli occhi). Titian’s ensuing question that demands the identity of the restorer is less of an interrogative than a value judgment, as the battery of critical words (presontuoso, ignorante, imbrattati) makes clear. He pays little regard to courtesy, a noticeable contrast to the declaration later in the Dialogo that Titian is “extremely modest; he never assesses any painter critically, and willingly discusses in respectful terms anyone who has merit.”44

What captures Titian’s eye and elicits his disapproval is a term that Vasari also employed to characterize mobile artists’ perceptions of style, namely differenza. In this case, the word registers an objection to Sebastiano del Piombo’s faulty restoration. Titian’s disparaging question seems particularly pointed since it implies that Sebastiano’s intervention has done more damage to the frescoes than the marauding forces of imperial troops. The implication of Titian’s detection of differenza is worth noting. In the Lives, the recognition of differenza functioned as a preliminary step toward artistic creation. Brunelleschi’s voyage to Rome allows him to grasp the distinctions between the orders, thereby allowing him to reduce architectural ornament to a pristine state. Donatello is made aware of the difference between his own style and that of northern Italian sculpture, which he rejects in his execution of a St. Sebastian. By contrast, Titian’s very role as spectator in this vignette conceives the acknowledgment of differenza, and thereby of style as an end in and of itself. The leisurely tour through the Vatican and commentary on style liken an artist’s travel to something other than a frantic chase after commissions. We are somewhere between the Wanderjahre of the craftsman and the gentleman’sWanderlust. In Fabrini’s account, the most distinct part of Titian’s body—his hand—is absent, while other parts, such as his eyes and legs, are alluded to, a representation that momentarily masks the mechanical aspects of Titian’s profession. Titian’s comments suggest that one outcome of travel might be the detection and critique of stylistic difference. And this difference pertains not only to “before and after” effects of restoration. Also implied is the observation of difference between artists by an external, though hardly objective, bystander. The traveling artist becomes traveling art critic.45


Notably, the artist who provokes Titian’s derision is Sebastiano del Piombo, the Venetian painter who abandoned his patria in 1511 to accept the patron Agostino Chigi’s invitation to journey south. Dolce’s evaluation of Sebastiano serves as yet another example of the ways in which varying attitudes toward regional origin and mobility shape the highly qualitative conceptions of style in early modern art literature. Along with a transport across horizontal geographic space, mobility can result in a downward plunge, a slide through the tight warp and weft of regional origin and style, the safety net that ensures an artist’s reputation. In other words, traveling artists can risk falling outside regional categories and slip into the acid bath of censure. Sebastiano was relinquished by his homeland and never fully adopted by his destination, and his fortuna critica was caught between the polemical stances of both Venetian and central Italian art literature.46

In the Lives, Sebastiano emerges as a painter active in Rome who nonetheless can never erase the Venetian imprint from his style. Sebastiano, Vasari recounts, leaves Venice because he had understood “how much the aria of Rome was propitious to painters and all talented persons.” Even so, aria’s potency fails to act immediately, since Sebastiano retains the style of painting he acquired under the tutelage of Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione. In the Villa Farnesina, he “executed poetic works in that maniera that he had brought from Venice, much different [disforme] from the one those worthy painters in Rome were using.” The cause of Sebastiano’s “deformity” is, of course, his lack of conformity. Disforme can at times carry a charged tone; the word alludes to poor painting and sculptural practice in Vasari’s technical treatise as well as to physical unsightliness and moral turpitude in physiognomic and poetical works. Yet in this particular passage, Vasari uses disforme more to signal Sebastiano’s dissimilarity, perhaps even in a positive sense, from established painting practice in Rome. Vasari clearly states that the works Sebastiano painted using the “soft way of coloring” learned from Giorgione were much appreciated in Rome. Furthermore, Michelangelo draws on Sebastiano’s coloring to trump Raphael, whose works with respect to color were held to be superior.47


FIGURE 6.12 Michelangelo, The Risen Lazarus, Supported by Two Figures, c. 1517. Red chalk on paper (25.2 × 11.9 cm). British Museum, London.


FIGURE 6.13 Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus, c. 1517–19. Oil on canvas, mounted on board, transferred from wood (381 × 289.6 cm). National Gallery, London.

