Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture 9789048541003

The concepts of purity and contamination preoccupied early modern Europeans fundamentally, structuring virtually every a

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Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture

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Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture

Visual and Material Culture, 1300-1700 A forum for innovative research on the role of images and objects in the late medieval and early modern periods, Visual and Material Culture, 1300-1700 publishes monographs and essay collections that combine rigorous investigation with critical inquiry to present new narratives on a wide range of topics, from traditional arts to seemingly ordinary things. Recognizing the fluidity of images, objects, and ideas, this series fosters cross-cultural as well as multi-disciplinary exploration. We consider proposals from across the spectrum of analytic approaches and methodologies. Series Editor Dr. Allison Levy, an art historian, has written and/or edited three scholarly books, and she has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association of University Women, the Getty Research Institute, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library of Harvard University, the Whiting Foundation and the Bogliasco Foundation, among others.

Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture

Edited by Lauren Jacobi and Daniel M. Zolli

Amsterdam University Press

The publication of this book is made possible by grants from the Massachusetts Institute of ­Technology’s HASS Fund and School of Architecture and Planning.

Cover illustration: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Las meninas, detail showing silver plate, ceramic cup, cochineal-dyed fabric, and carmine pigment, 1656, oil on canvas, 320.5 × 281.5 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Photo: © Museo Nacional del Prado / Art Resource, NY Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout 978 94 6298 869 9 isbn 978 90 4854 100 3 e-isbn doi 10.5117/9789462988699 nur 685 © L. Jacobi, D.M. Zolli / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2021 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Introduction: Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture 17 Lauren Jacobi and Daniel M. Zolli

1. Generation and Ruination in the Display of Michelangelo’s Non-finito 63 Carolina Mangone

2. The Sacrilege of Soot: Liturgical Decorum and the Black Madonna of Loreto 99 Grace Harpster

3. Sedimentary Aesthetics


4. ‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’: Purity and Contamination in Clement VII’s Emergency Currency


5. Tapestry as Tainted Medium: Charles V’s Conquest of Tunis


6. Bruegel’s Dirty Little Atoms


7. Leakage, Contagion, and Containment in Early Modern Venice


Christopher J. Nygren

Allison Stielau

Sylvia Houghteling

Amy Knight Powell

Lisa Pon

8. Contamination, Purification, Determinism: The Italian Pontine Marshes 267 Lauren Jacobi

9. Colonial Consecrations, Violent Reclamations, and Contested Spaces in the Spanish Americas


10. Contamination | Purification


Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn

Caroline A. Jones and Joseph Leo Koerner

Index 361

List of Illustrations

Figure 0.1.

Adam Kraft, Life-size self-portrait on the Eucharistic tabernacle, 1493–1496, sandstone with partial polychromy, St. Lorenz, Nuremberg. Photo: Uoeai1, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 Figure 0.2. Donatello, Marzocco, c. 1418–1420, macigno, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli Figure 0.3. Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1599, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Photo: © Museo Nacional del Prado / Art Resource, NY Figure 0.4. Georgius Agricola, Woodcut depicting iron smelting process, from De re metallica (1556), Book IX, p. 341. Photo: Library of Congress, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection Figure 0.5. Seal of the Wool Guild, fourteenth or fifteenth century, stone, Museo di San Marco, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli Figure 0.6. Letter with cloth swatches from the Datini Company of Barcelona sent in 1402 or 1403 to Prato (Italy), Archivio di Stato di Prato, Datini, busta 1173 codice 1620. Photo: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica ‘F. Datini,’ Prato. Reproduced with the permission of MiBACT. Further reproduction by any means is prohibited. Figure 0.7. Trial plate of Henry VIII, 1542 (one of a series received from the Pyx Chapel in 1837). Photo: The Royal Mint Museum, United Kingdom Figure 0.8. Giuliano da Sangallo (design) and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (realization), Ceiling of Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, gilded wood, 1450–1500, Rome. Photo: Alvesgaspar, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 Figure 0.9. Giambologna with Pietro Tacca, Equestrian monument of Ferdinando I de’ Medici (detail), 1602–1608, bronze, Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli Figure 0.10. Theodore de Bry, Ransom payment of Atahualpa brought to Francisco Pizarro at Cajamarca (Peru), engraving, from Americae Pars Sexta sive Historiae ab Hieronymi Benzoni […] (Frankfurt-am-Main: Theodore de Bry, 1596). Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC- rbdk d031_0006 Figure 0.11. Church of San Sisto, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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31 33

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Figure 0.12. Original placement of some ceramic bacini on the façade of the Church of San Sisto, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 38 Figure 0.13. Maiolica bowl produced in Tunisia used as a bacino in Pisa, c. end of the twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth century, Church of San Michele degli Scalzi, Pisa, now in the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 39 Figure 0.14. Titian, Portrait of the Pigment Merchant Alvise dalla Scala, oil on canvas 1561–1562, Gemäldegaleries Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. Photo: BPK, Berlin / 40 Art Resource, NY Figure 0.15. Lucas Cranach the Elder, woodcut illustration for the Passional Christi und Antichristi of Martin Luther (Wittenberg: Johann Grünenberg, 1521). Photo: Courtesy of the British Library43 Figure 0.16. Jörg Breu, woodcut illustration of the ‘Idol of Calicut,’ in Ludovico di Varthema, Die Ritterlich und lobwürdig Reisz […] (Strassburg: J. Knobloch, 1516). Photo: © Österreichische 44 Nationalbibliothek, Vienna: 72.T.75 Figure 0.17. Juan de Roelas, Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, 1616. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid, Spain. Photo: HIP / Art Resource, NY 45 Figure 0.18. Juan de Roelas, Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, detail of nursing mother and Sevillan citizens. Photo: HIP / Art 46 Resource, NY Figure 0.19. Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, 1560–1654, Cuzco. Photo: Diego Delso courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 48 Figure 0.20. Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (armor) and Daniel Hopfer (etching), Cuirass and Tassets, steel and leather, ca. 1510–1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art 53 Figure 1.1. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Medici Chapel (New Sacristy) with the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici with statues of Day and Night and the unfinished wall with statues of the Madonna and Child, St. Cosmas (by Giovanni Antonio Montorsoli) and St. Damian (by Raffaello da Montelupo), 1520–1534, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo: © Scala / Art Resource, NY 64

List of Illustrations 

Bernardo Buontalenti, First chamber of the Grotta Grande with Michelangelo’s Slaves, stucco relief by Pietro Mati, and frescos by Bernardino Poccetti, 1583–1593, Giardino di Boboli, Florence. Photo: © Vanni Archive / Art Resource, NY Figure 1.3. Michelangelo Buonarroti, David/Apollo, 1530s, marble, 1.46 m, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Photo: © Erich Kessing / Art Resource Figure 1.4. Maarten van Heemskerck, Sculpture Garden of Jacopo Galli, 1532–1536, pen and brown ink, brown wash, 13 × 20.5 cm, From the Roman Sketchbook I, Inv. 79 D 2, fol. 72 recto, Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Photo: © bpk Bildagentur / Kupferstichkabinett / Joerg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY Figure 1.5. Maarten van Heemskerck, St. Luke Painting the Virgin, c. 1545, oil on wood, 207 × 144 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY Figure 1.6. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florence Pietà, 1547–1555, marble, 266 cm, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. Photo: © Vanni Archive / Art Resource, NY Figure 1.7. Cherubino Alberti, Pietà (reversed) after the statue by Michelangelo set in a landscape, c. 1580, engraving, 46.7 × 31 cm, British Museum, inv. no. 1874,0613.600, asset no. 220359001. Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum Figure 1.8. Imitator of Michelangelo, Palestrina Pietà, after 1597(?), marble, 253 cm, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. Photo: © Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY Figure 1.9. Francesco Contini, Altar and wall opening of funerary crypt, c. 1667, Church of Santa Rosalia, Palestrina. Photo: © Carolina Mangone Figure 2.1. Anonymous, The Madonna of Loreto, late fourteenth century (destroyed in 1921), wood, 93 cm. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved Figure 2.2. Interior of the Holy House of Loreto. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved Figure 2.3. Leopoldo Celani and Enrico Quattrini, The Madonna of Loreto, 1922, wood, Basilica of the Holy House, Loreto. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved


Figure 1.2.

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82 83 85

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Figure 2.4. Anonymous, The Madonna of Oropa, wood, 132 cm, Sanctuary of Oropa, Biella. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Archivio del Santuario di Oropa Figure 2.5. Attributed to Nicolò Trometta, The Virgin of Loreto with Angels, early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 242 × 154 cm, Museo Civico di Urbania. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Museo Civico e Biblioteca Comunale di Urbania Figure 2.6. Attributed to Avanzino Nucci, The Virgin of Loreto with Angels, late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 176 × 166 cm, Pinacoteca Diocesana, Senigallia. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Ufficio Arte Sacra e Beni Culturali della Diocesi di Senigallia Figure 2.7. Carlo Saraceni, The Virgin of Loreto, late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 170 × 125 cm, San Bernardo alle Terme, Rome, patrimony of the Fondo Edifici di Culto. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Direzione Centrale per l’Amministrazione del Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero dell’Interno Figure 3.1. Alessandro Allori, Crucifixion, 1602, oil on lapis lazuli, 17.1 × 13.5 cm. Private Collection. Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc. © 2018 Figure 3.2. Antonio Tempesta, Pearl Fishing, before 1618, oil on lapis lazuli, 30 × 50 cm. Photo: BPK / RMN / Paris, Musée du Louvre / Jean Schormans Figure 3.3. Cristofano Gaffuri (designed by Jacopo Ligozzi), The Harbor of Livorno, 1601–1604, inlay of lapis lazuli and other hard stones, 107 × 94 cm, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Photo: akg-images / Rabatti & Domingie Figure 3.4. Filippo Napoletano, Jonah and the Whale, c. 1610–1620, oil on pietra d’Arno, 37 × 90 cm, Florence, Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Photo: Christopher Nygren Figure 3.5. ‘Serrated’ pietra d’Arno, 26 × 9.5 cm. Photo: Gpierlu, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Figure 3.6. Antonio Tempesta, Landscape with Hunt of Wild Boar, c. 1610, oil on dendrite, 40.7 × 31.2 cm. Photo: © KHM-Museumsverband / Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Figure 3.7. Filippo Napoletano, Miracle of St. Francis Xavier and the Crab in the Spice Islands, before 1619, oil on pietra d’Arno, 35.5 × 47 cm, Florence, Istituto di Studi Etruschi. Photo: Antonio Quattrone




120 134 136

138 141 142 144


List of Illustrations 


Figure 3.8. Franceso Ligozzi, Dante and Virgil in the Inferno, c. 1620, oil on pietra d’Arno, 31 × 33 cm, Florence, Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dura. Photo: Christopher Nygren, artwork in the public domain 148 Figure 4.1. Ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 42 mm, 36.1 g. Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. Pont Clemens VII A/11 158 Figure 4.2. Ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 37 × 40 mm, 36, Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. Pont 159 Clemens VII 12 Figure 4.3. Half-ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 35 × 33 mm, 17.72 g. Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. 160 Pont Clemens VII 12/c Figure 4.4. The Nuremberg goldsmith Kunz Roth at his workbench, 1543, watercolor with red highlight on parchment, 250 × 201 mm, from the Hausbücher of the Nuremberg Zwölfbrüderstiftung. Landauer I, Amb. 279.2°, f. 30v. Photo: 162 Stadtbibliothek im Bildungscampus Nürnberg Figure 4.5. Attributed to Francesco Bartoli, drawing of a gold pectoral, made for Pope Clement VII by Benvenuto Cellini, profile showing height of gems, grotesques in relief and enameled foliate scrolls, 1729, watercolor with bodycolor, over black chalk, 180 × 83 mm, London, British Museum, inv. no. 1893,0411.10.4. © The Trustees of the British Museum 168 Figure 4.6. Benvenuto Cellini, Portrait medal of Pope Clement VII with Peace Igniting Arms, 1534, silver, 38 mm, Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. no. 6215. © Photo SCALA, Florence 178 Figure 5.1. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker (designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen), Map of the Mediterranean, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL 186 Figure 5.2. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker (designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen), Map of the Mediterranean, detail of the cartographer, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL187 Figure 5.3. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker, designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen. Map of the Mediterranean, detail of


Figure 5.4. Figure 5.5.

Figure 6.1. Figure 6.2. Figure 6.3.

Figure 6.4.

Figure 6.5.

Figure 6.6. Figure 6.7. Figure 6.8.


galleys, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL189 Artisan’s recipe book for dyeing wool, 1680, with supplementary papers from 1653–1762, manuscript with fabric samples, leaf 21v. Photo: Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (910012) 196 Unknown workshop in Brussels (designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst), Gluttony from the Seven Deadly Sins series, detail of Silenus’s donkey, c. 1550–1560, wool, silk and silver- and silver-gilt-wrapped threads, 388.6 × 678.2 cm. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Frederic R. Coudert 198 Jr. in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh A. Murray, 1957 (57.62) Pieter Serwouters, frontispiece to Titus Lucretius Carus, De rerum natura (Amsterdam: G. Janssonium, 1620). Photo: 216 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Michael Burghers, frontispiece to Titus Lucretius Carus, Of the Nature of Things, In Six Books, I, trans. by Thomas Creech 217 (London: Warner, 1722). Photo: Columbia University Giordano Bruno, De triplici minimo et mensura (Frankfurt: Joannem Wechelum & Petrum Fisherum, 1591), p. 113. Photo: Courtesy of Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Rome licensed 218 under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Mountain Landscape, c. 1553, pen and brown ink on paper, 23.6 × 34.3 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. 19728. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art 219 Resource, NY Johannes and Lucas van Doetechum after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Large Alpine Landscape, c. 1555/1557, etching and engraving, 36.8 × 46.8 cm. Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington 220 Abraham Ortelius, ‘Galliae regni potentiss’ in Theatrum orbis terrarum (Antwerp: Coppenium Diesth, 1574). Photo: State Library Victoria 221 Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Rabbit Hunt (detail), 1560, etching, 21.4 × 28.9 cm. Photo: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 222 Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert after Maarten van Heemskerck, Heraclitus and Democritus, 1557, engraving and etching, 19 × 25.9 cm. Photo: Bibliothèque municipal de Lyon (N16COO000916)223

List of Illustrations 

Figure 6.9. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1563, oil on panel, 35 × 55 cm. Photo: Sammlung Oskar Reinhart ‘Am Römerholz,’ Winterthur Figure 6.10. Lucas van Valckenborch, Winter Landscape (January or February), 1586, oil on canvas, 115.5 × 198 cm. Photo: © KHMMuseumsverband / Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Figure 6.11. Johannes Kepler, Strena, seu, De niue sexangula (Frankfurt: Tampach, 1611), p. 10, Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Photo: University of Toronto Figure 6.12. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Winter Landscape with Skaters and Birds Trap, 1565, oil on oak panel, 37 × 55.5 cm. Photo: Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium Figure 6.13. Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice, c. 1625, oil on panel, 39.2 × 77 cm. Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund. Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington Figure 6.14. Jan van Goyen, Heraclitus and Democritus, 1623, black chalk on paper, 11.1 × 16.4 cm. Photo: RKD / Christie’s (New York City) 2016-01-27, nr. 43 Figure 6.15. Jan van Goyen, Winter Scene with Huis te Merwede near Dordrect, 1638, oil on panel, 39 × 61 cm. Photo: Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden Figure 7.1. Mapping of Venetian neighborhoods of 1) Lucchesi, 2) ‘Turks,’ 3) Albanians, 4) Tuscans, 5) Persians, 6) Germans, 7) Armenians, 8) Greeks, 9) Jews, onto Jacopo de’ Barbari’s 1500 Bird’s Eye View of Venice. Photo: from Donatella Calabi, ‘Gli stranieri e la città’, I, p. 916, figure 1, courtesy Donatella Calabi Figure 7.2. Diagram of urban seclusion zones. Photo: from Loïc Wacquant, ‘Designing Urban Seclusion in the Twenty-First Century,’ courtesy of Loïc Wacquant Figure 7.3. Map of Venice’s Ghetto Nuovo (in green), Ghetto Vecchio (in blue) and Ghetto Nuovissimo (in purple). Photo: map data © 2018 Google Figure 7.4. Benedetto Bordone, Isola del Lazzaretto Vecchio (circled in green) and Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo (circled in blue) from Libro […] nel qual si ragiona de tutte l’isole del mondo (Venice: Nicolò d’Aristotile detto Zoppino, 1528), ff. XXIX verso and XXX recto, woodcut. Photo: courtesy Renaissance Exploration Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, Figure 7.5. Stone marker, 1631, Jewish Cemetery, Lido. Photo: Lisa Pon


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Figure 8.1. Figure 8.2. Figure 8.3.

Figure 8.4.

Figure 8.5. Figure 9.1.

Figure 9.2.

Figure 9.3. Figure 9.4. Figure 9.5. Figure 10.1.


Leonardo da Vinci, Map of the Pontine Marshes, c. 1514–1515, 27.7 × 40 cm, RCIN 912684. Photo: Alinari / Art Resource, NY 269 Cesare Nebbia, Archangel Michael appearing to Sixtus V, Gallery of Maps, Vatican, fresco. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of David Castor 273 Map illustrating the hydraulic problem in the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes (key: 1–5, canals; 6, boundary of the Agro Pontino; 7, boundary of the Pontino (east) and Piscinara (west) districts), scale 1:400,000. Photo: Ruth Sterling Frost, ‘The Reclamation of the Pontine Marshes,’ Geographical Review 24, no. 4 (Oct., 1934): 584–595, p. 585, 276 courtesy of the American Geographical Society Benito Mussolini working to reclaim the Pontine Marshes, from L’llustrazione Italiana, Year LXV, no. 28 (10 July, 1938). Photo: akg-images / New Picture Library / Biblioteca Ambrosiana277 Construction of canals in the Pontine Marshes. Photo: Courtesy of the Archivio Consorzio di Bonifica dell’Agro 278 Pontino, Fondo Mazzia Fred Kabotie and Eleanor Roosevelt, installation view of the exhibition ‘Indian Art of the United States’, 1941, photograph. Photo: © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by 284 SCALA / Art Resource, NY Rattle made from Catholic cross finial, late seventeenth century, copper with molded decoration and gold leaf, 6.5 × 2.9 × 3.5 cm, Awatovi. Photo: © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM# 38-120-10/17782 (digital file #99200023) 292 Church and friary of San Gregorio de Abó, seventeenth century, New Mexico. Photo: Carolyn Dean 298 Qurikancha temple-Santo Domingo church and friary, c. 1400–1700 (Imperial Inka through Spanish colonial period), Cusco, Peru. Photo: Carolyn Dean 300 Monument to the Martyrs of San Bernardo de Awatovi, 2013. Photo: courtesy of Suzanne Hammons, Diocese of Gallup, NM 307 Albrecht Altdorfer, Virgin Seeking Christ in the Temple, c. 1519–1520, engraving, 6.1 × 4 cm, INV190875, accession no. G31. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of William Gray from the collection of Francis Calley Gray, © President and Fellows of Harvard College 316

List of Illustrations 


Figure 10.2. Picabia, La Sainte Vierge, as reproduced in 391, Paris, n. 12, March 1920, p. 3. Photo: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 317 Figure 10.3. Albrecht Altdorfer, Entrance Hall of the Regensburg Synagogue, 1519, etching, 16.4 × 11.6 cm. Photo: © bpk Bildagentur / Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany / Art Resource, NY 326 Figure 10.4. Albrecht Altdorfer, Interior of the Regensburg Synagogue, 1519, etching, 17 × 12.6 cm. Photo: Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY 326 Figure 10.5. Michael Ostendorfer, The Pilgrimage to the Beautiful Virgin at Regensburg, c. 1520, woodcut, 58.2 × 38.9 cm. Photo: 329 © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Art Resource, NY Figure 10.6. Albrecht Altdorfer, The Beautiful Virgin of Regensburg, c. 1519–1520, woodcut printed from six blocks in red, green, blue, light orange, brown, and black, 33.9 × 24.6 cm, Rosenwald Collection, 1962.5.1. Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of 334 Art, Washington Figure 10.7. Albrecht Altdorfer, Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, c. 1519–1520, engraving, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, accession no. P799. Photo: Harvey D. Parker Collection 334 – Harvey Drury Parker Fund Figure 10.8. Picabia, La Sainte Vierge (‘Version A’), c. 1920, ink on paper with colored pencil. Chancellerie des Universités de Paris – Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris, Photo: 337 © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Figure 10.9. Picabia, La Sainte Vierge (‘Version 3’), 1920, ink on paper, marked for cropping and reproduction in 391. Paris, Musée National d’Art Modern. Photo: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 338 Figure 10.10. Photograph of the statue at Lourdes proposed in a mock-up design for the cover of l’immaculée conception, Association Atelier André Breton, Collection item #5660010075504. Photo: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris342 Figure 10.11. André Breton and Paul Éluard, cover as published of L’Immaculée Conception (Paris: Éditions surrealistes, 1930). Photo: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / © André Breton and Paul Éluard, courtesy Association Atelier André Breton, 342



Figure 10.12. Salvador Dalí, The Lugubrious Game, illustration from Georges Bataille, ‘Jeu lugubre,’ Documents (‘Archéologie, Beaux-Arts, Ethnographie, Variétés’) No. 7 (December, 1929): 369–372, p. 371 Figure 10.13. Installation photograph of Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937, showing Max Beckmann’s Descent from the Cross (1917) at the center of this arrangement, possibly in the Munich venue of the traveling exhibition. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Staatliche Museum, Berlin / Art Resource, NY and © Artists Rights Society (ARS)



Introduction: Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture Lauren Jacobi and Daniel M. Zolli

‘Dirt offends against order.’ With this assertion, appearing on the first page of her now-classic study on pollution, the British social anthropologist Mary Douglas announced her conviction that attending to dirt – or, more precisely, the aversion to it – could afford uncommon insight into how societies understood, assembled, and produced order. Published in 1966, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo offered a potent structural analysis of cultural notions of cleanliness.1 Those empowered to define dirt not only determined social norms, Douglas argued, but they distinguished what (or who) fell within those norms from what did not. To create rules about ‘dirt’ then – an elastic metaphor, in Douglas’s schema, referring to ‘all the rejected elements of ordered systems’ – was to define order, a categorization dependent, necessarily, on the transgressive status of dirt: deemed restless, volatile, ready to chip away at order’s defenses.2 Like binary stars locked in a gravitational orbit, contamination and purity were, for Douglas, always inseparably dependent. The present volume partly grows from a belief that Douglas’s insights can be productively extended into the study of early modern Europe. To be sure, early modern Europeans were not the first, nor the last, people for whom contamination and purity were preoccupations that structured culture. One of Douglas’s points, in fact, is that pollution-consciousness is a hallmark of many societies seeking to This project originated in a conference held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016. The editors would like to thank that event’s original participants, its generous and receptive audience, as well as MIT and the New England Renaissance Conference for their encouragement, in particular Arindam Dutta, Touba Ghadessi, and Gen Liang. In compiling this volume, we benef ited from the unflagging interest, vision, and intelligence of Erika Gaffney and Allison Levy, and the constructive criticisms of two anonymous peer reviewers. For help editing the manuscript, thanks are due to Aidan Flynn and Kayla Kane. We also thank MIT’s HASS Fund and the School of Architecture and Planning for supporting the production of this book. 1 Douglas, Purity and Danger. 2 Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 44.

