I hear from Didier Rykner, and La Tribune de l'Art about a great acquisition at the Met. They've just bought a Madonna, Child and St John by the late Florentine artist- Santi di Tito.
Santi wearying of the obsessive stylization of Bronzino and co, turned back towards the light of Raphael, Andrea dal Sarto and Fra Bartolommeo for guidance. I was going to end my Florentine course with Bronzino, but I might try to fit in Santi and some of these late 16th century academic painters, maybe even Baroccio.This painting dating from the 1570s epitomises what Sydney Freedberg said of this painter's work in this decade.
"Maniera conventions now hardly apply, but conventions of a more classicizing kind do, academically rephrased from Sarto's and even Bartolommeo's models of the High Renaissance."
Sydney Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500-1600, 1971, (624).
This is a post taken from current teaching on northern renaissance art. It’s a spot of penance for not posting for nearly 5 weeks. Sorry- pressure of work, and all that. Every image used in this lecture can be seen on my SkyDrive gallery here.
“The Alternative Convention.”
“Looking at a group of naked figures in a Gothic painting or miniature we experience the same sensation. The bulb-like women and root-like men seem to have been dragged out of the protective darkness in which the human body had lain muffled for a thousand years. Given my distinction between the nude and the naked, it may be asked why the Gothic body is included in this book at all. The answer is that since nakedness was required in certain subjects of Christian iconography, the body had to be given a memorable shape, and in the end the Gothic artists evolved a new ideal. We may call this the alternative convention.”
The mainspring of the Gothic nude is shame, because it was only after the Fall that Adam and Eve noticed they were naked; their realization and consequent disgrace is the main idea connected with the representation of the body in northern Europe. As Clark notes, the moment of the expulsion from Eden marks the Christian “consciousness of the body.” However, there were other factors influencing the evolution of the body. Classical gods and goddesses were generally shown naked with the result that Christians associated the body with the profane. After paganism fell, the belief persisted that spiritual things were degraded by taking on corporal form, a residue of neo-platonic philosophy which maintained there was an ideal world beyond the material realm. This became an acute problem with Christian theologians who had to reconcile their complex arguments with the representation of the nude body in images like the Last Judgement. Medieval theologians like Peter Lombard debated intriguing topics concerning the resurrection of the body. What age, height, or sex would we have in the resurrected body? Would the bodies of the damned as well as the blessed have their defects repaired after resurrection? Augustine believed that God would obligingly reconstitute the body at the sound of the last trumpet, thus thwarting those doctors who had anatomized the body into fragments.
Though such debates seem bizarre to us, it demonstrates how seriously the middle ages thought of the body and its relation to Christian ideas. Having said that, the palpable terror on the faces of the damned in Rogier’s painting needs no theological gloss on the condition of the body; it is all too real to those bodies tumbling into the vertiginous pit of Hell.
Styling the Gothic Body.
When did the “alternative convention” first appear in Western art? Clark places it squarely within the movement known as the “International Style.” The interaction between Eve and God in the Tres Riches Heures miniature suits the climate of shame inhabited by Christians; though interestingly, the Limburgs turned to classical, Hellenistic models for the kneeling Adam and standing Eve: a statue of a kneeling Gaul for the former and the Venus Pudica for the latter. This suggests that that the Limburgs, despite the theme of original sin, were unwilling to relinquish classical ideals associated with the art of the ancient world. Yet, they departed from the classical blueprint by changing the shape of Eve, whose pelvis is wider, chest higher, waist narrower, and above all whose stomach is bulbous, and whose curve is accentuated rather than the curve of her hip. These physical characteristics are what Clark identifies as the stylistic hallmarks of the feminine Gothic nude, whose form becomes both “organic” and “realistic.” Realism comes to the fore with Van Eyck’s treatment of Eve where the curve of the stomach is more even more prominent; it is seen again in such emulators of Van Eyck such as Hugo van der Goes whose original sinners seem close cousins of the pair in the Ghent altarpiece, though according to Clark their origin lies in the eleventh-century sculpture of Hildesheim Cathedral.
The Male Body in Northern Europe.
“The male nude remained the basis of art training- in a sense, of art itself- from the fifteenth-century almost to the present day. Renaissance artists often used male models for their female figures; even those later artists whose sole interest was in women or animals or landscape had to begin their studies with the male nude. By the nineteenth-century, more progressive artists began to question this whole tradition of academic drawing as boring and irrelevant. But it would hardly have survived so long if it had not answered some real psychological need in the- male artists.”
Kenneth Clark’s chapter on the “alternative convention” concentrates exclusively on the female nude, despite the fact that the male nude was visible during our period. It is only after the nineteenth-century that “the male nude is a forgotten subject” rarely regarded as a concept in our times, although a current exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna is a sign that attitudes are changing towards the male nude as a subject. In her book The Nude Male, Margaret Walters discusses how the male and female nudes stood respectively for the active and passive, which can be seen in such images as Apollo and Diana in the art of northern artists like Dürer and Cranach. Walters maintains that the male nude became “feminized” and “passive” thanks to Christianity’s rejection of the assertive male body found in the ancient world.
The Nude and the Judgement of Paris.
“And it would be going too far to see these images of the Judgement of Paris as alluding to the three types of life, active, contemplative, and voluptuous.. It bears repeating here that nothing- either in terms of aesthetics, ethics, or even symbolism- allows us to differentiate visually between the three goddesses, who come across as less than rivals than as a renewed image of the three Graces. In the end, the moral of Cranach’s pictorial fables, beginning with his images of the Judgement of Paris, has more to do with the relations between men and women in Lutheran reformation circles than with lessons and exercises originating in Italian humanist ones..” 
Though the nude might be viewed as a completely different genre to that of landscape, they do fuse together in the art of the northern artists, especially Lucas Cranach. Cranach was almost certainly influenced by the humanist scholars in Wittenberg who had links with Italian scholars interested in iconography that fused the female body and the natural world. Hans Brosamer’s Venus and Cupid on a Snail may have grown out of this confluence of German and Italian humanist traditions.  Because of this, Cranach may have been aware of works by Italian masters like Franco Francia from Bologna, and more famously Giorgione from Venice. Although Giorgione and Titian’s nudes in landscape settings have been connected with Cranach, it is likely that he evolved this type through study of engravings after Italian art, as well as the body in Dürer. The body is most visible in Cranach’s paintings of the Judgement of Paris, and the various other works associated with it, like the Three Graces. With his many versions of the Judgement of Paris, Cranach has left us, as Hubert Damisch says, an “essay” on the subject, which unlike the traditional theme of competition amongst the goddesses, implies the relations between the sexes and religious ideas such as original sin, which returns us to the relationship of the male and female nude in northern renaissance art. However, there is a different attitude towards the nude presented here. Cranach’s nudes are interchangeable, which Damisch considers not a meditation on three forms of life- represented by the three goddesses- but a unity that doesn’t link back to the classical Golden Age, but to the Garden of Eden. Before we dismiss Damisch’s Judeo- Christian emphasis, we should remember that Cranach was a friend of Luther, and that his mythological paintings might be social critiques, perhaps of such ideas as chivalry, which became linked with the Judgment of Paris through works like Darius Phrygius’s Bellum Troianum, published in Wittenberg in 1502, and known to the humanists there. Yet, Cranach may have painted this subject, not for a humanist circle of scholars, but for “a northern courtly milieu” which assimilated its humanism in a completely different way to Dürer who was thoroughly immersed in Italian renaissance culture which taught him how to represent the nude in a different mode.  Something of the overlap between German treatments of the nude and the humanism inherent in the Judgement of Paris might be seen in Dürer’s baffling engraving known as “Four Witches” until it was recently re-baptized “Discordia”, a clear reference to the outcome of Paris’s choice. Italian humanism also leaves its mark on the Judgement of Paris as painted by Durer’s contemporary Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch whose version may be influenced by the German humanist scholar and poet, Conrad Celtes. There is also Altdorfer’s intriguing engraving where the three goddesses appear to Paris in a dream, an idea taken from Colonna’s Historia destructionis Trojae, published in Strasbourg in 1489.
 Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art ( Penguin, London, 1956, rep. 1964), 300-301.
 Caroline Walker Bynum, “Material Continuity, Personal Survival, and the Resurrection of the Body: A Scholastic Discussion in Its Medieval and Modern Contexts,” History of Religions, Vol. 30, No. 1, The Body (Aug., 1990), pp. 51-85, 55.
A great review from a reader, Michael Savage, over on Culture Wars. He considers the Bronze exhibition at the London R.A., and that Raphael display of drawings at Haarlem mentioned in another post. As the writer says, the Raphael succeeds admirably in educating the public about connoisseurship issues; the RA exhibition, however, leaves a lot to be desired where educating and inspiring the public is concerned.
Seeing these two exhibitions within a couple of days of each other was a fascinating contrast in museological approach. Bronze aims to entertain, to impress and even to overwhelm with its accumulation of great works. But it deadens the soul with poor display and foolish presentation. In every respect Raphael is the more worthy exhibition. It shows that connoisseurship is not just for the cognoscenti. It invites visitors into a wider conversation about art, rather than condescending to them. It is more than the sum of its parts; its purpose is to educate and to enlighten, and I think every visitor will come away enriched and invigorated.
Amen to that. It sounds as if the Dutch show might be a milestone in the engagement of the public with art.
Well, I don’t know how this one slipped under the radar. Maybe I was too focused on northern painting in continental museums, but this forthcoming show reminds me of the rich holdings in this country. It starts on 2nd November.
I was invited to the preview, but had to decline- as I’m teaching a course on…you’ve guessed it- northern renaissance art!
Here’s the blurb, and details about the show can be found here. Nice website with a lot of images in the exhibition.
The 15th and 16th centuries were a time of dramatic change in Northern Europe. Monarchs vied for territorial power, religious reformers questioned the central tenets of the church and scholars sought greater understanding of their world. Against this backdrop, artists produced works of extraordinarily diverse subject matter and superb technical skill. This exhibition brings together over 100 works by the greatest Northern European artists of the period. Among the highlights are prints and drawings by Albrecht Dürer, mythological paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and preparatory drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger displayed alongside the finished oil portraits.
Holbein the Younger’s wonderful Portrait of Derich Born is a well-chosen image to advertise the event.
Don’t usually blog twice in the same day, but I can’t resist this.
Is this a joke? A Dutch colleague has just told me of a new form of visitor participation. Currently there’s a Raphael exhibition at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Apparently the curators of the show aren’t sure wether this drawing is by Raphael or his studio, so they’re asking the public to vote on the issue. I’m told that there is a special “voting machine” (the mind boggles) set up in one of the galleries. All taking part “could win a trip for two to Raphael’s own country.” Here's the wording on the website.
In a special room, visitors can view an innovative introduction to Raphael's style and working methods. Which elements define his work? How do the experts view it, and how do you identify a real Raphael? Visitors can vote on the authenticity of a drawing: is it by Raphael or isn't it? One lucky participant will win an unforgettable art-history trip to Italy for two people.
Well, that would eliminate all the rows between the specialists- just leave Raphael connoisseurship issues to the public.
This exhibition is held in conjunction with the Albertina in Vienna. Yesterday morning I was studying Raphael drawings in that museum, so I’m pretty much in practice at the moment. I think I know a Raphael drawing when I see it- and this ain’t, not in a million years. Can you send me my tickets now? Get me on the next flight to Italy.
I wish I could get to this interesting looking talk to be given in Scotland later this month by Leonardo curator Luke Syson of the Met..
Tuesday, 28th August 2012 ,6-7.30pm
Free but ticketed
Hawthornden Lecture Theatre - Gardens Entrance (Scottish National Gallery)
For an artist of Leonardo's almost overwhelming fame, there is astonishingly little agreement as to what he actually painted. Thus the choice of works for 2011's London exhibition received considerable attention. And since the attribution to Leonardo of only one of the paintings in the show - The Vatican Saint Jerome - has never been doubted, there is much at stake.
Luke Syson, Iris and B Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, focuses on three of the most debated: The Madonna Litta in Saint Petersburg, the newly restored London Virgin of the Rocks and the Buccleuch Madonna of the Yarnwinder. He will consider the role of traditional connoisseurship as set against what we learn from documentary and, in particular, scientific evidence. What was considered a Leonardo in the years around 1500 and how might we answer - or even ask - that question today?
This talk has been funded by the Association of Art Historians and is a joint initiative between the University of Edinburgh (History of art), Edinburgh Art Festival and the National Galleries of Scotland.
Free tickets available from the Information Desk at the Scottish National Gallery
The origins of controversy in modern connoisseurship began with Leonardo. See my review of this book. I’m intrigued by what Syson has to to say about traditional connoisseurship, although I can guess. Last year’s Leonardo at Milan catalogue, complied by this curator and others didn’t seem to take much account of the more traditional variety of connoisseurship. Instead we were told to bow down to the findings of technical research conducted by laboraties such as the Hermitage concerning such works as the Litta Madonna (above), even though most people dispute the attribution for good reasons. That’s just one of many cases.
If anybody attends this event, I wouldn’t mind a report on the issuers raised.
Att. to Raphael, previously att to Giorgione, The Judgement of Paris, Private Coll., 1512.
There's no doubt that the Malmesbury Judgement of Paris is a controversial painting. The series of posts started last year have examined every aspect of it. AHT has attempted to reconstruct its stylistic milieu, identify the context in which the picture was received, and tried to unravel its technique and iconography.
The dispute revolves around whether this disregarded picture was painted by Raphael. But even if we discount that attribution, I think we have to face the fact that the composition, models and sources are connected with Raphael’s workshop. I won’t repeat all that has been written in the lost four posts; but I did ask Graeme Cameron if he had anything else to add, or wanted to indicate material that had got left out of the previous posts. I’m quoting GC verbatim here:
1.Dating and Style.
