Post-classical history

7 The Mobile Eyewitness

Coursing throughout the bedrock of regionally oriented art literature are contesting veins of discourse. For Dolce and his Dialogo, varietà culled from various locales and artists can potentially be praiseworthy because it exhibits the painter’s knowledge of the foreign. Yet judgment and the sense of decorum which control varietà can easily falter, pushing an artist’s style into the domain of the ridiculous. And like Vasari, Dolce installs a steadfast surveillance of geographic borders, with the mobility of artists carefully regulated. It is no surprise, then, that the discourse concerning mobility and style does not form a crystalline theoretical structure. On the contrary, these discursive strands run in tantalizing parallel and, when they do cross, set off moments of high electric charge that elicit the passionate debate and memorable figurative language pronounced by the Dialogo’s interlocutors.

There was no lack of art literary counterparts to Dolce published in the mid- to late sixteenth century which brazenly asserted the artistic merit of their authors’ regions of origin. These texts appeared throughout the Italian peninsula, following one another in regular succession. Mention has already been made of Francesco Sansovino’s Delle cose notabili che sono in Venetia, first printed in 1556 and then expanded into the more comprehensive Venetia città nobilissima et singolare descritta (1581). Also discussed has been Bernardino Scardeone’s De antiquitate urbis Patavii et claris civibus Patavinis (1560) with its description of Padua’s antiquities and artists and frontispiece city view. Dated to the same decade, Pietro Lamo’s unpublished Graticola di Bologna, a guidebook in the local dialect, praises the city’s tradition in terracotta work, antiquities found in the environs, and private art collections for the benefit of foreign visitors. Further afield, the Urbinate mathematician Bernardino Baldi compiled a description of his patria’s ducal palace as part of his Versi e prose (1590). Commentary on Neapolitan artists can be found in the fragmentary notes left by the Sienese artist Marco da Pino (died 1587). The year 1595 witnessed the publication of the Jesuit P. Paolo Morigia’s Nobiltà di Milano. Book Five of his work furnishes notices on that city’s artists working in varied media, such as armor, gold, precious gemstones, and crystal. And as might be expected, Florence was no stranger to this celebration of local artistic patrimony. In his Disegno partito in piú ragionamenti (1549), Anton Francesco Doni indicated he had laid plans for a Firenze illustrata. Composed of six books, this unrealized volume would have described Florence’s principal buildings, monuments, memorable civic festivals, and inscriptions, along with urban views. A successor to Doni’s project which did see print was Francesco Bocchi’s Bellezze della Città di Fiorenza (1591), which takes the reader on a fixed itinerary through the city, pointing out along the way significant works of art. Bocchi’s other major contribution to early modern art literature was even more topographically specific, consisting as it does of an extended ekphrasis of Donatello’s St. George installed upon Florence’s Orsanmichele (Eccellenza della statua di S. Giorgio di Donatello scultore fiorentino ..., 1584).1

It would be misleading, however, to assume that regional patriotism was endemic to all art literature written at this time. A notable exception in this regard is Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Idea del tempio della pittura, published in Milan in 1590. As previously discussed, this treatise is significant for its exposition on astrological influence as it pertains to artists’ style. The planet Venus, for instance, holds sway over Raphael, thus informing his mastery of proportion. The Idea also rejects the regional polemic between Vasari and Dolce: it acknowledges the merits of central Italian artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael, while northern Italian artists-Titian, Gaudenzio Ferrari, and Polidoro da Caravaggio—receive their due as well. In spite of its ecumenical stance toward a panoply of regional styles and artists, Lomazzo discusses little that pertains to the issue of artistic mobility. His overwhelming drive to classify artists according to an intricate astrological and metaphysical scheme is ultimately antithetical to prompting discussion of the movement of artists, a phenomenon which challenges the boundaries safeguarding the integrity of fixed categories, be they geographic, stylistic, or both.2

Another work that ostensibly has its origins in a locale apart from the Venice/central Italy dyad is Giovanni Battista Armenini’s De’ veri precetti della pittura, published in Ravenna in 1586 (fig. 7.1). A painter from Faenza who abandoned the profession to take religious orders, perhaps unwillingly due to family pressure, Armenini envisioned his work as a guide that might lead the art of painting from what he perceived to be its present ruinous state of decline. Even before encountering Armenini’s preface, the reader is made aware of the treatise’s didactic nature. Homiletic terms such as abusi, avertimenti, biasimo, diffetti, errori, ignoranza, and malignità stream down the double columns of the index (“Tavola delle cose piu notabili”) (fig. 7.2). The keyword of the book’s title itself—precetti—was employed in works of a similarly pedagogical nature, from Luca Baglione’s treatise on the art of preaching (L’arte del predicare ... secondo i precetti rhetorici, 1562) and Girolamo Ruscelli’s manual on military science and artillery (Precetti della militia modern, 1568) to Giovanni Mario Verdizotti’s Cento favole morali . . . nelle quali si contengono molti precetti alla prudenza (1599).3


FIGURE 7.1 Title page from Giovanni Battista Armenini, De’ veri precetti della pittura, 1586.


FIGURE 7.2 “Tavola delle cose piu notabili” from Giovanni Battista Armenini, De’ veri precetti della pittura, 1586.

The didactic precepts that Armenini lays out are not wholly abstract, however. Instead, he illustrates and reinforces their veracity with a substantial number of anecdotes, sayings, and observations—firsthand testimonies based on some six years he spent in Rome, where he arrived at the age of fifteen to study ancient and modern works of art. Armenini’s examples also venture beyond Rome as well, for as he informs us, he was compelled to leave the city due to competition and political unrest and “went wandering alone throughout almost all of Italy for about nine years.” Armenini thus draws on the memory of his journeys to outline a hypothetical itinerary, in both the physical and allegorical sense, for the promising young painter. This marks a shift in the representation of mobility in sixteenth-century art literature. While Dolce and Vasari, with the exception of the latter’s autobiography published in the 1568 edition of the Lives, accounted for the mobility of other artists, Armenini shifts the register from the third to the first person. As such, his text designates a moment in which the portrayal of mobility’s impact upon style enters the realm of lived experience. Consequently, the figurative language that describes the causality between travel and stylistic change takes on a different inflection. Once used to exhort artists to journey to a particular locale and therein adopt a particular manner of working, this language now embraces a stern tone of eyewitness description.4


Armenini hardly abandons the prescriptive stance toward mobility adopted by his predecessors. Following in the vein of Ghiberti, Filarete, and Raphael’s famed letter to Pope Leo X on the ruins of Rome, in the preface to the Precepts he attributes the decline of the arts to foreign invasion. Artists must bring the quality of the visual arts forward. Otherwise, Armenini asks, “what can be expected but that someday art will fall back into the simplicity and awkwardness in which it had been piteously buried ... by the barbarism of the Goths, Vandals, Longobards, and other foreign nations?” The arts of these invaders, he continues, demonstrate “simplicity and awkwardness ... manifest in countless strange paintings on the walls of many old churches and in those badly made puppets outlined on fields of gold which are seen scattered on many panels throughout Italy.”5

Underscored by verbs of motion and adverbs of direction (conducendo, torni, ricadere, avanti), Armenini here posits a spatially conceived historical scheme, one according to which the arts can progress, yet are in danger of regressing as well. Foreign arrival menaces the arts. Vasari had elaborated on this claim in his own preface, and in the 1568 Lives the Barbarian invasions are portrayed in even more specific detail: the Visigoths with their king Alaric ransack Rome twice, the Vandals and their ruler Genseric enslave the Roman empress Eudoxia, and the Ostrogoths then arrive, only to be defeated by the Narsenes, who live among the ruins of the city. Sufficient for Armenini, however, is a running series that names these foreign groups: “Barbarie de’ Goti, Vandali, Longobardi.” The majuscule lettering punctuates the typography of the opening page’s terminating lines and augurs the presence of mobility as a key issue in De’ veri precetti.6

Armenini does not desist after decrying how the advent of Barbarians have buried the arts, a major topos in early modern art literature. He specifies the particular effect foreign invasion has had on the art of painting, invoking the standard charge that medieval art displays nothing but “simplicity and awkwardness” not to mention the anachronistic use of gold. Armenini draws on the vivid metaphor that likens figures in these paintings to puppets (fantozzi/fantocci), a reference to their lack of naturalism and movement. And though awkward and infantile, these figure puppets are not bound to a fixed location. Armenini exploits terms alluding to quantity (infinite, molte chiese, in molte tavole) and long distance (per tutta Italia) to impress on the reader the extent to which “simplicity and awkwardness” have inundated the peninsula. Vasari had also made this negative comparison between poorly executed figures and puppets. From the hands of artists left in the wake of the Barbarian sack of Rome “were born those fantocci and awkwardness that still appear in old works of art.” In the Life of the architect and engineer Cecca, fanciful and unbecoming creations created by vulgar painters are called fantocci da ceri, or wax puppets. Vasari also mentions an incident in which Michelangelo competed with his friends to draw a figure “similar to those fantocci that those who know nothing scrawl upon the walls,” a difficult feat for someone “so full of disegno.” At the other end of the early modern spectrum is Baldinucci’s definition of a voto as an “image that one places in churches by one who has vowed ... also fantoccio, for those votive images which are the most poorly made.”7

