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Marcia B. Hall, ed. Rome.

Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 358 pp. + 32 color pls. index. illus. bibl. $120. ISBN: 0-521-62445-2.

An in-depth, systematic English-language account of the visual arts of Renaissance Rome has long been lacking from the literature, and this present volume has been keenly anticipated for some time. It is divided into four principal chapters, each written by a specialist in that period: Meredith Gill addresses fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Rome and Marcia Hall looks at "High Renaissance" Rome (1503-27), Claire Robertson writes on 1534-65 and Steven Ostrow on the post-Tridentine era. Two introductory chapters are included--Ingrid Rowland on the cultural history of Renaissance Rome, and Hall on some of the historiographical and methodological issues concerning Rome's art. Rowland deftly outlines how a vision of Roma caput mundi was transformed into a physical fact by a parade of humanists, popes, politicians, and money brokers. Hall complements Rowland's views with an equally engaging essay demonstrating how the "history of the papacy determined the history of Roman art" by a succession of artists born outside of Rome to make the Eternal City the preeminent artistic center of the sixteenth-century.

The two consistent criteria for the book's organization are the theme of patronage and the succession of popes, interspersed with "non papal" patronage. Gill opens with a consideration of early landmark sites in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries--critical for understanding Rome as it slowly emerged from a war-torn shadow of the city once capital of an empire, to the Italian peninsula's one true "renaissance" city. Once Martin V has returned to Rome in 1420, Gill is meticulous about providing accounts of each successive pope's artistic contributions, placing special emphasis upon tomb sculpture. Gill concludes with a consideration of Michelangelo's two fifteenth-century Roman sculptural works, the Bacchus and the Pieta, providing a coherent linkage with Hall's opening treatment in the subsequent chapter of Michelangelo's contribution to the Piccolomini tomb in Siena. This in turn offers Hall the opportunity to consider the objectives of the founding father of High Renaissance Rome, Pope Julius II, and just how he differed from his predecessors in the scope of his vision and depth of his ambition as patron. The principal Julian commissions are considered here: Bramante's work at the Cortile del Belvedere and design for New Saint Peter's, the Julius tomb, the Sistine Chapel vault, and the Raphael stanze. Raphael rightly takes center stage as the primary object of artistic desire for Agostino Chigi and Leo X. His untimely death in 1520, as Michelangelo packed off to Florence--not to mention the election of Adrian VI--deflated the momentum Rome had acquired under Julius and Leo. One is presented with a more fragmentary 1520s, in which Sebastiano del Piombo features as the dominant figure. Rome literally fragmented in 1527, when during the Sack artists and patrons scattered and the city's buildings and decorations were plundered, desecrated, or destroyed. Yet the city's resilience is underscored by the title of Robertson's chapter, "Phoenix Romanus." As Pope Paul III, Alessandro Farnese married his own family ambitions to a celebration of the visual arts, as can be seen in the breadth of commissions Robertson presents, from Michelangelo's Last Judgment (begun under Clement VII) to the Pauline Chapel, the Palazzo Farnese, and the renovation of the Campidoglio. Robertson also includes discussion of smaller pieces of material culture, such as the Farnese Casket and Farnese Hours. The Farnese reappear at the end of her chapter with Cardinal Alessandro Farnese's villa at Caprarola.

Just as Gill negotiates the challenge of defining where the Renaissance in Rome begins, Ostrow tackles the issue of the transitional in the last decades of the sixteenth century. This results in an important chapter, both in terms of providing a bridge between the end of Rome's Renaissance--which some feel culminated with the death of Michelangelo in 1564, and the beginning of the so-called Baroque, and also for recognizing that this period, which defies easy categorization, is a discrete moment unto itself.

With little exception, there is remarkable coherence and fluidity between the main chapters, authored as they are by four different scholars. Rowland's opening chapter is a fine introduction to the period 1350-1527, but condenses the last decades of the sixteenth century into a paragraph and a half. Scholars of architecture might have appreciated greater attention being paid to the built environment. Hall's "Introduction: The Art History of Rome" is almost exclusively dedicated to criteria for judging painting. Key buildings are missing, such as Bramante's Palazzo Caprini. Michelangelo's design for the completion of Saint Peter's, arguably the greatest artistic enterprise of the sixteenth century, is surprisingly brief. Such caveats aside, this work provides a commendably fulsome account of the city's visual culture. It is to be hoped that Cambridge University Press will produce a paperback edition: the hardback's $120 price tag puts it beyond the reach of many students, and it would serve as a useful classroom tool.


Rhode Island School of Design
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Author:Fernandez, Henry Dietrich
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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