“To assist with the scientific verification of both the date and style of the dress depicted within the "JoP", as worn by Raphael, it can be actually scientifically proven as certainly deriving from the years 1500 to 1520 in the High Renaissance. Most fortunately,my research is also dealing with yet another significant work from this period on an oak panel, which concerns "Three Saints", which has been accurately dated by leading Dendrochronologist, Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, to the 1500 to 1510-20 period.
Attribution to be advised, St James from “Three Saints”, oil on oak, dimensions not known.
The Saint depicted here, "St. James" ( with the Scallop Shell), wears the same White Hose and Slashed Doublet/Tunic style, and even more so, the same soft style Suede Boots/Shoes, as does Raphael in the "JoP". In this composition, St.James like Raphael, has likewise been updated to the contemporary early 1500's Renaiisance dress, for this purpose, rather than retaining his actual Biblical Garb. It is worth noting this important fact for definitive dress dating purposes of the "JoP."
2. Monogrammes. I didn’t get a chance to show images with the Raphael monogramme “"Rv", reproduced in GC’s book- so here they are.
Monogrammes from GC’s book.
3. Physiognomy and Identification.
“It's perhaps worth adding to the remarks on physiognomy, that proof of the difficulty of rendering on a small scale an accurate likeness of young "Fornarina" was a very skilled task for Raphael, as some of the poorly rendered faces of some of the versions in these images attest. In the case of the versions, it is clear the Malmesbury prototype alone has these pivotal physiognomies of Fornarina and Raphael, whilst they all vary in both the quality and "type" of their respective renditions, but obviously have all derived from it, either as a versions or variants.
These images are "Age & Date Specific" with Fornarina's the youngest known image of her.
Raphael's Physical Concordances at various ages.
The comparisons show clearly "Age/Date Specific Physiognomic Concordances" which are entirely unique to the Malmesbury work, providing both dating confirmation and direct evidence of the 1512 evolution of this composition and of Raphael's certain involvement in its "original" creation in Rome at that time. These are in fact actual portraits of both Fornarina and Raphael, albeit small, yet so accurate in their Age and Date features, they could only have been painted from "life" sittings in Rome in 1512. The Fornarina is clearly a more naive and youthful portrayal than any previously known image of her and is therefore neither a copy nor any "chance resemblance", but a unique visage of her in 1512. It is self evidently an "Age and Date specific portrait, which most accurately records her actual physiognomy at that time, which may well include her naked countenance, from this original sitting. Accurate portraits are difficult enough to create, yet both these are finely wrought, true to life renditions and dateable to Rome in 1512. Likewise Raphael's countenance, which as proven by its subsurface pentimenti, was added into the composition to join that of Fornarina, and is also a unique portrayal, in that it is not a copy of any previously known image of him, either in its dress or "type", It too is an "Age and Date specific "original" portrait like Fornarina's of 1512. His physiognomy is consistent with with that of "Stanza" version, with the garb datable to this period, however he is clearly younger and in better health than seen in the 1519 joint portrait. None of these could be claimed as "chance" likenesses but were purpose created portraits for this painting.In the case of the versions, it is clear the Malmesbury prototype alone has these pivotal physiognomies of Fornarina and Raphael, whilst they all vary in both the quality and "type" of their respective renditions, but are obviously all derived from it, either as a versions or variants.”
Three Graces, J of P and Farnesina nudes.
4.Poses, Sources and Copies.
“This image above shows Raphael's unique "Contrapposto" pose shared between all three compositions, from the earlier 1508 Venus, to the 1512 JoP. These anatomical pose Hallmarks are quite distinctive to his oeuvre. “
J of P and Entombment sketch
A further "Raphael "cut & Paste compositional source for the painting showing direct links & concordances evident between his earlier 1508 'discarded' Entombment Sketch and the later 'recycled' 1512 'JoP' figure group.”
“Comparison with the Copies & Versions show the precedence of The Malmesbury original viz a viz the versions.”
5. Quality Issues and Connoisseurship.
“Not just Waagen & Eastlake, but other great connoisseurs, Ridolfi, Passavant, Sir Martin Conway, and Millions of admirers at two major National Art Treasures Exhibitions at Manchester & Leeds, & in was singled out for praise in subsequent Press Reviews. Also at the two Royal Academy Exhibitions it was greatly admired as a Giorgione and even given the privilege of a Full Page Engraved Plate. Its qualities were so self evident, as indeed they still are today, that The Louvre was honoured to exhibit it in Paris, and later many visited Lord Mamesbury's Mayfair mansion just to admire it as well. Therefore those who are unable to appreciate its inherent beauty are obviously in the minority, as the majority always appreciated its qualities.”
6. VegaScan and “Vested Interests.”
I did ask Graeme Cameron if he had anything further to add on the VegaScan issue amid concerns about “vested interests.” He referred those concerned back to the technical blog's images, “where the capabilities of the VegaScan process, in regard to the effectiveness of its image penetration, compared with Infra-reds, provides the most self evident demonstration".
In response to concerns expressed about the “vested interest” issue, GC said:
"How it (VegaScan) achieves this is presently subject to confidentiality provisions, whilst the necessary proprietary measures are being determined".
This is the situation at the present- that’s all I can report.
7. The Next Book.
Finally, Graeme tells me that in Volume 2 of his series, “that not only will an important new direct link back to Raphael and his "Judgement of Paris composition be revealed, confirming it has everything to do with Raphael and Rome, with only its palette and Piombo/Macantonio's ( Giorgione) "influence" representing its earlier explained Venetian elements, but not its actualorigin”.
AHT’s Final Thoughts.
For myself, I think this case raises four important questions:
1. If this wasn’t painted by Raphael, then why are there physiognomic, stylistic and iconographic links between the Malmesbury painting and designs produced by his own hand, e.g. the Adam and Eve, and now as we can see above, the Entombment sketch?
2. Can we accept that Raphael- with all his exposure to Venetian painting- may not have sought to fashion a personal, erotic subject based upon some of Giorgione’s pastoral mythologies?
3. Leaving aside the issue of its authorship, and turning to the issue of quality: why was it endorsed by connoisseurs of the first rank like Waagen and Eastlake, not to mention good enough to go in the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition? See GC’s comments above.
4. How do we explain the facial resemblance between the left goddess in the Judgement of Paris and portraits of Fornarina; the same goes for portraits of Raphael and the “Paris” figure? Again, see above.
As for the attribution, the main bone of contention, I fully understand that people are protective of Raphael, but I’m a huge fan of the painter too- and I would never do anything to harm his reputation. I appreciate that it’s important to give a balanced, objective view of a painters development, weeding out the copies and variants from the true originals, which I’ve started with the Poussin project. In my own speciality as Poussin scholar I’m learning all the time, especially about the question of Poussin copies, which is clearly an emerging concern over at the PCP. We don’t yet have the “full picture” of Raphael too, which is a point that I’ve stressed again and again throughout the series of posts.
