Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Anthony Blunt on the Counter-Reformation and Michelangelo

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement 
ca. 1790-1800
hand-colored engraving by James Cole, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"But from the more general point of view the essential characteristic of the earlier stage of the Counter-Reformation is that it is an attempt to return to the ecclesiastical domination which the Church had held during the Middle Ages.  In the intellectual field this meant that the movement was opposed to all the achievements of Renaissance Humanism.  The individual rationalism of Humanism had played a considerable part in the development of the Reformation, and Humanism was therefore anathema to the Counter-Reformers.  It was their aim to undo all that the Renaissance had achieved, and to get back to a feudal and medieval state of affairs.  The movement was just as much a Counter-Renaissance as a Counter-Reformation, and it set itself to destroy the human scale of values in which the Humanists believed and to replace it once again with a theological scale such as had been maintained during the Middle Ages.  . . . "

"The extraordinary attention which critics and theologians paid to details in religious paintings can best be seen in the censures of Gilio da Fabriano on Michelangelo's Last Judgement or in Borghini's  comments on Florentine Mannerist paintings, particularly on Pontormo's frescoes in S. Lorenzo.  Gilio's criticisms go farther toward the ludicrous than Borghini's, for he was a priest and a professional theologian and took purely doctrinal errors intensely to heart, but Borghini comes very close to him and proves that laymen and not only priests were profoundly influenced by the Tridentine reforms.  A few of Gilio's objections to the Last Judgement are perhaps worth quoting in detail to give the tone of his dialogue.  Michelangelo, he says, has represented the angels without wings.  Certain of the figures have draperies blown about by the wind, in spite of the fact that at the Day of Judgement wind and storm will have ceased.  The trumpeting angels are shown all standing together, whereas it is written that they shall be sent unto the four corners of the earth.  Among the dead rising from the earth some are still bare skeletons, while others are already clothed with flesh, though according to the Biblical version the general Resurrection will take place instantaneously."

Michelangelo-
The Last Judgement - Trumpeting Angels
1545
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
 The Last Judgement - Resurrecting figures rising from the Earth
ca. 1540-50
anonymous engraving, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

" . . .  Gilio also protests against the fact that Christ is shown standing, instead of seated upon His throne of glory.  One of the speakers justifies this on the grounds that it is symbolical, but his defence is disallowed by the leader of the argument in a sentence which sums up the whole feeling of the dialogue: 'Your opinion may be right, that he intended to interpret the words of the Gospel mystically and allegorically; but first of all the literal meaning must be taken, whenever this can properly be done, and then the others, keeping to the letter as often as possible.'  This represents not only the attitude of Gilio to Michelangelo but that of his whole generation to the great figures of thirty years before."  

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Christ in Judgement
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz
after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Christ in Judgement
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"The reasons why the Counter-Reformers had to fear the worship of classical antiquity have already been explained, and it is not therefore surprising to find Gilio da Fabriano objecting to Michelangelo's introduction of Charon into the Last Judgement.  It is agreed in the dialogue that Michelangelo was here acting on the authority of Dante, but this defence is not allowed to stand, and it is typical of the change in spirit in the Church that what would not have been challenged in the time of Dante could not be risked in 1560." 


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Damned carried to Hell in Charon's boat
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

"As in the disputes over heresy, so in those over decency, Michelangelo's Last Judgement came in for the most violent attacks.  Its position in the Sistine Chapel gave it an importance which made it a good test case, and in the question of nudity it provided ample material for discussion.  It was not only exposed to written attacks, but on several occasions was in danger of complete destruction and only escaped with serious mutilation.  Even before it was finished, the master of the ceremonies to Paul III, Biagio da Cesena, protested against it; but the Pope stood by the artist, who took an easy revenge by painting his opponent as Minos in Hell [the figure in the stipple-engraving directly above at bottom right corner, entwined by a serpent which bites his genitals].  Paul IV threatened to destroy the whole fresco and finally ordered Daniele da Volterra to paint draperies over some of the figures.  The violence which Michelangelo's work aroused is shown by a Florentine criticism, quoted by Symonds, in which the artist is described as 'that inventor of filthiness.'  Pius IV was still dissatisfied and had the draperies increased in number, while Clement VIII was only prevented from completely destroying the painting by the appeals of the Academy of St. Luke.  Paul V also had some figures repainted; and it was on this occasion that El Greco offered to replace the whole fresco with one 'modest and decent, and no less well painted than the other.'  Clement XIII had yet more draperies added in 1762, and rumours were current in 1936 that Pius XI intended to continue the work."  