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_intro


L auren Jacobi and Daniel M. Zolli

construct social order: her own examples, from the Hebrews following Leviticus to the Lele people of sub-Saharan Africa to her own postwar Britain, capture this. Nevertheless, it is demonstrably the case that throughout the European subcontinent roughly between the years 1400 and 1750 CE questions surrounding what was pure and impure – distinctions between the clean and unclean, sameness and difference, self and other, organization and its absence – were of paramount concern. The Latin word contaminare comes from com-tangere (‘to touch or bring together’). The word suggests tactility, contact, and – etymologically at least – it excludes purity, depending on one entity’s exposure to, its mixing with, outside or foreign influences. During this period, Europe saw vast numbers of bodies and things in motion. It witnessed not only increased trade, but European exploitation and exploration unfolded on a hitherto unimaginable scale, not to mention frequent irruptions of disease, as the very channels along which people, objects, and ideas circulated also carried dangerous pathogens. It was also a time when European Christians – aiming to expand or to protect their religious purity – forcibly expelled, enclosed, or converted vast swathes of people deemed religiously Other; and when they initiated an inquisition to combat heretical ideas, which occurred against a backdrop of fierce intra-European conflicts over religion. All of this was aided, of course, by the rise of print technology, which allowed ideas, some of which threatened existing power structures, to reach ever larger and geographically diverse audiences. Contamination and purity were, in short, everywhere in early modern European society, in countless guises, shaping the lives of Europeans – and those whose lives they touched – fundamentally. These are hardly new ideas. Scholars, in the last few decades alone, have tracked the role that contamination and purity played in early modern debates ranging from godliness and sin, cleanliness, gender, and ethnicity, and in countless other domains. Less thoroughly studied, though, is how the intertwined categories informed European approaches to art and the built environment, both as they were created and experienced. It is precisely this lacuna that the present volume aims to address. Which individuals and institutions, it asks, determined what was pure or polluted? And what sorts of politics, ideologies, and expertise motivated and structured their choices? What kinds of interpretive slippages happened when objects or materials, pure or otherwise, insinuated themselves into different cultures and contexts? In what contexts did purity and contamination – in art and architecture – clash or coexist? And when did they hybridize? Taking questions like these as its point of departure, this volume addresses many of the myriad ways in which concerns for purity and contamination shaped the artistic and architectural pursuits of early modern Europeans. Its aim is neither to treat these phenomena comprehensively nor to fit them within an all-encompassing framework. Given the sheer extent, variety, and particularity of examples the period

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offers, such an endeavor would be neither productive nor possible. In assembling this volume, we have instead asked contributors to focus their essays around historical instances in which purity and contamination assumed particular salience: in the materials that early modern actors chose; in how they manipulated them; in the spatial practices they adopted; and in the responses – visual, verbal, textual, physiological – that such activities provoked. To this end, the volume’s ten essays present materials drawn from diverse periods and places in multiple practices, teasing out the contradictions and complexities inherent in early modern understandings of purity and contamination, and testing the methodological strengths and limitations of the two categories. While such an approach has ensured variety, above all else, things do emerge from a reading of the whole. What follows is an anatomy of several (though by no means all) of the volume’s organizing ideas. Our objective in writing these remarks has not only been to provide context for individual chapters, but also to offer additional lines of argumentation that may allow for a more expanded understanding of the volume’s theme. Just as the topics of the essays are diverse, so do the essays themselves encompass more than one idea.

Artistic and Architectural Practices, Clean and Unclean One symptom of the transformations occurring throughout early modern Europe was society’s acute preoccupation with cleanliness. In recent years, cultural historians like Douglas Biow and Dominique Laporte, many of them in dialogue with Mary Douglas’s work, have mapped the changing attitudes in early modern society toward hygiene and public health, their sources, as well as the practical measures that Europe’s citizens took to expel dirt and filth.3 Some of these measures – like the retrofitting of palaces with plumbing and latrines, the increased manufacture of soap, or the development, also throughout the subcontinent, of efficient sewage systems – arose in response to the threat of disease, and particularly to (highly contagious) outbreaks of plague. Others – like the emphasis, in certain quarters, on wearing fresh clothes, using refined eating utensils and, more generally, on learning polished etiquette – reflect a belief that physical cleanliness brought order and dignity to civil society. 4 3 Biow, The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy, esp. pp. 1–52. See also Stallybrass and White, The Politics of Transgression; Laporte, A History of Shit; Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness; Mucciarelli, ‘Igiene, salute e pubblico decoro nel medioevo,’ pp. 15–84. 4 The locus classicus on the civilizing process in early modern Europe remains Elias, The Civilizing Process. Of the many courtesy and etiquette treatises to emerge in the early modern period, the Galateo, by the Florentine humanist and cleric Giovanni della Casa, published posthumously in 1558, is perhaps


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Such priorities are paralleled in humanist campaigns, particularly in Italy, to cleanse Latin of the barbarisms it had absorbed in the preceding centuries: of the ‘barbaric speech,’ as one Roman humanist put it, that had ‘polluted’ and ‘dirtied’ pure and ordered diction following the peninsula’s invasion by the Goths and Vandals.5 Such linguistic untaintedness endeavored, moreover, to counter the quests of Dante and others to write prose in a diction considered to be ‘vulgar.’6 Evangelists of linguistic purity – Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo Bruni, Pietro Bembo, and Poggio Bracciolini among them – saw themselves as providing a model of sanitized speech that would contribute to civic order in the present, and which could endure well into the future. Crucially for this volume’s purposes, hygiene and its social connotations were also matters of artistic and architectural concern. To cite just one example, they were fundamental to the visual arts’ – and principally painting’s – claim to belong among the liberal arts, which hinged, among other things, on what might be called manual hygiene: the idea that art was less manual labor – materially dirtying one’s hands and body – than intellectual exercise. As late as 1591, the Genovese painter and nobleman Giovanni Battista Paggi would write that no artist should stain ‘their hands [by touching] paint,’ but that if they did, though disgraceful, the act was born from need, as when a doctor handled a sick patient.7 Writing more than a century earlier, Leon Battista Alberti bemoaned the degradation of the architect’s work as it passed from his mind to those who constructed the building. ‘The brevity of human life and the scale of the work,’ he opined, ‘ensure that scarcely any large building is ever completed by the same man who begins it… something begun well by another [can be] perverted, or corrupted, and finished incorrectly.’8 most acutely focused on cleanliness. On della Casa’s tract, and its hygienic investments, see Biow, The Culture of Cleanliness, esp. pp. 17–24. 5 Cited in Celenza, The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance, p. 113. 6 Biow, The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy, p. 31. 7 ‘Dico che non è necessario toccare i colori con le mani, ma che quando vengano tocchi, più per disgrazia che per bisogno, pregiudica tanto alla nobilità delle leggi, se, mentre un dottore scrivegli vien tocco, o sia per caso, o per volontà.’ In Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scultura ed architetti, I, p. 74. Cited in Sohm, ‘Maniera and the Absent Hand,’ 107. In a parallel vein, the Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius, in his tradition-breaking anatomical treatise De humani corporis fabrica (first published in Latin in Basel in 1543), famously advocated that physicians perform their own autopsies, in order to cleanse ancient texts of error by ‘handling the [cadaver] with [their] own hands.’ In the accompanying text, Vesalius complains of ‘that detestable procedure by which [those physicians] aloft in their highchair [croak] things they have never investigated,’ allowing that Vesalius defined his modernity and medical progress by a willingness to get his hands dirty. On Vesalius and hands-on dissection, see for example, Schultz, Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy; Ferrari, ‘Public Anatomy Lessons and the Carnival’; Kusukawa, ‘The Uses of Pictures in the Formation of Learned Knowledge.’ 8 Alberti, On the Art of Building, pp. 318–319. See also Trachtenberg, Building in Time, pp. 72–73.

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Others took a less jaundiced view of craft, however, even embracing its dirtier dimensions. Fellow artists alleged, for example, that the Venetian painter Titian ‘painted more with his f ingers than with his brushes’ when f inishing a work.9 And in one of his more memorable sonnets, Michelangelo Buonarroti cataloged, only partly in jest, the grotesque bodily contortions he endured to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He bent himself ‘like a harpy’s breast,’ and, later in the poem, ‘like a Syrian bow.’ His brush, he added, ‘with its nonstop dripping from above, [transformed his face into] a richly decorated pavement,’ his messy countenance the very antithesis of the pure Edenic bodies he rendered.10 In his early seventeenth-century treatise, meanwhile, the northern Italian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548–1616) advised would-be practitioners to develop a sensory – indeed bodily – understanding of stones’ properties: not only by seeing and touching them, but by learning their odor, and even their taste.11 In the nearlife-size self-portrait that he interpolated beneath his tabernacle for the church of St. Lorenz in Nuremberg (1493–1496), moreover, the German sculptor Adam Kraft outfitted himself with a chisel and mallet, shop clothes, and a turban that protected his hair from dirt (Fig. 0.1).12 Whereas earlier in the century, Leonardo da Vinci had adduced the ‘sweat,’ ‘dust,’ ‘mud,’ and ‘bodily fatigue’ accompanying stone carving as proof of sculpture’s intellectual inferiority to painting, Kraft wore it as a badge of pride.13 Nor was the sculptor unique in fashioning himself thus, as self-portraits of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filarete, Michelangelo, and countless others attest. Also noteworthy is that the most consistent physical contexts in which making occurred – workshops – were often contaminated, socially and intellectually, by those outside the ranks of professional artists and architects. As Pamela Long has argued, the very development of architectural and engineering practices in the early modern period may have occurred precisely because these sites acted as ‘trading zones,’ places where meaningful communication and debate happened between 9 ‘Ed il Palma [i.e., Palma il Giovane] mi attestava, per verità, che nei finimenti [Tiziano] dipingeva più con le dita che co’ pennelli.’ In Boschini, Le Ricche minere della pittura venziana, p. 712. Cited in Sohm, ‘Maniera and the Absent Hand,’ 107. 10 ‘I bend my breast like a harpy’s, and, with its nonstop dripping from above, my brush makes my face a richly decorated floor’ (e ‘l petto fo d’arpia, e ‘l pennel sopra ‘l viso tuttavia mel fa, gocciando, un ricco pavimento). We derive our translation, with minor alterations in syntax, from Barkan, Michelangelo, p. 87. 11 Scamozzi, L’idea dell’architettura universale, II, pp. 194–195. Full citation appears in Payne, ‘Materiality, Crafting, and Scale in Renaissance Architecture,’ 385. Scamozzi’s opinions have a long prehistory dating to well before the early modern period, on which see, for example, Smith, The Body of the Artisan. 12 Schlief, ‘Nicodemus and Sculptors.’ 13 For Leonardo’s remarks, part of his well-known paragone, or comparison, of the sister arts of painting and sculpture, see Farago, Leonardo da Vinci’s Paragone, esp. pp. 256–257.


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Figure 0.1. Adam Kraft, Life-size self-portrait on the Eucharistic tabernacle, 1493–1496, sandstone with partial polychromy, St. Lorenz, Nuremberg. Photo: Uoeai1, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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university-educated people and those hailing from practical or technical vocations.14 That the Venetian government routinely hosted visiting dignitaries at its foundries at the Arsenal, and at its glassmaking facilities on Murano, moreover, suggests an inclination, even among the noble classes for whom hygiene was a way of life, to valorize artisanal labor – here enfolded into the image of the state.15 Echoes of this idea are also found in the Paduan humanist Pomponius Gauricus’s tract De sculptura (c. 1504). While he preferred not to discuss the ‘dirty and smoky’ aspects of bronze casting, Gauricus wrote, this owed less to his disdain for ‘clay, manure, coal, and bellows’ than to his certainty that his readers – humanists themselves – would already have known about them from their own visits to shops.16 Where artistic and architectural labor and know-how were concerned, then, opinions about purity and contamination – the clean and unclean – were a matter of perspective. Concerns about appropriate practice are likewise the subject of the volume’s opening essay, in which Carolina Mangone considers the corpus of sculptures that Michelangelo left unfinished – known to his peers, and to us today, as non-finiti. Against a triumphant reading of these works, one that sees their abstract and indeterminate surfaces as precursors of modernism, Mangone trains her attention on the interpretive challenges that these works posed for contemporaries accustomed to seeing finish – clean facture – as the benchmark for aesthetic perfection. Later collectors of these non-finiti, Mangone shows, sought to underplay – and even to normalize – Michelangelo’s chisel-marked surfaces through their display. If prevailing expectations for finish deemed such imperfection inappropriate for interior display, a species of contamination, the decisions about how and where owners exhibited the sculptures in gardens, grottoes, courtyards, workshops – all liminal contexts – rendered the lack of finish more logical: aligning their imperfect state with the generative processes of nature and the reality of the ruination of time.

Matter, Pure and Impure Another guiding thought throughout this volume’s essays is that early modern actors saw materials, too, in terms of purity and contamination. Often with pride, the pure stuff of art and architecture could be yoked national or local identities: limewood in southern Germany; alabaster in Spain; Istrian limestone in Venice and along 14 Long, Engineering the Eternal City, p. 4. Long derives her concept of the ‘trading zone’ from Peter Gallison. See Gallison, ‘The Trading Zone,’ pp. 781–844. 15 On official visits to Murano and the Arsenale, see Fulin, ‘Saggio del catalogo dei codici di Emmanuele A. Cicogna,’ esp. 95; Zecchin, Vetro e vetrai di Murano, II, pp. 233–234; and, most recently, Neilson, ‘Demonstrating Ingenuity,’ esp. 65. 16 Gauricus, De scultura, p. 223; on Gauricus’s remark, see Smith, The Body of the Artisan, p. 81.


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Figure 0.2. Donatello, Marzocco, c. 1418–1420, macigno, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli

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the Adriatic coast; travertine in Rome; marble from the Apuan Alps inland from Carrara; or the Tuscan macigno used by sculptors and architects for structural and decorative purposes. So tethered was this last substance to Florentine identity, in fact, that Dante invoked the bluish-gray sandstone to explain the character of the city’s people: when their ancestors descended from the hills of Fiesole, he noted, they retained ‘something of the mountains and the macigno’ – they were, in other words, tough and unyielding.17 It can be no coincidence, then, that several of the most prominent civic sculptures in Florence, including Donatello’s Marzocco and his Dovizia – located at the town hall and marketplace, respectively – openly advertised the macigno from which they were made (Fig. 0.2). A similar logic obtained in Caravaggio’s palette, predominated by earth pigments (red and yellow ochres, umber) and carbon blacks – many of which could be locally sourced, allowing that his pigments, like the locals he used as models in his paintings, were of a distinctly Roman provenance (Fig. 0.3).18 Worked immaculately, meanwhile, pure materials could connote physical hygiene, flawless genealogy, or spiritual piety. According to his biographer, the Castilian wood sculptor Gregorio Fernandez (1576–1636) even treated making itself as a pious act: praying, fasting, and taking the sacrament before commencing a work.19 And in his vita of Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455), Giorgio Vasari cited the popular belief that the Dominican friar and painter ‘never touched his brushes without first praying.’20 Analyses of Fra Angelico’s palette have shown, moreover, that although the painter used lapis lazuli sparingly, he applied it copiously, in solid f ields of color, when representing the Virgin Mary’s robe – as though the costly and exotic pigment, enabled by his art, could convey her own pure state.21 In still other contexts, immaculately worked materials could signal – quite simply – artistic excellence. When Michelangelo signed his early career tour de force, the Pietà (1498–1499), with the imperfect tense Latin verb faciebat (‘in the process of being made’), for example, he carried this idea to prideful extremes: 17 Dante, La Commedia secondo l’antica vulgata, II, p. 249. For this source, and for an excellent discussion of macigno and its local symbolism, see Harris, ‘Donatello’s Polychromed Sculpture,’ pp. 67–77, with additional bibliography. 18 On Caravaggio’s palette, see, for example, Cole, ‘Arti povere, 1300–1650,’ esp. p. 259; Langdon, Caravaggio: A Life. 19 Palomino, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, III, p. 70. Cited in Neilson, ‘Carving Life,’ 226. 20 ‘Dicono alcuni, che fra’ Giovanni non harebbe messo mano ai penelli, se prima non havesse fatto orazione. Non fece mai Crocifisso che non si bagnasse le gote di lagrime.’ Vasari, Le vite, I, p. 363. 21 See, for example, Cunha, Le lapis lazuli; Bucklow, ‘Lapis lazuli,’ pp. 468–471. Following a longstanding tradition, early modern actors also invoked pure materials, metaphorically, to signal virtues: one’s intentions could be pellucid, if not literally translucent; one’s skin as smooth as alabaster, or as white as ivory. See Jung, ‘Crystalline Wombs and Pregnant Hearts.’


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Figure 0.3. Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1599, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Photo: © Museo Nacional del Prado / Art Resource, NY

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reassuring beholders that, no matter how perfect his statue appeared, he could have made it better yet.22 Where pure materials might be associated with nature, their contaminated counterparts more often aligned with culture. Indeed, the human hand was sometimes viewed as a polluting agent capable of convoluting God’s message. One motivation for the iconoclastic fury that erupted throughout Europe in the middle decades of the sixteenth century, after all, was the idea that artistic skill, carried to immoderate extremes, had become an idolatrous distraction from art’s devotional purpose. Elsewhere, contaminated materials might be likened to witchcraft, foreignness, or social deviance. When Alberti lamented the practice of painting architectural models (‘lewdly [dressed] with the allurement of painting’), for example, or when, a century later, Benvenuto Cellini ridiculed painted sculpture as a ‘deception of farmers,’ they aligned themselves with a view, prevalent among certain Florentines, that polychromy defiled the truth inherent to materials.23 Yet, contemporaneously, in central Italy Guido Mazzoni produced celebrated, multi-figural sculptural groups in polychromy; and in Spain, too, life-sized painted sculptures in terracotta and wood (called imaginería) served the reverse purpose: articulating doctrinal truths as no unpainted work ever could. In a slightly different vein, we might think of the many toxic materials and processes intrinsic to early modern art production, which always threatened to contaminate, and permanently alter, the bodies of practitioners. Bezoars from the gastrointestinal systems of various animals were employed as a perceived antidote to poison. Lung diseases and chronic illnesses were not uncommon in certain trades. The widespread practice among European miners, smelters, and casting technicians of consuming butter before work – to take a single example – aimed to protect them from pulmonary disease, counteracting the poisonous fumes of metals like mercury, which were cold according to prevailing medical theory, with a warm essence.24 The use of the toxic substance intensified after the mid-sixteenth century discovery of the so-called patio process — a new way to use amalgamation to harvest silver form ore. At that point, the Spanish mining district Almadén and the town of Huancavelica in Peru were major sites supplying mercury for the world market.25 More recognizable to us, perhaps, are the masks that metalworkers wore, 22 On the imperfect tense in signatures, see Jûren, ‘Fecit-Faciebat,’ 27–28. On Michelangelo’s Pietà, in particular, see Pon, ‘Michelangelo’s First Signature,’ 16–21; and Rubin, ‘Signposts of Invention,’ 563–599. For a near-contemporary comparison to Raphael, see Goffen, ‘Raphael’s Designer Labels,’ 123–142. 23 Alberti, On the Art of Building, p. 34; Varchi, Due lezzioni, p. 152 (‘inganna contadini’). 24 See, especially, Smith, ‘Making as Knowing,’ esp. pp. 17–23; though see also Smith, ‘The Matter of Ideas in the Working of Metals in Early Modern Europe,’ pp. 42–65. 25 Asmussen and Long, ‘Introduction: The Cultural and Material Worlds of Mining in Early Modern Europe,’ 16.


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which prevented contamination by binding up the mouth and nose (Fig. 0.4). At the same time, dangerous processes had natural economic value. This was undeniably the case with ‘practical alchemy’ – chemical processes like the production of metals, patinas, glass, tin glazes, and pigments such as vermilion – where the quasi-magical ability to transform contaminated, base materials into something more lucrative, more pure, could vastly enrich their maker.26 Such discourses – indeed the very idea of what impure materials were – differed dramatically from one place, group, or institutional context to another. If ostensibly impure artistic processes were sometimes invested with positive connotations, Grace Harpster’s essay reveals how real dirt, too, could be enlisted strategically to an object’s advantage. Focusing on the cult statue of the Black Madonna at the Holy House in Loreto, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, Harpster traces how early modern authors sought to rationalize the artifact’s notably dark complexion – and its uneasy entanglements with race – by attributing its painted hue to candle smoke. Such rhetorical tactics, Harpster argues, depended – paradoxically – on the Counter-Reformation stance that ritual images should routinely be cleaned. Whereas soot, in this view, signaled negligence – the contamination of sacred space – here it became a marker of miraculous agency, the statue’s resistance to flames, and custodial care, confirming its unnatural status, while also sanctioning its associations with ethnic otherness. Equally rich in paradox was the early modern phenomenon of painting on stone, the subject of Christopher Nygren’s essay. Since at least the early sixteenth century, painters had worked on semi-precious stone supports, utilizing their (sometimes) striated surfaces as compositional inspiration. In the seventeenth century, however, artists introduced a new, and far less noble, type of material to their repertoire: pietra d’Arno, a kind of sedimented Tuscan mud. Arguing that painting on this comparatively base material should be framed in the context of spiritual salvation, Nygren outlines the principles of what he terms ‘sedimentary aesthetics,’ which turned on the capacity of human creativity to transform – and to redeem – its impure, corrupt, and fallen inheritance. Of course, this preoccupation with matter, pure or contaminated, ramified in more than artistic directions. Another development in the period was the rise of a mercantile economy, grounded in the increased import and export of commodities. Riddled with tensions and anxieties about duplicity, economic transactions always operated with a heightened state of alertness to material purity and contamination. Within the marketplace, pure matter mattered. This 26 We derive this point from Cole, ‘The Technical Turn,’ p. 111. On ‘practical alchemy’ in early modern Europe, see Smith, The Body of the Artisan, esp. pp. 129–151; but also, Smith, ‘Alchemy as the Imitator of Nature,’ pp. 22–33.