For Armenini, fantocci are not instruments of diverting humor. Instead, they refer to the childlike and primitive state into which the arts can fall. Likewise, in the Lives, the only permissible manufacture of fantocci is given to precocious artists in their youth. Fra Filippo Lippi as a child refuses to study, scrawling instead scores of fantocci on his notebooks and those of his fellow students. At a young age, the sculptor Pierino da Vinci, Leonardo’s nephew, took up drawing and creating fantocci di terra without a master, thus demonstrating how much nature and celestial inclination disposed him to the pursuit of an artistic career. In a letter to Annibale Rucellai, dated 30 March 1549, Giovanni della Casa advised a course for the study of Latin authors and encouraged him by stating, “Even Michelangelo in the beginning painted fantocci.” Armenini employs fantocci in this sense of undeveloped style elsewhere in the treatise, where he lambasts the figures of “many of those ancient painters in the time of Pietro Perugino and some years earlier.”8

To advance in the arts from this infantile puppet stage, the young painter must move. In fact, immobility runs counter to one of Armenini’s opening recommendations: “Do not think that anyone by himself, whether through study, natural inclination, acuteness of talent, or any other means can find or possess fully the knowledge and the practice of all the things that we have set forth; for it is difficult, as it is, to learn from others, it being necessary to visit different countries and artists and endure long servitude, one must believe that it is impossible to learn them by oneself.” Casting his dictate in the imperative voice, Armenini challenges the notion that the creation of art can ever be an independent and self-sufficient enterprise. Put into question is the autonomy suggested by the reflexive pronouns that frame this passage (da se stesso ... da se medesimo). Compare this with Vasari, who proposes that innate personal qualities and solitary work habits can achieve artistic greatness. The “inclination of nature” disposes Cimabue to attend to filling his notebooks with drawings of “leaves, men, horses, houses and other diverse fantasies,” a sign of his precociousness and future achievement. Disappointed with the bottega he brought from Florence to fresco the vault of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo “decided to do the entire work by himself ... with the utmost attentiveness towards labor and study.”9

Talent and industry alone, Armenini counters, are never sufficient. Instead, the painter must encounter—literally “practice” (praticare) in the sense of frequenting or associating with—a variety of places and persons. It may seem more standard to the modern ear to understand pratica as the exertion of a particular skill, craft, or trade. This transitive use of the word is, of course, found in early modern sources as well, as when Cennino Cennini entitles the thirteenth chapter of his technical handbook “Come si’ de praticare il disegno con penna” (How one should practice drawing with a pen). In drawing on the peripatetic connotation of praticare, Armenini declares that the domain of pratica extends beyond the confines of the studio to the wider world. This sense of praticare, which has its origins in the Greek praxis (doing or action), impresses on the reader that mobility does not simply comprise travel to a destination, but involves the acquisition of learning. Similarly, it is in this nuance of the term that Cristoforo Sorte in hisOsservazioni nella pittura (1580) recommends that maps display rivers, cities, castles, and villas so that the “experts [prattici] in their countries can know the places without reading the letters of their names.” Likewise, Varchi declares that the hunt aids the mastery of military prowess, for by withstanding labors, rain, wind, and other inconveniences, one can gain knowledge of many “countries and places and passes, having been acquired by a long and enduring pratica.” So too does Armenini imply that pratticare paesi e persone, though difficult, is in fact a mode of actively gaining knowledge.10

But how does one put such knowledge acquired abroad to use? While Armenini suggests that objects of study encountered there are necessary, their overwhelming multitude can cause confusion as well. Without a set regiment, students “have found themselves in a confusion of pillars, statues, histories, models, and objects of nature. . . . They filled their heads not with good style or invention, but with a thousand confusions and foolishness.” This lament is a far cry from the tone of such works as the anonymousAntiquarie prospetiche romane or the Lives itself, which both hail the discovery and availability of antique models for study. For Armenini, this cornucopia, from the inanimate pillars to the animate works of nature, from single figure sculptures to complex compositions, induces confusione—literally a pouring together, “mixing without distinction or order.” Not only does mobility bring about a displacement in geographic terms; movement to a foreign location and an encounter with a plethora of sights, along with an attendant departure from routine cultural patterns, results in the perception of disorder.11

Some early modern thinkers, such as Giovan Battista della Porta, even equated those disposed to travel with instigators of chaos. People inclined to journey beget “labors, hardships and thefts, offending the poor and enjoying the shedding of blood” as they follow the ways of thieves, liars, bandits, and forgers. It is hardly surprising, then, that travelers in this period often invoke the term confusione to describe their vertiginous experience of alterity, or the very act of being en route. In his biography of his father, Ferdinand Columbus relates that the pilots of the ships carrying the crew across the Atlantic were thrown into great “disquiet and confusion” due to the unfamiliar configuration of the stars and the “voyage into such strange and distant regions.” In their journeys through Ethiopia, Francisco Alvarez and his companions are “confused in seeing the diversity of planted fields,” some destroyed by an excess of water, others dying as a result of drought. And in his account of his travels through Russia, the Florentine merchant Raffaello Barberini’s impression of the intricate dining rituals at the court of Ivan the Terrible, with prescribed moments to sit, stand, and eat, is one of “no small confusion.” Note that Barberini at the end of his report apologizes that his narration is organized “confusedly, poorly said and without order,” but he claims that it directly transcribes what he has seen and heard. This excuse, however gratuitous, exemplifies the disorientation that mobility can effect, no matter how faithfully recorded.12

To counter such confusion in the face of mobility, Armenini proposes his treatise as a guide for young painters. True, some of them through their own initiative may study models such as engravings, portraits from nature, or ancient sculpture. Even so, without proper direction, Armenini argues, their efforts are in vain. Illustrating his point via the mode of allegorical travel, he declares that independent-minded students simply “remain far from the true way.” Armenini decrees: “He who sets out without rules on such a long and tiring journey is bound to fall into obsolete styles and intricate tangles, not unlike the blind who go walking without a cane.” Lacking proper direction, students lose their youth “in their attempt to pursue this overly broad and obscure common path without a guide ... left with all their hopes betrayed.” In depicting himself and his book as overseeing the young painter’s progress, Armenini was of course invoking the trope of authors as guides. Perhaps the most memorable of these is the figure of Virgil, who leads Dante on his journeys through the Inferno, Purgatory, and up to Earthly Paradise. “I will be your guide,” the Roman poet assures Dante toward the beginning of the Inferno, “and will take you from here through an eternal place” (I:112-117). Fearful of shipwrecks, Petrarch composed his Itinerarium ad sepulcrum domini nostri Yehsu Christi (1358) to take his place as a guide for his friend Giovanni Mandelli’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “I shall be with you in spirit,” Petrarch addresses Mandelli, “and since you have requested it, I will accompany you with this writing, which will be for you like a brief itinerary.” Vasari states that the field of history, by implication, his own Lives, is the “true guide, mistress of our actions.” It is in this lineage that Armenini inserts his treatise. He presses the importance of his precepts all the more by speculating on the consequences of undertaking the journey of style alone. The preposition senza is a refrain in this passage, conveying a tone of admonition: without instruction from someone who has traveled the correct path, the road leading to praise and honor will remain hidden; without these rules, the young painter will have to endure a long, tiring, and ultimately fruitless voyage; without a walking stick, he will become trapped in outmoded styles; and finally, without a guide, he will find his hopes have been deceived. Such statements intimate that Armenini will not attend to the vagabondage of wayward artists. Awaiting the reader is a program, a fixed itinerary.13


The path, as all proverbial roads do, leads to Rome. Never mind that for certain medieval writers, such as Chaucer, the saying referred to the more general notion that all avenues of thought lead to the one and same truth rather than alluding to an actual journey. For Armenini, the proverb literally designates Rome as caput mundi. As he declares at the opening of Book One: “In our times infinite youths from almost every part of the world went to Rome.” These students, Armenini continues, traveled there “to learn good disegno together with painting, which they hoped to do in that city.” He reiterates these statements in more assertive terms: “It is true that Rome surpasses all other [cities] for the number of foreigners who go there” for the purpose of learning painting. The praise escalates even further: “Rome is truly the light of these arts of design.” And toward the end of the treatise itself, Armenini insists: “Finally, I conclude that Rome is the true haven for skillful painters.” Nor was he, of course, alone in portraying Rome as an artistic center. Nearly a century previously, the Milanese author of the Antiquarie prospetiche romane announces that in his poem he will “rise up to describe the beautiful works of the Romans.” Armenini’s contemporary, the Portuguese artist and writer Francisco de Hollanda, maintains in his Tractato de pintura antigua (1548) that “neither painters and sculptors nor architects can produce works of significance unless they make the journey to Rome.” Likewise, Pietro Bembo in his Prose della volgar lingua affirms that Rome “sees many artists from parts near and far come to her every day.” And Vasari, ever self-effacing, contends in his autobiography that he was so absorbed in studying and drawing the city’s paintings, sculptures, and buildings, both ancient and modern, that he often consumed his morning meal standing up.14

Such commentary might be taken to indicate that the journey to Rome is an end in and of itself, that simply being in Rome acts as an efficient artistic stimulant. And yet Armenini makes it clear that arrival in the city does not necessarily prompt an immediate transformation in style for the traveling artist. This is not for want of diligence on the part of young artists. As Armenini reports, these eager youths on arriving in Rome are fully engaged: they busy themselves with drawing from the best paintings, they imitate in clay or wax the works of excellent sculptors, they reproduce on paper the designs of temples and ancient palaces. However, the path to artistic greatness is far from being straight or narrow. Armenini draws once again on the trope of allegorical mobility to impress upon the reader just how treacherous this path can be. Once in Rome, many students’ enthusiasm often dissipates. “I do not know of anything else that could have been the cause of this,” Armenini states, “except the lack of a true order and a means,” a program in other words that would shorten the path to artistic excellence. Even so, he underscores the virtue of struggle while on this journey: “Much greater are they who have overcome all obstacles and suffering and, with obstinacy and patience, have traveled over so steep and long a road to arrive at the supreme degree of perfection.”15