Michelangelo also provides designs for Sebastiano, thus rendering the latter’s works a middle ground between two regional aesthetics. Vasari states, for instance, that the figure of the chief protagonist in Sebastiano’s Raising of Lazarus (1519) “was copied and painted with the greatest diligence, according to the order [ordine] and design [disegno] of Michelangelo.” Michelangelo’s two drawings, one of a seated male nude supported by kneeling and bent figures and another depicting a male figure partially wrapped in a shroud, offer pictorial evidence for the close collaboration with his Venetian colleague and friend (fig. 6.12). While clearly a painted translation of Michelangelo’s elongated nude figure, Sebastiano’s rendition of Lazarus places emphasis on his sallow flesh tones and the gleaming white gravecloths that lace between his limbs (fig. 6.13). In contrast to the “healthier” appearances of Michelangelo’s male nudes, Sebastiano’s stark chiaroscuro modeling calls attention to Lazarus’s transition between life and death, to the dramatic resurrection just achieved. Beyond any regional polemic between Venetian colorito and Tuscan disegno, regional specialties are here deployed in the service of depicting a heightened narrative moment.48

But for all of Sebastiano’s personal and artistic relations with central Italian painters, Vasari’s notion of style adheres to a rigid set of distinctions. Notably, the terms in which this scheme is expressed are not only regional. Rather, they occur in relation to gender and sexual difference, categories that express more forcibly the essential variance between things. Michelangelo insists that the Last Judgment be executed in fresco, since painting in oil, a technique heavily associated with Venice and the north, was the practice of women. Later writers on art would reiterate and thereby give further weight to Michelangelo’s prejudicial claim. In his Idea del tempio della Pittura (1590), Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo deemed oil painting appropriate for giovani effeminate—“effeminate youths.” By contrast, Vasari declares in his technical treatise that fresco is the most virile and resolute of all painting methods. Gender also colors, so to speak, Sebastiano’s artistic practice. The Venetian transplant is figured as passive, subservient, and therefore feminine because he was dependent on Michelangelo for drawings for his compositions. Vasari then transfers this gendering of artistic practice to artistic persona. Awarded the sinecure of Keeper of Papal Seals, Sebastiano displays the personality of idleness, indolence, and waywardness so often associated with women. Eventually, the metaphor of mobility intermingles with this rhetoric of gender to reinforce all the more Sebastiano’s errant effeminacy. At leisure and ease in the Papal Curia, Sebastiano grew satisfied with himself, his talent and hand “diverging” (sviando), leaving the path of good style.49

While Vasari employs metaphors of gender and errancy to decry Sebastiano’s vagabondage, Dolce likens the painter’s travel and subsequent stylistic mutation to a masquerade. Aretino remarks: “Everyone knows, moreover, that Michelangelo did designs for Sebastiano; and the man who garbs himself with the feathers of another is left, when they are subsequently taken off him, looking like that absurd crow which was described by Horace.” The allusion is to Horace’s “Epistle to Julius Florus” (1.3), translated by Dolce in the vernacular and published in 1559 in his compilation of the Roman poet’s works. The image of the crow bedecked with another’s feathers describes Celsus, a writer criticized for his imitative verse. He is warned to acquire his own literary riches instead of stealing others’ poems, “lest diverse birds come to take back their stolen feathers, and he, at that point, is like the crow, left nude from his stolen colors, and for whom nothing remains but mockery and ridicule.”50


FIGURE 6.14 “Vili” from Andrea Alciato, Diverse imprese accommodate a diverse moralità, 1551. Princeton University Library.

