Lorenzo Leonbruno: Un pittore a corte nella Mantova di primo Cinquecento.
Renaissance Mantua's artistic reputation is founded on the accomplishments of outsiders summoned there by the Gonzaga. These included Pisanello, who came from Venice and Verona; Mantegna from Padua; and Giulio Romano ('the Roman') - artists whose brilliance cast a shadow over the local talent. Leandro Ventura has set out to rescue one Mantuan, Lorenzo Leonbruno (14777-1537), from obscurity, a task made more difficult by the small number of his surviving works (here whittled down to nine traced paintings, two drawings, and some frescos in the Ducal Palace, S. Barnaba, and S. Maria del Gradaro). In the only monograph on Leonbruno since Girolamo Prandi's of 1825, Ventura sifts through documents and works to establish a more complete portrait of this court painter, who had his greatest success during the interregnum between the death of Mantegna (1506) and the arrival of Giulio Romano (1524).
As a young man in the 1490s, Leonbruno inherited his adoptive father's workshop (and wife). Errands to Florence (1504) and Venice (1511) broadened his artistic horizons. Then, in 1521, the new marquis, Federico Gonzaga, sent Leonbruno to Rome in order to study antique and modern art - "cose assai da imitare" - under the care of Baldassare Castiglione (48, doc. 44). Back in Mantua, Leonbruno promised to create "new bizzarrie never before seen" (doc. 50); the groteschi popularized in Rome by Pinturicchio and Raphael are featured prominently in Leonbruno's decoration of Isabella d'Este's apartments (1522-23). Ventura identifies another 1523 documented work, a corridor painted with "columns and landscapes and verdure" (doc. 61), with frescos in the Palazzo Ducale. Although greatly deteriorated, these are among the rare examples of extant Renaissance landscape frescos and need to be integrated into this important aspect of palace and villa decoration (cf. Juergen Schulz, "Pinturicchio and the Revival of Antiquity," Journal of the Courtauld and Warburg Institutes, 1962). Leonbruno's illusionistic landscapes also have a Roman impetus, although not just Peruzzi's Sala delle Prospettive in the Villa Farnesina (162), but perhaps also Pinturicchio's landscapes in the Villa Belvedere. (It may be more than coincidental that Leonbruno framed the views with an arcade inspired by Bramante's Belvedere courtyard.)
Giulio Romano's presence in Mantua (1524-46) dealt a critical blow to Leonbruno's career, as poignantly evoked in the latter's pained letter of January 1525 and perhaps in his dark painting Allegory of Fortune (Brera, Milan) based on Lucian's Calumny of Apelles (57-58). Eventually Leonbruno left Mantua to practice military architecture in Trent and Milan. But while working for the Sforza, he continued to ingratiate himself with Federico Gonzaga; he sent drawings of the castles in Milan and Cremona and let it be known that he would gladly return to work in his native city, even for a quarter of the "goodly provisions" paid by the Duke of Milan (67, doc. 87). The strategy worked and, in 1532, Leonbruno returned to work on fortifications and paint portraits of Federico's horses. Until his death in 1537, he remained on the Gonzaga payroll, albeit never again at his previous level or status.
In the end, Ventura succeeds in rehabilitating Leonbruno the man better than Leonbruno the artist, whose derivative aspects are emphasized. The book does contain richly nuanced iconographic analyses of select works, although it goes far afield for some comparisons and sources. For the images of female chastity in Isabella's ante-room or scalcheria, domestic furnishings such as cassoni and pastiglia boxes (a specialty of Isabella's native Ferrara) might have provided better references than Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait and Piero della Francesca's posthumous portrait of Battista Sforza (115). Elsewhere (129ff.), Ventura perceives Erasmus' influence on a penitent St. Jerome, with its Hebrew inscription in the saint's bible and suppression of a cardinal's hat (Jerome's usual, but apocryphal, attribute). But some contemporary, regional paintings also omit the cardinal's hat (see Daniel Russo, Saint Jerome en Italie: Etude d'iconographie et de spiritualite XIIIe-XVe siecle, 1987), and the study of biblical and patristic texts in their original language had been advocated before Erasmus by Italian ecclesiastic and monastic reformers, such as the Cassinese.
The book is organized into three sections, the first containing chapters on historiography, the artist's biography interpreted through the documents, and (retracing the chronology) stylistic development and influences. The second section of the book returns to the paintings for iconographic analysis, while the final section consists of a catalogue. This cumbersome format scatters the information, making it less accessible and the story less coherent. Still, Ventura's study sheds much light on an artist who, briefly, played a significant role on the Mantuan stage.
BETH L. HOLMAN Bard Graduate Center
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|Author:||Holman, Beth L.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1998|
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