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Figure 0.4. Georgius Agricola, Woodcut depicting iron smelting process, from De re metallica (1556), Book IX, p. 341. Photo: Library of Congress, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection



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is apparent, on the one hand, from the phrases typically used in guild statutes to affirm the type of exchanges that should take place between manufacturer and client: ‘good faith and without fraud’ (bona fide sine fraude) for example.27 It emerges, on the other hand, from how tirelessly guilds and merchants labored to root out unruly pursuits like adulteration and counterfeiting – contamination’s offspring – that had the potential to disrupt the seemingly uncomplicated exchange of goods. It was not uncommon, for example, for city guilds to impose fines for using unapproved combinations of materials; or to mandate that artisans manufacture, and merchants sell, their products in ground-floor, open-air stalls, where their activity could be more easily surveilled.28 Efforts to broker trust also extended to the activity of affixing authenticating seals to objects at the time of sale. In one surviving matrix for producing wool seals, this guarantee of quality is corroborated iconographically with a lamb (which, being an avatar for Christ, had wool that was ‘immaculate,’ literally without stain; Fig. 0.5). A desire for trust also shaped mercantile conduct abroad. Witness the Tuscan merchant Francesco Datini’s habit, adopted around 1400, of stitching cloth samples into his commercial correspondence (Fig. 0.6). While merchants traditionally invoked their word, or their honor, to kindle interpersonal trust, Datini’s swatches betray a belief that offering his clients a physical relic of material for forensic scrutiny carried greater persuasive force. Naturally, material purity was also a central plank in early modern monetary platforms. So essential was public trust in currency to civic life, in fact, that coins themselves sometimes became the subject of juridical performances. It was not uncommon, for example, for tests on the purity of specie to occur publicly (or semi-publicly). In Perugia, assaying routines took place in front of an audience at the Collegio del Cambio, with senior money changers arrayed before a vast fresco cycle, by Pietro Perugino, that turned on themes of justice.29 In the aftermath of a number of coinage revisions in the late thirteenth century, the Royal Mint in England implemented a more literal trial, with coins cast as quasi-defendants in a legal case to assess their purity. In lieu of an internal check on the quality of money, by 1248 the Crown designed the almost ritualized Trial of the Pyx, as it was known, to prove that the actual composition of various denominations met standards of fineness set by the Crown. England’s sovereign authority mandated that 27 On these and other terms used in the late medieval and early modern marketplace to instill confidence in authorized materials or goods, see Romano, Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, esp. pp. 171–175. 28 In Florence, the building used for assaying coins was located in one of the city’s main trading areas, the Mercato Nuovo, which, from the 1550s, included an open loggia, inspiring confidence in ‘uncontaminated’ exchanges; Davidsohn, Storia di Firenze, IV, p. 517. See also Pagnini, ‘Il Mercato Nuovo di Giovanni Battista del Tasso,’ pp. 63–70. 29 For an analysis of the frescos, see Marchesi, Il Cambio di Perugia.

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Figure 0.5. Seal of the Wool Guild, fourteenth or fifteenth century, stone, Museo di San Marco, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli

Figure 0.6. Letter with cloth swatches from the Datini Company of Barcelona sent in 1402 or 1403 to Prato (Italy), Archivio di Stato di Prato, Datini, busta 1173 codice 1620. Photo: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica ‘F. Datini,’ Prato. Reproduced with the permission of MiBACT. Further reproduction by any means is prohibited.


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moneyers in England place a silver coin, chosen at random from every 240 minted, in a wooden pyx container for testing. To ensure that no one tampered with the specimens, authorities outfitted pyx boxes with locks, then distributing two keys among officials. Several times a year, a jury of expert goldsmiths assayed – that is, melted down – coins from the pyx and assessed the amount of pure gold or silver present, finally delivering the verdict to Her Majesty’s Treasury. When not actively used to quantify the presence of metal, the container was housed in the so-called Pyx Chapel in Westminster Abbey, conflating the pyx box used to house money with the more common practice that used pyxes: Eucharistic ceremony, during which pyxes stored consecrated communion hosts (Fig. 0.7).30 If such legal enactments constituted a top-down effort to instill public confidence in currency, there were also cases when trust in the purity of coin broke down. War was one of them. The common practice of minting emergency coins for temporary use during times of combat for example – to finance war infrastructure and personnel – often occasioned extreme anxiety. Allison Stielau grounds her essay in an infamous case of this practice: the minting that took place during the 1527 Sack of Rome, when, in order to pay the ransom for Pope Clement VII, who had been held captive by Protestant mercenary soldiers, his supporters melted down precious liturgical objects for use as money. The resulting coins, Stielau shows, raised suspicions about contamination, since their production, which occurred outside of strictly regulated minting practices, offered little assurance about their metallic purity, and hence value. Equally salient, she argues, were the symbolic connotations of these so-called ‘Plagauner,’ which came to embody spiritual purification and survival, respectively, for the Protestants and Catholics involved in the Sack.

Global Admixtures Orchestrated by the Spanish Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his German mercenaries against Italian forces, the Sack of Rome alerts us to another reality of early modern European society: the restless movement of bodies, and lives, across geographic boundaries. This took myriad forms, from religious or political exile, invasions, and inter-continental conflicts to colonialism. The introduction or imposition of one point of view into another context that accompanied Europe’s 30 On the Trial of the Pyx, see Jacobi, The Architecture of Banking in Renaissance Italy, pp. 161–164; Rigold, The Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber, pp. 3–10; and Challis, A New History of the Royal Mint, pp. 107 and 701–721. An oak Trial of the Pyx chest (c. 1300) from Westminster Abbey is housed in the National Archives, London. Two others exist and, as of 1992, were still in Westminster Abbey; see Challis, A New History of the Royal Mint, p. 162n256. For the association between minting money and Eucharistic rituals, see Kumler, ‘The Multiplication of the Species,’ esp. 187–191.

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Figure 0.7. Trial plate of Henry VIII, 1542 (one of a series received from the Pyx Chapel in 1837). Photo: The Royal Mint Museum, United Kingdom

expanding geographic horizons, real or imagined, often dramatically re-configured understandings of contamination and purity, sometimes confounding the distinction entirely. The countless gold and silver artifacts that the conquistadores commandeered from indigenous peoples in the Americas for example – often by brutal means – were, from the Spanish Catholic perspective, at once materially pure and ideologically contaminated. It was only passage through the furnace, the Spanish logic went, that could purify these objects of their former impiety. Converted into Christian cult images – as occurred, for example, when Dominican missionaries in New Granada (Colombia) had ‘Indian idols’ re-cast into a statue of Saint James – these precious metals became active delegates in converting native peoples.31 Along similar lines, local Roman tradition held that the architect Antonio da Sangallo had (piously) used spoils from the Americas to gild the coffered ceiling in the basilica of 31 ‘Fray Juan Martinez en Chipazaque, que de el oro que sacò de los Ydolos hizo una Ymagen de bulto del Apostol Santiago, y una corona para nuestra señora, y fue el artifice destas obras el mismo Yndio que hacia Ydolos.’ This example appears in Melendez, Tesoros Verdaderos de las Indias Historia, p. 431. Cited in Cummins, ‘The Golden Calf in America,’ p. 90n32.


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Santa Maria Maggiore (Fig. 0.8).32 And in a different context entirely, the outsized equestrian monument of Ferdinando I (1608) in Florence announced, by way of an inscription spanning the horse’s belly, that it had been made from ‘metals taken from the fierce Thracians’ (Dei metalli rapiti al fero Trace): an indication that the statue’s alloy, made from the arms of defeated Turkish armies, as much as what it represented symbolized the triumph of peace (Fig. 0.9).33 Melted down for bullion, meanwhile, metal could underwrite larger-scale religious wars. Emperor Charles V had partly financed the 1535 Christian ‘liberation’ of Tunis from Muslim rule, for instance, with the outsized trove of gold objects that his commander, Francisco Pizarro, had accepted, halfway across the world in Cuzco (Peru), the ancient capital of the Incan empire, for the release of the Incan emperor Atahualpa.34 Yet even this must be qualified. While Spanish Catholics may have described their liquidation of precious New World objects as motivated by religious purity, their Protestant rivals in northern Europe believed the reverse to be true. At the heart of ‘the black legend,’ or anti-Spanish propaganda that circulated beginning in the sixteenth century, was the Protestant conviction that it was the Spanish, and not their indigenous counterparts, who were idolatrous: driven by an unholy worship of gold.35 For Protestants, the Spanish belief in their moral superiority was a self-serving fantasy, driven by avarice. In the set of engravings that he added to the conquistador Girolamo Benzoni’s Historia del mondo nuovo (1594–1596), the Flemish Protestant printer Theodore de Bry (himself a victim of Spanish religious intolerance) gave this greed compelling visual form. De Bry’s treatment of the ransom payment of the aforementioned Atahualpa – an episode which, in a further intricacy, is contaminated here by Flemish representational norms, and domesticated for European minds using a set of techniques and tools already familiar to European audiences – furnishes the impression that Spanish Catholic avarice and cruelty, and not indigenous beliefs, had tainted Andean gold (especially in view of the fact, well known to de Bry, that Pizarro, months after accepting the tribute, had the Incan emperor murdered) (Fig. 0.10).36 Indeed, would the art and architecture of early modern Europe ‘even be possible,’ the scholar John 32 Coulombe, A History of the Popes: Vicars of Christ, p. 330. 33 On the Francesco I equestrian monument, see, for example, Cole, ‘Under the Sign of Vulcan,’ esp. p. 48. 34 On this event, see Cummins, ‘The Golden Calf in America,’ pp. 92–96. Conversion could also occur in a strictly European context, as in the widespread practice, for example, of converting pagan or Islamic objects, like columns or obelisks, by surmounting them with Christian sculptures. For a particularly compelling instance of this practice in the Rome of Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585–1590), see Cole, ‘Perpetual Exorcism in Sistine Rome,’ pp. 57–76. An excellent example of the Christian conversion of Islamic structures is the Giralda, formerly the minaret of the principal mosque in Seville, converted into a bell tower after the Reconquista, to which was added a statue symbolizing the triumph of Christian faith in the sixteenth century. 35 On the ‘black legend,’ see, for example, Maltby, The Black Legend in England, esp. pp. 12–24. 36 Our remark here echoes claims in Gaudio, Engraving the Savage, esp. p. xii.

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Figure 0.8. Giuliano da Sangallo (design) and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (realization), Ceiling of Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, gilded wood, 1450–1500, Rome. Photo: Alvesgaspar, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Figure 0.9. Giambologna with Pietro Tacca, Equestrian monument of Ferdinando I de’ Medici (detail), 1602–1608, bronze, Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Photo: Daniel M. Zolli


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Figure 0.10. Theodore de Bry, Ransom payment of Atahualpa brought to Francisco Pizarro at Cajamarca (Peru), engraving, from Americae Pars Sexta sive Historiae ab Hieronymi Benzoni […] (Frankfurt-am-Main: Theodore de Bry, 1596). Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC- rbdk d031_0006

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White rightly wondered, ‘without the riches of the Indies’?37 Applying the point more broadly still, we might recall Walter Benjamin’s assertion, at once lucid and disillusioned, that ‘there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’38 To this can be added the many instances in which the geographic contamination of matter figured as a virtue. Bronze for example – being an alloy made of copper and tin, ingredients mined in disparate areas in northern and southern Europe – depended, by necessity, on geographic and material admixtures. So, too, did the practice of dyeing wool, luxury cloth, and thread for tapestries. That certain families in dye-related trades, like the Rucellai – dye merchants of Florence – derived not just their fortunes, but their surnames, from the distinctive raw ingredients they used to color cloth (here, the lichen orchil, or oricello) hints at how embedded contaminating elements could be in an individual’s self-image.39 Nor is it a coincidence that dyed objects thrived in European trade outposts like Antwerp, where dyes, dyestuffs, and even dyeing expertise could be imported on a global scale. 40 This logic of geographic pluralism sometimes repeated itself in the built environment. Witness the Doge’s Palace in Venice, which, with its gestures both to north Italian Gothic and Arabic architecture, announced the seafaring Republic as a significant literal and symbolic hinge between East and West. Or the so-called Manueline architecture of sixteenth-century Lisbon, it too a cosmopolitan port city, which absorbed the kaleidoscopic influences of Portuguese navigators in Africa, Brazil, and India, among other places. Or, in a somewhat different vein, in the Islamic earthenware bowls, or bacini, that decorate the exteriors of churches including the twelfth-century structure of San Nicola in Sardinia and on a handful of buildings in Pisa. Likely imported from North Africa, where merchants maintained strong trade networks, this glazed kitchenware – painted with Arabic script and Islamic iconography – brought an exotic color and sheen to façades made of local brick, while also serving as a subtle reminder of just how far mercantile tendrils reached (Figs. 0.11–13). 41 37 Elliot, The Old World and the New 1492–1650, p. 65. 38 Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ p. 256. 39 The Rucellai traced their surname to the crimson wool dye orchil (oricello), the recipe for which their ancestors had procured in the Levant and used to build their dye-manufacturing empire in Florence. On the etymology of the Rucellai name, see Un mercante fiorentino e la sua famiglia nel secolo XV, pp. 53–54. 40 On Antwerp dye-manufacturing see, for example, Thijs, ‘Perceptions of Deceit and Innovation in the Antwerp Textile Industry,’ pp. 127–148. See also Unfolding the Textile Medium in Early Modern Art and Literature. 41 On bacini, see Mack, Bazaar to Piazza, esp. pp. 2–3, 95; Berti, Le ceramiche medievali e post-medievali, pp. 10–11, 25–26, 29; Berti, ‘Keramische “Bacini” mittelalterliche Kirchen Pisas aus islamischer und örtlicher Produktion,’ pp. 607–608. See also Mathews, ‘Other Peoples’ Dishes,’ 5–23 and Kessler, Experiencing Medieval Art, p. 143.


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Figure 0.11. Church of San Sisto, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Figure 0.12. Original placement of some ceramic bacini on the façade of the Church of San Sisto, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Figure 0.13. Maiolica bowl produced in Tunisia used as a bacino in Pisa, c. end of the twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth century, Church of San Michele degli Scalzi, Pisa, now in the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa. Photo: Giuseppe Capitano courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Naturally, such phenomena were not confined to architecture. Another of their manifestations – one among many – was in the palettes of certain European painters. It is no coincidence, for example, that Titian painted with the array of colors that he did: Venice was, after all, a preeminent destination for merchants, and an emporium for pigments, from throughout the world. In Titian’s portrait of his pigment seller, Alvise della Scala, the effects of this geographic contamination are doubly apparent: manifest in the literal stuff of the painting; and in the sitter’s own apparent wealth, derived from the box of pigments displayed beside him (Fig. 0.14). The very names of the substances in this painting indicate their diverse points of origin: ‘ultramarine’ (literally, ‘beyond the sea,’ from mines in present-day Afghanistan), ‘blue from Germany’ (azurite), and ‘indigo from Baghdad’ (though originating in India, the substance arrived into Europe via the Islamic city), among others. 42 If a painting like this has come to stand for pure Venetian pictorial practice – characterized by, e.g., colorful, loose brushstrokes and the dissolution of line – its materials more 42 On this painting, see Weddigen and Weber, ‘The Alchemy of Colors: Titian Portrays his Pigment Merchant Alvise “dai Colori” dalla Scala,’ pp. 50–63; Delancey, ‘Celebrating Citizenship,’ 15–60; and Kim, ‘Lotto’s Carpets,’ esp. 200. On the geography on pigments, real or notional, see Dunlop, ‘On the Origins of European Painting Materials,’ esp. pp. 77–86.


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Figure 0.14. Titian, Portrait of the Pigment Merchant Alvise dalla Scala, oil on canvas 1561–1562, Gemäldegaleries Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. Photo: BPK, Berlin / Art Resource, NY

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closely resemble a geopolitical event: a flow of international resources that has here collided, in a temporary configuration, on Titian’s canvas. 43 Along similar lines, the red lakes that the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez used may well have derived from cochineal insects imported from the Americas, an industry over which the Spanish held a monopoly. 44 It is unlikely, of course, that that the farmers and artisans who cultivated, dyed, or wove the thread in European tapestries – often, if not always, involuntarily, and especially in colonial realms – would describe their labor in strictly positive terms.45 The focus of Sylvia Houghteling’s chapter – a monumental textile cycle that Charles V commissioned in 1535 to commemorate his victory over Ottoman forces in Tunis – is a case in point. Conceived as an expression of Spanish domination over the Muslim populations of the Iberian Peninsula, the tapestries projected a triumphal iconography of centralized Christian control. Yet the history of their production, Houghteling argues, undermines such tidy thinking. The silk from which the tapestries were made, to single out just one of the materials she discusses, not only utilized dyestuffs from the New World, but it was cultivated, spun, and dyed by forcibly converted Muslims in Granada. Against Charles V’s official message of Christian purity, these materials – and the extractive labor on which they depended – forcefully expose the differences, and the unavoidable contamination, that inhered in an empire comprising disparate parts. While shifting emphasis from what these objects show (e.g., iconography, style) to how they are made – by highlighting, that is, the indigenous labor on which many European objects fundamentally depend – is an act of historical enfranchisement, it also means contending with the systems of oppression that made contaminated matter so profitable on the European stage. 46 But then, early modern society was also coming to understand matter – no matter how local or exotic – as always already contaminated. Amy Knight Powell’s contribution charts a prehistory for the seismic shift in habits of viewing and thinking that occurred during the Scientific Revolution, spurred, among other things, by the invention of the telescope and microscope. Focusing on the work of 43 We derive our description of the art object as a geo-political event from Ingold, ‘Toward an Ecology of Materials,’ esp. 431–435. 44 See, for example, Hamann, ‘The Mirrors of Las Meninas,’ 6–35; and Pérez, Velázquez: Técnica y evolution, esp. pp. 26–28. Such stories replayed themselves continuously in the early modern world: in the European ‘discovery’ of pau-brasil for example, a genus of tree from which a dye reminiscent of burning embers (brasa in Portugese) could be derived. So significant did the Portugese find this resource that they called this terra nova ‘Brasil’: naming an entire land after their precious cargo while predictably eliding the ecological implications of its manufacture and the indigenous Tupinambà who harvested the wood. See Phipps, ‘Global Colors,’ pp. 128–130. 45 For an example of how indigenous farmers might profit from the export of colonial resources, here cochineal, see Baskes, ‘Seeking Red,’ pp. 101–117. 46 Dean and Leibsohn, ‘Hybridity and Its Discontents,’ 5–35.


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the Flemish painter Peter Bruegel the Elder and his followers, Powell probes this group’s sympathies with atomistic philosophy, a field in existence since antiquity, yet largely rejected in the sixteenth century because it threatened the belief that the world – and all matter – was governed by a divinely created order. In the minute, atomistic mark-making of Bruegel’s paintings, Powell argues, one finds an anticipation of the Scientific Revolution’s own revelation that supposedly pure matter was, in her words, ‘revoltingly uneven,’ ‘crumbling into minutiae,’ ‘their impurity [all] but inevitable.’