The arrival in Rome may complete a physical movement through space, but it also begins another type of mobility, one transposed into the allegorical realm. And if it is the lack of “true order” which causes artists to struggle, then Armenini intends to marshal young artists while on this path. But before proceeding to his prescriptions, it is worth briefly pointing out that early modern sources often perceive Rome as being incoherently littered with antiquities and modern works of art. Artists such as Brunelleschi and Donatello, at least according to Vasari’s account, who immediately grasp how to make sense of the flotsam of columns, capitals, and foundations, are the exception rather than the norm. Even the authors of the burgeoning genre of guidebooks to Rome or writers knowledgeable about the city admitted their inadequacy at offering a completely lucid and organized urban portrait. Take, for instance, Rabelais, who in an epistle opening Bartolomeo Marliani’s Liber urbis Romae topographia (1534) boasted that “no one, I believe, knows his own home better than I know Rome.” And yet, Rabelais’s plan to write a detailed account of the city was never realized due to the mass of conflicting information. He explains: “Even though the subject itself was not difficult to conceive, it seemed to me, however, not easy to lay out with clarity, aptness and elegance a pile of material heaped together pell-mell.” Or consider Lucio Fauno’s popular guide to the city, the Compendio di Roma antica (1552). At first glance, the Compendio appears to be a straightforward account of the city—one section dedicated to each of the seven hills lists of the principal monuments, temples, churches, bridges, and ruins. And yet, Fauno periodically defends himself against attack for possible inaccuracies in his text, stating that conjecture is at times necessary (“Coniecturas seque necesse est”). In the realm of cartographic images, maps such as those designed by Giovanni Antonio Dosio in the 1560s certainly offer an expansive and ordered urban view (fig. 7.3). Guiding the eye through the city are meandering and forking pathways which originate in the Via Flaminia and the Porta del Popolo, the usual point of entry for travelers, positioned toward the bottom of the print. And yet, the density of buildings and monuments in the city proper, rendered in tightly knit strokes of the engraver’s burin, convey the morass with which the virtual armchair traveler or student of artworks would have to contend.16

Hence the need for guidance on how to navigate through the density of monuments that is Rome. For this reason Armenini lays down a concrete program of study for the initiate: “There [in Rome] students usually proceed on this course: First they give themselves to imitating the works in chiaroscuro, and among the first of which are the paintings of Polidoro and Maturino, who were truly begot by nature for this task. Thus, they took the true and antique style from marbles and bronzes around Rome and by imitating them in their façades, they became so great and marvelous and were so prolific in every type of work and so beautifully inventive and so universal that their pictures due to the diverse riches and copiousness of costumes that were in them were so desired by painters and so necessary to them, that everyone ran there to make copies of them, because they are no less beautiful and virtuosic in figures as in grotesques, buildings, animals, and landscapes, in such a way that one can truly say that such a style is a textbook of art.”17

Polidoro and Maturino provide a compendium of knowledge, a “book” as Armenini calls it, which spares the novice from foraging through the Roman cityscape. Available for public view, the façades transport and condense the bronzes and marbles scattered around Rome into digestible categories of forms (fig. 7.4). They are an exercise in translation, from the medium of sculpture into painting, from three-dimensionality to two-dimensionality, from color to the monochrome of chiaroscuro. As such, they offer the student the possibility to imagine the various configurations that the antique manner might assume. And as if to silence possible dissent, Armenini prolongs his recommendation with clause after clause, with an interlocking series of conclusive conjunctions(conciosiacosaché, che, perché, di modo che) that aim to convince the reader of his prescriptions. But in spite of the authority ascribed to these façades, he also acknowledges their fragility, their susceptibility to the elements, and their inevitable oblivion: “I urge all young men to imitate these works as long as any trace of them remains.”18

Studying the works of Polidoro and Maturino is only the first stage on the path laid out for the novice artist. “Next,” Armenini counsels, “beginners should set themselves towards copying the best works in color, which are those of Raphael, Brother Sebastiano, Perino, and others already mentioned.” For all of his rhetoric that his treatise will guide young painters on the road to artistic excellence, these words of advice are remarkably succinct. In its pithiness, this information implies the beginning rather than completion of discourse surrounding Armenini’s text. For what immediately comes to mind is the question of which works, or more important, where such works are to be located in Rome. The Precepts does not direct the reader/artist-in-training to places where paintings by these artists might be consulted: the Villa Farnesina, San Pietro in Montorio, and the ceiling frescoes in the Vatican Logge, among others. Instead, by merely listing the names of artists whose works are held as exemplars in coloring, Armenini’s text calls for a particular audience and response: a cognizant reader who is not only aware of these artists and their reputations but would also be able to locate where these works might be found. Several avenues might be possible, including printed guides or, more likely, word of mouth in the community of artist-informants in Rome or those elsewhere highly knowledgeable of the city. The written treatise due to its reticence functions as a launching pad for oral discussion for those in need of further orientation.19

Imitating excellent examples of coloring comprises but one half of the curriculum at this stage in the young painter’s study in Rome. At the same time, Armenini contends, “they should start to imitate ancient statues, arches, and columns.” This activity is more instructive than examining the aforementioned paintings, since antiquities “impress themselves more in the mind, for being more real and concrete, and consequently one perfects one’s style more readily.” Even though the façades of Polidoro and Maturino cull and distill the maniera all’antica into one location, Armenini still counsels the practitioner to venture out into the cityscape to behold the ruins of Rome. More significantly, he likens the action of seeing statues, arches, and columns in situ, in all of their three–dimensionality, to the process of pressing information into the mind (“si imprimono piú nella mente”). In this, Armenini resorts to a metaphor that differs from Vasari’s salubrious aria di Roma or Dolce’s feathered crow. The encounter with the foreign is not experienced through respiration or camouflage. Rather, at work here is the commonplace of memory as an assortment of wax tablets upon which information has been imprinted. As Socrates remarks in Plato’s Theaetetus, Memory, the gift of the Muses, is a block of wax which we hold “under the perceptions or ideas and imprint them on it as we might stamp the impression of a seal ring.” But while memory treatises located this metaphor in the realm of the imaginary, Armenini suggests that mobility and being in Rome performs the task of placing antique forms in the mind. He was not alone in this regard. Francisco de Hollanda states that it is only by being in Rome that painters can apply and mentally retain the antique style. And Ripa depicts the figure of Usanza(custom) as a man traveling with a stick, since his time en route represents hard-won experience that is imprinted onto the mind.20


FIGURE 7.3 Giovanni Antonio Dosio, Roma, 1561. Engraving with etching (350 × 554 mm). From Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, [A2], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, Chicago.


FIGURE 7.4 Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino da Firenze, Episodes from a Roman History, 1520–27. Fresco. Palazzo Ricci, Rome.

Elsewhere in the treatise Armenini is more forthcoming about where exactly the student might examine classical works of art. After comparing their style to a “true light emanating from Rome,” he goes on to specify which works the novice might expect to find upon arriving in that city: “The Laocoön, Hercules, Apollo, the great Torso, Cleopatra, Venus, the Nile, and some others also of marble, all of them [are] to be found in the Belvedere in the Papal Palace in the Vatican. Some others are scattered throughout Rome and among the foremost is that of Marcus Aurelius in bronze, now in the square of the Campidoglio. Then there are the Giants of the Monte Cavallo, and the Pasquino, and others not as good as these. Also well-known because of the histories depicted thereon are those in the arches with a very beautiful manner of half and low relief as in the two columns, the Trajan and the Antonine. . . . I shall not speak further of the infinite number of tombs, animals, columns, and other various fragments of very rare things since they are familiar to those who study there.”21

The opening sentences are, at least, promising to the foreigner in Rome who searches for ancient statuary. Armenini lists the particular courtyard (Belvedere), residence (Papal Palace), and general location (Vatican) where a substantial collection of antiquities might be found. As a pen and ink drawing attributed to Maarten van Heemskerck attests, the Belvedere indeed offered a dense glossary of ancient statuary forms for the visitor (fig. 7.5). Seated upon parallel stone plinths incised with the Medici coat of arms, the facing Tiber and Nile river gods seem to converse with one another and by extension, with the Laocoön group and other sculptures in the niches and along the side. Armenini also identifies the whereabouts of the Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue (Campidoglio) and that of the Dioscuri horsemen Castor and Pollox (Monte Cavallo, i.e., the Quirinal).22

Hereafter, Armenini’s discourse on antiquities is more casually referential than topographically specific. Where would one find Pasquino? What of the Trajan and Antonine columns, with their reliefs? The disavowal of any concrete direction to the reader comes to a head in the passage’s final sentence. With the salvo “I will not speak of ...,” Armenini employs a variation of paralipsis, the rhetorical figure in which an orator both draws attention to yet passes over a given subject. True, later on he mentions that the houses of the Massimo and della Valle families contain antiquities. Discussion of these is omitted, however, “for the sake of brevity.” He also contends that the “palaces, gardens and yards of many cardinals” yield statuary worthy of study—yet here too Armenini forgoes specification. These objects, he reasons, cannot be pinned to any one locale, since they move frequently from place to place upon the death of their owners. Furthermore, and in what is a surprising statement for a treatise that claims to be pedagogical in nature, he claims that these objects “are not kept hidden from the masters [professori] who study them.” But how, the reader might object, would a novice gain access to such collections reserved for professori? As Kathleen Christian has pointed out, Latin inscriptions posted outside collections of the Cesarini, Carafa, and de’ Rossi families indicate that access to sculpture gardens was largely restricted to aristocratic visitors. Some collections such as those in the Palazzo Medici or the Belvedere had separate entrances which facilitated entry to a wider “public,” provided that the caretaker was offered a tip. But on the whole, it seems unreasonable to consider Armenini’s discourse on the statuary in Rome as a cicerone on par with the guides of Albertini, Palladio, and others. His catalogue of antiquities appears to be more of an authorial gesture, proof of his acquaintance with Rome and its sights, rather than a proper virtual escort through the city’s courtyards, gardens, and palaces.23


FIGURE 7.5 Attributed to Maarten van Heemskerck, The Belvedere Tiber and Nile, c. 1532–37. Pen and brown ink, with gray-brown wash (231 × 360 mm). British Museum, London.

