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Between Renaissance and Baroque: Jesuit Art in Rome, 1565-1610.

Between Renaissance and Baroque: Jesuit Art in Rome, 1565-1610, by Gauvin Alexander Bailey. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2003. xi, 406 pp. $88.00 US (cloth).

The Jesuits are never far from characterisations of High Baroque art, although ironically they have been viewed both as its primary agents and as the closed-minded clerics who impeded its flowering. In either case, the art historian usually makes do with facile generalizations. Gauvin Bailey goes to the very beginnings of Jesuit art to lay the foundation for a larger question of the Jesuit's role in Counter-Reformation art. His new book on early Jesuit art has been sorely needed for some time and, despite a few shortcomings, it will now be the standard source on the subject. It covers every Jesuit foundation in Rome in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, extant or destroyed. As Bailey says, "This book is the first survey of pre-Baroque Jesuit painting in Rome" (p. 7). Overcoming the prejudice that they were short of money (Zeri, Haskell) or unconcerned with aesthetic issues (Freedberg, Hibbard), he takes a fresh look at the art produced by the group considered the vanguard or weathervane of the Counter-Reformation.

Monuments covered include the Novitiate of S. Andrea al Quirinale, a lost complex of chapel, refectory and infirmary (later replaced by Bernini's of the same name); the novitiate church of S. Vitale, and the Jesuit Collegiate Foundations (the Seminario Romano with its church of SS. Annunziata, destroyed and replaced by San Ignazio; the German-Hungarian College with its church of S. Saba and then S. Apollinare; S. Stefano Rotondo, only briefly associated with the Hungarian College, quickly joined to the German College; and the Venerable English College and its lost church of S. Tommaso di Canterbury), and finally the mother church of the Gesu. The Gesu will be most familiar to art historians, while the collegiate churches of S. Stefano Rotondo and S. Tommaso di Canterbury have received some attention. The Noviate of S. Andrea, however, has never been studied and Bailey relies on Louis Richeome's La peinture spirituelle (1611) to reconstruct its decoration. The two chapters on the Gesu include a complete review of all the previously published archival material and will become the main source on payments for the decoration of the church, superseding the old and difficult to find Il Gesu di Roma by Pio Pecchiai. Similarly, the discussion of the collegiate churches sorts out problems of chronology and attribution becoming the best reviews available of their paintings and decoration.

Bailey does not arrive at his point of view from some new theoretical consideration, although he does have occasion to question the typical style categories of late-sixteenth-century painting; rather, he gets there through his sheer submersion in Jesuit art and life as revealed in the historical record. Jesuit artists and their work and responsibilities throughout Italy are not mentioned as cliches, but are traced to the detail. Bailey's important work on the Jesuits' missions and their art from Peru to China further allows him to understand the way in which the global element of Jesuit art impinged on Roman artists. This range and ease with the material delivers him from earlier biases. A comparison with another great archivist, Howard Hibbard, is irresistible except that Bailey lets the documents speak for themselves whereas sometimes Hibbard foreclosed points with idealistic assumptions. On the other hand, the new order that emerges from Bailey's survey based on documents and a Jesuit nexus endangers old formal and iconographic connections. Every specialist will have to judge for themselves Bailey's lines of drawn influence; personally, it is surprising to read that Valeriano's paintings for the chapel of the Madonna della Strada in the Gesu were important either for Barocci's Visitation (Chiesa Nuova, Rome) or his Assumption (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino).

Bailey asks us to take an unprejudiced look at the Jesuits and suspend our assumptions. By doing so, we get a new view of the whole period as well. Following earlier work by his mentor, John O'Malley, Bailey challenges the view that the Jesuits were anti-humanist. He similarly notes that they often employed non-Jesuit artists (Durante Alberti, Federico Zuccaro, and others), and were guided by aesthetic aims. Misleading are some of the low payments made to the artists, which Bailey hypothesizes were accepted at cut-rate in sympathy with the Jesuit's aims. Such a category of reduced payment should be investigated to rebalance the scales of what are important commissions. Ironically, Bailey records several stories of unpaid artists: De' Vecchi, Muziano, and Baglione, unwittingly adding to the image of the impoverished group of priests he has worked so hard to erase.

Essentially, Bailey argues that much Jesuit art deserves a second look, not only because the Jesuits themselves were deeply concerned with images and their efficacy in religious devotion, but also because of the inherent interest of the objects themselves. Here we sense a slight disjointedness between Bailey's desire to see Baroque-like elements in early Jesuit art while at the same time accepting that the art is resolutely not Baroque, as in the manner of the works of Caravaggio or Annibale Carracci, and even accepting at certain points that the Jesuit painting is iconizing and archaizing. Valeriano, for example, is called a revolutionary, yet implicitly, not a great painter (p. 250).

Bailey ably dismisses the old standby of the exaggerated difference between the decoration of the Gesu and the Chiesa Nuova of the Oratorians. The Jesuits did hire many outside artists; however, they did spend money on, and exert aesthetic control over, their artists. Leveling the difference between the two is a useful gesture for a new beginning, and stylistic categories are in need of revision. But is it not possible to accept that the Jesuits were exerting their control with good money to obtain outside artists whose works illustrate a slightly different content? Their slightly figured rhetoric (too often confused for mannerism) would then be an important tributary of art history that did not survive the seventeenth century. It is easy to be led to such reflections. It is a testament to the impressive job Bailey has done in organizing all the relevant Jesuit material for the first time.

Ian Verstegen

University of Georgia, Cortona, Italy
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Author:Verstegen, Ian
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:1038
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