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Santa Maria della Salute: Architecture and Ceremony in Baroque Venice.

Andrew Hopkins, Santa Maria della Salute: Architecture and Ceremony in Baroque Venice

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 36 pls. + 13 color illus. + 271 pp. $ 85. ISBN: 0-521-65246-4.

Patricia Meilman, Titian and the Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xvi + 8 pls. + 70 figs. + 260 pp. $75. ISBN: 0-521-640095-4.

Hopkins's and Meilman's monographs each focus on one Venetian monument, 100 years apart: the church of Santa Maria della Salute (competition for commission 1630) and the lost altarpiece of St. Peter Martyr in SS. Giovanni and Paolo (altar deed 1530). Both authors work to set the object of the study in context. Both books are furnished with substantial bibliographies, appendices, and generous numbers of illustrations.

Andrew Hopkins's study of the commission and building of Santa Maria della Salute is solidly based in documentary material. This material is both written and visual, including correspondence by commisioners and by Longhena, deliberations of the Senate and its deputies, and architectural drawings. The text is well organized and written with clarity. The plates are abundant and of excellent quality.

Hopkins clearly distinguishes his contribution from previous scholarly work on the subject, noting, for example, that he is the first to publish receipts in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia related to the commission, but that the other A.S.V. documents included in his appendices were previously published by Massimo Gemin. The receipts offer the basis for Hopkins's revised chronology of the development of the project. Two recently discovered drawings (a sketch at the A.S.V. and a full ground plan belonging to the parish archive of S. Maria in Vallicella, Rome, Color Plates II and IV) are key to Hopkin's reconstruction, Plate III, (which differs from Witt-kower's) of Longhena's original plan. The estimates and drawings help fill the gap left by the fact that Longhena's model and other drawings are lost.

The author provides the reader with a detailed account of the considerations, debates, choices, and practical obstacles that marked the development of the Salute. In April of 1630 (when the plague had visited Venice at least since September of 1629) Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo appealed to the Virgin through continual exposition of the Holy Sacrament for twelve days in the six churches of Venice already dedicated to the Virgin. In a resolution of 22 October 1630 (similar to its decree of 1576 concerning the Redentore), the Senate vowed to build a new church to the Virgin and to process annually to the church to be named S. Maria della Salute.

Hopkins disputes the argument of Gemin (following a suggestion of Michelangelo Muraro), that saw the building of the Salute in relation to the rivalry between Venice and Rome as exacerbated by the Interdict of 1606 and factions within Venice. Hopkins reads the documents regarding the choice of site as a dispute between the Patriarch (who had to move the seminary) and the government (which selected the highly visible site from among eight that were proposed). The author reviews evidence concerning the competition, with focus on the final decision brought by the Senate's five Deputies to the full Senate: Longhena's central plan versus Fracao's Redentore-like longitudinal plan. The often-cited document by the Deputies that preceded the vote (for Longhena's plan with changes) specified three objectives: an impressive entrance, a well and evenly lit interior, clear visibility of the main altar from the entrance and visibility of the other altars when within (Appendix 1.15). Hopkins integrates reference to this an d later communications between the Deputies and Longhena in analyzing the modifications of the architect's first proposal.

In general Hopkins stays close to the documents and shows informed awareness of liturgical requirements. In reference to the icon of the Nikopeia Madonna, repeatedly carried in processions from S. Marco to the Salute site, he correctly uses the term "reverence" (16) but also, inappropriately, "worship" (7). Catholic doctrine (then recently reemphasized at Trent) specifies that reverence is given to the image merely as the prototype of the holy person, not to the image itself. In a similar matter, he overstresses the significance of Mary's virginity to her power, omitting mention of her unique role as Mother of God (6).

In his analysis of sources and precedents for the octagonal plan of the Salute, Hopkins appears to be quite thorough, bringing in demolished churches and printed illustrations as well as such examples as S. Vitale in Ravenna and Sanmicheli's Madonna di Campagna. One wonders if the number eight, as in octaves in the church calendar or as in the "eighth day" (with connotations of the Lord's day, the eternal Sunday, Pentecost and Resurrection) might also be relevant.

Andrew Hopkins's book is a nicely-presented monograph in English on an important Venetian monument and it is carried out with scholarly care. This reader only misses some setting of the human situation of the extreme devastation of the plague of 1630 (even worse than that of 1576) that left almost a third of the Venetian population dead. Excerpts from contemporary Venetian accounts might have suggested the atmosphere, so vividly depicted by Manzoni in I promessi sposi, of the same plague in Milan. Such a description would illuminate why a prominent, splendid, ambitious, and beautiful temple was planned and begun -- as the plague raged -- to obtain the Virgin's help, and continued when it ended to render thanks.