Perhaps the Malmesbury case illustrates the adversarial nature of attribution culture, and I’ll put my hands up and say that I've been guilty of rubbishing somebody’s attribution in the past. This time I’ve used my knowledge and judgement to try to negotiate between those who agree with the attribution and those who resist it. Everybody is entitled to their view, but I have to say that I think this case should be less a judgement on Graeme Cameron’s connoisseurship and the technology he uses, and more about the issues it raises for studying Raphael in the 21st century.
Stressing the positive, which I’d rather do, it’s interesting that the appearance of the Malmesbury picture has set some scholars on new paths of investigation. Though wisely keeping out of the attribution debates, Frank DeStefano has incorporated the Malmesbury painting into his thinking on Giorgione. I think that is the spirit in which to approach the problems surrounding this controversial canvas.
Many thanks for reading the posts and commenting on them.
Thanks of course to Graeme, and Norm Cameron for plentiful material,images and supplying answers to all my queries.
We now wait for GC’s new findings in the next volume of his research.
This is the final post in the series of research reports on the enigmatic and controversial Judgment of Paris- apologies for the delay. The technical research is organized under various headings, some with sub-divisions.
Judgment of Paris, att to Raphael, 1512, Private Collection, U.K.
1. General introduction to technology used in scientific examination of Judgment of Paris
As this is a scientific report, and in order to establish the credentials of the author of the report, I think it’s only fair to introduce the post with a statement about Graeme Cameron’s professional background, and his expertise in the technical examination of paintings, which seems to have been questioned in some quarters. What follows is guided heavily by Graeme's scientific expertise, and is virtually verbatim. I don’t have anything like Graeme's technical expertise, just quietly added my voice at times, when I thought it appropriate.
Graeme Cameron’s Technical & Scientific Research Background
The scientific and technical investigative analysis of Old Master paintings in research projects, was an important specialty of the author’s multi-disciplinary background, complimenting his documentary and connoisseurship approach to the restitution of lost art works. This commenced in the United Kingdom in the late 1970’s, where he was much assisted in this area by the facilities of the University of London’s, noted Courtauld Institute, through the auspices of the leading British scholar, Mr. Christopher Wright FRS and by Sir Robert Bruce Gardner, the head of the institute’s Conservation Department.
Graeme Cameron also conducted additional independent scientific investigations using X-Radiography, infra-red, microscopy, macro photography and paint chip section analysis, etc. whilst in the United Kingdom over four years, which continues today.
As a consequence in the mid 1990’s, he was invited by Professor John Miller of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University’s Department of Physics, to perform a senior guest lecturing role in this specialist area of the sciences, conducting tutorials and subject exams in the methods and developing role of scientific techniques employed in today’s art research and attribution investigations.
He was earlier Conference Guest Speaker on this topic of “The Use of Scientific Techniques in Art Research”, at the International Conference of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons in Sydney, Australia in the late 1990’s, by invitation of its Professor President.
Surface probing systems
Two scientific technologies were employed to analyse the painting’s sub surface, which revealed extensive compositional alterations, as noted in the volume, The Secrets of Leonardo da Vinci, Vol. 1.
These revealed not only the usual few “pentimenti”, but many major changes of Raphael’s created whilst refining his original concept of the legend. These findings eclipsed any that Cameron had witnessed over the past four decades conducting such investigative research. Such significant compositional changes confirmed the artist had used the sub surface of his composition as he would a sketching board. Only through technology can we now view his unique, multi- staged original creative development of this pivotal composition.
This extensive development of the composition from its initial concept, comes direct from the great artist’s mind, and is a rare event to witness in the field of Renaissance paintings research.
Infra-red Reflectography Scanning
In 2002, twelve detailed scans were undertaken at The University of Melbourne’s, technical analysis facility for art works, providing some remarkable findings of the painting’s sub surface, which first revealed this unique staged genesis of the composition.
Both Infra-red and Vega Scans of sections, whole image showing the many significant head, garment and hand compositional changes.
Both infra-red and Vega Scans of Goddesses body sections.
Two infra-red sections of Goddess Body Sections.
The most significant of these were the four major changes of both the position, dress and of the physiognomy of the face, of the seated figure of “Paris”. Likewise those of three significant changes to the dog’s position and other primary alterations were observed, including those to both of “Paris’s hands. See detailed discussion and other images of scans below.
VegaScan Deeper Sub surface Scanning
VegaScan of pentimenti of 4 body position, dress and face changes to Raphael figure.
A decade following the Infra-red reflectology scans, an advanced new scanning method developed by Cameron, the VegaScan system, was used to further reveal these known sub surface features, and search for further alterations.
Whilst the technology is still subject to proprietary restrictions, this adaptive scanning process, achieves the spectral sublimation of a primary image’s layers, by sequentially dissolving from the surface image, through its various constituent layers, to reveal its original deep sub surface base components. In simple terms, it is a technical way of peeling off the various upper layers of the paintng, (like an onion), to reveal the compostion’s deeper sub surface features.
These clearer scans further assisted the viewing and interpretation of the known major creative changes and importantly revealed that “Mercury”, in the top right corner, was originally lower and only one third of the size, than seen today on the finished surface.
location of inverted modello.
Further, a fascinating small fully completed “Modello”, also in oils, of a “Study for a Madonna & Child”, was also discovered, in a reverse mode in the upper right section of the work, an earlier trial study “pentimento. Further research indicates this to be slightly different to any extant version, of these subjects, but certainly has Raphael’s imprimatur, and is thus a previously unknown study for a future uncompleted work. For further observations on this hidden “modello”, see below.
2. Condition of Painting.
Examination of craquelure reveals
detail showing craquelure
There is volume loss present, consistent with 16thC Renaissance works; there is also shrinkage, very fine rectangular 16thC cracquelure, again consistent with works from this period.Initial Glazing layers are the original layers.
In 1980, ultra violet testing in London likewise confirmed there has been no alterations or intrusions or retouching performed and that the time yellowed balsamic glazes exhibited the usual indications of the deep opaque green of original varnish.
It should also be noted that for approximately two centuries or possibly more, this painting remained fully protected behind a framed glass surround, quite rare method usually reserved for watercolours rather than protecting oil paintings. Thus the vanish darkening effects, especially of 19thC Victorian coal fuelled fires has been averted.
Ultraviolet test reveals
Additional to remarks on varnish. This examination confirmed a dense cloudy green layer of extremely aged varnish over the entire surface of the painting with just a few tiny incidental losses having earlier been inpainted. This affirmed the physical observation that the work’s final surface glazing(s) had experienced minimal past cleaning or other interference, and are remarkably close to their original status.