Lest we mistake the Precepts for being focused on Rome entirely, it should be pointed out that Armenini acknowledges a sojourn in that city is not a universal possibility. “Not everyone can stay in Rome at length,” he admits, “laboring long and at great expense.” There is, however, a feasible substitute for the experience of contemplating antiquities in situ. Students can also examine three-dimensional copies after the antique executed in chalk and other materials. Offering a specific example, Armenini states that he has seen “a wax copy of the Roman Laocoön, no larger than two spans, but one could say that it was the original in small size.” Such reproductions are highly convenient and practical, because “they are light and easily handled and transported to every country.” As proof of his claim, Armenini refers again to his journey throughout Italy: “I have seen studios and chambers in Milan, Genoa, Venice, Parma, Mantua, Florence, Bologna, Pesaro, Urbino, Ravenna, and other minor cities full of such well-formed copies.” While these copies are widely diffused, they convincingly refer to the original in its point of origin: “Looking at these, it seemed to me that they were the very works found in Rome.”24

Here again Armenini asserts his authorial presence rather than conveying practical information to the student traveler. His repetition of the first-person singular pronoun “io” resounds as consistently as a cantus firmus, dictating the passage’s rhythm and flow. As much as the reader is ready to accept that a miniature model of the Laocoön perfectly conveys the stylistic features of the original, where and how such models might be procured is left unanswered. In fact, substantial collections of casts, such as those found in Turin, Bologna, or Venice, were few and far between. Only toward the end of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries did extensive groupings of models make their way into Roman and Milanese art academies. And while Agostino Veneziano’s engraving of Baccio Bandinelli’s Academy is often evoked as an illustrative aid to substantiate Armenini’s remarks, the setting of this print, which depicts students furiously studying from models, is Rome (fig. 7.6). Compositionally, the scene of students working late into the night with the room’s low ceiling and compact grouping around a lone candle anchor this vignette in that city. It is true that Armenini decenters the focal point of classical style in Rome by praising copies found in Milan, Pesaro, Urbino, and Ravenna. But when read in the context of the program proposed to the painter, this excursus on the merits of wax and chalk models is a momentary concession amidst an exhortation to journey directly and exclusively to Rome.25


FIGURE 7.6 Agostino Veneziano after Baccio Bandinelli, The “Academy” of Baccio Bandinelli, 1531. Engraving (274 × 298 mm). British Museum, London.

That Rome is the setting for the path the artist must follow is brought to the fore in the next prescribed model of study, one that marks the climax of Armenini’s curriculum. Those “deeming themselves capable of greater achievements,” he reports, “proceed to the study of the nudes in the Chapel, among the first of which are all those of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.” Yet the path is beset with snares: “I remember that when I, as a young man, was in the Chapel drawing various things from Michelangelo’s Last JudgmentI used to listen willingly to some who were there, for they seemed very strange creatures.” To his amusement, these students conducted discussions among themselves “upon some trifling bone [ossessino] or highlight [berlume], and wasted most of their time inventing new difficulties. Thus, they were ever entangled in worthless novelties and in figments of the imagination, all of which would take a lifetime to consider.” The path toward excellence reaches its most treacherous point when the student confronts the pinnacle of style that is Michelangelo’s nudes. Recall that earlier in Book One, the novice had been advised to study the frescoes of Polidoro and Maturino so as to reap the benefits of learning to paint across genres, from figures to grotesques to landscapes. But now, Armenini demonstrates that his notion of detail is manifold. The focus on detail in the case of grotesques is reasonable since this genre is inherently made up of many parts bound together. By contrast, fixation on anatomical detail misses the larger picture. The dilemma facing students contemplating Michelangelo’s Last Judgment nudes is particularly apparent in those figures toward the bottom of the composition climbing out of their graves. Closest to the chapel floor and highly visible to the viewer, these resurrected bodies received intense attention from Michelangelo in respect to their pose, contour, and modeling (fig. 7.7). Drawings indicate the artist’s calibration of the figure seen from behind emerging from the earth with a pair of foreshortened hands, one rendered from up close, the other palm from a distance (fig. 7.8). However alert Michelangelo may have been to such details, Armenini’s language derides fixating on the part at the expense of the whole. Perhaps a play on the word obsession, the diminutive ossessino indicates the skeletal obsession that afflicts some students, while the term berlume (glimmer) instead of the more conventional luce signals others’ misdirected attention. The stress on his personal observation, how he in the first person notices, hears, and smirks at the actions of other painters, creates both a linguistic and qualitative distance between Armenini and a confused community of artists.26


FIGURE 7.7 Francesco Bartolozzi after Michelangelo, The Last Judgment in Outline, 1801. Engraving and etching (565 × 421 mm). British Museum, London.


FIGURE 7.8 Michelangelo, A Male Nude Seen from Behind, c. 1539–41. Black chalk on paper (233 × 293 mm). British Museum, London.

To impress upon the reader the hazards of imitating Michelangelo incorrectly, imagery associated with the trope of allegorical mobility surfaces once again. Specifically, Armenini employs the image of being “entangled” (intricati) to describe students’ hair-splitting. The Florentine Academician Pier Francesco Giambullari had evoked this term in his commentary (1538-48) on the Inferno. There, he remarks how Dante marvels at “the dangerous road or difficult and entangled labyrinth of the horrible forest.” So too does Armenini implement intricare to designate impeded movement. “By being so entangled” in minutiae, he warns, “one is diverted from a good and resolute style.” “Flee from labyrinths,” he counsels, for the intellect will be “wasted and entangled” with overly subtle thinking. Many who have tried to imitate Michelangelo’s style, he cautions, “have succeeded only in appearing awkward.” He explains that “because some concentrate on one part alone and some another, some transform Michelangelo’s style or entangle it with others,” creating “motley and strange styles.”27

Confronting the works of Michelangelo does not induce artistic paralysis and flight from Rome, as Vasari recounts in the Lives of Fra Bartolommeo, Leonardo, and Rosso Fiorentino. But studying the master’s works in situ is no guarantee. What determines good style is an innate quality, the faculty of judgment. “I believe that no one can ever acquire such a style,” Armenini asserts, “unless one is endowed by nature with excellent judgment.” Of course, he does say that judgment can be improved, chiefly through two means, “by studying assiduously and exercising proper care in learning and imitating what is good as seen in the works of the most masterful painters.” Nonetheless, Armenini rebuts, “the ability to express in a fine and learned style what the imagination has conceived is granted only to a few.” Thus, however close one may be to the finest models in Rome, lack of judgment and resultant self-delusion can cause young painters to mistakenly esteem an ill-begotten style. “The more one lacks judgment, the truer this is,” he states. Evoking yet again the topos of allegorical mobility, he declares: “Those who are studious and have a finer intellect acquire more insight as they progress, so that if as they proceed they stray from the right way, they open their eyes and find the correct path.”28


Though Rome in Armenini’s personal topography remains the principal destination, he also recommends journeys to other locales. Just as poets must become acquainted with many volumes of verse, he contends, so too must painters “know and distinguish the different styles of works painted by the most excellent of our modern masters.” What is more, these works are not in one place alone: “And because these paintings are scattered throughout many countries and cities, it is necessary to go to different places to consider them in detail at the cost of much time and hard work.” Armenini then recommends the student to imitate these works with various materials, either paints or crayons, on panel or on paper. Most important, mobility enriches the artist’s repertoire: “Travel in different countries is helpful in that the student will see other paintings and strange, exotic, and new things that will consolidate his mind and fill it with a greater store of proper material for the painting of both nudes and all other subjects.”29

Mobility is an action that bears consequences both mentally and physically for the painter. Travel, Armenini suggests, expends much time and labor; this recalls his earlier counsel that the young ought not to undertake the profession of painting “if they are so delicate or have such a weak constitution that every little effort or discomfort harms them.” Armenini further implies that viewing works of art in foreign locales goes beyond an uninformed act of appreciation, approaching instead an analytical operation. Paintings can be considered according to their individual parts or as entire wholes. He unfurls a list of tools and media by which the confrontation with paintings can be registered, therein proposing the possibility of a variety of responses. In addition, mobility is instrumental. The consideration of paintings extends far beyond the initial or singular moment or moments in which painter, place, and artwork confront one another. The media of crayons and colors, the ground of panel and paper record that moment for future use. Armenini even goes so far as to suggest that mobility can modify the state of one’s mind which he portrays in spatial terms, an entity capable of being made firm and compact, or supplied to the brim through seeing bizarre and fantastic inventions.30