Communities, Imagined and Real What will be clear from the preceding analyses is that concepts of purity and contamination, however defined, depend upon the existence of communities. To place stock in these categories at all – to seek purity, or to see oneself or others as contaminated – often meant asserting one’s belonging within a group bound together by matters of common concern. But as the political scientist Benedict Anderson has argued in a different context, such communities are social constructs, formed – most powerfully – in the imagination.47 In Anderson’s analysis, countless factors fostered and reinforced these ‘imagined communities’: they were bound together linguistically for example; and they depended on an oppositional logic, the idea that one community differed from another. But so too were they fostered and reinforced by technologies and their use. While Anderson’s project was an archaeology of the modern nation state – and the medium to which he referred was the newspaper – it is possible to see echoes of this idea in the early modern period. 48 The emergence of printed media is a good example. To appreciate how vital printing was to the ideological formation, maintenance, and self-definition of early modern communities, one need only look to Martin Luther. The German theologian’s writings – which circulated promiscuously, in multiple copies, among large audiences – reinforced, and indeed created, shared opinion about the need for reform. So, too, did the illustrations that decorated his broadsheets and pamphlets, likewise sized for circulation. Those in Luther’s anti-papist pamphlet of 1521, the Passionale Christi und Antichristi, are exemplary. Conceived as diptychs, the woodcuts, by Lucas Cranach, juxtapose – in clear, didactic form – the faith of the papacy, tainted by corruption, to the humble teachings of Christ (Fig. 0.15). The faith community that Luther promoted, in these images as

47 Anderson, Imagined Communities. 48 See Making Space Public in Early Modern Europe.

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Figure 0.15. Lucas Cranach the Elder, woodcut illustration for the Passional Christi und Antichristi of Martin Luther (Wittenberg: Johann Grünenberg, 1521). Photo: Courtesy of the British Library

in his writings, was defined against an impure Papacy. And print was a strategic instrument for generating that opinion. The images that accompanied printed accounts of extra-European exploration sometimes played out in parallel form. In one woodcut appended to the German translation of the Bolognese traveler Ludovico di Varthema’s travel diary (published in 1515), for instance, the artist Jörg Breu offered European viewers a macabre representation of Varthemea’s description of the diabolical idol that the people of Calicut (in India) worshiped (Fig. 0.16). By manufacturing – here, literally demonizing – cultural otherness, images like this might magnify, by way of antithesis, Europeans’ own ideological priorities. More nefariously, they held the potential to legitimize – and normalize – the violent subjugation and subordination that so often accompanied European colonialism and imperialism. Yet as much as art could sharpen divisions – pitting one self-identified pure community against a contaminated other – it occasionally served the opposite aim: endeavoring to mend the differences that tore at the fabric of early modern European society. A case in point is the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception painted in 1616 by the Seville-based artist and Jesuit priest Juan de Roelas (Figs. 0.17–18). To the scholar Felipe Pereda we owe our knowledge of how the painting’s conspicuous placement of


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Figure 0.16. Jörg Breu, woodcut illustration of the ‘Idol of Calicut,’ in Ludovico di Varthema, Die Ritterlich und lobwürdig Reisz […] (Strassburg: J. Knobloch, 1516). Photo: © Österreichische National­ bibliothek, Vienna: 72.T.75

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Figure 0.17. Juan de Roelas, Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, 1616. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid, Spain. Photo: HIP / Art Resource, NY



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Figure 0.18. Juan de Roelas, Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, detail of nursing mother and Sevillan citizens. Photo: HIP / Art Resource, NY

Seville and its citizens under the protection of the ‘Immaculate’ Mary was a means of fostering tolerance and inclusion in a politically and culturally disjointed city mired in difference.49 As one of the principal ports for the European slave market, the Andalusian city was multi-racial, and Spanish Catholics were anxious about accepting those of supposedly impure blood – black, Jewish, Muslim – into their faith. If the Virgin Mary – unlike Seville’s ethnically varied population – was pure of blood (i.e., free of original sin), her milk, the painting suggests, could nurture, and purify, all who accepted or converted to Catholicism, including those whose own blood was polluted. The community that Roelas imagined, in this case, was a universal utopian one. Architecture and maintenance of the built world also has the potential to constitute, delimit, and isolate imagined communities. While brick-and-mortar walls – city fortifications, convents, orphanages – could protect communities from foreign contagion without, preserving a people’s sense of belonging, they could also enclose populations deemed dangerous within. As Lisa Pon reveals in her chapter, two architectural types in early modern Venice – the island’s Jewish Ghetto and its plague hospitals, or lazaretti – situate architecture within the spatial dynamics of quarantine.50 Emerging in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, these structures 49 Pereda, ‘Vox Populi,’ 286–334. 50 Historians credit Venice’s maritime neighbor to the south, the Adriatic port city of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik, in Croatia), with pioneering the first quarantine methods in the pre-modern West. By 1400, the Ragusan government forced individuals and goods arriving from infected regions into isolation for forty days on one of four uninhabited islands beyond the city’s fortified walls (a duration from which the

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served to relocate individuals deemed unsafe to the Venetian community away from the city’s center to its peripheral zones, be they sites of industrial contamination (former foundries, from which the word getto – cast – derives) or lagoonal islands (‘isolation,’ meanwhile, derives from the Latin insula, or ‘island’). Rather than seeing purity and contamination as absolute categories here, though, Pon argues for a dynamic porosity between the two. She wagers that, as much as urban quarantine aimed to control, and bureaucratically identify, impure populations, so too did the Republic’s economic well-being depend on ‘leakage’ in these spaces: on Christians’ need to enter, and Jews’ ability to leave, the ghetto for business; and – in the case of lazaretti – on patients’ coming and going as they sickened or recovered. Along similar lines, Lauren Jacobi’s essay bridges themes of space and geography, addressing how seemingly contaminated spaces were controlled as Italians territorialized papal domains. More specifically, she studies Pope Sixtus V’s failed project to drain the Italian Pontine marshes, which were construed as a degraded, environmental wasteland in need of redemption. Addressing issues of ethnic determinism, she brings her study to twentieth-century history, tracing the Fascist attempt to cleanse the marshes. While the structures that Pon and Jacobi track endured over time, communities driven by their own sense of purity might destroy the architecture or infrastructure of those they deemed less so. This was the case, for example, in the Regensburg pogrom of 1519, when the council of the southern German city banished the Jews, and razed their synagogue, building a Christian church over its ruins. Such acts of purification occurred at a broader scale throughout the New World, where, under Spanish royal ordinance, whole city precincts were leveled to make way for new buildings.51 As the Spanish cardinal Juan de Torquemada put it, speaking of the wholesale ‘renewal’ of Tenochtitlan, the city had once been a ‘Babylon, a republic of confusion and evil, but now it is another Jerusalem.’52 By de-contaminating the capital of the Aztec empire of its heathenism, and re-making the urban environment in their own image, Torquemada implied, the Spanish had done the purifying work of God. But here, too, one must exercise caution. It was not unusual, for example, for structures and spaces that one party destroyed, or materials that that it re-purposed, to remain significant for their former users. We have only to look at one colonial building project in Cuzco to appreciate this point. Realizing that the city’s indigenous residents regarded the sand covering their main plaza – sand that the Inka had word ‘quarantine’ derives, and one that Ragusans selected as much for religious reasons as for medical ones, since Lent was an already familiar span of time). On anti-plague measures in Ragusa, see Tomić and Blažina, Expelling the Plague. 51 On Spanish urbanism in the Americas, see, for example, Kubler, ‘Open Grid Town Plans in Europe and America, 1500–1520,’ IV, pp. 105–122. 52 Cited in Kagan, Urban Images of the Hispanic World 1493–1793, p. 151. This source is also discussed in Kim, ‘Uneasy Reflections,’ 90–91.


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Figure 0.19. Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, 1560–1654, Cuzco. Photo: Diego Delso courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

imported hundreds of miles from the Pacific coast – as holy, Spanish authorities had the material removed and mixed into the mortar used to construct their new cathedral: an act, Spaniards thought, that would eradicate the sand’s sacred aura, and that of the Incan plaza in turn (Fig. 0.19). Yet, as Thomas Cummins has shown, Andean logic held that the sacred essence (kamay) inhered permanently in the sand – indeed in all sacred materials – even when its architectural context or form changed.53 While the Spaniards believed they were de-sanctifying the sand, for the natives of Cuzco the substance still vibrated with kamay, an affirmation of the presence, and persistence, of the Incan past in the mortar joints of a Christian cathedral.54 53 Cummins, ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ esp. pp. 160–163. On the idea that colonization introduces a markedly different understanding of landscapes and urban environments than that of the indigenous or colonized people inhabiting those spaces, see Walter Mignolo’s concept of ‘coexisting territorialities,’ developed in Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance, esp. pp. 219–258. 54 On the spoliation of sacred stones from the Incan temple and fortress Saqsaywaman for Cuzco Cathedral, and for related discussions of the persistence of Andean veneration of sacred stones used in Spanish colonial buildings, foundations, and walls, see Dean, ‘Rocks and Reverence,’ pp. 180–201; and Dean, A Culture of Stone, pp. 25–64, 143–178; and most recently, Schreffler, Cuzco, esp. p. 97. On ‘vibrant matter,’ see Bennett, Vibrant Matter, esp. pp. 1–19.

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Buildings and ritual spaces could also be reclaimed. Extending the volume’s compass to what is now the southwestern United States, the co-authored essay by Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn takes up this issue. In particular, they examine the causes and aftermath of a seventeenth-century revolt that occurred when Spanish Catholic friars attempted to consecrate spaces that were already sacred to indigenous Pueblo people. Strikingly, the authors show that the Spanish claim to have purified a hitherto contaminated space was antithetical to Indigenous American beliefs, wherein binary opposition was rarely found. Indeed, after the revolt, the Pueblo people did not eradicate but appropriated Catholic buildings: a testament, perhaps, to how indigenous religious ideas might endure because of – not despite – past trauma. As Dean and Leibsohn’s contribution demonstrates, the line between the pure and the contaminated cannot be neatly drawn.

Art History’s Imagined Communities The logic of imagined communities also pervaded early modern European writing about art. The very concept of a Renaissance after all – from its earliest formulations, and particularly in Italy – was nothing if not a narrative of purification: plotting the culture’s rebirth, its reemergence, from a notional ‘dark ages.’ Already in 1339, in his epic poem Africa, the scholar and poet Petrarch deployed this metaphor: ‘After the darkness has been dispelled, our grandsons will be able to walk into the pure radiance of the past.’55 Some two centuries later, in his Lives of the Artists (published in 1550 and again, in substantially different form, in 1568), Vasari famously linked the demise of a pure (classical Roman) style during the Middle Ages to foreign contagion: to the corrupting presence, in particular, of Germans and Greeks in Italy, their styles – the maniera tedesca and maniera greca – setting art on the path to decline.56 In Vasari’s narrative, it took Giotto, the son of a shepherd, whom the painter Cimabue discovered drawing ‘pictures of animals on stone and in the sand’ (working, suggestively, with dirt) to initiate art’s rebirth. Only by knowing no model other than Nature herself, and uncontaminated by outside influences, Cimabue’s included, had Giotto succeeded in ‘[banishing] the awkward Greek manner.’57 55 See Petrarch’s ‘Africa,’ p. 17. 56 On the idea in Vasari that Greek and German populations had contaminated Italy’s classical style, see Kim, The Traveling Artist in the Italian Renaissance, esp. pp. 45–48. 57 Vasari, Le vite, I, p. 370. Vasari’s anecdote drew upon, but also enlarged, a claim that circulated among artists and writers already in the fourteenth century. The painter-writer Cennino Cennini claimed, for example, that Giotto had ‘restored painting’ and ‘changed the profession of painting from Greek back into Latin’ (see Wood, A History of Art History, p. 59). The f irst biographer of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Karel van Mander, advanced a similar claim when he wrote that the Flemish painter had been ‘born


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Like most narratives of progress, the story that Vasari told about art and architecture’s faltering steps toward perfection in his own time could not tolerate ‘matter out of place.’ The writer’s regional, artistic, and conceptual biases – his promotion of Tuscan artists and aesthetic norms, and his distaste for goldsmiths for example – are well documented.58 Equally well known is the dissent that Vasari’s purifying framework ignited. El Greco – to cite but one example – took umbrage with Vasari’s negative appraisal of the Greek manner: ‘what Giotto did is simple in comparison,’ the Greek-born painter wrote in the margins of his copy of the Lives, ‘because the Greek style is full of ingenious diff iculties.’59 In the century following the publication of the Lives, in fact, numerous treatises, many of them rooted in other geographies, adapted Vasari’s schema to serve their own (often quite different) purifying agendas: Karel van Mander (1604) in the Low Countries; Vicente Carducho (1633) and Francisco Pacheco (1649) in Spain; Joachim von Sandrart (1675–1680) in Germany; and Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1678) in Bologna – and these are just some of the most well-known examples.60 One lesson to draw from this burgeoning body of art treatises is that each, in its own way, contributed to the self-definition of an imagined community, shaped by issues of shared artistic concern, and (often) defined by contrast to other communities: Florentine versus Bolognese; Italian versus German or Spanish; and so forth. Another is that purification in early modern European art writing, far from a fixed and coherent condition, was a process delicately negotiated by its authors, their audiences, and the institutions that governed both. Yet a third lesson is that the vision of purity that these European treatises routinely sought to produce, no matter how heavily policed, was never impervious to contaminants. Despite his Tuscan triumphalism, Vasari – to continue our example – conceded that the knowledge of oil painting, one of the most consequential developments in sixteenth-century European art, only occurred when Antonello da Messina, a Sicilian artist, visited Jan Van Eyck in Bruges (a manifest fiction but revealing nevertheless). Vasari’s frequent recourse to the term varietà, the idea that artists might embrace multiple stylistic influences encompassing multiple geographies, registers his recognition amidst peasants’ – that his art simply expressed that which he already was. See Koerner, Bosch & Bruegel, pp. 13–15. For Giotto and dirt, see Cole, ‘Arti povere, 1300–1650,’ p. 259. 58 See, for example, Collareta, ‘The Historian and the Technique,’ pp. 291–300; on Vasari’s geographic biases, and for a nuanced set of alternatives to his model, see Campbell, The Endless Periphery. 59 Salas and Marias, El Greco y el arte de su tiempo. When the Bolognese family of painters, the Carracci, decorated their copy of the Lives with insults – ‘presumptuous and ignorant,’ ‘vile liar Vasari’ – they were objecting to their own tradition’s relative erasure. On the Carracci marginalia, see Fanti, ‘Le postille carraccesche alle Vite del Vasari,’ 148–164; and Dempsey, ‘The Carracci Postille to Vasari’s Lives,’ 72–76. 60 Karen van Mander’s Het Schilder-boeck (1604) in the Low Countries; Vicente Carducho’s Diálogos sobre la pintura (1633) and Francisco Pacheco’s Arte de la pintura in Spain (1649); Joachim von Sandrart’s Teutsche Academie in Germany (1675–1680); and Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina Pittrice in Bologna (1678).

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that – when practiced judiciously – stylistic contamination, rather than purity, in an artist’s output could be a conscious goal.61 Purifying frameworks in art writing, one might conclude, are always contaminated. Needless to say, the modern discipline of art history is itself made up of imagined communities. If the formal integration of art history into universities – in Europe at least – coincided with the emergence of the modern nation state, and if much of the twentieth-century historiography of early modern art history cleaved to the modern organization of Europe, we now inhabit a discipline less inclined to see its objects of analysis according to these divisions. Predictably then, perhaps, some of the most original work now being done in the early modern field centers around artworks and practices that might give a more acute view of some of our current realities – global or institutional – or which expose the limitations of models developed to accommodate the European point of view. Recent scholarship on the Virgin of Guadalupe, for example, has shown how ill-suited Eurocentric ideas of early modern art and authorship are to the icon and its copies. Against the Europeanate idea that copying was derivative – overly contaminated by influence – New Spanish painters who replicated the icon, like Miguel Cabrera, understood producing a perfect (pure) copy of the icon as a performance itself, and the very source of their authorial reputation, albeit in terms far different than their European counterparts.62 Italy, too, has been a beneficiary of this mode of thinking, as the growing literature on the Spanish presence on the peninsula, and its impact on Italian art and architecture, can attest.63 A comparable claim exists for the recent disciplinary interest in trans- and intermediality, as scholars endeavor to loosen the medium-specific restrictions that have largely governed the study of early modern European art and architecture, themselves a legacy of that period (one need only think of the state-sponsored Academy of Design, in Florence, and its treatment of painting, sculpture, and architecture – each pursued in isolation – as tributaries of design). The resulting picture is far different than it was just several decades ago. When approaching, say, Filippo Brunelleschi, scholars now want to know how his training as a goldsmith may have informed his architectural pursuits.64 Or how Michelangelo’s sculptural practice – and particularly 61 On the term varietà in Vasari, and its relationship to artists’ travels, see Kim, The Traveling Artist in the Italian Renaissance, esp. pp. 125–160. 62 See Cuadriello, El divino pintor; Peterson, ‘The Reproducibility of the Sacred,’ pp. 43–78; Petersen, ‘Creating the Virgin of Guadalupe,’ 571–610; and Hyman and Mundy, ‘Out of the Shadow of Vasari,’ 283–317, esp. 309–312. On invention and the addition of signatures to these works see, especially, Hyman, ‘Inventing Painting,’ 102–135. On the Virgin of Guadalupe copies in particular, see Bargellini, ‘Originality and Invention in the Painting of New Spain,’ pp. 79–91. See also Amara Solari’s recent study on the indigenous Mayan veneration of the Virgin Mary; Solari, Idolizing Mary. 63 See Cole, ‘Toward an Art History of Spanish Italy,’ 37–46; and Cole, Sofonisba’s Lesson, esp. pp. 118–145. 64 Payne, ‘Materiality, Crafting, and Scale in Renaissance Architecture,’ 365–386; and Payne, L’Architecture parmi les arts.


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his use of the claw chisel to score his marble surfaces – may have benefited from his early formation in a painter’s workshop: where he had worked with tempera and studied engravings, both practices that deployed hatching as a technique.65 Or just how different the history of the etched print would look were it seen as a tributary development of armor decoration – particularly in Augsburg, where workshops had been etching armor ‘plates’ for nearly two centuries before Daniel Hopfer (first trained as an armor decorator) adapted the technique to create works on paper (Fig. 0.20).66 In a different vein, art historians continue to take stock of early modern European art’s role in creating and naturalizing ideas of nationality and race, not just in its own time but in later epochs. The National Socialists’ (mis-)use of German Renaissance art, and particularly the art of Albrecht Dürer, in the 1930s and 1940s to underwrite their belief in national destiny, as well as the atrocities they committed in the name of racial purity, is a well-known, if extreme instance of the latter phenomenon.67 Recent scholarship reminds us that such appropriations are grimly familiar today, as contemporary far-right movements scour early modern art – and indeed all of what they deem ‘Western art’ – for talismanic forms to prove and protect the supposed purity of their (mythical) white heritage. All too often, early modern images have been weaponized as memes and frequently posted or otherwise used without context in white supremacist media.68 By this dangerous alchemy, far-right groups have made Michelangelo’s David (1501–1504) into a false idol to white supremacist ideology, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Tower of Babel (c. 1568) into an icon of xenophobic sentiment, by likening Europe’s multiculturalism to Babylon.69 Such propaganda transforms early modern art into a sort of cultural armor to protect the imagined purity of white heritage, and it contaminates past historical horizons with present fears. Building on related observations, the volume’s final chapter, by Caroline A. Jones and Joseph Koerner, examines the historical stakes of purification during the Renaissance and in modernity. In contrast to purity (a static condition) and contamination (a process of defilement), purification, they argue, is an historical process, bound up with instruments of power, of which art history’s own institutions – museums, universities, presses – are also forms.

65 Cole, ‘The Technical Turn,’ esp. p. 111. 66 Metzger, ‘The Iron Age,’ esp. pp. 25–26. 67 See for example, Moxey, ‘Impossible Distance,’ 750–763; and more recently Kinew, ‘Sedlmayr’s Mother-of-Pearl,’ 88–96. 68 For how this applies to medival studies, see for example M. Rambaran-Olm, ‘Anglo-Saxon Studies [Early English Studies], Academia and White Supremacy,’ posted 27 June, 2018, https://mrambaranolm., accessed 15 August 2018. 69 On the far-right’s appropriation of pre-modern art, see Silveri and Stark, ‘Reactionary Art Histories,’ pp. 9, 11, 25.

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Figure 0.20. Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (armor) and Daniel Hopfer (etching), Cuirass and Tassets, steel and leather, ca. 1510–1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Collectively, the essays in this volume examine how concepts of cleanliness and the impure impressed themselves on artistic and architectural practice, facture, and on style in the period; how they shaped – and were shaped by – ideas about authorship and about nature; their role in cross-cultural relations; and in the construction, legislation, and maintenance of the built environment. With each of these subjects, the book’s contributors consider how contamination and purity reverberate across broader cultural, geographic, and intellectual registers at a time when the two categories took on heightened importance.

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Neilson, Christina. ‘Carving Life: The Meaning of Wood in Early Modern European Sculpture.’ In The Matter of Art: Materials, Technologies, Meanings, ca. 1250–1650, ed. by Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela Smith, 223–239. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. Neilson, Christina. ‘Demonstrating Ingenuity: The Display and Concealment of Knowledge in Renaissance Artists’ Workshops.’ I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 19, no. 1 (2016): 63–91. Pagnini, Maria Camilla. ‘Il Mercato Nuovo di Giovanni Battista del Tasso.’ Ricerche di storia dell’arte 119 (2016): 63–70. Payne, Alina. ‘Materiality, Crafting, and Scale in Renaissance Architecture.’ Oxford Art Journal 32, no. 3 (2009): 365–386. Payne, Alina. L’Architecture parmi les arts: Matérialité, transferts et travail artistique dans l’Italie de la Renaissance. Paris: Hazan, 2016. Pereda, Felipe. ‘Vox Populi: Carnal Blood, Spiritual Milk, and the Debate Surrounding the Immaculate Conception, ca. 1600.’ Medieval Encounters 24, no. 1–3 (2018): 286–334. Pérez, Carmen Garrido. Velázquez: Técnica y evolutíon. Madrid: Museo del Prado, 1992. Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. ‘The Reproducibility of the Sacred: Simulacra of the Virgin of Guadalupe.’ In Exploring New World Imagery: Spanish Colonial Papers from the 2002 Mayer Center Symposium, ed. by Donna Pierce, 43–78. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005. Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. ‘Creating the Virgin of Guadalupe: The Cloth, the Artist, and Sources in Sixteenth-Century New Spain.’ The Americas 61, no. 4 (2005): 571–610. Phipps, Elena. ‘Global Colors: Dyes and the Dye Trade.’ In Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800, exh. cat., ed. by Amelia Peck, 120–35. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Pon, Lisa. ‘Michelangelo’s First Signature.’ Source: Notes in the History of Art 15, no. 4 (1996): 16–21. Rambaran-Olm, M. ‘Anglo-Saxon Studies [Early English Studies], Academia and White Supremacy,’, accessed 15 August 2018. Rigold, S. E. The Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1976. Romano, Dennis. Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, ca. 1100 to ca. 1440. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. Rubin, Patricia. ‘Signposts of Invention: Signatures in Italian Renaissance Art.’ Art History 29, no. 4 (2006): 563–599. Salas, Xavier de and Fernando Marias. El Greco y el arte de su tiempo: las notas de El Greco a Vasari. Madrid: Iberdrola, 1992. Schlief, Corine. ‘Nicodemus and Sculptors: Self-Reflexivity in Works by Adam Kraft and Tilman Riemenschneider.’ The Art Bulletin 75, no. 4 (1993): 599–626.