Patricia Meilman's book might have been more accurately entitled "Titian's St. Peter Martyr and the Venetian Renaissance Altarpiece," since the core of the book (chapters 4-8) is devoted to the famous lost altarpiece. Chapters 1 and 2 seek to set the stage for the St. Peter Martyr Altar by reviewing precedent altarpieces of saints and looking at martyrdom altarpieces in particular. These two chapters are ambitious in what they set out to do, but (like chapter 9, which looks at altarpieces) are uneven and less well developed than the central portion. Chapter 3 describes the complex religious context in Venice circa 1530, and the "Excursus" discusses drawings related to the Peter Martyr Altarpiece.

Thanks to the praise of the Titian's Peter Martyr in early sources, the in situ copy in SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the other copies in various media, the painting has not been forgotten since it burned in 1867, but a study centered on it is welcome. Meilman brings together a great deal of material. This includes the story of Peter Martyr, a Dominican from Verona who preached against heresy and was assassinated by Catharist heretics in 1252. The history of Dominicans in Venice is summarized: St. Dominic's conversions of pagans in northern Europe and his own presence in Venice in 1217; Peter Martyr's miraculous cures in Venice; the various Dominican churches and convents in Venice. The Scuola di San Pietro Martire was instituted in 1433 at Dominican convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. This confraternity had the second altar to the left in the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo and commissioned Titian's pala of 1530 to replace a previous altarpiece by Jacobello del Fiore.

Meilman argues that the commissioning of a new altarpiece to a major painter by a small confraternity was unusual and was made possible by another unusual circumstance: that the Banca's members chose to finance the altarpiece themselves in order to hire one of the best painters. The fee of over 100 ducats may never have been paid in full, since Titian's petition of 1531 yielded only 13 ducats, and in 1540 the payment was still incomplete. In regard to Ridolfi's story of a competition for the commission in which Palma Vecchio and Pordenone participated, Meilman considers it unlikely.

The author's claim that: "Titian's Peter Martyr Altarpiece was the first martyrdom altarpiece in Venice" (48) is her central thesis, and it is overstated. Meilman's own examples of precedents (including polyptychs, predelle, and Carpaccio's Martyrdom and Apotheosis of the Ten Thousand of 1515) belie the claim. Refinements of the thesis later in the text emphasize the dramatic composition that is "fully narrative" with heroic figural types. There is methodological confusion here. Matters that relate to general stylistic development get attached to the thesis of novel iconography. In this process, the sameness in meaning, if not in dramatic impact, of earlier altarpieces showing Peter Martyr's death (or others) to Titian's later version is obscured. At the same time, the stylistic similarity of the Peter Martyr to such an earlier work as Titian's dramatic fresco of The Angry Husband in the Scuola del Santo at Padua (c. 1510), is omitted from the discussion. Titian's St. Peter Martyr Altarpiece surely was a dra matic/heroic representation of a martyr's death. Like his earlier altarpiece of the Assunta in the Frari, it was an ambitious work that consciously showed his mastery of a mature high Renaissance style. (One would not question Meilman's notice of Titian's awareness of Raphael's compositions.)

Meilman's discussion of the Dominican tradition of fighting heresy and the story of Peter Martyr successfully sets the commission in context, and one accepts that the Lutheran challenge to orthodoxy made questions of heresy forceful around 1530. In observing that the Peter Martyr Altarpiece did not inspire immediate imitations Meilman seems inconsistent, saying (150): "Other artists in Venice also eschewed the atypical subject matter and dramatic style of the Peter Martyr Altarpiece", as if the subject matter of an altarpiece were chosen by the artist. Showing that the only notable "fully narrative martyrdom altarpiece" that followed before 1565 was Titian's own St. Lawrence of 1548 suggests that the Peter Martyr was, indeed, the result of specific circumstances. This is not changed by the fact that more pale of martyrs were commissioned after Trent.

There appear to be misunderstandings in regard to Catholic teachings and traditions. The text repeatedly suggests that long-standing Catholic practice was peculiar to the period, the order or the place under discussion. For example, the washing of the feet of incurabili by Venetian patricians during Holy Week (55) is seen as evidence of particular devotion during the 1520s in Venice. Such examples need to be understood as traditional and as among the Good Works, which together with Faith, earn Salvation.

Meilman's book works when she focuses on the particular case. It becomes problematic in its extensions.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Previous Article:The Poetics of Portraiture in the Italian Renaissance.
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