The metaphor of being bedecked with feathers to refer to wavering and laughable imitation was current in many other sources. Most famously in Aesop’s Fables, the uncomely crow struts around in borrowed peacock feathers only to alienate himself from other peacocks as well as members of his own species. The iconographic convention of depicting fools either crowned or covered with feathers ranged from episodes in monumental fresco cycles, as seen in Giotto’s Stultitia, or Folly, in the Arena Chapel, to smaller-scale formats, such as Bonifacio Bembo’s illuminated tarot cards. This tradition extended well into the sixteenth century. In Andrea Alciato’s emblem book (Emblematum Libellus), which reached its definitive edition around 1550, one of the aspects of sloth is exemplified by two figures, a man-bird and a falcon with a ridiculous expression flying in the air above a landscape of classical ruins (fig. 6.14). The text indicates these figures refer to Ardelio, the lazy slave whose feathers indicate his deception and lack of intellect. While the woodcutter has rendered the landscape with the barest of lines, dense zones of hatching draw attention to the feathers in both the man-bird and the falcon itself. Ripa’s entry on “Leggierezza,” or frivolity, is represented by a “woman that has wings on her hands, feet, shoulder and head and will be clothed in the finest feathers.” Finally, Cellini in his treatise on gems employs the Horatian expression to refer to the practice of enhancing the color and value of rubies. To three duped old jewelers, he identifies a ruby whose base has been smeared with dragon’s blood, “like the crow that dressed itself in the feathers of a peacock.”51

Sebastiano’s adoption of Michelangelo’s style, in particular his disegno, is thus likened to an act of superficial masquerade. The event causing Sebastiano’s descent into this risible masquerade is his move to Rome. While neither Horace nor Dolce’s translation states so, the crow is a supremely mobile creature due to its otherwise ungainly feathers. Or as Vincenzo Danti observes in his treatise on proportions, “nature wanted to dress [birds] with feathers, to the end that, by flying they can with brevity transfer themselves from place to place.” In flying to Rome and donning the feathers of disegno, Sebastiano violates the nature of his species. There is, of course, no geographic/ethnic referent explicitly at play in Horace’s mockery of Celsus. However, in the Dialogo’s case, the interchange between different animal species implied by Aretino’s allusion echoes the wary stance toward the mixing of ethnic identities which runs like a basso continuo. Dolce does not defend Sebastiano against Vasari’s regional and polemical depiction. He is not called “Sebastiano Viniziano,” but rather is firmly entrenched within the Roman milieu. Sebastiano is neither here nor there, neither Venetian nor Roman, censured by both sides, and weighed down by his office of lead seals in the artistic region of a nether land.52


Sebastiano is tarred and feathered for his mobility and ensuing masquerade of disegno. By contrast, an itinerant artist such as Lorenzo Lotto largely meets indifference, though with a telling moment of criticism flashing through. The different paths these artists’ journeys took may partly account for this discrepancy: Sebastiano was active in the recognizably pivotal artistic center of Rome, while Lotto pursued a “provincial” career largely in the Marches and Bergamo. Lotto’s work in locations removed from the triumvirate of Venice-Florence-Rome thus did not become hefty weapons or targets in the regional debates which evaluated the merits and shortcomings of central versus northern Italian styles. Instead, the Dialogo brushes Lotto off, ostracizing him from that preeminently Venetian stylistic domain—coloring and brushwork. This dismissive stance contrasts with that of Vasari, who presumes Lotto’s excellence in coloring, given his Venetian origins. These differing attitudes toward Lotto betray tacit assumptions concerning the bond between regional identity and regional style and, moreover, how mobility can put stress on that bond.53

The sole reference to Lotto in the Dialogo appears after an extended discussion of coloring. “When the painter produces a good imitation of the tones and softness of flesh,” Aretino observes, “he makes his painting seem alive.” Later in this passage, he reiterates the necessity of keeping the eye fixed on tones, “primarily those of the flesh areas, and on softness.” To emphasize these qualities, Aretino evokes stone and minerals as counterexamples. Some errant painters render flesh “such that they seem made of porphyry, both in color and hardness.” Other misguided artists portray lips that appear to be of coral, with faces that look like masks. Interjecting, Fabrini offers Lotto’s altarpiece St. Nicholas of Bari in Glory (c. 1529) as a specific negative example: “It seems to me that a notable enough instance of these pernicious tones is to be seen in a painting of Lorenzo Lotto’s, which is here in Venice in the Church of the Carmine” (see fig. 1.9).54