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Schreffler, Michael J. Cuzco: Incas, Spaniards, and the Making of a Colonial City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020. Schultz, Bernard. Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985. Silveri, Rachel and Trevor Stark. ‘Reactionary Art Histories.’ Selva: A Journal of the History of Art 2 (2020): 3–30. Smith, Pamela H. The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Smith, Pamela H. ‘Alchemy as the Imitator of Nature.’ In Glass of the Alchemists: Lead Chrystal-Gold Ruby, 1650–1750, ed. by Dedo von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk, 22–33. Corning: Corning Museum of Glass, 2008. Smith, Pamela H. ‘The Matter of Ideas in the Working of Metals in Early Modern Europe.’ In The Matter of Art: Materials, Technologies, Meanings, ca. 1250–1650, ed. by Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela Smith, 42–67. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. Smith, Pamela H. ‘Making as Knowing: Craft as Natural Philosophy.’ In Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge, ed. by Pamela H. Smith, Amy R. W. Meyers, and Harold J. Cook, 17–47. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. Sohm, Philip. ‘Maniera and the Absent Hand: Avoiding the Etymology of Style.’ RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 36 (1999): 100–124. Solari, Amara. Idolizing Mary: Maya-Catholic Icons in Yucatán, Mexico. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019. Stallybrass, Peter and Allon White. The Politics of Transgression. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986. Thijs, Alfons K.L. ‘Perceptions of Deceit and Innovation in the Antwerp Textile Industry (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries).’ In On the Edge of Truth and Honesty: Principles and Strategies of Fraud and Deceit in the Early Modern Period, ed. by Toon Van Houdt, Jan L. de Jong, Zoran Kwak, Marijke Spies, and others, 127–148. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Trachtenberg, Marvin. Building in Time: From Giotto to Alberti and Modern Oblivion. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010. Unfolding the Textile Medium in Early Modern Art and Literature, ed. by Tristan Weddigen. Emsdetten: Edition Imorde, 2011. Vigarello, George. Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France Since the Middle Ages, trans. by Jean Birrell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Weddigen, Tristan and Gregor J.M. Weber. ‘The Alchemy of Colors: Titian Portrays his Pigment Merchant Alvise “dai Colori” dalla Scala.’ In Titian: Lady in White, ed. by Andreas Henning and Stephan Koja. Dresden: Sandstein Verlag, 2018. Wood, Christopher. A History of Art History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. Zecchin, Luigi. Vetro e vetrai di Murano: studi sulla storia del vetro. 3 vols. Venice: Arsenale, 1987–1990.

Introduction: Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture 


About the Authors Lauren Jacobi is the Clarence H. Blackall Career Development Associate Professor of Architectural History in the History, Theory + Criticism section of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her first book is The Architecture of Banking in Renaissance Italy: Constructing the Spaces of Money (2019). Daniel M. Zolli is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at The Pennsylvania State University. He is a specialist in late medieval and early modern European art, with a particular focus on fourteenth-, fifteenth- and sixteenthcentury Italy. He is preparing a monograph on theories and practices of material experimentation in Donatello’s workshops.


Generation and Ruination in the Display of Michelangelo’s Non-finito Carolina Mangone

Abstract Michelangelo Buonarroti left nearly half of the many sculptures he carved in his lifetime unfinished, their rough surfaces transgressing early modern norms of finish and decorum. Nonetheless these objects (called non-finito/i) were preserved, collected, and displayed in their incomplete states. This paper examines the sites in which Florentine and Roman collectors exhibited Michelangelo’s unfinished statues and demonstrates how the display strategies implemented within these sites sought to offset the expectation of finish that the non-finito failed to meet. By situating roughed sculptures within frameworks that evoked natural forces of accretion and generation or conjured archaeologies of ruination and restoration, collectors strategically blurred artistic, natural, and, temporal agency and fundamentally shaped how the viewer perceived and evaluated Michelangelo’s most anomalous works. Keywords: collecting, decorum, fragment, nature, non-finito, time

When Michelangelo Buonarroti relocated permanently from Florence to Rome in September 1534, he left the Medici Chapel (New Sacristy) in San Lorenzo as a work in progress: its architectural ornament was mostly in place and the two ducal portraits were complete and installed, but nearly all of the remaining statues were unfinished (Fig. 1.1).1 A few of these marble figures were in ‘the room where [Michelangelo]

My sincere thanks to Lauren Jacobi and Daniel Zolli for their enthusiasm about my topic and for their generous feedback. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions. 1 On the appearance of the Medici Chapel at the time of Michelangelo’s departure and on progress at the site thereafter, see Rosenberg, Beschreibungen, pp. 127–145; Waźbiński, L’accademia Medicea, pp. 80–95.

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_ch01


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Figure 1.1. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Medici Chapel (New Sacristy) with the Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici with statues of Day and Night and the unfinished wall with statues of the Madonna and Child, St. Cosmas (by Giovanni Antonio Montorsoli) and St. Damian (by Raffaello da Montelupo), 1520–1534, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo: © Scala / Art Resource, NY

worked.’2 Another four, all with different degrees of surface polish and corporeal finish, sat on wooden benches on the floor of the chapel itself alongside full-scale clay models of figures yet to be blocked in stone, giving the space the aspect of an artist’s studio.3 Over the next thirteen years, as Michelangelo ignored requests that he complete his work, Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519–1574), the site’s inherited patron, permitted foreign dignitaries, local patricians, intellectuals, and artists to visit the incomplete chapel and marvel at its informal array of sculpture. 4 In 1546, despite 2 These statues were the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo and the Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian by his assistants, Giovanni Antonio Montorsoli and Raffaello da Montelupo, respectively. The ‘stanza dove lavorava [Michelangelo]’ (Doni, Disegno, p. 48) refers, most likely, to the artist’s workshop on Via Mozza. See De Tolnay, Michelangelo, III, p. 145. 3 These statues were the reclining allegories, Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk. For a description of the wooden benches that supported these statues in the Medici Chapel, see Wallace, Michelangelo at San Lorenzo, p. 92 (and Figure 47). 4 On the chapel’s early visitors and their written and artistic responses, see Lazzaro, ‘Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel,’ 6–16; Rosenberg, ‘The Reproduction and Publication of Michelangelo’s Sacristy,’ pp. 114–119. Pope Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici, 1478–1534) was the original patron of Medici Chapel. When he died in Rome in September 1534, just after Michelangelo’s departure from Florence, patronage of the site



Michelangelo’s continued absence, the allegories of Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk were mounted on their designated pedestals in their extant states.5 Sometime in the 1550s, Michelangelo’s chisel-marked Madonna and Child was transferred to the chapel and installed along the unornamented back wall with the more polished St. Damian, St. Cosmas and trophies.6 When the chapel officially opened in 1561 it looked much as it does today. Yet modern eyes accustomed to unfinishedness in art too easily overlook the radicality of this display. Never before had so many marble figures that so palpably lacked finish been formally erected in a site destined for finished works of art, let alone inside a sacred mausoleum. This unprecedented installation surely astonished some viewers. Although Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures garnered much acclaim while on the chapel floor, Cosimo’s decision to mount them without their maker’s final touches was hardly a foregone outcome of their renown.7 Nor does the fact that other noble patrons desired any ‘thing by [Michelangelo’s] hand’ satisfactorily explain Cosimo’s open-minded exhibition of these sculptures.8 Not even a nascent aesthetic appreciation for the so-called non-finito – a period term encompassing Michelangelo’s various unfinished sculptures – could have prepared visitors to the Medici Chapel for how palpably the installation flaunted convention.9 Established practices of display, and by extension, the unspoken notions of decorum they articulated, required that newly made statues be finished and their surfaces polished, at least those parts that were visible once the marble was installed. Not quite so with would have passed to Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (1510–1537). After Alessandro’s death, Cosimo became the Grand Duke of Florence and the de facto steward of the chapel (even though he was from a different branch of the Medici family than his ruling predecessors). According to Vasari, one the of first things that Cosimo did was to send Niccolò Tribolo to Rome to persuade Michelangelo to return to Florence and complete his work at San Lorenzo, see Vasari/Milanesi, Le vite, VI, p. 92, VII, p. 236. 5 Michelangelo’s assistant, Niccolò Tribolo, undertook the installation apparently at Cosimo’s behest. See Rosenberg, Beschreibungen, p. 132. 6 It is generally thought that the Madonna and Child, St. Cosmas and St. Damian, were not transferred and assembled until around June 1559, when the remains of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico) and Giuliano de’ Medici were interred in the chapel. See Verellen, ‘Cosmas and Damian,’ p. 274. It is worth noting, by contrast, that Vasari’s 1550 edition of the life of Michelangelo implies that the Madonna and Child was in place in the chapel by the time of publication. If this is true, the transfer had likely just taken place, since according to a letter by Anton Francesco Doni to Alberto Lollio, the Madonna and Child was still in Michelangelo’s workshop in 1549, see Doni, Disegno, p. 48. 7 On the chapel’s fame before its official opening, see Lazzaro, ‘Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel,’ 6–16; Rosenberg, ‘The Reproduction and Publication of Michelangelo’s Sacristy,’ pp. 114–119. 8 On patrons requesting anything from Michelangelo’s hand, see Bambach, Michelangelo, pp. 23–26. 9 Although art historians now use the historical term ‘non-finito’ almost exclusively when discussing Michelangelo’s unfinished works, writers of the early modern period referred to the master’s partially formed statues variously as: incompiuto (incomplete), abbozzato (roughed or sketched) imperfetto (imperfect), non fornito (not fully realized). On these terms see Grassi, ‘I concetti di schizzo,’ pp. 97–106; Barocchi, ‘Finito e non-finito,’ 221–235.


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painting. Although Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished Adoration of the Magi – many of its figures only just outlined on the wood panel – could not be displayed on its intended altar (or any church interior), Titian’s many late religious canvases – works not so much unfinished as freely worked with broad strokes and varying degrees of surface refinement – adorned various altars (though not Florentine ones).10 The expectation of finish also rendered it customary that a statue left in an incomplete state – whether due to professional conflicts, technical failure, the death of its maker, or otherwise – be given to another artist to complete or re-carve for a different use. This is partly owing to the high cost and intense labor of quarrying and transporting marble, a practical reality that rendered it less likely for a patron to preserve a sculpture as unfinished or to acquire new marble for a different sculptor to carve a substitute. By comparison, a patron left with an incomplete painting could more easily hire a different artist to produce another painting using new materials – as did the monks who originally engaged Leonardo to paint the Adoration.11 And yet, Michelangelo’s numerous unfinished statues (for the most part) were spared completion and were not replaced by finished work.12 Thus while Cosimo was not quite unique in preserving Michelangelo’s statues in their roughed states, the chapel visitor surely recognized something new in his bold decision to display them: an explicit endorsement of unfinishedness and, with it, a challenge to the existing order of art. 10 There is no study of the early modern strategies of display for unfinished painting that is comparable to the one I undertake here on the exhibition of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture. There is, however, excellent scholarly work on the reception of Titian’s late paintings (both sacred and secular) as individual works, and the challenge they posed both to Renaissance paradigms of finish and illusionism and to the beholder’s experience. On which see especially, Cranston, Muddied Mirror (with extensive bibliography), who also briefly considers parallels to the affective dimension of Titian’s painterly brushwork in the roughed sculpture by Donatello and Michelangelo. On the reception of unfinished painting in early modern Italy, more broadly, see Bayer, ‘Renaissance Views of the Unfinished,’ pp. 18–29. The catalogue for the recent exhibition of unfinished art at the MET Breuer includes entries on unfinished works paintings by Federico Barocci, Rosso Fiorentino, Danielle da Volterra, and others, which show that unfinished sacred and secular paintings often went into private collections in the early modern period, see Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, pp. 277, 278, 282–283, 288, 303, 307, 314, 322–323. It is worth noting that two of the paintings in the Unfinished catalogue, Domenico Beccafumi’s Holy Family (1540–1549) and Titian’s Portrait of Pietro Aretino (1545), hung in Cosimo I’s private quarters around the 1550s. 11 On the 1481 commission by Augustinian friars of the church of San Donato in Spoleto for an Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo, on the c. 1495 transfer of the commission to Filippino Lippi, and on the afterlife of Leonardo’s unfinished altarpiece, see Bambach, Leonardo, pp. 242–247. 12 Two unfinished statues by Michelangelo were not spared completion: the first version of the Risen Christ and an unidentified ‘pope’ from his Roman studio, discussed briefly below. I am currently completing an article on the rare instances in which Michelangelo’s unfinished statues were posthumously completed. One unfinished Michelangelo was eventually replaced: the St. Matthew, commissioned in 1503, was replaced in the 1580s with a statue of the same subject carved by Vincenzo de Rossi. See Keizer, ‘Site-Specificity,’ pp. 29–30.



Cosimo’s validation of Michelangelo’s unfinished statuary in the Medici Chapel was fundamental to the period invention of the non-finito as an acceptable form of sculpture more or less exclusive to Michelangelo. Yet it should not be construed as the signpost of an entirely unproblematic reception of the master’s lack of finish. When compared to other Cinquecento and Seicento instances of the non-finito on display – the focus of this essay – the chapel emerges as the most audacious and unqualified endorsement, not least because it is the only installation of unfinished Michelangelos in their intended location. All the other non-finiti attributed to the master in the period – almost 20 full-scale statues (not including his reliefs) – were orphaned, as it were, their emergent figures and chisel-marked surfaces making them unsuitable for display in their designated sites.13 Rendered independent works by virtue of their unfinished conditions, these sculptures were as sought after by patrons as they were unsettling to aesthetic norms. Examining early modern approaches to displaying the non-finito beyond the Medici Chapel makes evident that collectors endeavored to produce spatial and sculptural ensembles that gave coherence to a statue’s lack of finish, often placing unfinished statues outdoors, in contexts freer from the propriety that governed sacred or secular interiors. In as much as these interventions validated the non-finito, they also disclosed unspoken apprehensions about assimilating Michelangelo’s roughed statues into an artistic world governed by finish and polish (at least for newly made art). By reconstituting the mostly lost stagings of Michelangelo’s variously roughed statues in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Florence and Rome, I illuminate the strategies collectors used to offset the expectation of finish that the non-finito failed to meet. Because these installations configured meaning, they played as important (if not greater) a role in producing historical readings of Michelangelo’s roughed sculpture as did the various period theorists who discussed them.14 Yet the meanings constituted by display are largely overlooked in scholarly interpretations of the non-finito’s reception in early modernity.15 To redress this blindspot is to reflect on how each strategy of presentation created conditions for 13 These statues include: the St. Matthew, the first version of the Risen Christ, the Louvre Slaves, the Times of Day, the Madonna and Child, the Boboli Slaves, the Florence Pietà, the Rondanini Pietà, the Palestrina Pietà (by an imitator), the destroyed Earth (now attributed to Tribolo), the Venus with Amorini (now attributed to Vincenzo Danti), and an unidentified ‘pope’ from Michelangelo’s Roman studio. On the de facto sitelessness of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, particularly the four Florentine Slaves, see Keizer, ‘Site-Specificity,’ pp. 25–46. 14 On display as mediator between object and viewer, and a device that meaningfully structures perception, see Grave and others, ‘The Agency of Display,’ pp. 7–19. The literature on the role and effects of parerga – frames, niches, pedestals, and acts of arrangement or display – is large. For framing and display practices in early modern Italy across the arts, see Wright, Frame Work. 15 The exception is the display of Michelangelo’s Slaves in the Grotta Grande of the Boboli garden, discussed below.


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particular kinds of interaction between an unfinished object and a beholder. What becomes apparent is that rather than narrowly circumscribe the viewer’s perception of unfinished sculpture, many displays accommodated multiple readings, thus respecting, in some measure, the lack of fixity inherent to Michelangelo’s non-finito.

Decorum, Finish, and Display There was no early modern injunction against formally displaying unfinished sculpture. The non-finito’s breach of decorum was tacit. Decorum, a concept central to early modern art theory and practice, was a flexible standard dictated by norms of social and aesthetic decency that governed the suitability of content to form, the appropriateness of a work to its function or setting, and the visual coherence relative to the beholder.16 Some measure of just how dramatically the Medici Chapel’s unfinished sculptures transgressed the latter category, in particular, can be gleaned from Giorgio Vasari’s appraisal of an early exception that proved the norm: Donatello’s organ loft for Florence Cathedral, the surface of which was not unfinished, per se, but purposefully left coarse and unpolished. Vasari deemed Donatello’s rough execution a more judicious choice than high polish in this instance alone, because the relief was to be seen, not close up, but from a removed vantage – a perspective that tended to swallow finely rendered details and delicate surface polish.17 Seen from far away, Donatello’s coarsely-worked marble appeared more refined than it actually was, the distant gaze furnishing the optical perception of surface finish. Vasari noted the same effect with regard to Titian’s sketchily-worked late paintings, which ‘are carried out in blows [of the paintbrush], executed roughly and with splotches, in a manner that they cannot be looked at closely but from a distance appear perfected.’18 The chisel-marked surfaces of Michelangelo’s early 16 The literature on decorum is substantial. See most recently, Williams, Raphael, pp. 76–84. 17 Vasari/Milanesi, Le vite, I, p. 150: ‘Debbono le figure, così di rilievo come dipinte, esser condotte più con il giudicio che con la mano, avendo a stare in altezza dove sia una gran distanza, perché la diligenza dell’ultimo f inimento non si vede da lontano, ma si conosce bene la bella forma delle braccia e delle gambe, ed il buon giudicio nelle falde de’panni con poche pieghe: perché nella semplicità del poco si mostra l’acutezza dello ingegno. E per questo, le figure di marmo o di bronzo che vanno un poco alte, vogliono essere traforate gagliarde; acciocché il marmo, che è bianco, et il bronzo, che ha del nero, piglino all’aria della oscurità, e per quella apparisca da lontano il lavoro esser finito, e dapresso si vegga lasciato in bozze. La quale advertenza ebbero grandemente gli antichi, come nelle loro figure tonde e di mezo rilievo che negli archi e nelle colonne veggiamo di Roma, le quali mostrano ancora quel gran giudicio ch’essi ebbero; ed infra i moderni si vede essere stato osservato il medesimo grandemente, nelle sue opera, da Donatello.’ 18 Vasari/Barocchi, Le vite, VI, p. 166: ‘Ma è ben vero che il modo di fare che tenne in queste ultime è assai diferente dal far suo da giovane: con ciò sia che le prime son condotte con una certa finezza e



relief sculpture may also have been carved with far vantages in mind, although we lack information about how they were displayed.19 What extant evidence confirms, however, is that no such illusionistic distance mediated the close encounter with Michelangelo’s unfinished figures in the intimate space of the Medici Chapel, nor in any other instance when his lack of finish in full-scale statuary was on display. Given the standard of decorum denoted by the high placement of Donatello’s relief, and by the ideal viewing distance proposed (though not necessarily practiced) for Titian’s late painting, it is perhaps not surprising that Vasari and other advocates of Michelangelo’s non-finito sculpture sidestepped questions about the propriety of their proximate display. Instead, their discussions of the non-finito encouraged viewers to see in the unfinished marble the greatness of the artist’s ideas. For example, when Vasari claimed that it was in the Madonna and Child’s chisel-marked ‘imperfection’ that one could recognize its ‘full perfection,’20 or when Benedetto Varchi stated that the St. Matthew revealed the ‘profundity and excellence of [Michelangelo’s] intellect and talent,’21 they collapsed physical traces of facture with mental conception and genius. Such claims were not empirical descriptions of a sculpture’s unfinished surface, but defensive justifications conscious that in Cinquecento aesthetics, finish, and not the lack of it, typically denoted perfection. Thus Francesco Bocchi’s general aversion to unfinished works, and his admonition that true perfection in non-finish was extremely rare, limited to Virgil’s text of the Aeneid, Apelles’ painting of Venus, and ‘some statues by Michelangelo, which, although they could fall into ugliness, are nevertheless quickly praised, above all, for foreseeing the beauty and perfection that is revealed in the soul.’22 Juxtaposing the potential ‘ugliness’ of a roughed sculpture to the ‘beauty’ of an imaginary ideal diligenza incredibile, e da essere vedute da presso e da lontano, e queste ultime, condotte di colpi, tirate via di grosso e con macchie, di maniera che da presso non si possono vedere e di lontano appariscono perfette.’ 19 These are the Taddei Tondo (which likely went immediately into Taddeo Taddei’s home); the Pitti Tondo (which probably also went immediately into the Pitti collection, although it was later seen by Vasari in the house of Pietro Varchi in 1564); and the Battle of the Centaurs (which remained in Michelangelo’s Florentine studio on Via Mozza throughout his life). But even if at least one of these reliefs was carved to be seen from di sotto in su (from below), a distant vantage would not diminish the appearance of rough chiseling. 20 Vasari/Barocchi, Vita di Michelangelo, I, p. 61: ‘et ancora che non siano finite le parti sue, si conosce, nell’essere rimasta abozzata e gradinata, nella imperfezione della bozza la perfezione dell’opera.’ 21 Varchi, Orazione funerale, p. 28. 22 Bocchi, Eccellenza, p. 100: ‘Né crederrò io, che alcune simili opere, perché sono imperfette, e ancora non f inite debbano essere di maggior nome, e di maggior grido, perché il pensiero vi è più compiuta bellezza ne possa aspettare. Anzi per avventura egli poteva accadere, quando elle havessero havuto il fine loro, che il suo contrario ne avvenisse. Et di questa qualità è l’Eneide di Virgilio, e la Venere di Apelle, e alcune statue di Michelagnolo Buonarroti; le quali comeché nella bruttezza potessero cadere, nondimeno gli uomini presti à commendarle, più che altra cosa di haverne atteso bellezza, e perfezzione nell’animo dimostrano.’


