The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist.
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000. x + 322 pp. $40. ISBN: 0-300-08304-1.
Carmen C. Bambach, Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance
Workshop: Theory and Practice, 1300-1600
xxvii + 14 pls. + 548 pp. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. $125. ISBN: 0-521-40218-2.
Evelyn Lincoln, The Invention of the Italian Renaissance Printmaker
viii + 208 pp. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000. $65. ISBN: 0-30008041-7.
According to Francis Ames-Lewis, The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist is not intended to break new ground, but rather to provide "an introduction for the non-specialist into some of the principal intellectual themes and issues that caught the attention of early Renaissance painters and sculptors" (2), and the book accomplishes this admirably. In particular, Ames-Lewis describes how, during the course of the long fifteenth century (1390-1520), changing modes of representation and choice of content contributed to a redefinition of painting and sculpture as liberal arts. One of the fundamental questions raised by the author is what role visual artists themselves played in modifying the perception of their profession and art. In delineating the ways in which artists both helped shape and reacted to an essential change in their status from craftsman to creator, Ames-Lewis brings together a broad spectrum of written and visual evidence, including treatises, contracts, letters, financial records, a nd, perhaps most interesting, the works of art themselves. That many of the most successful early Renaissance artists evinced a significant interest in intellectual and social issues is demonstrated in a number of different areas, including changes in artistic training; the involvement of artists in civic life; their engagement in the study of antiquity and antique art; artists' pursuit of the literary arts, including poetry, autobiography, and theory; and their participation in the paragone debate. Another issue which Ames-Lewis considers is the shift in the power relationship between patron and artist in favor of the latter, a shift brought about by the emergence of the social value of artistic renown. The impact of this phenomenon is admirably illustrated in the author's review of the difficulties which Isabella d'Este, the Marchioness of Mantua, experienced as she went about negotiating with some of Italy's "best artists" -- Bellini, Mantegna, Perugino, and Leonardo -- for paintings for her famous studiol o. Finally, as a means of understanding a range of enigmatic works of Renaissance art, Ames-Lewis proposes an intriguing new category, "display pieces" (chap. 11). According to the author, such works of art are likely to be small, inexpensive, or both, and they conspicuously demonstrate special skills of pictorial representation or execution and/or evidence of engagement in valued intellectual pursuits. Most of these pieces lack any documentary or textual history regarding the identity of their patrons or intended locations. Durer's Meistertische are an obvious Northern Renaissance example of works in this category. More intriguing, however, is the possibility that some of the most puzzling examples of fifteenth-century Italian art were intended as display pieces. Ames-Lewis includes Piero della Francesca's Flagellation, Donatello's Feast of Herod relief in Lille, and Botticelli's Calumny of Apelles in this category. The production of these sorts of independently produced, virtuoso works of art suggests that ambitious artists were cognizant of the need to demonstrate both artistic skill and an engagement in contemporary intellectual concerns in order to obtain important commissions.
Carmen Bambach's Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Theory and Practice, 1300-1600 is a densely documented study of the development of the preparatory cartoon. This book, which is not for the casual reader, illustrates with extraordinary thoroughness the ways in which changes in artistic practice went hand-in-hand with changes in art theory during the early and high Renaissance. Preparatory cartoons are drawings on paper used to transfer images to prepared painting or drawing surfaces through pricking and pouncing (spolvero) or incising (calco). In the case of the former (spolvero) , the outline of the drawn figure, object, or architectural setting is pricked through with the point of a needle or stylus at regular intervals. The pricked cartoon is then placed on top of a new sheet, prepared panel, or wall, and a small pouch filled with powdered colored chalk or charcoal is patted or "pounced" over the holes, leaving a trail of dots on the prepared surface beneath. The artist can then r econstruct the contours of his original Drawing on the new surface by connecting the dots. This is a very efficient and precise, if laborious, method of copying. In the case of incising (calco), or, more precisely, indirect incising, the artist uses one of two techniques to effect the transfer. Either he places the drawing on top of the prepared panel or wall and traces the main outlines of his drawn figure with sufficient force to leave an echoing incised line in the surface below, a technique which works best with true fresco, since the smooth, moist plaster surface of the unpainted wall is very receptive to incising, or he rubs the back of the cartoon with chalk or charcoal dust to create a sort of carbon paper and then traces the drawing's outlines with a stylus, transferring the chalk or charcoal dust from the back of the sheet onto the surface below. Bambach found that in trecento and early quattrocento fresco painting, the spolvero technique was only used to create repeating decorative patterns and bor ders. Figures were drawn freehand, directly onto the base layer of plaster, the arriccio, creating loosely rendered sinopie. These underdrawings were then covered over in the process of laying down the final, fine plaster layer, the intonaco. Beginning about 1430, however, a few central Italian artists (Uccello, Castagno, and Domenico Veneziano) started using pricked cartoons as a means of transferring previously drawn, accurately foreshortened, and/or animated figures directly onto the intonaco. This technical innovation was a response to a new, more scientific foundation for representation and an increased rationalization of the design process, two principles clearly promulgated in Alberti's treatise On Painting. By the third quarter of the fifteenth century, the technique of using pricked cartoons, occasionally combined with incising in order to facilitate rapidity of transfer, became a standard workshop practice throughout northern and central Italy. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, however, a n ew type of preparatory drawing emerged, the so-called ben finito cartone. These cartoons, full-scale drawings characterized by extended passages of careful modeling and chiaroscuro, became collectible objects valued for their intrinsic aesthetic qualities. Raphael's cartoon (Ambrosiana Gallery, Milan) for the School of Athens is the largest and perhaps best known example of this category of drawing. Because the transfer process often led to the destruction of a cartoon, artists introduced another intermediate step, the "substitute cartoon," as a means of preserving workshop model drawings and of keeping the ben finito cartone intact. A blank sheet of paper was laid underneath the original cartoon and then pricked through, along with the original drawing. The newly pricked secondary sheet was then used in place of the original for the process of pouncing or incising the design onto the painting surface. Very few of these substitute cartoons survive, for they bad no real value beyond their functionality. Bambac h suggests that the invention of the ben finito cartoon and the increased use of substitute cartoons, as well as the relative silence by late sixteenth-and seventeenth-century writers concerning the use of these techniques, reflect a cultural shift towards a greater value being placed on the appearance of creative immediacy and on the artist's ability to demonstrate inventiveness and to solve difficult problems with facility. A design process which included the careful, mechanical transfer of a final drawing onto the painting surface was antithetical to the image of the artist as an instinctively inventive individual guided by his skill and an inborn sense of proportion and aesthetic judgment, his giudizio dell'occhio. Thus, as Bambach amply demonstrates, although the spolvero technique continued to be used, substitute cartoons and indirect incising, which was more gestural, were preferred as a means of making the final stage of the design process appear more spontaneous. In the course of elaborating on her m ain argument, Bambach develops a number of fascinating and valuable ancillary discussions of important fifteenth- and sixteenth-century painting projects including the two battle scenes planned by Leonardo and Michelangelo for the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, and Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine and Pauline chapels. Overall, Bambach's study exemplifies the ways in which a careful analysis of physical evidence and documentation, combined with a deep knowledge of technique can be exceptionally productive.
In Evelyn Lincoln's The Invention of the Italian Renaissance Printmaker, a series of related studies are united by a consideration of the variety of functions which prints served in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In a very useful introduction, Lincoln concisely lays out the terminology of printmaking as it was employed during the Renaissance period. The first chapter, dedicated to Mantegna, addresses such questions as why the artist took up the art of printmaking and whether he executed his own prints. Much of Lincoln's discussion revolves around the opportunities available to and limitations imposed upon Mantegna as a function of his status as a court artist. In this context, she draws an intriguing parallel between the careers of Mantegna and the Paduan doctor and humanist Michele Savonarola, a member of the Este court in Ferrara. The author's distinctive discussion of Mantegna's career will certainly be of value not only to those concerned with Mantegna as an artist or with the history of early pri ntmaking, but also to those interested in the current debates regarding the nature of Renaissance court culture. Lincoln's second chapter is a bit narrower in its scope. It examines the role which printmaking played in the artistic development of the wonderfully inventive, early sixteenth-century Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi. Lincoln's point of departure is the role which Beccafumi's experiments with the newly invented technique of chiaroscuro woodcuts may have had on his designs for some of the inlaid pavements in Siena Cathedral. In the course of this discussion, Lincoln also considers related questions such as the way in which access to prints might have affected the development of an otherwise fairly isolated artist like Beccafumi. The dissemination of images by means of the art of reproductive printmaking is also one of the topics considered in the third chapter. Within the context of her discussion of the career of the most prominent sixteenth-century female printmaker, Diana Mantuana, Lincoln con fronts a number of important issues, including what "original" and "reproduction" meant in the world of Renaissance prints, and what role dedications and gifts played in shaping patron/client relationships. Lincoln's final chapter also looks at the social setting of printmaking in sixteenth-century Rome, but within a broader context, examining the institutional identity of the professional printmaker/ designer and his relationship to booksellers and publishers. Although booksellers and publishers did not belong to a guild, their professional identity was often linked to participation in particular religious sodalities. Printmakers may have also participated in these sodalities, but they were primarily distinguished by their skill in the art of disegno, in the sense both of "rendering" and "design."