To take Fabrini’s comment at face value is a sensitive matter; after all, the Dialogo’s ultimate goal was to praise Titian to the detriment of his foreign rivals and compatriots. Even so, stylistic features, such as a rather outmoded polished brushwork and a hieratic compositional format derived from northern models, may have motivated the criticism against Lotto’s altarpiece. Although painted on canvas, Lotto’s work reveals his training as a painter deeply conversant with fifteenth-century modes of coloring on panel. Much like his predecessors such as Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano, Lotto executes the detailed texture of St. Nicholas’s damasks, cloth of gold, and jeweled pendants in discrete passages of carefully applied paint layers and white highlights. Of course, the striking combination of the colors—violets, greens, and oranges—is more indicative of Lotto’s own idiosyncrasies rather than any indebtedness to Venetian pictorial tradition. Even so, Lotto’s controlled brushwork differs markedly from his contemporaries’, notably Titian. Already in such large-scale compositions as that of the Ca’ Pesaro Altarpiece (1519-26) and earlier in the Assumption of the Virgin (1515-18), Titian had exhibited a bravura handling of paint and the ability to convey a sense of rough tactility by exploiting the weft and warp of the canvas support. By contrast, Lotto’s altarpiece achieves an impression of lacquered pellucidity, not only in the rendition of the fabrics but even in the nude figure of St. John the Baptist, the saint’s flesh appearing to the viewer in person more polished than corporeal or rough. And whereas Titian might have attempted to integrate the chief protagonist saint into a narrative scene encompassing the entire altarpiece—as he famously had done in the St. Peter Martyr(1526-30; destroyed 1867)—Lotto separates the pictorial field into different registers. Previously seen in his altarpieces and fresco in Asolo, Recanati, and Bergamo, the landscape occupying the lower zone recalls northern works of art, Dürer’s Nemesis, and theLarge Fortune print as well as panoramic views by Scorel and Patinir. The foreign origins for this device may indirectly account for the Dialogo’s prejudicial view against Lotto. Nonetheless, the dramatic portrayal of travelers with their mules ferrying goods toward a stormy harbor would have surely resonated with the altarpiece’s patrons, the Scuola dei Mercanti, a lay confraternity of Venetian merchants (fig. 6.15).55

However the mercantile public may have responded to the altarpiece’s iconography of mobility and sought the protection of St. Nicholas—the patron saint, along with St. Christopher, of travelers and merchants—the Dialogo itself bears an equivocal and at times hostile stance toward artists such as Lotto who venture beyond the Republic’s borders. In this respect more than a bald pronouncement of Lotto’s coloring, Fabrini’s observations on style may be a subtle decoy for denouncing this artist’s tenuous ties to Venice. Ironically, a non-Venetian work such as the Lives happily considers Lotto foremost as a Venetian artist. Presumption, not stylistic campanilismo, characterizes Vasari’s assessment of Lotto’s work in the 1550 edition. His brief mention of the artist comes toward the end of Palma Vecchio’s Life: “His [Palma’s] companion and household companion was Lorenzo Lotto, the Venetian painter, who painted a work in Ancona in oil in Sant’Agostino and executed infinite paintings in Venice. He painted the portrait of Andrea Odoni, who in Venice has his house adorned with paintings and sculptures. He also executed a work in the Carmine church of the said city, in the chapel of San Niccolò; and in Santi Giovanni e Paolo a painting of Sant’Antonino, the bishop of Florence, and infinite other things that one sees throughout Venice. He was held to be most capable in coloring, and clean in his youth; and enjoyed finishing his works.”56

What comes through in this passage is an assumption of Lotto’s venezianità. Vasari textually inserts Lotto within the life of Palma Vecchio, whose epithet is Veniziano Pittore. Vasari later outright calls Lotto pittor veneziano. The phrase amico e domestico suounderscores Lotto’s physical proximity to Palma and Venice as a whole. Further emphasizing Lotto’s ties with the city is the hyperbolic remark that an infinite number of the artist’s works are spread throughout Venice, in both private and public locations. This, we know, is not the case at all, as Vasari himself knew, because he had visited the city in 1541–42. Far from being comprehensive, Vasari lists but two of the three altarpieces Lotto executed for Venetian churches. And aside from the famous portrait of Andrea Odoni, a visitor to Venice in the mid-sixteenth century would only be able to add few other works, among them the Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1527), now in the Accademia. To be sure, Vasari’s phrase “infinite other things one sees throughout Venice” may be a generic filler to substitute for lack of concrete knowledge. However, Vasari also employs this rhetorical flourish of “infinite works” to describe more familiar artistic terrain. For instance, of his fellow countryman Spinello Aretino, Vasari writes, “With good practice and grace he made an infinite number of things” as he was “called by heaven to kindle in his fatherland an art so spirited and beautiful.” Appealing to the metaphor of infinitude is not necessarily an indication of descriptive stuffing, but rather a tactic to emphasize an artist’s ties to his homeland.57


FIGURE 6.15 Lorenzo Lotto, detail from St. Nicholas in Glory with Sts. John the Baptist and Lucy. Oil on canvas (335 × 188 cm). Santa Maria dei Carmini, Venice.