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within the artist’s soul, Bocchi read the non-finito through the Neoplatonic notion that no work of art can ever completely resemble its heavenly counterpart (mirrored in the soul).23 Understood as imperfect material reflections of perfect immaterial ideas, Michelangelo’s coarsely-worked statues here assumed both faces of the contamination/purity coin, with a preference for the latter face. This dialectic of inside and outside reappeared in the Seicento, when Domenico Ottonelli and Pietro da Cortona argued that for an artist of Michelangelo’s caliber to leave a sculpture unfinished, or even to break it, was neither ‘unusual,’ ‘indecent,’ nor an indication of ‘faulty’ work, ‘but rather [a sign] that the Idea the Master formed in his soul to create it was very perfect and very excellent.’24 The fact that Michelangelo’s non-finito still warranted defense over a century after its critical emergence underscores something of the lingering apprehension that attended this unorthodox type of sculpture. Repeatedly emphasizing conception over completion, or pure thought within impure materialization, the aforementioned theorists advocated a habit of looking at the non-finito that saw its vivid traces of manufacture as evidence of the hand furnishing the freshest possible glimpse of the artist’s idea. Yet in doing so they disclosed tacit concerns that in a world accustomed to polish and to fully realized form, Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture might equally be construed as defective and flawed – the chisel and gradine marks stimulating doubts that the artist was technically capable of realizing his lofty conceits. Indeed, central to the period elevation of sculpture to a liberal art was the expectation that the sculptor demonstrated the intelligence of his craft by transforming intractable stone into convincing illusionism. Handiwork that accentuated making over mimesis, process over product could jeopardize this noble status. No matter how much writers encouraged viewers to appreciate Michelangelo’s chisel-marked statues as indexes of his mental brilliance, it would have been difficult not to associate the various grooves left by his many tools with manual brawn. A 23 On Bocchi’s Neoplatonic reading of Michelangelo’s unfinished work, see Barocchi, ‘Finito e non-finito,’ 226. 24 Ottonelli and Cortona, Trattato, p. 210: ‘Non voglio lasciar di riferire ciò, che mi disse un gran Professore intorno al famosissimo Michel’Angelo, cioè che più volte lasciò in Roma l’opere abbozzate; perché se bene erano tali, che potevano servir d’esemplari ad altri Maestri, nondimeno à lui non riuscivano di perfettissima sodisfattione. Tali sono i due Gruppi di Pietà, de’quali uno fù trovato seppellito in una stanza à terreno, & hora si vede publicamente in una Officina di Roma: e l’altro stà nel giardino, che fù del Sig. Cardinal Bandino à Monte Cavallo. E queste due Bozze, oltre l’altre, che si veggono tralasciate, sono di tanta bellezza, che Taddeo Zucchero stimò bene impiegata la sua fatica in disegnarle, colorirle, e ridurle in opera: come vedesi in Roma nella Madonna de’Monti, e nella Pietà del Consolato de’Fiorentini. E da questo argomento si può, che non è cosa insolita, ne indecente ad un consumato Artefice lasciar, ò guastar un’opera, non finita, e rifarla secondo la pienezza della sua totale sodisfattione; imperoche questo dimostra, non che l’opera sia in se molto difettosa, mà che molto perfetta, e molto eccellente sia l’Idea, che nel animo hà formato il Maestro per condurla.’



close encounter with unfinished marbles rendered the sculptor’s physical interaction with his obdurate material as much a subject of visual interest, if not more, as the emergent figure. By drawing attention to their status as made objects – indeed, as art forever caught in a moment of being made – these sculptures summoned to mind the activity of carving in the workshop. This was a fraught realm for a statue to conjure, especially in the age of Leonardo da Vinci’s disparaging assessment of the sculptor’s ignoble manual exertions compared to the painter’s gentlemanly intellectual activity. Leonardo defined the sculpting process by its physical fatigue, noting that the effort of hammering chunks from a marble block covered the sculptor in ‘great amounts of sweat composed of dust and converted to mud.’ So too the sculptor’s house, as much as his body, was ‘filthy and full of chips and stone dust.’25 Viewed from this perspective, Michelangelo’s tool-marked marbles threatened to affirm the notion that sculpting was little more than a messy and aggressively manual confrontation with obdurate matter. How could seeing the chisel-marked surfaces and the bulks of roughed stone that still encased many of Michelangelo’s unfinished figures not have evoked the excess scraps and chunks of marble that should have been relegated to the workroom floor? Experienced in a formal setting beyond the confines of a sculptor’s workshop, the non-finito’s unpolished surface, traces of facture, incomplete form, and surplus vestiges of marble designated it as a kind of ‘matter out of place,’ what anthropologist Mary Douglas described as ‘dirt’ – that is, disorderly practices, objects, and phenomena that contravened social norms and unsettled systems of classification.26 Like dirt, the non-finito was indecorous and anomalous. Unlike dirt, however, the non-finito was as desirable as it was disruptive, its transgressions worth tolerating, even appreciating. This ambiguity stimulated contradictory responses, leading collectors like Cosimo to present Michelangelo’s rough-hewn and partially formed sculptures on par with highly finished works (read ‘pure’) and others (the majority of collectors) to align them with objects and materials lacking refinement (read ‘contaminated’). In other words, as an object of display the non-finito could be positioned on either side of the contamination/purity dyad with which this volume is preoccupied. Signaling the impropriety of an unf inished sculpture’s displacement from workshop into the world, early modern displays outside the Medici Chapel put the 25 As translated in Farago, Leonardo da Vinci’s Paragone, p. 257, with commentary, pp. 383–396, and with the original Italian, p. 256: ‘Provassi così esser vero, con ciò sia che lo scultore nel fare la sua opera fa per forza di braccia et di percussione a consumare il marmo od altra pietra superchia che eccede la figura, che dentro a quella si rinchiude, con essercitio meccanichissimo accompagnato spesse volte da gran sudore composto di polvere e convertito in fangho, con la faccia impastata, e tutto infarinato di polvere di marmo che pare im fornaio, et coperto di minuto scaglie che pare li sia fioccato a dosso, et l’habbittatione inbrattata e piena di scaglie e di polvere di pietre.’ 26 Douglas, Purity and Danger.


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non-finito into place by establishing discernable boundaries to mediate, configure, and supplement the encounter with these unorthodox objects. In these sites of exhibition, the responsibility to understand, (imaginatively) complete, and evaluate lack of finish fell to the viewer. Collectors thus adopted strategies that invited the beholder to perceive the non-finito not as the absence of Michelangelo’s finishing touch, but rather, as the presence of nature’s unruly generative caress and the incidence of time’s ruinous hand. Grounded in period knowledge of how generation and ruination shaped one class of matter in particular – stone – these approaches were tailored to the material specificities of unfinished sculpture. By orchestrating viewing frameworks that privileged the disorder of natural and temporal processes above the order of culture, or that collapsed distinctions between the perfect and imperfect, period collectors responded to the challenge that Michelangelo’s non-finito posed to an artistic order predicated on finish.

Non-finito and the Hands of Nature and Time In 1585 Francesco I de’ Medici (1541–1587), Cosimo’s heir, installed Michelangelo’s four unf inished Slaves in the Grotta Grande, an artif icial grotto constructed at the edge of the Boboli gardens (Fig. 1.2).27 Cosimo received the Slaves as gifts from Michelangelo’s nephew after the artist’s death, and according to Vasari, he intended them as exemplars for artists learning how to carve stone – perhaps also envisioning their placement somewhere in the newly established academy.28 Is it possible Cosimo deemed them too rough and unformed for more public display? Whatever the case, once installed in the Grotta Grande the Slaves lost any meaningful pedagogical function they might have had in order to serve a representational purpose. Ensconced in the four corners of the grotto’s first room, the unfinished Slaves occupy a stony, primordial realm in which form is emerging from chaos. Encrusted shells, sponges, stalactites, and rough minerals not only constitute the cave walls, they also give form to ragged shepherds, goats, river gods, and female nudes – figures intentionally wrought in rough states. Just beyond this craggy lower zone, frescoed vistas of sprawling, sparsely populated landscapes show habitation before civilization. And above the whole, frescoed birds and animals roam a 27 These four Slaves were originally intended for the Julius tomb in Rome, but were abandoned and severed from that project around the time Michelangelo left Florence permanently in 1534. The literature on the Grotta Grande (1583–1593), a site designed and overseen by Bernardo Buontalenti, is vast. See especially, Heikamp, ‘La grotta grande,’ 27–43; Heikamp, ‘L’interno della Grotta Grande,’ pp. 446–474; Bernardo Buontalenti. 28 Vasari/Barocchi, Vita di Michelangelo, I, p. 119. No extant document, to my knowledge, indicates where the Slaves were kept between their bestowal to Cosimo and their transfer to the grotto by Francesco.


Figure 1.2. Bernardo Buontalenti, First chamber of the Grotta Grande with Michelangelo’s Slaves, stucco relief by Pietro Mati, and frescos by Bernardino Poccetti, 1583–1593, Giardino di Boboli, Florence. Photo: © Vanni Archive / Art Resource, NY



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crumbling arcade of rough-hewn stone, the structure unnervingly straddling a fine line between stability and collapse. At once a natural cave and an architectural ruin, the grotto was remarkable not in its appearance, per se, but in the fact that it was probably created expressly to furnish Michelangelo’s Slaves with a setting suitable to their lack of finish.29 Aspiring to decorous display that aligned formal appearance with appropriate setting, the grotto’s patron and designer inverted the typical parameters of site specificity: rather than tailor sculptures to the site, Michelangelo’s pre-existing statues inspired and propelled the creation of an ex nihilo surround that was custom built to accommodate their unfinished condition. Emulating the formal and material composition of artificial grottos described in ancient sources and informed by theories of natural science, the Grotta Grande blurred the boundaries between human artifice and nature’s processes. According to Cinquecento natural philosophy, caves were ideal spaces for the growth of stones; it was thought that in the dark and dank of underground caverns, evaporating water produced solid rock.30 Within the artificial Boboli grotto – originally enlivened by jets that bathed its walls in water – Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures could be construed as extensions of the natural production of stone from moisture, their emergent forms entirely self-generating.31 The artist’s very mode of carving the Slaves, statues that Vasari proposed came into being as if figures emerging gradually from a tub of water, even furnished an evocative counterpart to rocks formed by processes of calcification and dehydration.32 When staged in a setting 29 Early modern viewers, like the seventeenth-century biographer Filippo Baldinucci, perpetuated the notion that the Grotta Grande was conceived specifically to house Michelangelo’s Slaves. Baldinucci, Notizie, II, pp. 498–499: ‘Bernardo dunque volendo dar posto contecente a questi gran colossi, benchè solamente abbozzati, seguendo anche in ciò la volontà del granduca, che fu di fargli situare in modo, ch’e’potessero essere d’ammastramento a’ professori (giacché fu sempre universale opinione degl’intendenti, che il bozzare di Michelagnolo avesse scoperto un nuovo modo per operar sicuro, e non istorpiare i marmi sul bel principio) risolvettesi a fare una spaziosa grotta nel giardino di Boboli […] e negli 4 angoli della medesima situò quelle bozzate figure in atto di reggere gran quantità di spugne, accordando così bene la rozzezza di quei naturali scherzi col ruvidio di quegli abbozzi, che il tutto pare stato operato dalla natura medesima.’ 30 Morel, Les Grottes Maniéristes, pp. 5–85; Morel, ‘Mannerist Grottos,’ pp. 115–134; Szafranska, ‘The Philosophy of Nature and the Grotto.’ 31 On the hydraulics in the Grotta Grande, and in the Boboli garden more broadly, see Lazzaro, Italian Renaissance Garden, pp. 190–214. 32 As noted by Schröder, ‘Metamorphosen der Skulptur,’ pp. 123–125. Vasari/Barocchi, Vita di Michelangelo, I, p. 119: ‘ma quattro Prigioni bozzati, che possano insegnare a cavare de’marmi le figure con un modo sicuro da non istorpiare i sassi, che il modo è questo: che se e’ si pigliassi una f igura di cera o d’altra materia dura e si mettessi a diacere in una conca d’acqua, la quale acqua essendo per sua natura nella sua sommità piana a pari, alzando la detta figura a poco a poco del pari, così vengono a scoprirsi prima le parti più rilevate e a nascondersi i fondi, cioè le parti più basse della figura, tanto che nel fine ella così viene scoperta tutta. Nel medesimo modo si debbono cavare con lo scarpello le figure de’marmi, prima scoprendo le parti più rilevate e di mano in mano le più basse.’



that folded artistic agency and facture into natura naturans (the processes by which nature formed itself; nature as an active creative agent), the unfinished Slaves could masquerade as the work of spontaneous generation, their imperfect surfaces explained by the unstable natural matter from which they appear to spring forth. Although constructing dialogues between art and nature was not new, the Grotta Grande employed this strategy of display to novel purpose: mediating the encounter with Michelangelo’s most embryonic non-finiti. And the site left it up to the viewer to decide where nature’s agency ended and the artist’s began. Seen as potential products of nature’s generative force, Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves also evoked the ‘image made by chance,’ that is, the perception that images were formed by accidents in the natural configuration of rocks, clouds, flames, and so on. The notion was ancient, with evidence of the phenomenon recorded in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (77–79 CE) and revisited in Renaissance writings on art and the natural sciences alike.33 In his De Statua (1430), for example, Leon Battista Alberti located the origins of sculpture in primeval artists who perceived two-dimensional shapes in tree trunks and in mounds of earth.34 Alberti’s Latin text enjoyed renewed currency in the years just prior to the Grotta Grande’s construction, owing to its 1568 Italian translation. It was also around this time that Ulisse Aldrovandi, the naturalist, antiquarian, and Medici associate, devised yet another etiology of sculpture that grounded the origins of statues in rock formations.35 In a chapter on marble from his posthumously published geological manual, Aldrovandi traced sculpture’s history from the generation of stones to various rock-images carved by chance – some resembling fully three-dimensional hands and feet, others like two-dimensional ‘icons’ of hermits and crucified Christs – and ending with antique statuary that straddled the natural and the man-made.36 In Aldrovandi’s schema, geology and antiquarianism were intertwined disciplines, the specimens of each falling under the umbrella of the ancient past. The Grotta Grande takes license with such naturalist histories by constructing its own etiological imaginary for modern Florentine sculpture. In a frescoed scene just above Michelangelo’s so-called Atlas Slave, two stonecutters are pictured 33 For these classical and Renaissance sources, and others, see Janson, ‘The “Image Made by Chance”,’ pp. 254–266. On how accidental images in nature and hidden images in art stimulate the beholder’s perceptual imagination, see Gamboni, Potential Images, esp. pp. 13–41. 34 Alberti, On Painting and On Sculpture, pp. 120–121. 35 Notably, Aldrovandi visited Florence in the years just before and after construction on the artificial cavern began (1577 and 1586). 36 For the chapter on rocks (De Lapidibus), see Aldrovandi, Museum Metallicum, Bk. IV, which includes discussions of sandstone, carbonate, and marble. Aldrovandi’s anthropomorphic artifacts are numerous, see, ibid., p. 481 (hands), pp. 487, 488 (feet), p. 756 (hermits), p. 757 (wild man), p. 758 (monks), p. 759 (crucifix). On the relationship of Aldrovandi’s ideas on the generation of stone and the display of Michelangelo’s Slaves in the grotto, see Rinaldi, ‘Saxum Vivum,’ pp. 299–307.


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having just hewn massive blocks from the jagged mountains, their labor marking the beginning of man-made artifice.37 The vignette also underscores the privileged place marble holds in the lapidary spectacle across the grotto’s three sequential chambers. Notably the marble statues in the two rooms beyond the first chamber are far more finished and polished than the Slaves, and the architectural ornament that surrounds them is increasingly refined. The progression from coarse to cultivated culminates in the last chamber, where Giambologna’s Venus thematizes surface finish – her sensuous body is smoothed by the cloth she uses to perform her ablutions and by sprays of water (issuing from the mouths of leering fawns) that caress her flesh.38 Although the grotto’s various rooms anchored all of its modern statues to a very remote past, when viewed in sequence they nonetheless presented a subtle transformation over time and space that began with the artifice of Michelangelo’s rugged, emergent figures, and crystalized into the full-fleshed vitality of polished sculpture in the round. If the Venus here symbolizes nature become culture, then Michelangelo’s Slaves are its antecedents – the archaic ‘chance’ artifacts at the origins of that development. Beyond implicating Michelangelo’s artifice and visible traces of facture in natural geological processes, the grotto setting also made it possible to read the formal lack of finish as iconographic content. For example, in his 1591 guide to Florence, Bocchi described the unfinished Slaves within the grotto as struggling to free themselves from the marble blocks to which they were bound in order to escape the immanent collapse of the painted stone arcade in the cupola above.39 This image of Atlas-like suffering, however, was not the only reading the ensemble summoned to mind. 40 In the very next sentence Bocchi turned the tragedy of impending ruin into a triumph of emerging life, the roughed Slaves reminding him of the story of Deucalion and Pyrrah who restored humanity after a flood by magically transforming stones into living beings. 41 As Bocchi’s readings make clear, within the grotto Michelangelo’s statues could support various, even conflicting, interpretations – an openness and flexibility partly shaped by their degree of finish, and partly engendered by the context. The setting thus offered an experience of the non-finito in which its state 37 The grotto walls were painted by Bernardo Barbatelli (known as Poccetti) and his assistants. See Cinelli, ‘Painted Decoration,’ pp. 79–91. 38 The Venus was placed in the grotto in 1592. On the theme of polish in other Venus figures by Giambologna, see Cole, Ambitious Form, p. 73. 39 Bocchi, Bellezze, pp. 69–70: ‘Quattro statue di mano del Buonarroti, fatte già per la sepoltura di Papa Giulio Secondo, sono state in questo luogo collocate, e non senza vago, & sottile intendimento: perche abbozzate con incredibile, & maraviglioso artifizio mostrano queste figure con ogni sforzo di volere uscir del marmo per fuggir la rovina, che è loro di sopra.’ 40 On the trope of suffering in the grotto, see D’Elia, ‘Giambologna’s Giant.’ 41 Bocchi, Bellezze, p. 70: ‘& fanno risovvenire di quello, che favoleggiano i poeti, quando estinti gli huomini per lo diluvio, cavando quelli da pietre, fu il mondo da Deucalione restaurato.’



of incompletion made sense iconographically, without however constraining the viewer to follow a single, symbolic program. Yet by reading the rough-hewn forms of the Slaves as intrinsically tied to the multivalent content of the Grotta Grande, Bocchi did just what this site asks of all its visitors: to construe Michelangelo’s lack of finish as a mimetic end, in and of itself. In relegating Michelangelo’s unfinished statues to an outdoor grotto, Francesco I eschewed his father’s audacious display of the non-finito in formal interiors like the Medici Chapel. He did so again when he consigned the chisel-marked David/Apollo (Fig. 3) – a sculpture that Cosimo I had exhibited in his own private quarters – to the amphitheater of the Boboli garden. A 1553 inventory indicates that during Cosimo’s time, the David/Apollo stood in the quarta camera (‘fourth room’) of the ducal apartment in the Palazzo Vecchio alongside Benvenuto Cellini’s Ganymede and two sculptures of Bacchus, one by Jacopo Sansovino and the other by Baccio Bandinelli.42 This is the earliest-known assemblage of modern statues as collectibles rather than as site-specific works: a mini gallery of contemporary masterpieces. 43 More significant, however, is how this display shapes the viewer’s understanding of the non-finito. In a fundamental way, their arrangement proclaims the aesthetic integrity of Michelangelo’s unfinished statue by putting it on equal footing with contemporary statues that have highly refined surfaces – Bandinelli notably boasted that his figure was burnished like a jewel. 44 It also effects how we read the subject of Michelangelo’s figure. Contemporaries could not agree on what the sculpture represented: Vasari saw an Apollo, Vincenzo Borghini recognized a David. 45 Their uncertainty derives from the fact that Michelangelo did not give shape to the item that the youth reaches over his shoulder to grasp. In lieu of a clear attribute – a sling for a David or a quiver of arrows for an Apollo – we have a horizontal mass. Yet within the context of the statue’s display alongside two Bacchuses and a Ganymede, the beholder is invited to imagine finishing the statue if not specifically as Apollo, at the very least as a mythological figure. By filling the blanks in Michelangelo’s statue, the viewer performs a mental act of completion akin to that practiced in physical reality by period sculptors who restored fragmentary antiquities. It is from this vantage that the proximity of the David/Apollo to the Ganymede, in particular, gains significance. Cellini created the 42 Gáldy, ‘Che sopra queste ossa,’ 492. 43 On this grouping as the first ‘musealizzazione della scultura moderna (musealization of modern sculpture),’ see Pierguidi, ‘Il confronto fra antichi e moderni,’ 507. 44 Bandinelli made the claim in a letter of 1549 to Cosimo, see Waldman, Baccio Bandinelli, pp. 383–384, no. 660. 45 On the ambiguous subject of the David/Apollo, see The Medici, Michelangelo, pp. 216–217; Bambach, Michelangelo, pp. 180–186, with reference to period identifications, including the 1553 inventory of the Palazzo Vecchio that calls the statue a ‘David del Buonarroto imperfetto.’


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Figure 1.3. Michelangelo Buonarroti, David/Apollo, 1530s, marble, 1.46 m, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Photo: © Erich Kessing / Art Resource



Ganymede from a fragmentary ancient torso to which he added a head, limbs, and an eagle (the joins between old and new may have been as perceptible originally as they are now – the point being to highlight the technical and mental feat of completion).46 A product of the growing preference among collectors to have modern sculptors restore wholeness to ruined antiquities, the Ganymede endorsed Vasari’s claim that, when completed, erstwhile fragments possessed ‘much more grace’ than they had in their formerly imperfect states.47 Cellini himself construed his restoration as an act of homage, claiming that the moment he saw the ancient fragment he pronounced that ‘the excellence of this great artist calls me to serve him.’48 Cellini’s restored torso raises a significant question: If it was desirable to refurbish an imperfect antique, why not also finish Michelangelo’s non-finito? Shortly after Michelangelo’s death, his friend Diomede Leoni proposed just such a completion of an unfinished ‘pope’ in the artist’s Roman studio, reasoning that ‘out of respect for the figure, it deserved to come to light.’49 This ‘pope’ is arguably the statue Nicolas Cordier was said to have re-carved into a St. Gregory several decades later.50 Michelangelo’s David/ Apollo was obviously spared the fate of posthumous re-carving, yet its collocation alongside Cellini’s restored torso nonetheless signaled this very liability – if only to accentuate the statue’s imperviousness to completion by another hand. Well-read viewers might have been reminded of Apelles’ unfinished Venus, which Pliny said roused greater admiration after no one was found who was adequate ‘to carry on the task’ of finishing it the painting according to the master’s intention.51 For Pierio Valeriano, an antiquarian affiliated with the Medici court, Michelangelo’s non- finiti did not require juxtaposition with restored antiquities to summon 46 On the relationship of the restored Ganymede to ancient torso fragments, and the sculpture in the context of the Medici court, see Allen, ‘“Colore incarnato”,’ pp. 177–193. 47 Vasari/Milanesi, Le vite, IV, pp. 579–580: ‘E nel vero hanno molto più grazia queste anticaglie in questa maniera restaurate, che non hanno que’tronchi imperfetti e le membra senza capo, o in altro modo difettose e manche.’ 48 Cellini, Opere, p. 527: ‘L’eccellenza di questo gran maestro mi chiama a servirlo.’ 49 Diomede Leoni to Lionardo Buonarroti, 9 March 1566, as cited in Echinger-Maurach, ‘Michelangelos “San Pietro in abito di papa”,’ p. 281: ‘quanto occorre per ora intorna la figura del Papa abbozzata da quella felicissima memoria [Michelangelo] la quale se dovera honorare la sepoltura di Paolo quarto, o di altri non sen ha ancora alcuna certezza; ma si stara sulla pratica cosi per rispetto della figura, che merita di uscire alla luce, come per comodo vostro; et di questo siate cosi sicuro, come ancho del vantaggiare, che si fara del prezzo: perche siete ne le mani di due, che conservano con quella reverentia, che si conviene la memoria di quello rarissimo homo.’ 50 Hess, ‘Michelangelo and Cordier,’ 55–64; Echinger-Maurach, ‘Michelangelos “San Pietro in abito di papa”,’ pp. 279–288. 51 Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Bk. 35, 328–329: ‘Apelles had also begun on another Aphrodite at Cos, which was to surpass even his famous earlier one; but death grudged him the work when only partly finished, nor could anybody be found to carry on the task, in conformity with the outlines of the sketches prepared.’