This passage does not demonstrate the defensive or hostile attitude toward mobility so often manifest in the writings of Vasari and Dolce. Nor is there a triumphalist conception of travel; Armenini overlooks the outside chance that the student might have an impact on or even dominate the artistic scene that is his destination. As Giambullari so eloquently said in relation to Dante’s journey through the Inferno, a voyage “is nothing but a profound contemplation or speculation.” Mobility, then, becomes equated with the pursuit of knowledge itself. That artists must travel to acquire skills or see works unavailable in their immediate surroundings is a standpoint of old. Apelles traveling to Rhodes to meet Protogenes, the wanderings of Villard de Honnecourt, Dürer riding to Bologna to learn the secrets of perspective are only some of the more celebrated instances of this mindset. Previously discussed has been Vasari’s account of Raphael learning coloring from Fra Bartolommeo, while also studying figural compositions from Michelangelo and antique works in Rome. What distinguishes Armenini’s remarks is that they elevate the need for travel from biographical anecdote to the level and authority of precept, or rule. This manifests itself in the very structure of his prose, particularly in his use of impersonal clauses (è necessario ... è giovevole) to frame the mandate to travel. And as such, Armenini’s comments constitute part of the early modern background that would eventually come to the fore in the later eighteenth-century conception of theBildungsreise, or educational travel, as a necessary part of a young person’s intellectual formation.31

But why would the reader trust these directives concerning mobility? Given that Armenini confesses that he himself failed in his pursuit to become a painter, what gives his counsel any legitimacy? This concern preoccupies Book Two of the Precepts. As though to bolster his prescriptions on where the young painter ought to go, what he should see, and why, Armenini’s own voice, framed in the first-person singular, penetrates the text, advancing the claim that he has personally witnessed the sites. Of course the rhetorical move of the author presenting himself as eyewitness is found in a number of literary genres. Already in The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides discloses that “either I myself was present at the events which I have described or else I heard of them from eyewitnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible.” Yet another and particularly vivid representative of the eyewitness mode is the travel narrative. For instance, in Il milione, the narrator Rusticello opens his account by describing Marco Polo as “a wise and learned citizen of Venice, who states distinctly what things he saw and what things he heard from others. For this book will be a truthful one.” And in the book’s conclusion, the voice dramatically shifts to the first person, as the speaker triumphantly announces to the reader: “And now ye have heard all that I can tell you about the Tartars and the Saracens and their customs, and likewise about the other countries of the world as far as my travels and my knowledge extend.”32

In a comparable manner, Armenini employs his own authorial voice in the first person, not only to report what he has seen, but also to convince the reader of his account’s veracity. Take, for example, the first chapter of Book Two, which discusses lighting effects, from the light of the sun, moon, and stars to the artificial lights of lamps and fires in nocturnal fantasies. “The only way,” Armenini contends, “whereby one can become skilled in the imitation of the effects of different lights is the study of their natural effects.” Following this statement, however, is not a prescription concerning how one might study the effects of lighting in nature. Instead, the reader is informed that “there are some panels and paintings in oil done in this fashion by Titian, Correggio, Parmigianino, and Marcarino, insofar as I have been able to see on my travels throughout Italy, and they are indeed most beautiful, but little appreciated today.” This statement posits Armenini as a knowledgeable viewer, one whose vision is comprehensive, encompassing the whole of the Italian peninsula so as to solicit and eventually win the trust of the reader seeking guidance. However, where specifically the young painter might discover these works—most likely, Venice, Parma, or Siena—goes unmentioned. The eyewitness mode demonstrates Armenini’s awareness of major stylistic proponents, but offers little help on how one might replicate his journey and attain this knowledge. The impact on mobility is thus only implied, cast as a potential effect, with the procedure that might realize these aims passed over in silence. Alternatively, Armenini’s own travels might also be seen in more positive terms as a provisional blueprint, a template on which the reader can construct his own itinerary if he so desires.33

This journey to a destination involves not only contemplating a celebrated work of art. The voyager can expect to confront and participate in a community of fellow artists which discusses and debates how best to reap the stylistic benefits from the mutually examined object of study. For instance, in his counsel on figural compositions, Armenini returns to Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Here he juxtaposes his own assessment concerning the artist’s working process against the opinions of other observers: “Is there anyone who does not yet know that simply by turning one or two figures in round relief in different ways, one can derive many diverse models for one’s paintings? By looking at Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, one can see that he followed the procedure I have described. Nor have there been lacking those some who have said that he used wax models he had made himself and that he would first immerse the joints in hot water to soften them and would then twist the limbs to suit his needs. I leave the proof of the possible success of this method up to you.”34

Opening this passage is a forceful rhetorical question that aims to cast shame on or silence any who might have been ignorant of the compositional possibilities of contorting figures. Next, Armenini calls upon the example of the Last Judgment to lend authority to this working method. This interpretation of the fresco is not his alone. Via forms of indirect speech (“né ci sono mancati c’hanno detto che”), Armenini indicates the presence of others who have discussed Michelangelo’s working method in relation to the fresco and, moreover, with himself. Federico Zuccaro’s drawing of his brother Taddeo studying the Last Judgment may have depicted the young artist alone in the Sistine Chapel, accompanied only by materials and foodstuffs to sustain him in his solitary exertion (the latter perhaps bearing Eucharistic connotations given the sacred nature of the subject matter) (fig. 7.9). Yet as Victor Turner has observed in his seminal work on the social dimensions of pilgrimage, groups of travelers to a destination often form acommunitas, a body of like-minded individuals who momentarily put aside distinctions in class or even, at times, nationality, focusing instead on the sites that await them on their journey. Armenini’s statements point toward the genesis of such a communitas bound together by an attempt to derive lessons in style from the Last Judgment, or for that matter from antique models, as seen in Bandinelli’s nocturnal academy (see fig. 7.6). This communitas is not, however, uniformly cohesive. Roman artistic life was, after all, notoriously competitive. Furthermore, recall that Armenini had scorned his fellow students who, in his view, concentrated on minutiae in the fresco at the expense of discerning its larger compositional principles. Armenini also portrays Michelangelo himself lamenting the errancy of such artists. “Oh, how many men this work of mine wishes to destroy,” the artist supposedly declared. Even so, what Armenini suggests is that style is locally specific, a badge of membership to a community of witnesses.35

The reportage of the communitas gathered in the Sistine Chapel can be misleading. Armenini declares: “I know well that on seeing the Last Judgment and perhaps becoming aware of this procedure, Leonardo da Vinci had the courage to say, according to what one of his pupils in Milan told me, that he was displeased by the Last Judgment only because too few figures had been used in too many ways.” This statement is inaccurate: Leonardo had died more than fifteen years before Michelangelo even began the Last Judgment. Yet this blend of fact and fiction, direct observation, indirect speech, and hearsay only further emphasizes the extent to which the traveler enters a discursive space upon achieving his destination. Mobility can bring about not only the performance of facture according to norms, but also the acquisition of anecdotes that link a set area with renowned personalities working and viewing within that space.36

At its most practical level, this quotation of celebrated artists in celebrated spaces announces all the more forcefully the impact of mobility upon the artist. This is partly so because travel implicates a multisensory experience of works of art. Throughout Book Two, Armenini states that mobility employs sight, hearing, and speech. Consider his description of constructing and implementing cartoons: “And these are the ways I have seen and studied several times in the drawings and cartoons of Raphael, Perino, Giulio, Daniele, Taddeo Zuccaro, and other living skillful painters, who all affirm that what has been said is most true.” So too does he preface his examination of brushes and colors with a statement that registers his visual observation and auditory reception of technique: “We shall deal first with the materials of colors, then with the way to use, match, and unite them so they remain beautiful and vivid. All of the preceding I have derived from the customs and practices of the most worthy and skilled artists who came before us, as I have heard and seen.”37


FIGURE 7.9 Federico Zuccaro, Taddeo Zuccaro in the Sistine Chapel Drawing Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment, c. 1595. Pen and brown ink and brown wash over black chalk and touches of red chalk (41.9 × 17.6 cm). J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

It is with respect to this issue of coloring that Armenini sets his sights beyond Rome to northern Italy. He instructs the reader that for the white which painters use in frescoes, “one takes, as one knows, the best of the whitest lime, usually found in Genoa, Milan, and Ravenna.” Of miniver brushes, he states that few craftsmen make them “because they are sold everywhere in little shops and apothecaries; among the best are those which come from Venice.” Armenini then takes the reader from the apothecary to observe the spectacle of the artist at work. Admiring those painters who use just three colors to represent the flesh of nudes, he singles out one painter, Luca Cambiaso, for praise. Among the many painters he has known, Armenini narrates, “there was a certain Luchetto da Genova, who in my time painted in S. Matteo, the church which belonged to Prince Doria.” Cambiaso, he continues, uses both his hands to paint. This artist holds “a brush full of color in each, and is so skilled and decisive that he paints his works with incredible speed. I have seen more works by him in fresco than ten other men could produce.”38

Reiterating the phrases “I have known” and “I have seen,” Armenini stages a scene of Cambiaso at work. True, he begins this passage with references to walls and inkpots, both general allusions to an artist’s tools and site of employment. But immediately in the next sentence, we are taken from this generic setting to a series of precise topographical and other indications: a city (Genoa), church (San Matteo), its patron (Andrea Doria), and later on genre (religious narrative) and even Luca’s supposed competitor, who was in reality his collaborator, Giovan Battista Castello, known as “Il Bergamasco.” And to express all the more vividly Cambiaso’s novel way of painting, Armenini shifts from the imperfect and perfect tenses (dipingeva; ho visto) to the lively present (dipinge; fa le opere sue). Dramatic too is the image that favorably compares Cambiaso’s speed to the manpower of ten painters combined. Celebrating speed of execution is a common enough trope in early modern art theory, though rapid execution could also be criticized as symptomatic of cultural decline. But what fascinates Armenini most is coming face to face with an artist who performs the mechanics of his style, with two hands no less, before the traveler’s own eyes.39