Vasari’s assumption of Lotto’s venezianità also informs his stylistic assessment of the artist’s work. Simply by virtue of being Venetian, Lotto is judged to be skilled in coloring, yet no substantial reasons justify this blanket assessment. This correlation between artistic products or techniques and a specific geographic location is hardly unique to Vasari; this was a notion of old, as seen, for example, when Vitruvius associates the Corinthian order with the peoples of Corinth or when the Sophist Kritias correlates excellence in bronze and gold work with the Etruscans. So too does the Urbanite Polydore Vergil connect his townsman, Raphael, with the restoration of the art of painting. In a similar way, Vasari forges the well-known link between colorito and Venice. Yet unlike his essentialist claim that something inherent in the “sottile aria di Firenze” gives rise to artistic greatness, a set of restrictive human relationships lies beneath the connection between colorito and Venice. For instance, referring to the technique of oil painting as a “secret” given from Antonello da Messina to Domenico Veneziano implies the existence of a select company privy to this method. The transmission of colorito also seems limited to dynastic relationships, both father to son and teacher to student. Although Jacopo Bellini prefers to work alone, he lovingly passes on the “difficultà della pittura nel colorire” to his sons, Gentile and Giovanni. Thus, far from being a static stylistic label, colorito in Vasari’s view travels through a dynamic set of social networks propagating yet at the same time controlling this artistic practice.58

Against Vasari’s association of Lotto with Venice, Venetian coloring, and that city’s dense artistic network, the Dialogo’s one-line critique of the artist can be read as a polemical instrument to dispute his regional identity. The pithy reference to Lotto in isolation excludes him from the lineage of Venetian painters. Why single out Lotto when, as Aretino remarks, there is no lack of painters erring from the principles of coloring? The Dialogo’s disparagement of Lotto, in addition to its scorn toward Sebastiano, affirms Titian’s status as the sole heir to the dynasty of Venetian painting. A painter such as Lotto who has abandoned the Republic early on in his career, only to return intermittently, disappears from Dolce’s map of Venetian painters. It is in this context of allegiance to or departure from the Venetian Republic that we can better understand Fabrini’s censure of Lotto’s coloring. Vasari’s commendation of Lotto was based not only on direct observation, but also on the act of equating regional origin (Venice) with style (coloring). In light of Lotto’s haphazard ties with Venice, Dolce responds by ostracizing the painter from Venice and the domain of colorito. Thus, the Dialogo’s relative silence might be understood as an example of abolitio memoriae, not a complete eradication of Lotto’s presence, but a residual trace which bespeaks a negative disposition toward his work. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that Paolo Pino excluded Lotto from his list of painters active in Venice; nor that later in the early modern period, Boschini and Ridolfi both consider him not as a fellow citizen, but as “Bergamasco,” from the city of Bergamo, some two hundred kilometers from the lagoon.59


Given that the Dialogo places such a premium on Venetian artists maintaining their residency in Venice, do painters foreign to the city adopt the favorable stylistic mores of the Republic? On this count, the Dialogo is equivocal. Aretino mentions that one of the two Dossi brothers of Ferrara came to Venice to learn under Titian; yet the young painter diverged from such an auspicious tutelage, eventually preferring “a style so awkward” that he did not merit the praise he received at the pen of his compatriot Ariosto. Pordenone, who, as his name suggests, hails from that northern Italian city, receives a more generous assessment. Aretino praises him for his foreshortened figures, battle scene, and horse on the façade of the Casa dei Talenti as well as for his work in San Rocco. Dolce himself may have known Pordenone well, as the artist had designed the frontispiece for the author’s Il primo libro di Sacripante (1536). Even so, in the Dialogo Aretino remarks that Pordenone, “having to compete with our Titian, always remained a long distance behind.”60