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fragments to mind. Writing in the preface to his 1556 book on Egyptian antiquity, Valeriano justified his own incomplete scholarly project by appealing to Cosimo’s sensibility for imperfect art, namely ancient sculptures unmade by time and sculptures left in the making by Michelangelo: And should we therefore not throw into the fiery furnace those ancient coins and intricate, artistic statues of the ancients, which we seek out so keenly, and which we dig up with such care and go to such lengths to repair, however mutilated they are, either with respect to the nose, or the hand, or the foot or any other part of the body? Should we not throw them into the fiery furnace so that we can use them for the making of lime? For how is it possible that these things could be a source of either pleasure or admiration for us if they are not absolutely perfect, when many claim that nothing is worthy or valuable that is not absolutely whole? So come now, Cosimo, if you approve of this view and throw away so many monuments, both ancient and modern, from your very pleasant home, then see that those statues made with marvelous industry by Michelangelo be removed from the temple of San Lorenzo, for there is something lacking in them, for they lack the final hand of their maker’s artistry.52

Valeriano’s provocation that Michelangelo’s sculptures be removed from the Medici Chapel was tongue-in-cheek. Rather than condemn the non-finiti, his interrogative rhetoric endorsed them by bringing unfinished statuary into dialogue with broken antiquities, objects that he described as desirable notwithstanding deficiencies of wholeness and perfection. This shared imperfection, whether wrought by deterioration over time or caused by facture interrupted, prompted the author to transpose the aesthetic appreciation that some period viewers expressed for the fragment onto the non-finito.53 The pleasure that the viewer took in lack of finish, Valeriano 52 As translated, with transcription of the original Latin, in Curran, ‘“De Sacrarum litterarum Aegyptiorum Interpretatione”,’ 160–161: ‘Sed esto non posse me, non posse alium quempiam totum hoc sacrum perlustrare, idcircóne praeclaro & laborioso incoepto desistendum, quòd uni omnia prestare negatum sit? Idcircóne veterum numismata & statuas artif iciosius elaboratas, quas tanto studio perquirimus, tanta diligentia effodimus, tanto sumptu resarcire curamus, quaecunque fuerint vel nare, vel manu, vel pede, vel alio quopiam membro mutilae, in fornacalem ignem ad usum calcis coniiciemus? quomodo enim nobis vel voluptati vel admirationi esse poterunt, si non undecunque perfectae fuerint; quando nihil isti dignum putant, pretiosum nihil, nisi quod est absolutissimum? Agè igitur COSME, si horum sententiam probas, monumenta aliquot tum vetera tum recentia ex amoenissimis tuis aedibus abijce: statuas illas mira Michaëlis Angeli Bonaroti industria fabrefactas, e Divi Laurentij templo eliminandas cura: nam & illus aliquid deest, & hae extremam artificis desiderant manum: ut de his tantùm loqamur quos in nostrae commentationis serie duces libenter suscipimus.’ 53 The early modern aesthetic appreciation of ancient fragments and ruins was not universal. On the competing responses to ruination and fragmentation, conditions appreciated by some and disliked by



implied, was not in imaginatively completing Michelangelo’s sculptures as much as in discerning their beauty in their extant states. Recognizing the virtues of imperfection, the antiquarian-scholar prompted his reader to pass a favorable aesthetic judgment on what is, not what could be. And yet, because Valeriano’s passage also reveals that aesthetic convictions about the value of fragments varied – not all period viewers thought lack of wholeness was precious – his likening of decayed antiquities to non-finiti also hints at the uncertain status of the latter. To the degree that a roughed sculpture’s similarity to a decayed fragment validated its worth and justified its display as unfinished, the very same parallelism also rendered lack of finish a constitutive disadvantage, by making more visible the contingency of eventual completion. Whereas Valeriano’s text proposed imagined analogies between the unfinished statues and sculptural fragments, Roman collectors physically aligned the two. Sometime after 1522, in the earliest-known formal display of a non-finito statue, Metello Vari de’ Porcari placed Michelangelo’s first version of the Risen Christ in the courtyard of his palazzo, promising to treasure it ‘as his most great honor, as if it were gold.’54 Abandoned mid-carving when a flaw emerged in the stone, the statue was described in the early seventeenth century – shortly before it was forever altered by its posthumous completion – as carved to the same degree as the St. Matthew and the Boboli Slaves.55 In other words, the abandoned Risen Christ was among Michelangelo’s most unfinished statues. According to Aldrovandi’s 1556 guide to Rome’s antiquities, the statue stood in Vari’s orticello (‘little garden’) just off the main courtyard – the only modern sculpture amidst sundry ancient fragments.56 Relying on the ruins of the past to propel an appreciation of Michelangelo’s unfinished figure, the setting nurtured the formal ambiguity between fragmentation and facture. Although lack of wholeness and lack of finish are not literal equivalences, encountering the unfinished Risen Christ in Vari’s courtyard of antiquities must have been akin to seeing Michelangelo’s Bacchus in Jacopo Galli’s sculpture garden, where it stood, not unfinished, but with its hand and genitals (purposefully?) broken others, see Morgan, ‘“Anciently Modern and Modernly Ancient”,’ 261–263; Fiorenza, ‘Fables, Ruins and the “bell’imperfetto”,’ 285–291; Barkan, Unearthing the Past, pp. 173–192. 54 Il Carteggio di Michelangelo, p. 334: ‘Questa sarà per onor mio havendola, che la terrò como si fusse de oro’. On the first version of the Risen Christ, see Parronchi, ‘Il primo “Christo Risorto”,’ pp. 157–190. 55 For the letter (from Francesco Buonarroti to Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, 26 May 1607) comparing the state of finish on the first version of the Christ to other unfinished works by Michelangelo, see Baldriga, ‘The First Version of Michelangelo’s Christ,’ 742. 56 Aldrovandi’s description might represent what he saw in Rome in the 1530s, see Aldrovandi, ‘Di tutte le Statue antiche,’ pp. 247–248: ‘In una corticella, overo orticello, vedesi un Christo ignudo con la Croce al lato destro non fornito per rispetto d’una vena che si scoperse nel marmo della faccia, opera di Michiel Angelo, & lo donò a M. Metello, & l’altro simile à questo, che hora è nella Minerva, lo fece far a sue spese M. Metello al detto Michel Angelo.’


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Figure 1.4. Maarten van Heemskerck, Sculpture Garden of Jacopo Galli, 1532–1536, pen and brown ink, brown wash, 13 × 20.5 cm, From the Roman Sketchbook I, Inv. 79 D 2, fol. 72 recto, Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Photo: © bpk Bildagentur / Kupferstichkabinett / Joerg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY

so as to blur the temporal and formal boundaries between it and the surrounding ancient fragments (Fig. 1.4).57 Sculpture courtyards like Vari’s and Galli’s were a relatively recent phenomenon, capitalizing on the availability of large-scale limbless and headless antiquities that were everywhere emerging from Roman soil.58 This was the veritable birth of the statue fragment as a collectible work of art, and in Vari’s courtyard it uniquely coincided with the birth of the non-finito as an equally precious object.59 Gardens and courtyards full of unrestored antique fragments not only provided an acceptable context for Cinquecento sculpture that breached conventions of finish, they could also be understood as sites of sculptural production. Thus Maarten van Heemskerck’s St. Luke painting the Madonna, an artistic imaginary where the real sculpture courtyard of the Casa Sassi (contemporary with Vari’s, and rich with fragments) doubles as a workshop (Fig. 1.5). Within this courtyard-workshop is a 57 On the Bacchus in Galli’s courtyard and the statue’s ruined state in the sixteenth century, see Barkan, Unearthing the Past, pp. 201–205; Freedman, ‘Michelangelo’s Reflections on Bacchus,’ 121–125. 58 On the rise of collecting large-scale ancient statue fragments, see Christian, Empire Without End, pp. 151–213. 59 Vari’s collection thus furnishes the earliest and most explicit evidence of Barkan’s proposition [Unearthing the Past, pp. 206–207] that the aesthetic of the antique fragment propelled an appreciation of the non-finito. See also, Fiorio, ‘Broken Sculpture,’ pp. 68–84.



Figure 1.5. Maarten van Heemskerck, St. Luke Painting the Virgin, c. 1545, oil on wood, 207 × 144 cm, Musée des BeauxArts, Rennes. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

sculptor absorbed in the vigorous process of carving a (pagan?) marble figure – stone chips strewn on the ground – while a painter works elegantly in a foreground interior, his palette neatly containing his materials as he begins to add color to his outline of the Virgin and Child.60 Michelangelo dwells within one remove of Heemskerck’s fiction, with its sculptor echoing Sigismondo Fanti’s image of the master sprawled over a half-worked female figure (the Dawn from the Medici Chapel), his hammer raised high.61 Fanti’s Michelangelo carves in an ambiguous realm, possibly a statue court, equally plausibly a workshop. It was not uncommon for artists’ workshops to serve as de facto show suites for works in progress, spaces of artistic production where the finality of a non-finito’s state of incompletion could be deferred indefinitely. This actuality offers some insight to a mid-Seicento 60 On the paragone in Heemskerck’s painting, see Stoichita, ‘Malerei und Skuptur im Bild,’ pp. 16–18. 61 On Heemskerck’s sculptor and Fanti’s image of Michelangelo, see Lavin, ‘David’s Sling and Michelangelo’s Bow,’ pp. 40–44. On the representation of Michelangelo in Fanti’s Triumph of Fortune (Venice, 1527), see Johnson, ‘Michelangelo, Fortunetelling,’ pp. 199–202 (Figure 1).


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report that an unidentified Pietà by Michelangelo had been placed on view in an unnamed officina (‘workshop’) in Rome.62 But images of sculptors at work, like Heemskerk’s and Fanti’s, are two-faced. Many have observed that Fanti’s emblem of Michelangelo in the process of carving was derived from Giulio Romano’s representation of an iconoclast smashing pagan statues on the north wall of the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican.63 The ambivalence of this motif – representing facture in one image, and fracture in another – has implications for the period perception of the non-finito, rendering it possible for a viewer to confuse the marks of creation that are visible on the surface of an unfinished Michelangelo with blows of destruction.64 Michelangelo’s rough-hewn Risen Christ, displayed as it was amid the broken bodies of ancient gods in Vari’s sculpture garden, may have also conjured visions of image-breaking that contributed to its eventual completion in the early seventeenth century. Since the only other purported posthumous completion of an unfinished Michelangelo was also a religious statue – the pope mentioned above, completed in the first decade of the Seicento – we can infer that the sacred non-finito caused particular anxiety, its traces of becoming too redolent of disfiguring iconoclasm. Lack of finish, however, did not necessarily undermine sacredness. Shortly after Michelangelo’s death, his so-called Florentine Pietà – which was still in Rome where the sculptor carved, damaged, and then abandoned it – was installed in the sculpture garden of the Bandini villa on the Quirinal Hill beside the papal palace (Fig. 1.6). Framed from at least 1592 onward in the central niche of an exterior loggia, this Pietà was the showpiece of an outdoor antiquities collection that included numerous sarcophagi and statuary fragments.65 Such staging did more than simply liken Michelangelo’s statue to ancient ruins, it also evoked an ancient burial ground – a context appropriate to a statue showing Christ between his Crucifixion and Entombment. The Passion narrative frames a contemporary engraving of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà by Cherubino Alberti – the only known print reproduction – which imaginatively finishes the sculpture and sets it in the wooded landscape of Mount Golgotha and adjacent to a tomb hewn from natural rock, an empty sarcophagus 62 Ottonelli and Cortona, Trattato, p. 210: ‘Tali sono i due Gruppi di Pietà, de’quali uno fù trovato seppellito in una stanza à terreno, & hora si vede publicamente in una Officina di Roma: e l’altro stà nel giardino che fù del Sig. Cardinal Bandino à Monte Cavallo.’ 63 On Romano’s image of an iconoclast and the implications of later appropriations that transform the iconoclast into a sculptor, see Kim, ‘Creative Iconoclasms,’ pp. 75–78 (and Figure 6.2). 64 On the association between violence and the sculptural process, see Cranston, Muddied Mirror, pp. 87–92, who notes how unfinished statues make the condition of the worked marble itself a fundamental aspect of the viewing experience. 65 Camiz, ‘The Pietà in Rome,’ pp. 99–125. Camiz also furnishes a hypothetical reconstruction of the loggia, derived from a record of the site made in 1739, that might offer something of its original appearance with the statue situated in the central niche of a structure that opened to two doorways.


Figure 1.6. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florence Pietà, 1547–1555, marble, 266 cm, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. Photo: © Vanni Archive / Art Resource, NY



Carolina Mangone

Figure 1.7. Cherubino Alberti, Pietà (reversed) after the statue by Michelangelo set in a landscape, c. 1580, engraving, 46.7 × 31 cm, British Museum, inv. no. 1874,0613.600, asset no. 220359001. Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum



within (Fig. 1.7).66 Though it was not uncommon for engravers to represent statues in descriptive settings, Alberti’s image eschews the prevailing tendency in prints of Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà to omit or camouflage the statue’s base so that the viewer reads the sculpture as living beings in a landscape.67 Instead Alberti’s engraving of the Florence Pietà retains the base, offering the viewer a sculptural group in a landscape. The print thus constructs a fiction about the relationship of Michelangelo’s statue to the historical site of Christ’s burial – described in the Gospel of John (19:38–42) as a tomb in a garden beyond Golgotha – thus folding modern sculpture into biblical space and time. A similar conceit governs the Pietà’s placement in the Bandini garden, although here the site transposes the sacred topography of Christ’s entombment from ancient Golgotha (just outside Jerusalem) to Cinquecento Rome. Such concatenations of time and space were commonplaces of the Christian antiquarian imagination, which yielded a 1587 description of the Quirinal Hill as the very hill of Golgotha and the papal palace on it as the residence of the ‘Vicar of the Crucifix.’68 The Bandini sculpture garden, located across the street from the Quirinal Hill, participated in this imaginary, transforming the unfinished Pietà into a fragmented relic of Christian antiquity in the garden beyond Rome’s virtual Golgotha. In 1662 a brief reference to another unfinished Pietà by Michelangelo, one that was found ‘entombed (seppellito) in a first-floor room’ of a Roman building, conjured a scene of unearthing and excavation common to period discoveries of ancient sculpture.69 This sculpture was either the Rondanini Pietà, its location unknown into the nineteenth century, or the Palestrina Pietà, which emerged from obscurity in 1667 when Cardinal Francesco Barberini placed it in the votive church of Santa Rosalia in Palestrina (Fig. 1.8).70 Just who made the latter Pietà, or even when it was carved, remains unclear – though scholars now generally agree it is not a Michelangelo.71 It is doubtful that Barberini commissioned the work directly from a Seicento sculptor, 66 Cherubino also produced a sketch of the Florence Pietà with the missing leg, which suggests that he saw the statue in its mutilated state. Fehl, ‘Michelangelo’s Tomb in Rome,’ 14–16. 67 See the engravings by Giulio Bonasone, Antonio Salamanca, and Adamo Scultori, all of which obscure the statue base or attempt to integrate it more seamlessly into the landscape. Of course, in each engraving, a separate inscription informs the viewer that they are looking at a statue by Michelangelo. On the Vatican Pietà engravings, see Barnes, Michelangelo in Print, pp. 149–153. 68 Camiz, ‘The Pietà in Rome,’ p. 103. 69 For the source, see note 24. The word ‘seppellito’ can be read: 1) literally, in that the sculpture had been enclosed within a room that was perhaps filled with some rubble, and, 2) symbolically, in that it plays on the subject matter of Christ’s Passion, particularly his eventual entombment, that is foreshadowed in of the work itself. On the curious use of this term, see also Tolnay, Michelangelo, V, p. 153. 70 For a summary of the different arguments in favor of reading this passage as a reference either to the Rondanini Pietà or the Palestrina Pietà, see Tolnay, Michelangelo, V, pp. 153, 155. On the Barberini acquisition of the Palestrina Pietà, see Kulpa, ‘Esposizioni e progetto della Pietà di Palestrina,’ pp. 27–31. 71 For a summary of the arguments regarding attribution and of the hypotheses on the origins of the sculpture, see Sestieri, ‘La Pietà di Palestrina,’ 75–92.


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Figure 1.8. Imitator of Michelangelo, Palestrina Pietà, after 1597(?), marble, 253 cm, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. Photo: © Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY



since he would not have accepted the statue in its roughed and unfinished state – unless the goal was to produce the appearance of a non-finito. The fact that the Palestrina Pietà is carved from an ancient architectural fragment – the dentils and acanthus of an entablature are visible at the right side of the marble group – is conspicuous. In a 1597 publication, Blaise de Vigenère claimed to have seen Michelangelo at work in 1550 on an unfinished multi-figure ‘Crucifixion,’ its marble spoliated from ‘the capital of one of the eight large columns of the Temple of Peace of Vespasian.’72 Vigenère’s account, however, is suspicious, not least because Michelangelo was fastidious about the quality of his materials, rendering it unlikely he would have worked from such a block.73 Is it possible that a later artist carved the multi-figure Palestrina Pietà from an architectural spoil in conscious emulation of the kind of statue described by Vigenère? Whatever the case (whether the work is an early modern fake or simply an unsuccessful statue by an imitator of the master), this sculptural group was probably regarded by viewers of the period as a genuine Michelangelo. Barberini installed the coarsely-hewn Palestrina Pietà on the altar of the funerary crypt, a strategy of display which, like the staging of the Florentine Pietà in the Bandini garden, evoked Christ’s tomb – though by way of a wholly different ancient topography (Fig. 1.9). The wall of the crypt itself abuts the slope of Monte Ginestro, on which sits the city of Palestrina, east of Rome. The site is ancient, with a 2nd century BCE sanctuary dedicated to Fortuna Primigenia (Fortuna the First-Born) built directly into the mountainside. The structure, which had been transformed into a palazzo in the Cinquecento, was purchased by the Barberini in the Seicento. The family constructed the church of Santa Rosalia as an annex to the palazzo.74 Like the builders of the ancient sanctuary, the designer of the new crypt in Santa Rosalia connected the architecture of the sacred space to the mountain itself by ingeniously opening the altar wall to expose the natural rock as the background for 72 The reference comes from Vigenère’s posthumously published translation of Philostratus the Younger’s Imagines and Callistratus’ Descriptions, see Vigenère, La Suite de Philostrate, p. 118b: ‘L’entreprise aussi de Michel l’Ange estoit hautaine & fort hardie, sentant bein sa main asseuree, lequel commança l’an 1550, que j’estois à Rome, un crucifiement où il y avoit de dix à douze personnages, non moindres que le naturel, le tout d’une seule pièce de marbre, qui estoit un chapiteau de l’une de ces huict grandes colonnes du temple de la paix de Vespasian, don’t il s’en voit encore une toute entire & debout.’ Vigenère, a French diplomat and writer, was in Rome between 1549 and 1551. His posthumously published text includes various references to Michelangelo, who he claims to have watched carve first-hand. 73 For example, Steinberg, ‘Metaphors of Love and Birth,’ pp. 53–56, offers a critical reading of this and other references Vigenère makes to Michelangelo, and rightly calls into question their veracity. Vigenère’s Michelangelo, in Steinberg’s view, serves as the modern artistic exemplar who buttresses the writer’s praise for French artists and his ideas about sculpture and painting. 74 On the Barberini purchase of the palace from the Colonna family in 1630 and the subsequent construction of the church of Santa Rosalia, see Marconi, ‘Il palazzo Barberini,’ pp. 9–13; Iacono, ‘La chiesa di Santa Rosalia,’ pp. 15–27.


Carolina Mangone

Figure 1.9. Francesco Contini, Altar and wall opening of funerary crypt, c. 1667, Church of Santa Rosalia, Palestrina. Photo: © Carolina Mangone

the sculpture (an arrangement that was partly obscured by the subsequent addition of a stucco curtain).75 Yet the possibility that some of the rock remained visible is suggested by a 1795 chronicle, which reported that the Pietà was ‘executed from a boulder [i.e. from the mountain], that protruded naturally into the site.’76 Viewers thus apparently perceived the marble figures as somehow contiguous with the natural rock of Monte Ginestro, a misreading that arguably sought to rationalize the Pietà’s unfinished state. The very display of the statue invites such confusion, fueling the kinds of ambiguities constructed decades prior in the Florentine Grotta 75 Montagu, ‘Antonio and Gioseppe Giorgetti,’ 287, publishes the 1670 payment for the drapery and reproduces a 1914 photograph of the drapery (presumably the original) before it was destroyed (Figure 17). 76 Petrini, Memorie Prenestine, p. 259: ‘La cappella poi interna fu destinata per sepolcreto della Famiglia patrona, e nel lato, che appoggia al monte, vi fu eretto un altare, su di cui vedesi scolpita in forma più grande del naturale la Beata Vergine con Gesù morte nel seno: opera soltanto abbozzata, e per quanto dicesi ricavata da un macigno, che ivi naturalmente sporgeva in fuori.’ The text also claims that the statue was commonly attributed to Gianlorenzo Bernini or Nicola Menghini. Yet the attribution was not universal. Four decades prior another local chronicler attributed the statue to Michelangelo, see Cecconi, Storia di Palestrina, p. 111: ‘Si rimira di più nella Cappella interiore una Statua rappresentante la Vergine addolorata con Gesù morto nel seno, abbozzo del celebre Buonaroti.’ For subsequent historical attributions to Michelangelo, see Knight, Description of Latium, p. 198; Starke, Travels in Europe, p. 263; Gori, ‘Archivio storico,’ 7.



