Solum, Stefanie, Women, Patronage, and Salvation in Renaissance Florence: Lucrezia Tornabuoni and the Chapel of the Medici Palace.
In a field as extraordinarily fecund as Quattrocento Florence, the role of women as patrons of art has been notably absent from the historiography. This is no fault of scholars; determining direct patronal links is often difficult work, and in the case of women, it is more often than not impossible. Traces of female influence are simply not there in the archival sources. For this reason, Stefanie Solum's new monograph performs an important task. It is an admirable attempt to fill this lacuna, and while Solum's contribution is framed by just one artist-patron relationship--Lucrezia Tornabuoni (1427-82) and her role in commissioning Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Child for the private chapel of the Medici palace--the author works very hard to ensure that this example should be seen 'as a key to the larger unwritten history of female patronage in Renaissance Florence' (p. 14).
Solum divides her study into six chapters. The first explains how Lippi's altarpiece, completed sometime around 1457 and currently displayed in Berlin's Staatliche Museen, represents a fundamental shift in the artistic style of the time. His reworking of the adoration trope, with its wooded, almost mystical setting, represented a significant departure from the mid-fifteenth-century norms that dictated the composition of these types of images.
Solum's second chapter taps into the prevailing trends in gender history, and locates Lucrezia's agency, particularly as a Medici bride (she married Lorenzo 'il Magnifico' in 1444), within its historical context. Most importantly, it lays bare Lucrezia's personal piety, one of the foundations upon which the broader argument is built. At the pinnacle of Florence's elite, the intensely devout Lucrezia spent much of her life striving to ameliorate the spiritual damage caused by the fabulous wealth of the Medici, and Solum does a convincing job of portraying her as a spiritual hub for both her family and the Florentines alike.
The third chapter introduces the child Baptist of the altarpiece and goes to great lengths to explain Medici appropriation of what was traditionally a civic image. Solum demonstrates that this artefact was the catalyst for a persistent new style. This chapter, along with the fourth, is where the author does most of her work linking the challenging image of the young, ascetic Baptist to Lucrezias spiritual anxieties, which were confirmed by Florence's famous archbishop, Antoninus. His advice, that the Medici required the utmost personal devotion and discipline to avoid falling into the spiritual vacuum whipped up by their temporal concerns, presents an obvious schematic for Solum to follow in building her narrative. Based on a variety of archival and literary sources, including Lucrezias own poetry, by this stage the picture of a pious woman wholly concerned for the spiritual well-being of herself and her family comes into sharp focus.
Chapter 5 explores nature as a devotional context and explains why Lippi, in conjunction with his patrons, chose to depict the Adoration in the forested setting that so distinguishes his altarpiece. Lucrezias affinity with the Camaldolese Order, whose hermitage was situated in a similarly wild and mountainous location, goes some way to establishing these links, although this section is certainly not as compelling as those that precede it.
Chapter 6 serves as the Conclusion, and importantly locates the altarpiece within the very specific devotional context for which it was ultimately intended, namely, as the culminating point of Benozzo Gozzolis magnificent fresco cycle depicting the Procession of the Magi. The ceremonial march of the procession, splendidly representative of the temporal world of the Medici, winds its way towards the serenity of Lippi's otherworldly Adoration, revealing to the viewer a great many of the spiritual struggles that Lucrezia and her family spent their lives negotiating.
This is an important study, not least because it affords Quattrocento women a role in a discourse from which they were more often than not excluded. It will of course interest art historians, but also scholars wishing better to understand female interaction with the devotional milieu of late Quattrocento Florence. Solum s narrative, which brings together the disparate elements of Lucrezias piety, is especially strong in this regard, as is its treatment of the very elite, very Medicean concerns that were constantly at the forefront of her mind; these defined her patronage as much as her womanhood, perhaps more so. Also praiseworthy is the author's erudite reading of the artwork itself. Lippi's altarpiece is challenging, but Solum's interpretation is both perceptive and convincing. In the end, this monograph gives a fascinating insight into the development and artistic manifestation of one woman's spiritual journey, and is particularly adept at placing this personal devotion within its broader, historical context. It lends its significant weight to the notion that the search for female patrons in Quattrocento Florence must continue.
Luke Bancroft, Monash University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2015|
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