Mobility, then, can entail close observation of specific techniques as well as communication with artists in or from a foreign locale. For example, in his description of the use and processing of colors as practiced north of the Alps, Armenini reports that “there are some Flemish painters whom I have seen mix white lead with one-third as much soaked gesso. They add one-third soaked gesso to the orpiment as well, and even though it is changed into a paler shade, in their works it comes out well-integrated, light, and remarkable.” These lines go well beyond Vasari’s aloof characterization of northern artists as inventors and competent practitioners of coloring. Nor do they echo Francisco de Hollanda’s citation of Michelangelo’s negative assessment of Flemish painting, deemed “without reason [razão] or art [arte]... without substance [sustancia] or vigor [nervo].” With a more measured, if not objective tone, Armenini offers a step-by-step rendition of Flemish technique, a recipe of sorts that the reader might even replicate. Such a performance of style is often accompanied by interaction with those very performers. Thus in relation to the application of varnishes in northern Italy, we learn that artists there blend “with their hands the mixture of oils while still warm, they spread it uniformly over the work, which had been previously heated in the sun. . . . I have seen it used in this manner by the most skillful artists throughout all of Lombardy.” Armenini also reveals, though not without a note of caution, that “I was told that Correggio and Parmigianino used this type of varnish in their works, if one believes their disciples.”40

The traveler who seeks out works of art abroad also encounters through a community of local artists private collections that provide opportunities for additional viewing and comprehension. Armenini praises those artists who take pains to bring a complete finish to their works, be they in fresco, oils, or drawings. He singles out the frescoes of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, a reference no doubt to the Last Supper. While also in that city, he recounts that “certain old painters showed me some small drawings from Leonardo’s hand which, besides his marvelous paintings, were finished in a manner so extraordinary because of the lights and shadows.” Scholars from previous centuries, from Carlo Bianconi to Luigi Lanzi, decried Armenini’s pithy comments on the Last Supper and Leonardo’s other works in Milan. However, when seen from the perspective of mobility, his statement implies that travel to a foreign destination can accomplish more than just bringing a voyager to behold a work of art. Mobility can also bring to the traveler’s attention objects directly relevant to the examined monument and immerse him in a stream of conversation that has flowed on well after the work’s completion.41


FIGURE 7.10 Perugino, Crucifixion with the Virgin and Sts. Mary Magdalene, Bernard, John the Baptist, and Benedict, 1493–96. Fresco (812 × 480 cm). Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, Florence.

In the aforementioned examples, Armenini has associated a particular location with a specific artwork, style, or technique, northern Italy and Flanders with coloring, Milan with the Last Supper and Leonardo’s drawings, and so on. At times, however, he also groups together a variety of places and monuments found throughout Italy to make a broader statement about style. In the last chapter of Book Two, Armenini discusses storia, a genre through which “a judicious man can endeavor with ease to depict with all the power of his genius everything he knows and possesses.” After such a preamble, we might next expect exemplary storie that Armenini has witnessed in person. But instead, he reverses his usual rhetorical strategy and offers a series of works which are not to be held as paragons: “We have seen the last and most important works of men of great fame condemned, such as Pietro Perugino’s work painted in Florence and Domenico Beccafumi’s in the chapel of the Duomo of his native Siena; and even more in the work of Jacopo da Pontormo in San Lorenzo, also in Florence.” Armenini declares that in these paintings, these artists “showed themselves inferior to all those works they had done before.”42

As Philip Sohm has demonstrated, the thread that connects these painters is old age, their works showing “ignominious ends to illustrious careers.” True, at first glance, one would also be hard pressed to find visual parallels among the three artists. Perugino’s clear perspectival schemes and balanced figural compositions, such as those seen in his frescoes for the Cistercian convent of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi in Florence, are a far cry from the dense cluster of bodies and indefinite spatial settings which can be gleaned from the preparatory drawings for Pontormo’s now destroyed frescoes in the choir of San Lorenzo in the same city (figs. 7.10, 7.11). These works, in turn, differ markedly from Beccafumi’s frescoes of scenes from the New Testament for the apse of the Siena Cathedral, notable as they are for their agitated figures, translucent fabrics, and dramatic contrasts in coloring and lighting effects (fig. 7.12). All the same, Armenini identifies a common denominator in these highly disparate works, namely a stylistic strategy of excess and speed. The three artists are called “strange masters of confusion,” accused of “amassing many figures without regard for the limits of the composition.” Armenini then goes one step further, likening these artists’ styles to an uncontainable fluid. “Because by chance they may have served some great personages,” he reproves, “these artists are tolerated and are summoned and employed to splatter [schicazzare] major works in the most important places in Italy.” These remarks point to disillusionment with the overabundance of figures found in late sixteenth-century painting, a feature of the aesthetic that art history would later term Mannerist. Vitriol aside, Armenini’s remarks also imply, in an echo from Vasari, that reflecting on works of art while en route can become an exercise in comparison. The viewer mentally juxtaposes and finds analogies among paintings not immediately in purview, located either one square or one city away.43


FIGURE 7.11 Attributed to Jacopo da Pontormo, Study for “Deluge with the Benediction of the Seed of Noah,” before 1557. Black chalk (26.8 × 41.0 cm). British Museum, London.

That the act of travel can stimulate the faculty of making analogies between works of art both present and distant from the voyager’s eye leads to another aspect of Armenini’s representation of mobility. In his view, the mind of the traveler is not a tabula rasa with regard to a work of art located in a foreign destination. Travelers, Armenini suggests, arrive at a destination already equipped with knowledge relevant to a work of art, style, or technique. Consequently, this mental knowledge and the physical work of art enter into dialogue and, at times, come into conflict. Consider, for instance, how Armenini raises the issue of how to construct a perspectival scheme: “Leon Battista, in his treatise on painting, wants this point [i.e., the central vanishing point] to be placed as far from the base line as the height of the figure which is to be painted nearest the view on the aforementioned plane. But I find, through what I have considered and known, that the measure of this distance as painted in the storie and drawings of Raphael, Giulio [Romano], Baldassare [Peruzzi] da Siena, and Daniele [da Volterra] is the previously stated measure, the length of a man. These masters place the point near the head of the figure that is set before the others, but a degree or two above the base line, and since the point is higher, it seems to create a better effect.”44

“Bookish” knowledge and firsthand experience of works of art abroad are at loggerheads in this passage. Of course, grasping the nature of this conflict is limited to cognoscenti—Armenini does not mention Alberti by his surname so as to identify him explicitly. Nor does he mention whether he consulted the work in its original Latin or through the publications in the vernacular which became available in the mid-sixteenth century, Lodovico Domenichi’s translation published in 1547 being one example. Note as well that Armenini does not repeat or even summarize Alberti’s method of designing a perspectival construction: it is implied that the reader already is familiar with the process of designating squares along a quadrangle’s base line, drawing orthogonals to a vanishing point, and adding a distinct side elevation to assist controlling measurements. Yet as evident as this method may be to his readers and himself, Armenini only alludes to it in order to immediately discount it. Boldly asserting his presence in the first person, he rebuts Alberti’s formulations through a brisk alliterative phrase (“per quello c’ho considerato e conosciuto”) which proclaims the primacy of his personal vision. Where these works might be is suppressed, though we can safely assume the majority of them to be in Rome, given these artists’ association with Raphael’s workshop. Even so, the thrust of this passage posits the following extrapolation: mobility and seeing works of art in situ can complicate, and even contradict, prescriptions as found in books.45


FIGURE 7.12 Beccafumi, Glory of Angels, c. 1535–44. Fresco. Duomo, Siena.

And yet, true to the protean nature of representing mobility and its effects, Armenini concludes his discussion of perspective with counsel not to travel, but to consult information to be gained from a published book: “Sebastiano Serlio,” he informs us, “has dealt clearly with perspective and has written about and shown in drawings so much of both this practice and architecture as is sufficient for any apt beginner.” He further reasons that “it seems to me that all you have to do is to take up his books and with their aid become as skilled as need be.” Thus, the eyewitness mode undergoes yet another permutation, combining not only with the discourse to be found in a community of local artists or mental exempla but also with the Republic of Letters. Armenini’s ultimate resuscitation of the medium of the printed book and its ability to reach a large number of readers is perhaps a testament to ambitions he harbors for his own work. “By means of the written word, which spreads throughout the world,” he proclaims, “not only are the arts rendered easier and less wearisome, but they are also preserved more firmly and alive in the memory of posterity.” And to state the obvious, the reader is only made aware of Armenini’s eyewitness accounts through the quarto format and italic type of his own printed book.46


If Book Two asserts the authority of eyewitness, then the Precepts’s concluding book hones that vision. What types of painting are appropriate to specific locations? Works of art made for state institutions, Armenini reasons, differ from those commissioned by private citizens. “Similarly,” he declares, “a different approach and skill are needed for works which are to be displayed in a noble city and for those to be displayed in a castle or a small town.” Too often, he observes, artists follow their own inclinations. They fail to adjust their manner of working according to the wishes of the commissioner or what is fitting to the place of a painting’s display. Furthermore, there arises the conflict between a traveling artist and a “native” patron’s appreciation of foreign style. Armenini reports: “When I was in Umbria, I witnessed such an incident. Some excellent young men from Rome, as a consequence of their work, had fallen into these errors and asked me to help them by estimating the value of the works they had completed together with some other skilled artists from the localities there, works [executed] not without great effort and labor. The task, which I accepted because of my compassion for them, caused me annoyance and wrath, for I had to contend and quarrel with people who in no way understood the works which had required such great efforts and which deserved honors and high rewards.”47