This ambivalent attitude toward foreign painters becomes even more pronounced in the case of Dürer. No mention is made of the artist’s sojourn in Venice (1505-7), nor of his execution of the Virgin of the Rose Garlands (1506), a work which refuted, according to Dürer himself, Venetians’ claim that he did not know how to handle colors. Aretino does concede that the German artist’s prints “have the look of being not drawn, but painted; and not painted, but alive.” The comparison of monochrome prints to colored and lively works of art notably echoes Erasmus’s own commendation of Dürer in the Dialogues on the Proper Pronunciation of Latin and Greek (1528). In his prints, states Erasmus, Dürer is able to depict such visual phenomena as fire, thunder, and lightning, sensations “he places before the eye in the most pertinent lines—black ones, yet so that if you should spread pigments you injure the work.” But despite this praise north and south of the Alps, what marks Dürer for the Venetian Dialogo are his origins as a German artist. “If the same man [Dürer] had been born in Italy who was born in Germany,” Aretino comments, “it pleases me to believe that he would not have been inferior to anyone.” The knot that intertwines artistic merit and ethnicity remains unbound. At the same time, native origin, as the cases of Sebastiano and Lotto demonstrate, must be preserved in situ if it is to retain its potency. Of course, unaddressed is the worth of a painter native to Venice or the Veneto who remains geographically static through his entire career. The Dialogo’s stance toward mobility and style reduces to but one principle or goal, affirming Titian as a Venetian painter, one who is “divine and without equal.”61


Titian as a severe judge, Sebastiano as a crow in a masquerade, Lotto as an unwelcome prodigal son: these episodes indicate that Dolce largely conceives the transformation of style under the condition of mobility in terms of disparagement or indifference. Does theDialogo offer any figurative language that portrays mobility and stylistic change in a positive light? What of varietà, Vasari’s chief term to represent favorably the traveling artist’s encounter with diverse pictorial idioms? Does varietà penetrate Dolce’s discourse on mobility, or does this concept remain isolated from the potentially malignant effects of travel?

Throughout the course of the Dialogo, the speakers frequently invoke varietà as a necessary component of the ideal painter’s repertoire. Aretino calls it “so indispensable an element that without it beauty and artistry become fulsome. Therefore, the painter ought to vary heads, hands, feet, bodies, actions and any part of the human body.” Varietà is not to be implemented without caution, however. Quoting Horace’s Ars poetica, Fabrini states that the poet who varies his composition without restraint does as “one who paints dolphins in the forest and boars in the sea.” Yet like a melodic refrain, the call for varietà is repeatedly made—in posture, movement, color, emotional expression, among other respects. Varietà provides the ammunition for one of the Dialogo’s chief attacks, namely the blinding acceptance of Michelangelo as the supreme artist. Consequently, Aretino declares that whereas the Tuscan artist’s figures and compositions are uniform, Raphael “has produced figures of every type, both agreeable ones and also fearsome and elaborate ones.” Later on, he exclaims that Raphael “practiced such a marvelous variety in all of his works that there is no figure which is like any other, either in expression or in movement.” This praise of varietà—with Raphael as its paragon—is also found in Dolce’s other writings on art. In his epistle to Gasparo Ballini, Dolce writes that “among nature’s most beautiful products, the one best loved and most pleasing to the eye is variety.” Furthermore, he states that Raphael sought varietà in his figures—men and women, young and old, all of diverse sizes and shapes—which themselves varied in pose and costume as well.62