The aged varnish imparts a patinated hue to the painting’s s surface and is particularly evident in the golden glow of the nude goddesses' bodies. In 1854 Gustave Waagen referred to this as,“the warmest golden tones”. Through this craquelure however other fresher colours and more natural pink flesh tones are readily discernible. In his Titian to1518, pp 99, Joannides had observed a very similar phenomenon in respect to the broadly contemporary Giorgione/Titian “Pastoral Concert” painting, where he refers to, “layers of dirty and coloured varnish give it crespuscular warmth and subdued harmomy”.. “and its colour relations were once sharper brighter and more emphatic..” Over the considerable period since such finish(es) were finally applied, they had developed the expected fine, regular pattern of craquelure, resultant from their gradual hardening and consequent shrinkage from volume loss, of their naturally derived volatile balsamic constituents. Beneath these, can be evidenced the deeper, wider craquelure and fissuring of the original painted surface, caused likewise by this ageing process. Thus it still remains as Waagen had earlier noted in 1854, “in excellent preservation”, much due to its long unbroken provenance from 1770 – 1952 with successive Earls of Malmesbury whilst also having been protected behind glass, from 18th -19thC coal laden city atmospheres, in provincial Malmesbury.
3. Pigment Analysis.
It is intended for gas chromatographic pigment analysis to be performed, as with the Holbein, however earlier attempts to have this arranged were unable to proceed due to prior commitments of the laboratory contacted. Initial microscopic visual analysis at 250x revealed crystalline structures of the pigments, consistent with those of other early 16thC works.
Lapis – not yet determined but is either this or Azurite.
Azurite – not yet determined but is either this or Lapis
Perhaps glass powder – It should be stated that glass powder appears restricted to Raphael’s earlier Florentine works, and it is recalled that Jill Dunkerton (of the scientific dept. at the NG) actually admitted it was not definitive, as both this pigment and Raphael’s base grounds were both widely variable.
Ridolfi, Title-page Le maraviglie dell’ Arte ovvero, Le vite degli Illustri Pittori Veneti and dello Stato, 1648.
Ridolofi’s citing is critically important as few paintings carry Ridolfi’s rare imprimatur and connoisseurship expertise. There is the other conjoint fact well worth citing that just as today in 2012 we can quite easily determine an 1850’s Victorian painting by its cracquelure and aged appearance, so in 1648 it would have been just as easy for Ridolfi to discern the painting had all the same age characteristics of a circa 1510 example.
Secondly, any advanced pigment testing would still only age the painting to around Ridolfi’s 1648 period and backwards, as the same pigments were used over that same 150 year period, and no test can yet differentiate within that one and a half century timeline. Therefore his unique visual 1648 on site evaluation is a more valid confirmation of this painting early 16thC dating, with the additional imprimatur of his acknowledged connoisseurship credentials of knowing many significant master’s paintings, and attesting to their primacy, even if he understandably gave this in Venice to Giorgione and not Raphael, for the earlier mentioned valid reasons.
4. Alterations and substitutions
Vega Scans revealing a “modello” of a Madonna. below, magnification of vega scans revealing different layers.
A fascinating additional subsurface feature of significance was also revealed during these investigations, which would further support Raphael’s authorship of the painting. This is a finely detailed Study, Modello colorito, albeit just 12cm sq. approx, in an inverted position at the end of the right goddesses robe, for a exquisite Madonna and Child composition. The Madonna has her hair half covered by a light headdress, with a trailing piece to the rear, and is garbed in a white blouse with ballooning shoulders, contrasted with darker armbands over the upper arms, (which from the density scale of its Infra-red colour values are most probably in red). Over this white blouse is a darker “V” necked tunic, (which due to its much darker colour value is probably in the blue range), with white ballooning sleeves at the Virgin’s wrists.
magnification of Vegascan showing buried modello.
She cradles the figure of the infant Christ against her right breast, but significantly, it can also be discerned that she is holding a small darker rectangular (Bible) book in her right hand, which she is reading from, perhaps whilst suckling the infant Christ. The composition has a distant city background with walled buildings, one larger one with a dome and tower with a spire, and also a broad sky. Her exposed left arm comes up under the infant’s right arm, whilst her Right hand is just visible above his left shoulder, holding the book. It appears this fully painted study was for an unrealised Madonna and Child project as it differs from any of Raphael’s known executed Madonnas.
Alba Madonna, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1509-10.
Colonna Madonna, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, c. 1507.
The various deep subsurface “invisible” images captured range between just 2 and 12 kb in size and are in a very deep nanometer 25,000+ range, being reproduced through combined Infra-red with advanced surface scanning technology, and the resultant composition is only just discernible through, the final scans offering the best image resolution. Its detailing and qualities appear quite consistent with Raphael’s other productions from this period. The composition shares similarities with the contemporary, Alba Madonna, and since she is holding the small Bible, also has links with his earlier 1507 Colonna Madonna, now in Berlin. However in this rendition the Madonna is portrayed in a different posture to either of these, which suggest it represents a unique new creation from Raphael’s early Roman period. There is a separate seated Infant study to the Left of this, looking away from this composition, and various other minor pentimenti and alteration
Its existence on this work’s sub surface indicate it to be an original draft composition for a Madonna & Child subject from the period. Interestingly, under infra-red the inverted foreground robe reveals an underlying boat, scoop or cradle shape.
The under drawing is substantial and quite unprecedented in his oeuvre. This painting represents Raphael’s most innovative example in a ‘private work’ of the “Venetian oil on canvas alteration technique”, as demonstrated in Giorgione’s ‘The Tempest’, eg. where the focal nude figure was substantially shifted. In the Judgment of Paris composition, Raphael uses the original sub surface for both major compositional changes and minor figural improvements, as the concept is developed to its final surface appearance. He would have learned of these techniques from Marcantonio, who had worked with both Giorgione and Titian in Venice, and also from observing Piombo whilst working with him in the Farnesina Gallery.
Major Changes and their Implications.
There are three major alterations and substitutions that Raphael has made to the original conception that were initially revealed by Infra-red spectography carried out at the University of Melbourne’s, Ian Potter Centre for Art Research, by Mr. Sean Loughrey MA and later at the authors advanced scanning facility.
These alterations included:
Vega scans. Section A shows four different face and position changes, as they advance from the tree. Section B shows the two upper and lower hand positions, and a forefinger extension.
Shallower vega scan revealing final changes to the composition, which occur as “pentimenti” nearer the surface than the other three Vega Scans. In section A, the hand has 2 position changes and is downturned with a golden apple partly visible. The four faces changes are also evident. In section B the dog has had 3 very significant changes of its position, moving down with Paris away from the centre, being originally seated right next to “Fornarina.”
1. Changes to the ‘moment of Judgement’ of The Judgement of Paris episode, and consequential changes to the hands, both in their gesture and function, with substitutions of the Golden Apple award. The hand in the original hooded figure- see below for remarks on dress- was originally upturned and offering the Golden Apple seen within it, not pointing as in the last two versions. This means that in the so-called original “Shepherd” images, no “Apple” was in his lower clenched hand.