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Demons crouching at the gates of Hell
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz. after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of the Damned descending to Hell
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Figures of the Damned
ca. 1606-72
drawing by Isaac Fuller after etching by Jan de Bisschop
after drawing by Giorgio Vasari
 after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Damned Soul set upon by Demons
ca. 1830
lithograph by M. Eichholzer, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of the Damned descending to Hell
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum


Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Group of Saints adoring Christ
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - Female Saints adoring Christ
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - the Blessed ascending to Heaven
ca. 1543-48
engraving by Niccolò della Casa, after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

Michelangelo
The Last Judgement - the Blessed ascending to Heaven
1803
stipple-engraving by Conrad Martin Metz
after the fresco in the Sistine Chapel
British Museum

– quoted passages are from the chapter on The Council of Trent and Religious Art in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Anthony Blunt on Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Leon Battista Alberti
Self-portrait
ca. 1435
bronze relief-medallion
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

"Alberti was the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant.  He was born in 1404 in Genoa, where his father had moved after the decree of exile which had been passed on the whole Alberti family, one of the richest and most powerful in Florence.  He was educated in the north of Italy, principally in Bologna, where he studied Law.  He seems to have gone to Florence in 1428, when the ban on his family had been lifted, and the next few years, which must have been of vital importance in his formation, coincided with the end of that period when Florence was dominated by the big merchants, who had achieved a greater power than they had held for nearly a century."

"The rest of Alberti's life was spent for the most part either in Florence or following the Papal Court, in which he held a secretarial post from 1432 to 1464.  Papal policy was at this period increasingly concentrated on central Italy, and relied largely on the merchant class and its support.  The outlook, too, in Papal circles was Humanist in character, so that Alberti found there a similar atmosphere to that of his own city, Florence."

"In his width of knowledge, as well as in his rational and scientific approach, Alberti was typical of the early Humanists.  He worked apparently with equal ease in the fields of philosophy, science, classical learning, and the arts.  He wrote pamphlets and treatises on ethics, love, religion, sociology, law, mathematics, and different branches of the natural sciences.  He also wrote verses, and his intimacy with the Classics was so great that two of his own works, a comedy and a dialogue in the manner of Lucian, were accepted as newly discovered writings of the ancients.  In the arts, he practised and wrote about painting, sculpture, and architecture." 

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Relief detail
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

"The outstanding characteristic of Alberti's life is this rationalism, based more on ancient philosophy than on the teachings of Christianity.  But this does not imply that he was opposed to Christianity.  On the contrary he constantly pays his respects to it, but it is before a curious form of Christianity that he bows, a typical Humanist religion in which elements of pagan and classical philosophy blend without any difficulty with Christian dogmas, in which churches are referred to as 'Temples' and in which sometimes 'the gods' in the plural seem to receive as much honour as the Christian God.  With this humanized religion Alberti felt himself entirely at home, but he will not give up the right to individual judgement on every matter.  Even the ancients, for whom he has a deeper reverence than for any other persons, human or divine, he treats on a level and does not feel himself obliged to follow either their precept or their example if his own judgement tells him otherwise."

"We shall find many of Alberti's ideas on these general philosophical and political subjects reflected in his theoretical writings in the aesthetic field, but before we go on to them we must consider the actual works which he left behind him in the arts.  In painting and sculpture nothing survives from his hand, but in architecture his contribution is considerable.  His position is that of a younger member of the group which, under the leadership of Brunelleschi, dominated Florence at the time of his return there in 1428.  He carried on their work and developed many of their principles a stage further."  