In the Lives, Vasari delicately connected varietà and mobility, the latter concept taken either in the allegorical sense or as actual physical travel undertaken to incorporate a range of skills in one’s repertoire. Dolce is more evasive. The Dialogo links mobility and the acquisition of varietà only by means of implication rather than through straightforward declaration. In one instance, the connection is broached via a negative example. Aretino charges that Dürer, being a German artist, portrays the Virgin and saints in German costume. In depicting Jews, he also gave them Germanic features, “including those mustaches and bizarre hair styles that they [Germans] wear and the clothes they use.” Aretino identifies this uniformity as a breach of decorum (convenevolezza). Yet when read in the context of the Dialogo as a whole, this homogeneity in features, hairstyles, and costumes also demonstrates a lack of varietà. Raphael’s varietà, for instance, is praised and placed in contrast to the uniformity of Michelangelo’s figures. The culprit of Dürer’s uniformity is an immutable cultural schema, a mode of being, making, and perceiving which determines his figures to represent nothing but German features. If, as the adage goes, every painter paints himself (ogni dipintore dipinge se), then Dürer, or so Aretino claims, can only graphically portray in terms of his own ethnicity. Furthermore, this lack of varietà is, by implication, tied to a lack of mobility. As previously mentioned, Aretino states that if Dürer had been born in Italy, he would have been inferior to none. This musing on Aretino’s part does not, of course, preclude the possibility (and historical event) that Dürer traveled to Italy and encountered figure types other than Germanic ones. Yet combined with the fact that Dürer’s sojourn in Venice is passed over in silence, Aretino’s speculation about Dürer’s hypothetical greatness perceives him above all as a German artist, no matter how itinerant in reality he may have been. The chain of inferences indicated by Aretino’s remarks leads to a consequential hypothetical statement: Dürer’s physical displacement from Germany would have dislodged his fixed mode of ethnic execution, which would have, in turn, endowed his compositions with the varietà necessary to paint Jews as Jews and Virgins as Virgins proper. In other words, if varietà cannot be realized by adhering to one’s patria, then it follows that the artist’s mobility to gain knowledge of the foreign would be in order. Typical of the Dialogo’s stance on mobility, these conclusions exist as gleaned suggestions rather than chiseled precepts. It also goes without saying that mobility as a prerequisite of varietà is relative according to national origin, as in the case of Titian, for whom exposure to Roman antiquities and other regional styles is deemed unnecessary. Aretino notes that in one of Titian’s earliest works, the Assunta in the Frari, “the grandeur and awesomeness of Michelangelo, the charm and loveliness of Raphael and the coloring proper to nature are contained [si contiene]”. Yet by what means Titian was able to display suchvarietà remains unstated, leaving the impression that it arose ex nihilo or, as Aretino himself states, due to a miracle or spark.63

In those instances in which Dolce makes the kinship between varietà and mobility more apparent, varietà itself becomes absorbed into other theoretical concepts. Urging the need for decorum (convenevolezza), Aretino maintains: “[The painter] should consider the qualities of his subjects; and he should consider to the same degree questions of nationality, dress, setting and period. If, for instance he should be depicting a military action of Caesar or Alexander the Great, it is inappropriate that he should arm the soldiers in the fashion of the present. And he should put one kind of armor on the Macedonians and another kind on the Romans. . . . If he wanted to represent Caesar, it would be ridiculous if he placed on his head a Turkish turban or, one of our caps, or indeed a Venetian one.”64

The passage’s future imperatives, admonitory negatives, and list of specifications constitute Aretino’s pressing tone, reinforcing the impulse toward order. While the principal theme is decorum and appropriateness, the very intelligibility of the passage in the first place depends on knowing what constitutes, for instance, a Turkish turban and, furthermore, how this headdress might differ from a Venetian cap. And to some degree, the mobility of persons and objects facilitates this knowledge of otherness. The Ottomans depicted in the works of Gentile Bellini, Mansueti, and Carpaccio, cast medals and portraits of the sultans, costume books, pilgrimage narratives, the Fondaco dei Turchi where Turks were permitted to engage in trade: these are but a few of the instances and locations that testify to the physical displacement of Venetians and Turks alike, along with their representations. As previously mentioned, there is even some reason to believe that Gentile’s portrait of Mehmet II, once thought to have remained in Istanbul, was in fact brought back to Venice as a visual diplomatic reportage of the sultan’s physiognomic appearance and state of health. Titian had even executed a copy of a portrait of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (albeit destined for the Gonzaga court in Mantua). Early modern interlocutors themselves repeatedly testify to the cosmopolitan appearance of Venice’s works of art, population, and speech. As Giulio Ballino stated in his De’disegni delle più illustri città (1569), a compilation of urban views, Venice was “inhabited by an infinite multitude of people who come together for commerce from various nations, in fact from the entire world. . . . They use all languages and are dressed in different ways.”65