No document has yet surfaced that might confirm this anecdote. But at least one archival reference attests to Armenini’s service as an arbiter. A notarial record dated 9 July 1599 from Faenza states that Armenini along with another painter, Marc Antonio Rocchetti, was called on to assess the worth of a portrait of a certain Benedetto Benedetti, commissioned by “Madonna Justina, sua madre,” to Giovanni Battista Bertucci. The two judges, “having seen and considered every which labor” that Bertucci demonstrated in this portrait, “colored and in oil,” estimated the work at three Florentine piastroni. Yet in the anecdote cited above, instead of Florentine currency, the more intangible qualities of an artist’s reputation and comprehension are at stake. The conflict centers on the regional attitudes toward the execution and reception of style. Roman style of painting, even when combined with the labor of local painters, fails to win the appreciation of the Umbrian audience. The terms used to depict this confrontation are not monetary or even art theoretical, but emotional and highly charged. Armenini feels compassion for the young Roman painters, and disdain for the local patrons, a brew of feelings that can only result in disputes.48

The disdain a traveling artist can hold toward an ignorant local audience is not restricted to his era. Armenini offers ancient precedents for this antagonism in an episode from the life of the ancient Greek Epimenides. This painter from Rhodes, wanting to follow the true path, set out for Asia and only after the absence of many years did he return to his homeland. After having repatriated, he refrained from relating “what he had heard or seen or done.” Curious about the artist’s journey, his countrymen asked him to relate some of what he had experienced abroad. Exasperated, the artist replied: “I certainly traveled two years by sea to become accustomed to suffering. I stayed in Asia ten years to learn the art of painting and for six I studied in Greece to learn how to be silent, and now you want me to chat and relate news. O Rhodians! In my house, one comes to see the excellence of my paintings and not to hear news from me.”49

That mobility endows the traveler with a surplus of knowledge and experience not available to all is reiterated in Armenini’s rendition of the Rhodians’ plea for just “something” (“qualche cosa”) of what Epimenides had seen or undergone. While seemingly neutral, this indefinite pronoun indicates information withheld from the imploring audience who only ask for a shred of a tale. Epimenides’ response to their requests, now framed as direct speech, does not forgo details of his itinerary. The combined number of years en route, a total of eighteen years, rivals Ulysses’ absence from Ithaca, as does the distance covered. Epimenides also recounts the subjects studied during his voyages, which put painting on par with the philosophical and moral enterprises of suffering and silence. Yet the fact that Epimenides withholds from his audience the content of his voyages points to several previously noted consequences of mobility. First, as in the examples of Antonio Veneziano, Donatello, and Rosso in Vasari’s Lives and the case of Sebastiano del Piombo in Dolce’s Dialogo, mobility can cause a change in self such that one can become alienated from one’s native people. Though Epimenides is called “pittore rodiano” at the beginning of the passage, at its end, his exclamatory address (“O Rodiani!”) indicates a momentary cleave in identity between himself and his compatriots. Second, Epimenides’ reaction indicates that although painting represents visual phenomena, the mode of execution can allude to the traveler’s experience and gain in knowledge. A wanderer’s maniera becomes the instrument through which he conveys the biographical, even psychological dimensions of lived experience. But paintings, not words, should speak for and of a journey.

Audiences outside Rome are not consistently backward in Armenini’s account. And he praises artists who transport the pictorial intelligence they have gained in that city elsewhere: “I maintain that Rome is the true haven [ricetto] for skillful painters, even as I have maintained it to be for students. Although through changes in the courts some are elevated who, having become lords and princes, are at times little inclined to these noble arts, there are always some lords somewhere who take worthy artists from this inn[albergo] and, with ample rewards, bring them to their various provinces. And from these skillful men, the lords receive benefit, beauty, comfort, and ornamentation for their provinces and their subjects.”50

In Book One, Armenini had portrayed Rome as a focal point toward which “countless youths from almost every part of the world” gravitated to acquire the fundamentals of disegno. Now the city becomes likened to a way station, an intermediate place on the artist’s trajectory that culminates in employment at court. Rome is a ricetto, a refuge or collecting site. It is in this sense of the word that the sixteenth-century northern Italian court poet and diplomat Girolamo Muzio describes Venice as a “ricetto for pilgrims and loving minds,” a reference to that city’s standing as an intellectual center and spot en route to the Holy Land. Rome is not a permanent domicile for any of these constituents, an assertion made plain by Armenini’s comparison of the city to an albergo, a place of lodging for those in transit. This allusion to Rome as an inn surely refers to the painter’s progress on the road of style. While the qualities these artists bring—utilità, bellezze, commodità, and ornamenti—trace their origin in Rome, they are portable and can be favorably received, provided that the local audience is discerning enough.51

Indeed, artists who have trained and lived in Rome become messianic figures, evangelizing the style current in that city throughout the whole of Italy and beyond. Armenini cites the instance of Giulio Romano, whom he credits with transforming the low-lying northern Italian city of Mantua from a “swamp ... to another Rome.” His designs and plans establish buildings all’antica “inside and outside the city” as well as “throughout his [Federico Gonzaga’s] entire dominion.” Perino del Vaga in the employ of Prince Andrea Doria also transports a Roman style to Genoa. Both patron and artist “concluded together a building ought to be constructed ... in the guise of the worthy ancients, as once done in Rome.” There is a noticeable disjunction between foreign and native styles, Armenini observes, adding that the palace constructed after Perino’s designs was “very different in comparison with others made earlier.” The Doria palace serves as a beacon that “illuminated” the Genoese aristocracy, who in turn emulate the building in their own architectural projects.52

Armenini does grant that adverse political circumstances, such as the sack of Rome, can displace an artist from Rome in lieu of a direct summons to court, as seen in the career of Jacopo Sansovino. Even so, he poses to the reader the following rhetorical question: “And what perhaps would Venice still be if Jacopo Sansovino, who was a very skillful sculptor and architect in his time, had not used his art there?” This query seems justified, because it is this central Italian, and not a native Venetian, who successfully carries out the necessary repairs “with infinite expense and danger” of the apse of San Marco, the city’s chief religious monument. Moreover, Sansovino instructs the local populace in good style, setting them on “the true road to all that is graceful, superb, and good there.” Another refugee from the sack of Rome is Polidoro da Caravaggio, who settles in Messina. As though creating an oasis in the midst of a desert, the immigrant artist “makes appear there all the best that the good ancients had ever achieved in painting, sculpture, and architecture.” This conception of mobility as diffusion of style continues unabated in the cases of Parmigianino and Baldassare Peruzzi. Both having fled Rome for Bologna, Parmigianino “put into use the graceful and excellent art of painting and design,” while Peruzzi, as if a beacon, “revealed the ancient light of good architecture.”53

As Armenini’s catalogue of traveling artists progresses, their journeys extend farther west, reaching as far as the Spanish court. As if to render more vivid the mobility of these artists and to further his claims that such mobility is not a tissue of fiction, Armenini portrays himself conversing with colleagues on their way to the Iberian peninsula at their point of disembarkment: “Nor have there been few young men who have been brought to Spain with very good commissions. Among these was Cristofano da Argenta, whom I saw in Genoa in the street. We recognized each other, and thus he stayed with me to rest for some days, while awaiting a ship for Barcelona, and left once it arrived. And, not long before, the Spaniards Roviale and Bizzero passed through Genoa. Due to many announcements, they knew how much their great king was inclined to this art and how much he would reward skillful men. Their services were solicited with letters and money from the first barons of the Spanish court. There were many others of lesser name who left Rome, having been offered large salaries by the persons who were charged to lead them to their lords.”54

Despite the encouragement and praise that underlie this catalogue of artists who receive honors at these foreign courts, Armenini cautions against a permanent residence abroad: “It is better to be commissioned and brought by others to any place whatsoever than to go on one’s own, facing unknown dangers. For, if I said elsewhere that it is permissible for young men to travel alone to see the various works and styles of good artists, I did not say, however, that they should stay in distant places to work. When the journey is over, you must return to the fountainhead, since too much of one’s art is lost by living in other places.”55

After the pages which commend artists who turn provincial marshes into second Romes or illuminate the local gentry, the recommendation for fixity comes as a surprising about-face. Any valiant penetration into unknown territory and circumstances (“l’andar a ventura”) is deemed ill advised. In presenting the risk of losing one’s sense of good style, the costs of adventure far outweigh the benefits. In addition to subscribing to this notion that displacement can lead to memory loss, Armenini introduces the metaphor of the fountainhead (fonte) to refer to the artist’s ideal headquarters. Here he dispenses with the convention that associates a font of knowledge with a specific person, as when Dante asks if the figure he sees in the vast desert is Virgil, “the font that pours so full a stream of speech” (Inferno 1.79-80). He draws in part on the humanist refrain ad fontes and identifies the font not as a source text but as a particular place, which is Rome. Not only is this Armenini’s particular way of designating the coordinates of “center and periphery”; he also conceives of the artist and, by extension, style itself as fragile, in perpetual need of replenishment and nourishment.56

If an extended time away from the font that is Rome has a deleterious impact on an artist’s style, it also takes its physical and emotional toll: “Nor shall I ever advise anyone to be inquisitive [curioso] about leaving Rome in the hope of finding important commissions elsewhere, unless he is first known there and considered good and is strongly entreated by those who want him or by their city. But those who pursue commissions by themselves, even though they finish their works and do them well, will still suffer disillusionment and be deceived in every respect. There is no doubt that in wandering this way or that young men sacrifice the benefits of travel for wrath [sdegni] and sorrows [dolori] in their souls and extreme discomfort [disagii estremi] in their bodies; for cities to visit are many, but few are they who recognize good work and reward it.”57

