Lines of succession: Gert-Rudolph Flick has assembled a 'lineage' of European painters that thought-provokingly mingles famous and obscure names.
PAUL HOLBERTON, 50 [pounds sterling]
For centuries an appreciation of classical antiquity was the fundamental influence on the visual arts. Vasari refers to the rinascita or rebirth of classical knowledge, and what later came to be known as the renaissance continued to exert influence at least until the early 19th century, when Jacques-Louis David testified to Raphael's influence in opening up the wonders of antiquity to him. History painting, composed of multiple figures in elevated subjects, was the most highly regarded form. Groups of aspiring painters under the direction of a master would acquire technical skills in the preparation of materials and would receive instruction in drawing and preparing large-scale cartoons for transfer. Such skills were later transferred more formally through academies, where perspective, drawing after antique casts and from life, and the copying of Old Masters formed the pillars of the curriculum. It is the history of this continuum in the passing on of skills that is treated in this imaginative, absorbing and very readable book.
Patrons frequently required work to be done quickly and the consistency of a house style depended upon delegation. Perugino was responsible for decorating the walls of the Sistine Chapel for Sixtus IV in the 1480s, and brought together painters--including Botticelli and Signorelli--to assist him. There is consistency of scale but the individual hands are easily detected. Raphael, who absorbed Perugino's style before creating something more monumental and less particularised, trained a distinguished group of followers who could execute his designs in such a way that the master's individual hand would not be obviously missed. Flick traces the succession through Perino del Vaga, who worked for Andrea Doria in Genoa, to Prospero Fontana from Bologna, who assisted Perino and in turn taught Lodovico and Agostino Carracci. In its emphasis on life drawing, the Carracci Academy in Bologna was quite different from earlier studios, or botteghe, and by absorbing the grace and spatial assurance of Correggio and the colour and sensuality, of Titian it provided an alternative to Mannerism and laid the foundation for what was to become established as an academic tradition. The first third of the book deals with Italy from the late 15th until the mid-17th century, and the author provides a coherent narrative referring to the key writers, Vasari, Malvasia, Belloti, Passeri and Felibien. The rest of the book, which is more original, deals with France, and the increasing abundance and variety of source material as the centuries progress is reflected in the lengths of the chapters devoted to David, Gros and Couture.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Although Raphael was taught by his father in Urbino, not by Perugino, he can, as Flick points out, reasonably be seen as Perugino's successor. At the transfer from Lanfranco to the obscure Horace le Blanc (Fig. 1) the succession appears less certain, but, as the emphasis is on transfer of skill rather than individual excellence, allowance must be made for good teachers who were not themselves very skilled practitioners. What emerges is the transfer of artistic dominance from Rome to Paris, where the painters' guild was upstaged by the foundation of a royal academy by Colbert under Louis XIV in 1648. The importance of Rome as the key to an appreciation of the antique as well as the immortal
Raphael was nevertheless reflected by the foundation there of the Academie de France in 1666. A number of the painters treated by Flick were directors of either institution. The contrast between the relaxed, collaborative atmosphere of the Carracci academy and the rigid stages of training in the hieratic French academic institutions was epitomised in the highly sought-after Prix de Rome. But after the abolition of the Academie royale during the Revolution, the atmosphere in the studios of Gros and Couture appears to have been more paternalistic and informal.
Flick's succession from Horace le Blanc continues with Louis Boullogne, who studied under Gabriel Blanchard, and decorated the Trianon for Louis XIV and was appointed premierpeintre du roi in 1725. He is followed by directors of the academies in Paris or Rome--Coypel, whose father had been director of the Rome academy, Lemoyne and Natoire. But after Flick's emphasis on academic training it may be disconcerting for some readers to observe that most 18th-century French painting so clearly derives from Correggio, Veronese and Rubens, who are barely mentioned. And what about Poussin?
The idea of tracing an 'apostolic succession' as a means of passing on techniques and knowledge is original but perhaps too personal to be entirely persuasive, and it is unlikely to become canonical. The transition from Lanfranco to an obscure French academician is too tentative, and to conclude with Manet, who was a pupil of Couture, but who had no academic training, rather than Puvis de Chavannes is perverse, as is the decision to ignore academic continuity in Germany and England. Nevertheless this is a very readable and thought-provoking book which explores the careers of several neglected painters who were of importance in their own time. Not all deserve monographs, but an incidental merit of the book is the indication of a need for a properly researched monograph on Lanfranco.
Thomas Tuohy is the author of a Taste For Pictures, published by Pallas Athene.
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|Title Annotation:||Masters and Pupils: The Artistic Succession from Perugino to Manet|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2008|
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