Yet it is through such declarations that we can detect a divergence between prescriptive art criticism and topographic literature. For whereas Ballino heralds the presence of the foreign in Venice, Dolce restricts that which is alien in the pictorial field. This discrepancy between genres may also intersect with a historical thread related to changing attitudes toward alterity. Through the intervention of such merchants and patrons as Alvise Gritti and the grand vizier Ibrahim Pasha, a fluid exchange in pictorial idioms characterized fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century Venetian and Ottoman visual culture alike. Yet with increasingly rigid distinctions between state boundaries and ethnic identity in the second half of the sixteenth century, this cross-cultural dialogue and “eclectic syncretism” became more tempered.66 To offer but one example of this diluted fascination with the foreign: in the pictorial narrative cycle for the Scuola Grande of San Marco, fifteenth-century painters such as Gentile Bellini, Mansueti, and Vittore Belliniano regularly juxtapose turbaned Mamluks, exotic animals, and foreign architectural ornament alongside “traditional” Venetian protagonists (fig. 6.16). By contrast, in the later canvases by Palma Vecchio and Paris Bordone for the same cycle, the interest in mixing various modes and in depicting the alien diminishes. Mansueti’s canvas of course has Alexandria as its setting, thus making the inclusion of foreign peoples and costumes more appropriate than Bordon’s composition, which is set in Venice. And Bordone does depict a turbaned figure from behind along with the doge seated above a “Star Ushak” textile from west Anatolia, an indication of the continuing trade in carpets and silks from the East. Nevertheless, compared to fifteenth-century canvases set in Venice which portray abundant numbers of foreign visitors, ambassadors, and merchants within the city, Bordone’s composition places more emphasis placed on “local” artistic practice: rough, painterly brushwork, a dynamic spatial construction reminiscent of Titian’s Ca’ Pesaro, and a Serlian architectural backdrop (fig. 6.17). One might speculate further whether there is a political dimension, at least as it pertains to otherness, to the presence of fantastic varietà. Notably, later writers on art reiterate the need to temper varietà in reference to the pictorial inclusion of foreign peoples. These comments, however, do not make any explicit reference to the political implications of mobility and varietà. Instead, their criticism seems nestled firmly within the strain of aesthetic discourse that prohibits the mixing of types, a precept of old that harkens back at least to Horace’s Ars poetica. As one of the speakers in Gilio da Fabriano’s Dialogo nel quale si ragiona degli errori e degli abusi de’ pittori circa I’istorie (1564), a dialogue on the errors in painting, declares: “It would not be good if [the painter] gave the costume of a Turk to the Pope, and to the Turk the Pope’s costume.” Another speaker criticizes those painters who “have confused costume, such that one does not recognize any longer the Greek from the Latin, the Turk from the French, nor the Spanish from the Arab.” Such observations find a ready precedent in the call for stylistic order announced in the Dialogo.67


FIGURE 6.16 Giovanni Mansueti, St. Mark Healing St. Anianas in Alexandria, c. 1527. Oil on canvas (376 × 399 cm). Accademia, Venice.

For Dolce and like-minded writers on art, varietà must be subsumed and governed by decorum, safely placing the term’s affiliation with mobility and its potential to unload a cornucopia of elements under quarantine. This restriction testifies to a more general attitude of reluctance to adopt varietà as a notion that might cast a favorable light on the impact of mobility upon style. While mobility and varietà are present in the Dialogo, they take separate paths, intersecting rarely, and when they do, assume a posture of admonition. If Vasari’s Lives opens up the discourse of mobility to account for its effects on style, both beneficial and noxious, Dolce’s Dialogo seizes on its potential only ex negativo. Shriller than Vasari’s promotion of Tuscany and Rome, Dolce’s patriotic allegiance to Venice limits him to representing ventures beyond the lagoon and stylistic change as phenomena to be treated cautiously or passed over in silence. And this discretion and reticence demonstrate even more how mobility emerges as an issue with which to be reckoned.


FIGURE 6.17 Paris Bordone, The Fisherman Presenting St. Mark’s Ring to the Doge, 1534. Oil on canvas (370 cm × 300 cm). Accademia, Venice.

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