Opening with a battery of negative particles (né, mai, nessuno), Armenini’s language here is categorically imperative. The author draws a distinction between purposeful travel to see works of art and impetuous wandering after commissions, an undertaking described with the term curioso. While having a positive connotation in modern usage, the quality of curiosità was described in the early modern era as a “disordered wandering after knowing.” It is against such futile vagabondage that Armenini warns. He even goes so far as to order that artists ought to travel only after their reputations have been firmly established in Rome. Armenini does not allow for concession on these points—whatever path artists take, they will be deceived “in every way” if they do not heed his counsel. The consequences span the gamut of emotions, from anger to pain, and even extend to include the fatigue of the artist’s body itself.58

Armenini, however, is aware that political circumstances can necessitate departure or exile from Rome. This is not only true in the case of such artists as Sansovino, Polidoro da Caravaggio, and others who fled in the aftermath of the sack of 1527. Displacement from the caput mundi applies to Armenini’s own biography as well. “But if circumstances [varii accidenti] force one to interrupt one’s studies,” he states, “one can do nothing but to mourn a cruel fortune.” Armenini then offers a personal gloss: “It befell so in my time in that way, due to the wars waged by the Carafa against Naples.” The historical background to which he refers is Pope Paul IV Carafa’s antagonism toward the Spanish Hapsburg presence in Italy, hostilities that came to head in 1556–57 when the Duke of Alba, Ferdinando Álvarez de Toledo, advancing from Naples, threatened Rome with some twelve thousand Spanish troops. Armenini relates the consequence of the political crisis in terms of his own compulsory departure from Rome: “I set my heart on traveling to many places, and so I did for many years, such that infinite incidents and various events came upon me.” He does not portray himself as Fortune’s victim, crushed beneath its maliciously rotating wheel. Armenini becomes a keen traveling observer of local artistic practice. He depicts the effect of mobility not on the execution, but on the evaluation of style.59

With contempt, Armenini remarks that the young Milanese he encounters were “more dedicated to adorning themselves with clothes or fine shining arms than to handling pens or brushes with application.” In Milan, he makes the acquaintance of a young artist who in the home of a wealthy merchant executes a fresco not by his disegno fantasia, but through the perfunctory manual procedure of implementing stencils, drawing from prints, and tawdrily applying fine gold everywhere, including on wax pellets. “Considering the great expense that had gone into it,” Armenini huffs, “one could say that it had been thrown away on a vile thing, for there was nothing of importance in that work or anything that approached a semblance of form.” The patron’s taste is disparaged as well. Upon being asked what he would prefer for the subject of a great frieze in fresco, the merchant replies, “Make it like a pair of multicolored trousers which nowadays are in fashion.” For another component of the fresco, the young Milanese artist composes some designs taken after prints of Raphael’s Loves of Psyche, a subject of which Armenini cautiously approves, provided that it is well painted. Yet the merchant dismisses the idea altogether, since with such designs, “fine colors do not come out well.” And upon hearing the patron’s deficient rationale, Armenini states: “I quickly made up my mind never to return, once I had taken leave.”60

Not all persons in the provinces beyond Rome are ignorant, Armenini concedes. A certain Count Guido da Galera is described as “a knowledgeable man and experienced at the great courts.” However, the count does not give a Roman painter his due and this experience only provides more fodder to reinforce the admonition never to depart from Rome without a guarantee of suitable patronage: “I believe that this was due to the Count’s meager knowledge of good paintings, since they appear only too rarely in similar places. This is the sort of adventure we have when we depart at too young an age and seek our fortune elsewhere. Therefore, I say once again that no one should ever leave Rome unless summoned by persons of position and rank.”61

Armenini’s representation of place and style thus depends on a community of artists and patrons knowledgeable about the manufacture and meaning of style. He makes this clear in a nostalgic reminiscence: “I remember well when in my youth I arrived in Rome and, drawing the facades of Polidoro, I was asked to make designs by Ponzio and Bartolommeo, both French sculptors, who lived together. They took me to stay with them so I could copy works of all types for them. One evening Francesco Salviati came there and gave them a sketch he had drawn, asking that one of them make in soft wax the nude, which in the sketch was two palms high. Ponzio, who was younger, agreed willingly. Since Ponzio was then modeling with great skill some nudes in wax, Salviati remained a while and said to them, ‘This faculty of relief, which you possess so skillfully and which I lack, was in truth so much in the power of Michelangelo that because of it he greatly surpassed other painters.’”62

Rome imbricates artists in a highly charged environment of labor and discussion. Armenini is the paragon of diligence, on double duty, as it were, as he draws from Polidoro’s façades and executes designs for Ponzio and Bartolommeo. While it is true that he indicates the foreign nationality of these two sculptors—amidue franzesi—more emphasis is placed on their proximate contact with one another and how they both pull Armenini himself into their orbit of work and domesticity. Salviati’s arrival heightens the vignette’s drama. Not unlike Alcibiades, who stumbles in to join the discussion in Plato’s Symposium, Salviati drops by one evening, raising the consideration and activity of art making to another pitch. The epicenter of attention is an object, soft to the touch (di cera morbida) and graspable with the hand (due palma di altezza). The figurine conjures artistic memory, not the recollection of images, but the evocation of words and received wisdom by an artist of no less stature than Michelangelo himself.

The rapport between geography, language, and style comes to a head in the closing pages of Book Three. Armenini recounts that while in the service of Prince Andrea Doria, Perino del Vaga sought to demonstrate his worldliness by speaking with his patron in the Genoese dialect: “When conversing familiarly with the prince, Perino liked to speak Genoese. Having heard this many times, the prince became annoyed one day and said, ‘Perino, from what country are you?’ Perino answered that he was Florentine. ‘Well, speak to me in Florentine,’ he replied, ‘if you wish to speak with me; it seems that you are mocking us when you try to speak Genoese the way we who were born here do.’ Perino blushed at this reproach, but, realizing his error, he never committed it again or needed to be reprimanded. It is praiseworthy and more than useful to be able to speak properly in one’s native language when conversing with gentlemen.”63

The scattering of personal pronouns (tu, meco, noi, ci, egli) points to the distinctions between Florentine and Genoese, foreigner and native, the self and other. The ability of both Prince Doria and Perino to speak and understand their respective native dialects demonstrates “code-switching” or the sociolinguistic situation of diglossia. At the same time, the prince deflates the foreign artist’s desire to perform an assumed identity. Armenini ultimately posits a disjuncture between one’s pictorial style (ideally acquired in Rome) and one’s linguistic self (optimally faithful to native origin). Artists can exhibit a heterogeneous skill set, one that draws on recognized regional specialties, be it language (Tuscan) or pictorial manner (Roman). Consequently, the image that concludes thePrecepts does not draw on the dualistic conception of corruption/purification as encountered in Vasari’s Lives or on Dolce’s metaphors concerning camouflage/authenticity.64

Instead, the figure Armenini evokes is the journey of the artist’s style and self, a path open to pitfalls, twists and turns, and forking paths: “My intention has been to demonstrate the proper beginnings and then the necessary means and the true ways whereby one arrives at these excellent ends, thus making clear the path I have followed for many years. I have trodden this path like a person who has lost his way and, in doubt, hurries, seeks, asks, and calls so many times and with so many gestures. Yet in the end, having gained experience and having noted the strange places, he enjoys showing wayfarers the path which, once difficult and steep, is now broad and level.” Like a melodic refrain, tropes associated with pilgrimage resurface: the reassuring guide, the journey’s duration, the struggle to stay on the right path conveyed through a breathless sequence of present active verbs (“si affatica, corre, cerca, adimanda e chiama”). Though Armenini states that the purpose of the Precepts is to spare future travelers from undergoing similar hardships on a steep path, his own tribulations amount to a representation of himself as a heroic wayfarer.65

Are there any underlying points to be teased out of Armenini’s winding path? The Precepts offers a grab bag of advice: while travel to Rome is necessary, any ambitious artist must arrive with a degree of judgment lest the plethora of works overwhelm and confuse him. When an artist, having studied in Rome, travels abroad, he should be sensitive to local taste. Yet the artist should leave Rome only under particular circumstances, such as courtly patronage. Tuscans are “the most knowledgeable about the power and excellence” of painting, while northern Italy is the real place to understand the subtleties of color. Do these anecdotes, proverbs, and recommendations add up to any underlying principles?

More than offering rules with logical consistency, Armenini offers a model of behavior and direct observation in which mobility plays a defining role. Comprehending precepts must come through firsthand experience. It is Armenini’s own travels, his actual journeys throughout the topographical space of the Italian peninsula, that infuse his account with legitimate currency. As he declares in the opening paragraph of the conclusion: “I came to study in Rome at the age of fifteen. After a time I left, for the reasons I have mentioned, and went wandering alone throughout almost all of Italy for about nine years. . . . At the end of this period, it seemed to me that experience had shown me the need for a book such as mine.” And again, toward the very end he states: “Having considered how much good precepts could do in this case, my deliberations gave me cause to become a wanderer in the aforementioned places and to investigate these ways.” Ultimately, it is this eyewitness mode, the shift from representing the traveling artist to depicting oneself as a traveling artist, that marks the Precepts as a significant contribution to the theory and history of mobility. And this autobiographical vein of writing about travel would eventually extricate itself from the art literary frames of biography, anecdote, treatise, and parable to emerge in the latter part of the sixteenth century as an autonomous genre in its own right.66

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