"Alberti was a more fully self-conscious classicist than Brunelleschi and his contemporaries.  He was more learned in the study of antiquity than they, more scientific in his application of the archaeological knowledge which he had acquired.  In architecture he eliminates the last traces of the Gothic, which were still so evident in Brunelleschi, especially in the dome of the cathedral.  He was far more scrupulous in his treatment of the orders; and in the Palazzo Rucellai he adapted them for use on a façade of more than one story, by using a single order for each  a method which was later universally adopted."  

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, Apse
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, 
Façade
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, detail
1467
San Pancrazio Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

"Alberti does not explicitly define and describe this beauty which is not attainable in art by mere imitation.  In the treatise on painting he does not pursue the matter, but evidently assumes that his readers will know beauty when they see it.  In the later and much more elaborate De Re Aedificatoria he gives two definitions of beauty which are roughly those to be found in Vitruvius.  In one case he describes beauty as 'a certain regular harmony of all the parts of a thing of such a kind that nothing could be added or taken away or altered without making it less pleasing.'  In the second definition he says: 'Beauty is a kind of harmony and concord of all the parts to form a whole which is constructed according to a fixed number, and a certain relation and order, as symmetry, the highest and most perfect law of nature, demands.'  Perhaps more important is another passage in the same treatise in which he expands the idea, again with reference to architecture:  'What pleases us in the most beautiful and lovely things springs either from a rational inspiration of the mind, or from the hand of the artist or is produced by nature from materials.  The business of the mind is choice, division, ordering, and things of that kind, which give dignity to the work.  The business of the human hand is the collecting, adding, taking away, outlining, careful working, and things of that kind, which give grace to the work.  From nature things acquire heaviness, lightness, thickness, and purity.'"

–  quoted passages are from the chapter on Alberti in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti never could have seen the realization of his stupendous barrel-vault above.  He died the year construction began, and it took another twenty years to complete.  That he left such monuments behind him  even that his name is till regularly invoked today in tones of awe  weighs against the blankness of his personal annihilation only in imagination.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Painted Compositions Reworked and Reused (part III)

Gian Paolo Panini
St Peter's, Rome
1735
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gian Paolo Panini
St Peter's, Rome
before 1742
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

Pompeo Batoni
Hercules at the Crossroads
1748
oil on canvas
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

Pompeo Batoni
Hercules at the Crossroads
1765
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

François Boucher
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour
1758
oil on canvas
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

François Boucher
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour
ca. 1758
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

"The party was an imposing one as it swept along, dominated by the resplendent figure of To no Chujo himself, who was noticeably taller than the rest and broad-chested to match, fulfilling in dignity of mien and gait all that the popular imagination expects of a great political leader.  He was magnificently dressed in long trousers of wine-red silk and a lined cloak, white outside and red within, with a very long and sumptuous train.  His costume contrasted in the strangest manner with that of Genji, who had changed into a plain cloak of Chinese silk thrown about him with just that touch of negligence which is proper to a great lord on a small occasion.  But the contrast, which would have put anyone else at a disadvantage, only served to show that Genji at his very shabbiest could hold his own against the most grandiose display of trains and trappings."

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée
Amor and Psyche
1767
oil on panel
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée
Mercury, Herse, and Aglauros
1767
oil on panel
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Anton Raphael Mengs
Self-portrait
1760s
oil on panel
Prado, Madrid

Anton Raphael Mengs
Self-portrait
1774
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

"By now the evening wind was stirring among the red leaves that lay heaped upon the courtyard floor, weaving them into patterns of brown and red.  Here some pretty little boys, children of various noble houses, were imitating in play the dances of their elders.  They wore blue and crimson tunics, and shirts of yellow with dark-red facings.  Apart from their little Court hats they had no formal insignia, and it was a pretty sight to see them capering about amid the maple leaves, through which the setting sun now slanted its last rays.  The professional musicians were not called upon to give any very exacting performance, and at an early hour the private playing began, led by the Emperor, who sent to the Palace Library for a selection of zitherns.  Prompted by the beauty of the season and hour, one after another of the great personages there present called for his instrument and gave vent upon it to the feelings of the moment.  Suzaku was deeply moved at hearing the familiar tones of Uda no Hoshi.  Turning to the Emperor he recited the verse: 'Though, watcher of the woods, through many rainy autumns I have passed, such tints as these it never was my lot in any devious valley to behold.'  He said this in his usual tone of gentle complaint.  The Emperor answered: 'You speak as though mere leaves were on the ground; here rather has autumn woven a brocade that, could it be an heirloom, after-ages would covet to possess.'"

