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Giambologna: Narrator of the Catholic Reformation.

Mary Weitzel Gibbons's study is one of a number of recent publications to celebrate the art of the Flemish-born, Florence-based sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608). Gibbons's study is special, however, in addressing a neglected aspect of the artist's oeuvre, his creation of narrative scenes in bronze relief. Although these works were often included in earlier publications, it has been the received opinion that Giambologna's genius lies in his gifts for the manipulation of three-dimensional form in essays of pure style. His brilliant exercises in figura serpentina have fascinated connoisseurs and challenged artists for centuries, and in the literature of art from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, it is the qualities of his free-standing figures, whether small-scale bronzes or monumental figures, that have won universal acclaim.

In contrast, Mary Gibbons explores how the great formalist sculptor became, late in his career, the sixteenth century's most moving narrator in relief sculpture. The focus of her study is the relief cycle of the Passion prepared in the years 1585-90 for the Grimaldi Chapel, part of the destroyed church of San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa, and now imbedded in the walls of the Chapel of the University of Genoa. Thus the chapel had to be reconstructed and the original location of its sculpture reestablished. Gibbons reads the available documents both for her reconstruction and for a richer understanding of the commission and the connection between the Grimaldi family and the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Utilizing comparative chapel structures, Gibbons provides both context and confirmation for her reconstruction. Considered as a group, the chapel designs attributed to Giambologna suggest that he was the architect of the Grimaldi Chapel and shared connections with the architecture of Andrea Palladio - an idea first proposed by Andrew Morrogh.

In a major chapter, Giambologna's narrative method is analyzed. Undogmatically utilizing reception theory and, in particular, concepts reflected in the writings of Richard Brilliant, Vidya Dehejia, and Jack Greenstein, Gibbons addresses the levels of seeing and reading inherent in the reliefs as they may be viewed by a beholder who traverses space, shifts viewpoint, and responds to the scenes with culturally and religiously predetermined knowledge. The movement of the spectator is carefully recorded by photographs that reach beyond the convention in which the camera is centered on the image and held perpendicular to it. When the camera, however inadequately, traces the journey of the perceiver's eyes, these relief sculptures are revealed in their rich complexity and narrative force. Gibbons argues that the unfolding experience of the spectator is rooted in artistic intentions that reflect the agenda of the Council of Trent and the Catholic Reform Movement.

The reader is probably not surprised to learn that Giambologna's artistic sources included Ghiberti, Donatello, and Andrea del Sarto. In addition, Gibbons argues for sources in Northern artists' versions of the Passion Cycle and in the work of the Genoese master Luca Cambiaso. Notable in this mix of influences is the absence of several of Giambologna's close contemporaries, the masters of the early and high Maniera: Pontormo, Bronzino and Vasari. Instead, Gibbons demonstrates that Giambologna's closest associations are with lesser known Florentine contemporaries like Mirabello Cavalori and Girolamo Macchietti and especially Santi di Tito, with whom he appeared, in his narrative reliefs, to turn his back on the High Maniera, an extraordinary event considering that it meant sacrificing the very essence of the style that had first brought him international fame and fortune.

MALCOLM CAMPBELL University of Pennsylvania
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Campbell, Malcolm
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
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