Detail showing later Mercury departing after Paris’s decision.
This reading is also supported by changes noted to the figure of Mercury who was originally conceived as a small, foreshortened figure in the sky, floating above the “Judgement” scene at right angles to the picture plane. Raphael subsequently deleted this figure, by the addition of a cloud, and substituted it with a far more significant and detailed Mercury figure, in a twisting pose, diagonal to the picture plane, departing the scene below. He looks back across his shoulder to the unfolding drama taking place below. Mercury’s role and depiction has therefore changed from one of observer of the contest, to that of bearer of the news of Paris’s final Judgement decision to Mount Olympus. This substitution also functions as a clever perspective device to accentuate the strong triangulation of the composition, to the sky, while assisting the painting’s three dimensionality and its depth, relative to the planar focal figures.
2. The most important change is one which completely revises the narrative from the classical interpretation of the legend, as in the later collaborative engraving by Marcantonio, (after the antique sculptural friezes), into an early 16thc Arcadian nude posie painting of love, in the contemporary Venetian manner. See post 3 of this series for a detailed discussion of this. This change transforms the painting’s concept from its traditional rendition, into the artist’s personal painting of love, and only known visual declaration of their joint devotion.
Sub-surface-see the above remarks on Ridolfi.
Age and date concordances scientifically confirmed dress by dendrochronology.
Raphael’s portrait. Physiognomic Age specific images. Raphael's countenance, which as proven by its subsurface pentimenti, was added into the composition to join that of Fornarina, and is also a unique portrayal, in that it is not a copy of any previously known image of him, either in its dress or "type", It too is an "Age and Date specific "original" portrait like Fornarina's of 1512. His physiognomy is consistent with that of "Stanza" version, with the garb datable to this period, however he is clearly younger and in better health than seen in the 1519 joint portrait. None of these could be claimed as "chance" likenesses but were purpose created portraits for this painting.
Faces of Raphael. Stanza self-portrait (1509-10); Judgment self-portrait (1512); self-portrait with a Friend, (1518)
Fornarina’s portrait. The Fornarina is clearly a more naive and youthful portrayal than any previously known image of her and is therefore neither a copy nor any "chance resemblance", but a unique visage of her in 1512. It is self evidently an "Age and Date” specific portrait, which most accurately records her actual physiognomy at that time, which may well include her naked countenance, from this original sitting.Accurate portraits are difficult enough to create, yet both these are finely wrought, true to life renditions and dateable to Rome in 1512.It is his first portrayal of the young Fornarina’s portrait image in Rome, completed in the year 1512, but probably commenced in 1511.
Faces of Fornarina. Judgment (1512); Sistine Madonna (1513); “La Donna Velata” (1516).
Raphael’s body type; concordant facial Comparisons.
Ears and feet; physiological concordances.
Similarities with Raphael’s exhumed skull and consequently proposed facial features; the ear of Venus is comparable with Raphaels other contemporary portrayal of ears The very distinctive “Raphaelesque Feet’ are quite comparable with his other portrayals and show a remarkable concordance.
Crainiometric comparison and forensic analysis is hoped to be undertaken at a future time to compare the now established visual concordances. Readers might like to know that interest in Raphael’s skull dates back to the early modern period. What was thought to be Raphael’s skull was adorned with laurels by the Accademia di San Luca, but subsequent investigations revealed it to be that of a sixteenth-century canon at the Pantheon. The search for Raphael’s bones reflected a period interested in the science of craniology and craniometry, a story that David Allan Brown and Jane van Nimmen tell in their book on The Bindo Altoviti portrait, once thought to be a self-portrait, but now known to be a portrait of the renaissance banker.
Detail of Judgment and Portrait of Agnolo Doni, 1506, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence.
In addition to linking to the age data, this aspect of the investigation crosses both science and style areas. The scientific examination determined that the “Paris” figure had undergone four changes: an initial garbed figure in a “monk” like black hood, seated next to the tree; then a shepherd figure seated further out; then Raphael introduced his own visage, as “Paris”, as self-portrait, with a comprehensive dress change; a final change where “Paris” is moved further out from the tree, whilist rotating his head towards the viewer. As observed in another post, there are similarities between the dress, “the parti-coloured tights and plumes and slashes of the sixteenth century”, in the Judgment and Venetian paintings like the Rural Concert by Titian and Giorgione. It should also be noted that the sleeve style and pigment directly match that seen in Agnolo Doni’s Portrait, painted by Raphael during his Florentine period.
It would appear that through his contact with Leonardo during his formative years, Raphael became familiar with Da Vinci’s monogramme signing traits. Some of these are present in the Malmesbury Judgment of Paris. They are manifested as signature devices, being multiple monogrammes and dates for the year 1512. A 1512 date is inscribed within the fabric headband of the central goddess, a method that Raphael is known to have used in another work.
As per GC’s book.
A further group of both 1512 date and monogramme is set within the Golden Apple. Two other “Rv” monogrammes are on the upper chest and within the crotch area of both goddesses, a cogent example of Raphael’s known approach, to his personal relationships as the “lothario” lover.
As per GC’s book.
There appears a just decipherable “R” monogramme or character on the collar of the dog at Paris’s side, along with other “meaningless” decorative inscriptions, (Gould), or perhaps (Cufic) writing as discussed in Rona Goffen’s 2003, “Designer Labels article. It is noted that Raphael’s earlier St George panel (1505), has an inscription on the horse’s bridle.
8. Future technical analysis
It is intended that further X-Radiographic, Spectrographic Pigment Sampling, Macro Surface Studies, and other relevant examinations be undertaken in the near future, to provide additional scientific corroboration to the definitive findings already established from the above examinations.
Canvas support analysis – Future testing handy – but likewise not really definitive. Also needs 1510 comparisons and other museum results support, which is never forthcoming and usually denied.
9. Finishing Up
Just as a painting is never really finished- you can always come back to it and re-touch it, or re-view it in the light of something new, so this debate is likely to go on. Though this series is officially finished, there will be a unstructured catch-all summary post in which issues raised can be re-visited and elaborated upon. I know that Graeme Cameron wants to amplify certain points. Likewise, readers of this blog are invited to supply material for this round-up post; if you want to raise anything, offer an insight, a criticism, or anything that occurs to you after reading this or all the posts in this series, then contact AHT via e.mail or leave a comment here and I’ll integrate it into the post.
David Brown & Jane Van Nimmen, Raphael & the Beautiful Banker : the story of the Bindo Altoviti portrait,New Heaven [Conn.] ; London : Yale University Press, c2005.
Graeme Cameron, The Secrets of Leonardo da Vinci, Vol. 1, VegaScan, 2011.
Rona Goffen, Raphael’s Designer Labels : From the Virgin Mary to La Fornarina,Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 24, No. 48. (2003), pp. 123-142.
Cecil Gould, Raphael versus Giulio Romano : The Swing Back,The Burlington Magazine , Vol. 124, No. 953. (Aug., 1982), pp. 479-485+487.
