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"Finto e favoloso": Dekorationssysteme des 16. Jahrhunderts in Florenz und Rom.

Wiebke Fastenrath. (Studien zur Kunstgeschichte, 97.) Hildesheim, Zurich, New York: Olms, 1995. 43 illus. + x + 204 pp. DM 49,80. ISBN: 3487-09984-5.

Wiebke Fastenrath's useful dissertation on sixteenth-century decorative systems in Florence and Rome (Ludwig-Maximilian's-Universitat, Munich, 1993) has now been published in this slender, accessible edition. Footnotes are extremely brief, but a 210-item bibliography offers ample opportunity to follow up on the author's points. The glossy illustrations are readily legible, if better suited to reference than close study. Aside from one phantom figure cited on page 45, the book is virtually free of distracting production errors.

The text is divided into three main parts of increasing length. The first, "The Decorative System of the Sistine Ceiling," analyzes the fictive elements of the ceiling and finds Michelangelo to have created an imaginary system based on fantasy, caprice, and the bizarre, in which objects of varying degrees of reality are combined in an arbitrarily layered space. This sort of unnatural representation, sharply criticized by Vitruvius, moreover stood in opposition to the reigning rational bias of the Renaissance. It is suggested that Michelangelo took the achievement of the unreal by means of fantasy and personal creativity as an artistic challenge, and that he was inspired by the antique wall and ceiling decorations discovered in Nero's Domus Aurea in the late fifteenth century. The system he employed is subsequently characterized as "finto e favoloso," borrowing from Giovanni Andrea Gilio's statement in 1564, "che 'l finto e quello che rappresenta o puo naturalmente e veramente rappresentare il vero; altramente non sara finto, ma favoloso."

The second main part, "On the Origin of the Decorative System in the Sixteenth Century: The Grotesque," addresses, in separate subsections, the nature of the grotesque and its transferability to the system of the Sistine ceiling, the "Irreale" in the sources, and the relationship between the grotesque and the hieroglyph. The publisher calls the decorative system of the Sistine ceiling the basis of the book, and in fact it figures prominently in each of the main parts. Nevertheless, it is the grotesque (here uncommonly rendered "die Grotteske" (rather than "das Groteske," apparently to emphasize the term's derivation from the excavated grottoes whence the inspiration for this style of decoration came) that provides the study's central conceptual connection. Under the concept of grotesque are to be understood not only decoration consisting of countless diverse, often monstrous, elements such as were found in the Domus Aurea, but generally the sort of fantastic, nature-denying decoration of which Vitruvius disapproved; in it, the natural and the artificial, the ornamental and the pictorial are combined in unpredictable ways.

An illuminating array of excerpts are assembled from contemporary Italian sources to demonstrate how the grotesque was related with other concepts such as fastasia, artificio, bizzaria, capriccio, chimera, ghiribizzo and grillo, and especial attention is paid to its association with hieroglyphs as an emblematic bearer of mysterious knowledge. Able to link the most diverse degrees of reality with one another, the grotesque provided for the possibility of a new kind of coded pictorial narrative, whose several implicit levels of meaning could be variously applied and understood according to the exigencies of a given commission.

The last main section, "On the Development of the Monumentalized Grotesque and its Metaphoric-Poetic Principle in the Sixteenth Century," proceeds from the premise that the rediscovery of the grotesque was of fundamental importance for the stylistic development of decorative systems from the late fifteenth century onward, examples of which - by Pinturicchio, Filippino Lippi, Michelangelo, Raphael, Perino del Vaga, Francesco Salviati and Annibale Carracci - are then analyzed. The author has made an important contribution by better defining the familiar but complex concept of the grotesque, especially with respect to its critical reception and practical application in the Renaissance, and by reinterpreting a series of major decorative programs in light of her conclusions. In this respect, the present book follows well upon her previously published "Quadro riportato": Eine Studie zur Begriffsgeschichte mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der Deckenmalerei (Munich: Tuduv, 1990), which in a similar manner approached that related topic.

ERIC C. APFELSTADT Santa Clara University
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Author:Apfelstadt, Eric C.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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