Joseph Wright of Derby
Annual Girandola at Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome
ca. 1775-76
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Joseph Wright of Derby
Fireworks display at Castel Sant' Angelo - La Girandola
1779
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of Miss Harriet Clements
ca. 1805
oil on canvas
Indianapolis Museum of Art

Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of Caroline Matilda Sotheron
ca. 1808
oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

"As usual, her gentlewomen were not under very good control, and a patch of bright sleeve or skirt constantly obtruded, as some spectator, in her excitement, tugged back a corner of the curtains through which the ladies of the house were watching the game.  And behind the curtains there showed all the time gay strips of colour, flashing like prayer-strips at the roadside on a sunny spring day.  The Princess's screens-of-state were carelessly arranged; she was not in the least protected on the side from which she was most likely to be seen.  Still less was she adequately prepared for such an accident as now occurred; for suddenly a large cat leapt between the curtains in pursuit of a very small and pretty Chinese kitten.  Immediately there was a shuffling and scuffling behind this screen, figures could be seen darting to and fro, and there was a great rustling of skirts and sound of objects being moved.  The big cat, it soon appeared, was a stranger in the house, and lest it should escape it had been provided with a leash, which was unfortunately a very long one, and had now got entangled in every object in the room.  During its wild plunges (for it now made violent efforts to get free) the creature hopelessly disarrayed the already somewhat disorderly curtains, and so busy were those within disentangling themselves from the leash that no one closed the gap.  In the foreground was plainly visible a group of ladies in a state of wild excitement and commotion.  A short way behind them was a little figure standing up, dressed in a long robe without mantle.  It was a red plum-blossom gown, with many facings, that showed one overlapping another, in different tinges of the same colour, like the binding of a book.  Her hair, shaking like a skein of loose thread, was prettily trimmed and thinned out at the ends, but still reached to within a few inches from the ground.  The contrast between the numerous overlapping thicknesses of her dress and her own extreme slimness and smallness was very alluring, her movements were graceful, and her hair, above all when seen with her head in profile, was unusually fine.  Kashiwagi, as he peered through the growing darkness, wished that the accident had happened somewhat earlier in the evening.  At this moment the cat gave a frenzied scream, and Nyosan turned her head, revealing as she did so a singularly unconcerned and confident young face.  Yugiri feared that he would be held responsible for this indiscretion, and was on the point of going up to the window and protesting; but he felt that this would draw further attention to the incident, and contented himself with clearing his throat in a loud and significant manner.  Nyosan immediately vanished amid the shadows, rather too rapidly to suit the taste of Yugiri, who had a considerable curiosity about the girl, and would, had he dared, gladly have availed himself of this opportunity to look at her for a little while longer. But by now the cat had been extricated; the screens and curtains were restored to proper order, and there was no chance that the intriguing vision of a moment ago would be repeated."

Samuel Palmer
The Timber Wain
1833-34
watercolor, gouache
Yale Center for British Art

Samuel Palmer
The Weald of Kent
1833-34
watercolor
Yale Center for British Art
 
Édouard Manet
Execution of Maximilian 
1867
oil on canvas
Kunsthalle, Mannheim

Édouard Manet
Execution of Maximilian
1867
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gustave Moreau
The Apparition (Salome)
ca. 1874-76
watercolor
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Gustave Moreau
The Apparition (Salome)
ca. 1876-77
oil on canvas
Harvard Art Museums

"She was in an unlined dress of dark grey-brown that was pleasantly set off by her wide sedge-coloured trousers.  Some people are born to wear mourning  so far from being disfigured by it they look more radiant than ever, and it seemed that Kozeri was one of these."

 quoted passages from The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki, completed around the year 1021 (though an early version was read aloud to the Emperor in 1008), translated into English for the first time by Arthur Waley (1925)

Auguste Renoir
Still-life with Peaches
1881
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Auguste Renoir
Still-life with Peaches and Grapes
1881
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York