Paul Joannides, Titian to 1518: The Assumption of Genius, Yale University Press, 2002.
Carlo Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell’ Arte ovvero, Le vite degli Illustri Pittori Veneti and dello Stato, 1648.
Patricia Rubin, Signposts of Invention : Artists’ Signatures in Italian Renaissance Art, Art History 29 (4), 563-599.
Dr G Wagen,Treasures of Art in Great Britain, John Murray London (1854) pp. 416.
G.B. Moroni, Titian’s “Schoolmaster”, late 1560s, National Gallery of Art, Washington, oil on canvas, 97 x 47 cm.
Bernard Berenson is well-known for hatchet jobs on painters, but he really excelled himself with his dismissal of the Brescian portrait painter, Giovanni Battista Moroni. The “only mere portrait painter that Italy had ever produced,” Berenson thundered before going on to condemn Moroni for not being able to paint without the model in front of him. For Berenson, Moroni’s Brescian characters were too realistic, too “uninterestingly themselves.” However, the sage of I Tatti grudgingly conceded that Moroni’s painting “Titian’s Schoolmaster”- so called because Titian is said to have studied it- was worthy of Velasquez, though not Titian himself. Given the excellence of Moroni’s portraits, including this one which was actually mistaken for a Titian by Van Dyck, Berenson’s negative judgment is completely unforgivable. That’s absolutely the case, but I don’t want to ponder Berenson’s prejudices in this post; instead, I want to dwell on realism in Moroni and float some ideas that have been generated in my teaching of the North Italian painters course. This can be seen as the third section of my “triptych” of lesser known northern Italian painters, the other “panels” being Tura and Il Pordonone.
G.B. Moroni, Abbess Lucrezia Agliardi Vertova, c. 1556, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Oil on canvas, 91 x 69 cm.
Anybody coming to Moroni must be struck by his enhanced realism. It’s partly achieved by strict graphic delineation; the outline is fairly sharp, drawing the eye to lines and contours. The demeanour of the sitters is calm, the expressions grave, indications of self-absorption and the contemplation of an inner world. Moroni’s portraits owe much to his mentor Moretto di Brescia, who combined northern portraitists like Titian and Lotto with the aloofness of Florentines like Bronzino.
Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1540, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, oil on wood, oil on wood, 96 x 75 cm.
G. B. Moroni, Portrait of Antonio Navagero, 1565, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, oil on canvas, 115 x 90 cm.
Bronzino also comes to mind when studying the portraits of Moroni himself, although there are differences between the Brescian and Florentine masters. Moroni’s portraits lack the forbidding, cold arrogant stare of Bronzino’s subjects; they are reserved, but not unapproachable. Moreover Bronzino’s subjects seem intact and immune from the ravages of time. Contemplating Moroni’s portraits, I sense decline, and in some of them Moroni actually places his subjects next to ruined buildings. This seems to me a collective portrait of a tarnished aristocratic class; one individual, though attired in splendid garb has his foot in a brace; another sumptuously dressed in furs occupies a space with dilapidated walls.
G. B. Moroni, Portrait of a Gentleman, (Conte Faustino Avogadro(?), c. 1560, National Gallery, London, oil on canvas, 202 x 106 cm.
It’s almost as if the idea of ruin permeates the whole portrait; the portrait becomes a ruin in the sense that it undermines the illusion of prosperity and wellbeing that these pictures are supposed to completely convey. And this is Moroni’s preference- such ruins are never seen in Moretto’s portraits where this decaying grandeur is absent. This is something unheard of in Bronzino’s portraits where not a wall is defaced, not a surface is besmirched with the signs of age- many of Moroni’s ruins have wild plants growing on them, and his walls are usually stained with brown paint.
G.B. Moroni, A Gentleman in Adoration before the Madonna, 1560, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Oil on canvas, 60 x 65 cm.
According to Sydney Freedberg, Moroni’s “verism”, that is his truth or extreme naturalism, might be linked with the problem of religious art, particularly the creation of an art that conformed to the Counter-Reformation in its combination of “verism” and an old-fashioned style, the latter easily absorbed by the viewer. This stark pairing occurs in a number of canvases that Moroni produced for unidentified patrons in Brescia. Take an example in Washington, this painting juxtaposes a sombrely clad donor, realistically portrayed, next to an apparition of the Virgin and Child. The Madonna is executed in a retardataire style, she looks back to the quattrocento. She also looks back towards Moretto’s own anachronistic use of quattrocento modes which his pupil adopted in tandem with his realistic proclivities, which if Freedberg is right, are keyed towards both a local religious sensibility as well as a more orthodox one in line with mainstream religion.
G. B. Moroni, The Baptism of Christ with a Donor, 1550s, Private collection, Oil on canvas, 104 x 113 cm.
A similar donor picture that juxtaposes verism with deliberate anachronism, in a private collection in Milan, provides an even more striking example of how Moroni’s aesthetic works. Here, he places a similar donor with praying hands before a scene of John baptizing Christ in the wilderness. Although Freedberg has placed these paintings in the context of aesthetics and religion, to me they have great potential in thinking about the role of the spectator in Moroni’s portraits. Where is this donor supposed to be? Is he indoors, or is he outdoors? Is he part of the scene and therefore within the landscape where Christ is baptized? The adjacent ruins are rendered in the same veristic way as the figure; they seem to be part of his physical world, yet they are still part of the landscape. Moroni has painted the picture in such a way that this could be viewed as a baptism contemplated by a donor in the same scene, or a painting of the baptism of Christ witnessed by donor outside the picture. But there’s no clear-cut opposition between inside/outside to conform either of these viewing positions; pictorial space in relation to viewing space is problematized. The donor, presumably the commissioner, could actually be looking at a picture he has bought, since a framed picture is implied by the vertical wall running up from the praying hands, though admittedly it doesn’t run to the top- Moroni leaving room for ambiguity? This man could be contemplating not only the baptism of Christ, but the painting- the Baptism of Christ on a wall in his home. A colleague of mine, Maaike Dirkx, pointed out to me that if it is a painting on the donor’s wall, he has so identified with the scene that he’s “in” it. This seems to make good sense to me. In the Washington picture, the donor has so reached a pyscho-religious condition that he “sees” the Virgin, possibly in his mind- the austere cell could suggest a mental state.
Lorenzo Lotto, Assumption of the Virgin, 1506, Duomo, Asolo (Treviso), oil on wood, 175 x 162 cm.
However, what jars with me is the realist mode in all these donor portraits, the verism which undermines the idea of enthrallment in the presence of the divine. I can see it in artists like Lotto who infused their saints with the look of devotion, like St Basil in Lotto’s Assumption- but that look seems to be absent in Moroni.
