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The Raphael of Ferrara: the inauguration of the Castello Estense in Ferrara as the Italian outstation of the Hermitage is being marked by the first exhibition devoted to Garofalo, reviewed by Peter Humfrey.

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According to his 18th-century biographer, Girolamo Barrufaldi, Garofalo was proclaimed by all the best 'professors and dilettanti to be the Raphael of the Ferrarese'. This accolade has proved to be a mixed blessing for the painter's reputation, since his figure style unquestionably looks awkward and rigid compared with the masterly fluency of Raphael himself. The comparison somehow also implies that once Garofalo had been exposed to the work of Raphael, presumably on a visit to Rome in about 1512-13, he adopted an academic classicism that he continued to pursue, virtually unchanged, until finally, according to Vasari, he lost his eyesight in about 1550. Nor has Garofalo seemed to share any of the wit or poetic imagination of his slightly younger Ferrarese contemporary Dosso. Yet, as this exhibition shows, Garofalo is a much more varied and inventive artist than he has usually been given credit for, and at his best his paintings are characterised by richly glowing colours, highly evocative and fantastic landscape backgrounds, and an extraordinary refinement of detail.

The occasion for the exhibition is the inauguration of the Castello Estense at the centre of Ferrara as the Italian outstation of the Hermitage Museum. Apart from the fact that the artist has never previously been the subject of a monographic exhibition, the choice of Garofalo is symbolically highly appropriate, since his Deposition became the very first Italian Old Master painting to arrive in Russia when it was presented to Peter the Great by his agent in Venice in 1720. Among other pictures by Garofalo lent to Ferrara by the Hermitage are three enormous canvases painted for the former convent of S. Bernardino, including a Wedding Feast at Cana, signed and dated 1531, once in the nuns' refectory (Fig. 2), and a Feeding of the Five Thousand that has been on deposit since 1931 in Khabarovsk, in the far east of Russia close to the Chinese border.

Despite the speed with which the exhibition has had to be organised, it includes a large number of loans from other European collections, some of them pictures that are very tittle known, and together they provide a reasonably balanced representation of the successive phases of the painter's long career. With the exception of a crucial early masterpiece, the Suxena Altarpiece, painted in 1514 directly after the trip to Rome, the mostly large-scale paintings housed in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in the nearby Palazzo dei Diamanti, many of them likewise altar paintings, have sensibly not been moved to the Castello. Although not officially part of the show, most of these key works have usefully been given entries in the exhibition catalogue; and since the lion's share of the entries are written by a single scholar, Michele Danieli, working closely with the co-organiser, Mauro Lucco, the catalogue has an unusually strong intellectual coherence. Indeed, in many respects, it may now be regarded as the primary work on the painter, although the 1993 monograph by Anna Maria Fioravanti Baraldi still provides the most comprehensive catalogue.

Particularly important is Lucco and Danieli's account of Garofalo's chronology, especially in the light of the publication by Adriano Franceschini in 1995 of the new documents relating to the monumental Costabili Polyplych, a joint work by Garofalo and Dosso (Pinacoteca Nazionale). The documents showed that the two painters were already at work on the polyptych in 1513-14--a full decade earlier than had previously been thought. The implications of this discovery for the understanding of the early career of Dosso were first discussed by Lucco and myself in APOLLO in 1998, and were developed in the catalogue of the Dosso exhibition of the same year.

Although the scope of these publications did not permit a proper exploration of the parallel implications for Dosso's companion, this task has now been undertaken by Lucco and Danieli. It is clear from their analysis that Dosso's influence on Garofalo is already evident, alongside that of Raphael, in the beautiful altarpiece, signed and dated 1513, from the small town of Argenta, in the province of Ferrara. From the same phase, rather than a decade later, is the Virgin and Child with St Michael and the Holy Family (Galleria Borghese, Rome): thus while the strongly Raphadesque Virgin closely resembles her sister from Argenta, the taste for thickly impasted fringes of drapery finds close parallels in the Costabili Polyptych. Slightly more surprising, but convincing, is the redating to the same early phase of the looming dose-up of St James from the Pitti, with its nocturnal lighting and its mysterious distant vignette of the arrest of Christ.

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The discovery of the Costabili documents, combined with Garofalo's considerate habit of signing and dating many of his most important works, ought by rights to have removed all problems relating to his stylistic development. This is not so, however, because as shown very clearly by the paintings on display, he responded during the course of his career to a wide range of influences and circumstances. Even his response to Raphael was not the result of a sudden, decisive conversion during a visit to Rome; rather, he seems already to have known his work at second hand, and continued to develop different aspects of his interest in the years that followed. Curiously, Garofalo seems not to have been affected by the splendid series of Bacchanals by Titian, which arrived in Ferrara between 1517 and 1523; and nor apparently did he notice Michelangelo when in Rome, or any subsequent north Italian manifestations of Michelangelism. He did, however, respond creatively to a wide range of other artists, from Boccaccio Boccaccino and Lorenzo Costa in his early career, to Fra Bartolomeo in the second decade, and to Giulio Romano in the 1530s and 40s--and even to Durer and Rogier van der Weyden. The Holy Family from Frankfurt, for example, tentatively dated by Danieli to the mid-1520s, is clearly based on a version of one of the panels of Rogier's Miraflores Triptych.

Garofalo, unlike Dosso, seems not to have been particularly favoured by Duke Alfonso, and much of his careeer was spent providing religious works for the churches of Ferrara and outlying towns. But his fortunes at court clearly improved with the accession of Ercole n in 1534, and several of his later works, including a virtually unpublished Allegory of Ercole d'Este (Fig. 1), show a new preciosity of figure style, complemented by enamelled surfaces and a frigid colour scheme, obviously influenced by the work of Giulio at the neighbouring court of Mantua. Scarcely less refined, and probably similarly reflecting the tastes of an aristocratic collector, is the jewel-like Christ and the Adulteress from Budapest, generally agreed to be a late work, but demonstrating an astonishing minuteness of handling for a painter about to succumb to blindness.

'Garofalo: Pittore della Ferrara Estense', Castello Esteme, Ferrara. 5 April-6 July (+39 [0] 49 2010089). Catalogue by Tatiana Kustodieva and Mauro Lucco, with Michele Danieli, ISBN 8861306974 (paper), 37 [euro] (Skira).

Peter Humfrey is Professor of Art History at the University of St Andrews.
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Title Annotation:EXHIBITIONS; Garofalo: Pittore della Ferrara Estense
Author:Humfrey, Peter
Publication:Apollo
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:1165
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