Adding another layer of complexity brings us back to Moroni’s relationship with Moretto. In a discussion of the latter’s John baptizing Christ (National Gallery, London, c. 1520), Nicholas Penny says that another scholar, Cecil Gould, argued that this landscape “may originally have featured a half-length or bust-length portrait of a figure on the right, hands joined in prayer and viewing the episode within the landscape.” Penny agrees with Gould’s proposition, though he points out these unusual donor portraits, meant to be viewed in a context of private devotion, do not appear before Moroni. It seems that Moroni ingeniously transposed his master’s religious compositions whilst pioneering a completely unique type of donor portrait that united modes of realism geared towards a sophisticated viewing subject. As an amusing coda, Penny states, presumably with his tongue in cheek, that the donor within Moroni’s Portrait of a Man Contemplating the Baptism of Christ, may have had the name Giovanni Battista. These of course are Moroni’s Christian names, and it would be typical of this playfully inventive artist to introduce yet another level of interpretation into his imaginative pictures.
The Sage of I Tatti, 1903.
Berenson should really have persevered with Moroni, especially as the connoisseur was fascinated by the idea of becoming one with the work of art through contemplation. What better example could there be than Moroni’s Portrait of a Man Contemplating the Baptism of Christ? As Berenson wrote in 1948, subsequently published in Aesthetics and History in 1950:
“In visual art the aesthetic moment is that flitting instant, so brief to be almost timeless when the spectator is at one with the work of art he is looking at, or with actuality of any kind that the spectator himself sees in terms of art, as form and colour. He ceases to be his ordinary self, and the picture or building, statue landscape, or aesthetic actuality is no longer outside himself. The two become one entity; time and space are abolished and the spectator is possessed by one awareness. When he recovers workaday consciousness, it is as if he has been initiated into illuminating, exalting, formative mysteries. In short, the aesthetic movement is a moment of mystic vision.”
Perhaps Moroni’s verism worked to prevent that “aesthetic moment” and “mystic vision” in Berenson’s eyes.
Bernard Berenson, Italian Painters of the Renaissance: Venetian and North Italian Schools. Phaidon, 1968, first pub. 1952
Bernard Berenson, Aesthetics and History, (Constable, 1950).
S.J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500-1600, (New Haven and London, Yale University Press), 1993.
Nicholas Penny, the Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings, Vol 1: Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona, (National Gallery, 2004).
A short report on Martin Kemp’s Leonardo lecture which I attended yesterday. This is gleaned from my rapid scribbling during the course of the talk- any mistakes are the fault of yours truly.
Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Trinity College, Oxford University, showed a reproduction of Mona Lisa and a flying machine that had been constructed according to Leonardo’s ideas; he wanted to trace the link between the painting and the machine. Structuring Kemp’s talk was a tissue of illustrations, some of them drawings in the exhibition, some of them from other sources, and some animations which unfortunately ran but didn’t visually project. Kemp stressed how the Birmingham selection of drawings appeared to be diverse, but offered the view that they were all connected; the whole of his lecture pursued the idea of interconnectedness throughout Leonardo who could be seen as a God-like artist re-making nature in the context of diversity.
Kemp stressed the importance of the microcosm and the body as an analogue to the world. Kemp illustrated this with Leonardo’s map-making, such as the sheet of the Pontine Marshes and drawings of the Arno which had correlations with Leonardo’s mapping of the human body; the geophysical representation of waterways was analogised in Leonardo’s drawings of the systems of the body. He spoke of the way Leonardo used bifurcation, and the “mathematics of fluid flow” in a practical way: just as water systems need free flow, so too did the vascular system which was liable to become silted up with age. Kemp emphasised the predictive nature of Leonardo’s thinking with a wry observation on the effects of age on the workings of the body, which Leonardo had deduced from the observation of nature just as much as the human body. Kemp considered Leonardo’s anatomy philosophical, not aimed at doctors.
Kemp showed some of Leonardo’s Deluge illustrations to reinforce his points about Leonardo as a “water-engineer”, but he added the dimension of poetry: the concentric rings in the tumultuous drawings reflected Leonardo’s knowledge of Dante’s circles of Hell. Here, I couldn’t help thinking of Michelangelo’s supposed remark that Leonardo should be consulted on Dante, not just a throw away comment after all. Kemp talked about Leonardo’s interest in valves, and informed us how he had worked with scientists, one a heart surgeon, in order to design models of the valve. Such model visualisations and re-inventions proved that Leonardo always had a strong sense of the solution, though sometimes he got things wrong. Kemp showed drawings of Leda, suggesting that the fluidity in her hair betrayed Leonardo’s interest in motion- he mentioned vortex motion and the helix. At this point Kemp made the interesting observation that Leonardo was mindful of the rear of his drawings; he works out the back as well as the front, which must be unique in renaissance art. We were also shown a sheet with a human body shown next to staircases shown in transparency, which Kemp used to underline the fact that everything is connected in Leonardo.
Moving towards the Mona Lisa, Kemp brought in observations by the 19th century aesthetic writer Walter Pater, who Kemp thought very perceptive in his description of the Mona Lisa. Pater said that the Mona Lisa “has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave.” This wasn’t just poetic effusion but a shrewd grasp of Leonardo’s interest in time. In one of his notebooks Leonardo mentioned Helen of Troy contemplating her face in the mirror; once abducted, and then raped by time. This line of thought led to poetry in science and the renaissance concept of fantasia in relation to science. Portraiture was concerned with optics and the act of seeing, which Kemp demonstrated by showing some of Leonardo’s drawings of optics and the use of light in the Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine) portrait. He also mentioned visual description and mathematical ratio in relation to the Last Supper.
After this, drawings of engines of war were shown such as the fiendish chariots with flails, as well as the crossbow. Kemp talked of mechanical analysis and “continuous quantity.” Mechanical analysis led on to Leonardo’s knowledge of comparative anatomy, particularly the operation of the human hand, whose applicability to painting was shown with reference to the flexor tendons and the pointing hand in the Virgin of the Rocks. Following on from this consideration of mechanics, we were shown a drawing of a bird’s wing, which was obviously leading us to the flying machine. Kemp and others had designed a flying machine for the Leonardo exhibition at the V&A in 2003. He talked of how a company that restored ancient planes, Sky Sport- not the TV- had expressed interests in Leonardo’s designs. Kemp had even gone to the South Downs to test a flying machine piloted by a hang-gliding expert; the machine had had to be adjusted to stop the hang-glider being swept into the English Channel!
Prof Kemp concluded with some remarks on how nature taught the design principles which Leonardo had the insight, imagination and skill to manipulate. Kemp generously allowed questions which touched on such topics as the globe in the Salvator Mundi; Leonardo’s knowledge of algebra, but his distrust of it as it was too symbolic and unreal; and Leonardo’s use of fantasia in his model of the brain.
Congratulations to Professor Kemp on such a stimulating lecture. I came away with my head ringing with ideas and very respectful of an art historian who is able to integrate both science and art together in such a seamless way. Such a rollercoaster ride of ideas imparted with wit and erudition. And only £6! I hope BMAG paid Kemp more than the London National Gallery for his expertise and time!