Grande between non-finito and raw matter or between man-made artifice and spontaneous natural creation. What sets the Barberini crypt altar apart from the Medici grotto is the sacred subject of its unfinished Michelangelo. Displayed as if an outgrowth of the mountain itself, the roughed grouping of Christ, the Virgin, and Mary Magdalene might be construed by the viewer as an anthropomorphic rock formation created neither by human nor natural processes, but through divine agency. The site ultimately leaves open the question of ‘whose hand?’ And a beholder might answer by crediting the work to one or another maker – whether Michelangelo, nature, or God – just as easily as she might respond by vacillating between uncertainty and certainty. When such evocatively choreographed displays of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture were dismantled due to changes in ownership, the fortune of a non-finito could change dramatically. In the late Seicento the Florentine Pietà fell temporarily into disfavor when it was sold, probably unseen, to Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642–1723), heir to the dynasty that had so forcefully stewarded the preservation of Michelangelo’s unfinished work in the Cinquecento. On the statue’s transfer from Rome to Florence in 1674, Cosimo expressed his intention to place it in the undercroft of the Cappella dei Principi in the church of San Lorenzo, essentially a low vaulted chamber that functioned as a crypt.77 Recoiling at this news, Paolo Falconieri (Cosimo’s agent in Rome) argued that the statue could not be raised high enough in the crypt to be viewed advantageously. He suggested instead that the Pietà be installed in the Medici Chapel among Michelangelo’s other unfinished statues.78 Indifferent to Falconieri’s entreaties, Cosimo ultimately consigned the statue to a basement storeroom where it was documented in 1692 along with sundry tools, pots, hammers, some small-scale sculptures, alabaster columns, and a various paintings of curiosities – a pitiful kunstkammer, as it were.79 There it languished for decades, until Cosimo unexpectedly transferred it to a place of hitherto unparalleled privilege for a non-finito: on a pedestal just behind the main altar of Florence Cathedral. A plaque affixed to the statue included an inscription composed by Francesco Buonarroti (one of Michelangelo’s heirs): ‘Cosimo the third Grand Duke of Tuscany, in this year 1722, commanded the last work of Michelangelo Buonarroti, long ago brought from Rome, be placed here. Although despised by the artist for the imperfection of the marble, it is nevertheless an excellent work of art.’80 The second line is informed by Vasari’s claim that Michelangelo had begun to dislike the statue, and eventually broke it, 77 Wasserman, ‘The Pietà in Florence,’ p. 109. 78 Ibid., pp. 110–111. 79 Ibid., p. 111. 80 Ibid., pp. 112, 238, Doc. 70: ‘colla sequente iscrizione: Cosimo Terzo, Granduca di Toscana, in quest’anno 1722 – comandò, che fosse posta qui l’opera di Michelangelo Buonarroti, più tempo fa portata di Roma, che quantunque sia disprezzata dall’artefice per vizio del marmo, nondimeno è un’eccellente opera dell’arte.’


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because the recalcitrant marble was too hard and contained an insurmountable crack.81 The inscription thus invited the viewer to see the Pietà’s deficiencies not as the consequence of Michelangelo’s arrested handiwork, but rather of the imperfection of nature’s own artifice. Indeed, the statue’s lack of finish was not even acknowledged. This was a new strategy in the dialectic between art and nature that so often informed displays of the non-finito, one that presented Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture, not as nature’s analogue, but rather, as its superior. Over the next two hundred years, most of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures trickled into the growing Florentine art collections at the Uffizi, the Bargello, and the Accademia, to take up pedestals directly alongside finished Cinquecento sculpture. Thus assimilated into chronologically organized galleries and only occasionally accompanied by descriptive panels, non-finiti apparently posed no further challenge to the decorum of display. These collections reaffirmed Cosimo I’s daring assimilation of Michelangelo’s non-finito into the domain of finished sculpture in the Palazzo Vecchio two centuries prior. Yet these museum settings also erased the extraordinary ways that early modern collectors partook in the period construction of the non-finito as an exceptional and disruptive type of art, its boundary-breaking lack of finish stimulating display practices that blurred distinctions between artistic, natural, and temporal processes. The loss of these mediating strategies of presentation has obscured how appreciators of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture nonetheless understood such objects as deviations from the prevailing ideal of finish, and assigned them a suitable place in the company or guise of commensurate marble bodies – figures made by nature or unmade by time. In thus seeking to create acceptable boundaries for the non-finito, collectors took this manifestation of ‘matter out of place’ and constructed a notion of its belonging within realms of materialization and dematerialization. By producing spaces and arrangements that the non-finito could inhabit with propriety, collectors also cultivated the appreciation of these works not just from an aesthetic vantage, but also from naturo-historical, archaeological, and even religious dimensions. Site decorum in these stagings thus was ultimately about the practice of seeing, not from a distant or close orientation, but in the sense that these displays trained the beholder how to look at and adjudicate an unfinished sculpture. In other words, period collectors showed the viewer of the non-finito various ways to perceive and appreciate the physical condition, formal appearance, and artistic virtue of statues that did not satisfy the expectation of finish, but were desirable nonetheless. As the early modern display of the non-finito shows us, it is not just the construct of dirt, as Douglas proposed, that ‘exists in the eye of the beholder,’ but also its paradoxical appeal.82 81 Vasari/Barocchi, Vita di Michelangelo, I, pp. 99–100. 82 Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 2.



Works Cited Primary Sources Alberti, Leon Battista. On Painting and On Sculpture: The Latin Texts of De Pictura and De Statua, trans. by Cecil Grayson. London: Phaidon, 1972. Aldrovandi, Ulisse. ‘Di tutte le statue antiche, che per tutta Roma in diversi luoghi, e case particolari si veggono.’ In Lucio Mauro, Le antichità della città di Roma, 115–316. Venice: Giordano Ziletti, 1556. Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Museum Metallicum. Bologna: Io. Battista Ferronij, 1648. Baldinucci, Filippo. Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, ed. by Ferdinando Roncalli. 5 vols. Florence: Batelli, 1845–1847. Barocchi, Paola and R. Ristori, eds. Il Carteggio di Michelangelo, vol. 2. Florence: Sansoni, 1967. Bocchi, Francesco. Le bellezze della citta di Fiorenza: doue à pieno di pittura, di scultura, di sacri tempij di palazzi i più notabili artifizij, & più preziosi si contengono. Florence: [s.n.], 1591. Bocchi, Francesco. Eccellenza della statua di San Giorgio di Donatello. Florence: Giorgio Marescotti, 1584. Cecconi, Leonardo. Storia di Palestrina città del prisco Lazio. Ascoli: Niccola Ricci, 1756. Cellini, Benvenuto. Opere: Vita, trattati, rime, lettere, ed. by Bruno Maier. Milan: Rizzoli, 1968. Doni, Anton Francesco. Disegno. Venice: Appresso Gabriel Giolito di Ferrarii, 1549. Knight, Ellis Cornelia. Description of Latium: or, La Campagnia di Roma. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1805. Ottonelli, Gian Domenico, and Pietro Berrettini da Cortona. Trattato della pittura, e scultura, uso, et abuso loro. Composto da un theologo, e da un pittore, ed. by Vittorio Casale Florence: G. A. Bonardi, 1652. Petrini, Pier A. Memorie prenestine disposte in forma di annali. Rome: Pigliarini, 1795. Pliny the Elder. Natural History: Volume IX: Books 33–35, trans. by H. Rackham. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952. Starke, Mariana. Travels in Europe: for the use of travelers on the continent and likewise in the island of Sicily: to which is added an account of the remains of ancient Italy and also of the roads leading to those remains. Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1833. Varchi, Benedetto. Orazione funerale di M. Benedetto Varchi, fatta e recitata da lui pubblicamente nell’essequie di Michelagnolo Buonarroti in Firenze, nella Chiesa di San Lorenzo. Florence: Giunti, 1564. Vasari, Giorgio. La vita di Michelangelo nelle redazioni del 1550 e del 1568, ed. by Paola Barocchi. 5 vols. Milan: R. Ricciardi, 1962. Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori: Nelle redazioni 1550 e 1568, ed. by Paola Barocchi. 6 vols. Florence: Sansoni, 1966–1969.


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Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, ed. by Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1906. Vigenère, Blaise de. La Suite de Philostrate. Paris: Abel Langellier, 1597.

Secondary Sources Allen, Denise. ‘“Colore incarnato”: Benvenuto Cellini’s Ganymede and Living Stones.’ In Carvings, Casts and Collectors: The Art of Renaissance Sculpture, ed. by Peta Motture, Emma Jones, and Dimitrios Zikos, 177–193. London: V&A Publishing, 2013. Baldriga, Irene. ‘The First Version of Michelangelo’s Christ for S. Maria sopra Minerva.’ Burlington Magazine 142 (2000): 740–745. Bambach, Carmen C. Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. Bambach, Carmen C. Leonardo da Vinci: Rediscovered, Vol. 1: The Making of An Artist 1452–1500. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Barkan, Leonard. Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. Barnes, Bernadine Ann. Michelangelo in Print: Reproductions as Response in the Sixteenth Century. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2010. Barocchi, Paola. ‘Finito e non-finito nella critica vasariana.’ Arte antica e moderna 3 (1958): 221–235. Bayer, Andrea. ‘Renaissance Views of the Unfinished.’ In Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, ed. by Kelly Baum, Andrea Bayer, and Sheena Wagstaff, 18–29. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. Camiz, Franca Trinchieri. ‘The Pietà in Rome.’ In Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà, ed. by Jack Wasserman, 99–107. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Cinelli, Carlo. ‘Painted Decoration in the Grotta Grande of Boboli.’ In Bernardo Buontalenti and the Grotta Grande of Boboli, ed. by Sergio Risalti, 79–91. Florence: Maschietto Editore, 2012. Christian, Kathleen Wren. Empire Without End: Antiquities Collections in Renaissance Rome, c. 1350-1527. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. Cole, Michael. Ambitious Form: Giambologna, Ammanati, and Danti in Florence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. Cranston, Jodi. The Muddied Mirror: Materiality and Figuration in Titian’s Later Paintings. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Curran, Brian. ‘“De Sacrarum litterarum Aegyptiorum Interpretatione.” Reticence and Hubris in Hieroglyphic Studies of the Renaissance: Pierio Valeriano and Annius of Viterbo.’ Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 43/44 (1998/1999): 139–182. D’Elia, Una Roman. ‘Giambologna’s Giant and the Cinquecento Villa Garden as a Landscape of Suffering.’ Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 31 (2011): 1–25.



Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966. Echinger-Maurach, Claudia. ‘Michelangelos “San Pietro in abito di papa”: eine letzte Skulptur für St. Peter?’ In Docta Manus, ed. by Johannes Myssok and Jürgen Wiener, 279–288. Münster: Rhema-Verlag, 2007. Farago, Claire J. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Paragone: A Critical Interpretation with a New Edition of the Text in the Codex Urbinas. Leiden: Brill, 1992. Fehl, Philip. ‘Michelangelo’s Tomb in Rome: Observations in the “Pietà” in Florence and the “Rondanini Pietà”.’ Artibus et Historiae 23, no. 45 (2002): 9–27. Fiorenza, Giancarlo. ‘Fables, Ruins and the “bell’imperfetto” in the Art of Dosso Dossi.’ MLN 199 (2004): 271–298. Fiorio, Maria Teresa. ‘Broken Sculpture: Michelangelo and the Aesthetic of the Fragment.’ In The Genius of the Sculptor in Michelangelo’s Work, exh. cat., ed. by Maurizia Binda, 68–84. Montréal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1992. Freedman, Luba. ‘Michelangelo’s Reflections on Bacchus.’ Artibus et Historiae 47 (2003): 121–135. Gáldy, Andrea. ‘“Che sopra queste ossa con nuovo ordine si vadano accommodando in piu luoghi appartamenti”: Thoughts on the Organization of the Florentine Ducal Apartments in the Palazzo Vecchio in 1553.’ Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 46 (2004): 490–510. Gamboni, Dario. Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art. London: Reaktion Books, 2002. Gori, Fabio. ‘Archivio storico artistico archeologico e letterario della Citta e Provincia di Roma.’ Archivio 1, no. 1 (1875): 1–22. Grassi, Luigi. ‘I concetti di schizzo, abbozzo, macchi, “non finito” e la costruzione dell’opera d’arte.’ In Studi in onore di Pietro Silva, ed. by the Facoltà di Magistero dell’Università di Roma, 97–106. Florence: F. Le Monnier, 1957. Grave, Johannes, Christiane Holm, Valerie Kobi, and Caroline van Eck. ‘The Agency of Display. Objects, Framings and Parerga – Introductory Thoughts.’ In The Agency of Display: Objects, Framings and Parerga, ed. by Johannes Grave, Christiane Holm, Valerie Kobi, and Caroline van Eck, 7–19. Dresden: Sandstein Verlag, 2018. Heikamp, Detlef. ‘La grotta grande nel giardino di Boboli.’ Antichità viva 4 (1965): 27–43. Heikamp, Detlef. ‘L’interno della Grotta Grande del Giardino di Boboli.’ In Palazzo Pitti: La Reggia Rivelata, ed. by Gabriella Capecchi, Laura Baldini, and Luciano Agostiniani, 446–474. Florence: Giunti, 2003. Hess, Jacob. ‘Michelangelo and Cordier.’ Burlington Magazine 82 (1943): 55–64. Iacono, Roberta. ‘La chiesa di Santa Rosalia, la cappella privata dei Barberini a Palestrina.’ In La chiesa di Santa Rosalia: La cappella dei principi Barberini a Palestrina, ed. by Roberta Iacono, 15–27. Rome: Edizione Articolo Nove, 2015.


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Janson, Horst W. ‘The “Image Made by Chance” in Renaissance Thought.’ In De Artibus Opuscula XL. Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky, ed. by Millard Miess, vol. 1, 254–266. New York: New York University, 1961. Johnson, Geraldine A. ‘Michelangelo, Fortunetelling and the Formation of Artistic Canons in Fanti’s “Triompho di Fortuna”.’ In Coming About… a Festschrift for John Shearman, ed. by Lars R. Jones and Louisa C. Matthew, 199–205. Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 2001. Keizer, Joost. ‘Site-Specif icity.’ In Michelangelo in the New Millennium, ed. by Tamara Smithers, 25–46. Leiden: Brill, 2016. Kim, Anna M. ‘Creative Iconoclasms in Renaissance Italy.’ In Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present, ed. by Stacy Boldrick, Leslie Brubaker, and Richard Clay, 65–80. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2013. Kulpa, Pierette. ‘Esposizioni e progetto della Pietà di Palestrina: La storia enegmatica di una statua non finita.’ In La chiesa di Santa Rosalia: La cappella dei principi Barberini a Palestrina, ed. by Roberta Iacono, 27–31. Palestrina: Edizioni Articolo Nove, 2015. Lavin, Irving. ‘David’s Sling and Michelangelo’s Bow: A Sign of Freedom.’ In Past-Present: Essays on Historicism in Art from Donatello to Picasso, 29–61, 268–274. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Lazzaro, Claudia. The Italian Renaissance Garden: From the Conventions of Planting, Design, and Ornament to the Grand Gardens of Sixteenth-Century Central Italy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. Lazzaro, Claudia. ‘Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel and Its Aftermath: Scattered Bodies and Florentine Identities under the Duchy.’ California Italian Studies 6, no. 1 (2016): 1–35. Marconi, Nicoletta. ‘Il palazzo Barberini di Palestrina e la chiesa di Santa Rosalia: ricerche sul patrimonio architettonico prenestino di età moderna.’ In La chiesa di Santa Rosalia: La cappella dei principi Barberini a Palestrina, ed. by Roberta Iacono, 9–13. Rome: Edizione Articolo Nove, 2015. The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence, exh. cat., ed. by Cristina Luchinat Acidini. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Montagu, Jennifer. ‘Antonio and Gioseppe Giorgetti: Sculptors to Cardinal Francesco Barberini.’ The Art Bulletin 52, no. 3 (1970): 278–298. Morel, Philippe. ‘Mannerist Grottos in Sixteenth-Century Italy.’ In Sixteenth-Century Italian Art, ed. by Michael Cole, 115–134. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006. Morel, Philippe. Les Grottes maniéristes en Italie au XVIe Siècle: Théâtre et alchimie de la nature. Paris: Macula, 1998. Morgan, Luke. ‘“Anciently Modern and Modernly Ancient”: Ruins and Reconstructions in Sixteenth-Century Italian Landscape Design.’ Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 36 (2016): 261–271. Parronchi, Alessandro. ‘Il primo “Christo Risorto” per Metello Vari.’ In Opere giovanili di Michelangelo, vol. 2, 157–190. Florence: Olschki, 1975.



Pierguidi, Stefano. ‘Il confronto fra antichi e moderni nel collezionismo di Cosimo I: Michelangelo, Sansovino, Cellini, Bandinelli.’ Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 54 (2010/12): 505–520. Rinaldi, Alessandro. ‘Saxum Vivum e non-finito nelle grotte fiorentine del Cinquecento.’ In Artifici d’acque e giardini: la cultura delle grotte e dei ninfei in Italia e in Europa: atti del V Convegno internazionale sui parchi e giardini storici, ed. by Isabella Lapi Ballerini and Litta Medri, 299–307. Florence: Centro Di, 1999. Risaliti, Sergio. Bernardo Buontalenti and the Grotta Grande of Boboli. Florence: Maschietto Editore, 2012. Rosenberg, Raphael. Beschreibungen und Nachzeichnungen der Skulpturen Michelangelos: Eine Geschichte der Kunstbetrachtung. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2000. Rosenberg, Raphael. ‘The Reproduction and Publication of Michelangelo’s Sacristy: Drawings and Prints by Franco, Salviati, Naldini and Cort.’ In Reactions to the Master: Michelangelo’s Effect on Art and Artists in the Sixteenth Century, ed. by Francis Ames-Lewis and Paul Joannides, 114–136. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Schröder, Gerald. ‘Metamorphosen der Skulptur: Michelangelos Sklaven in Buonatletis Grotte.’ In Erosionen der Rhetorik?: Strategien der Ambiguitat in den Kunsten der Fruhen Neuzeit, ed. by Valeska von Rosen, 115–137. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012. Sestieri, Ettore. ‘La Pietà di Palestrina e la sua attribuzione.’ Commentari 20 (1969): 75–92. Steinberg, Leo. ‘The Metaphors of Love and Birth in Michelangelo’s Pietàs.’ In Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays, ed. by Sheila Schwartz, 1–57. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. Stoichita, Victor I. ‘Malerei und Skuptur im Bild: Das Nachdenken der Kunst über sich selbst.’ In Wettstreit der Künste: Malerei und Skulptur von Dürer bis Daumier, ed. by Ekkehard Mai and Kurt Wettengl, 10–19. Wolfratshausen: Ed. Minerva, 2002. Szafranska, Malgorzata. ‘The Philosophy of Nature and the Grotto in the Renaissance Garden.’ Journal of Garden History 9 (1989): 76–85. Tolnay, Charles de. Michelangelo. 5 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943–1960. Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, exh. cat., ed. by Kelly Baum, Andrea Beyer, and Sheena Wagstaff. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. Verellen, Till. ‘Cosmas and Damian in the New Sacristy.’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 42 (1979): 274–277. Waldman, Louis A. Baccio Bandinelli and Art at the Medici Court: A Corpus of Early Modern Sources. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004. Wallace, William. Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: The Genius as Entrepreneur. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Wasserman, Jack. ‘The Pietà in Florence.’ In Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà, ed. by Jack Wasserman, 109–117. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Waźbiński, Zygmunt. L’accademia medicea del disegno a Firenze nel Cinquecento: Idea e istituzione. 2 vols. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1987.


Carolina Mangone

Williams, Robert. Raphael and the Redefinition of Art in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Wright, Alison. Frame Work: Honour and Ornament in Italian Renaissance Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

About the Author Carolina Mangone is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University. She is the author of Bernini’s Michelangelo (Yale, 2020), which examines Bernini’s persistent and wide-ranging imitation of Michelangelo’s canon, and the co-editor of Material Bernini (Routledge, 2016), with essays on Bernini’s works in clay, marble, bronze, and paint from a material perspective. Her current book project explores the making and reception in the early modern period of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture.


The Sacrilege of Soot: Liturgical Decorum and the Black Madonna of Loreto Grace Harpster

Abstract The sanctuary of Loreto, one of Italy’s most renowned pilgrimage destinations, was built to house the relic of the Virgin Mary’s childhood home, but many pilgrims directed their prayers instead to the shrine’s cult image, a Marian statue with a dark appearance. In the late sixteenth century, a time of Catholic reform, many devotees attributed the sculpture’s color to the residue from candle smoke, despite the fact that this departed from reformers’ strict rules of liturgical decorum. The perception of the Virgin of Loreto’s blackened surface as simultaneously sacred and sacrilegious returned agency to the artwork itself. The statue’s sooty accretions suggested negligence and cried out for restoration, but they also defended the cult of images in early modern Catholicism. Keywords: blackness, miraculous images, Catholic reform, decorum, restoration, Virgin Mary

Early modern authors lavished praise upon the cult statue of the Madonna of Loreto (Fig. 2.1). The work, a wooden statuette of the Virgin and Child measuring just over three feet tall, stood above the main altar of the Holy House of Loreto in the Marche region along Italy’s Adriatic coast. The sanctuary claims to possess the actual childhood home of the Virgin Mary, transported by angels from Palestine in 1294 (Fig. 2.2). Devotion to this remarkable room relic increased greatly in the late fifteenth century, but in subsequent centuries, the modest sculpture above the altar became increasingly central to the religious experience at Loreto.1 In addition 1 The main cult image at Loreto was originally a painted icon, but this was gradually supplanted by an existing sculpture around the early sixteenth century. Giacomo Ricci’s manuscript from the 1460s mentions both but prioritizes the icon (Ricci, Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, pp. 114, 120, 138), but by the first publication of Girolamo Angelita’s treatise in 1531, the sculpture was the principal image (Angelita,

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_ch02


Grace Harpster

Figure 2.1. Anonymous, The Madonna of Loreto, late fourteenth century (destroyed in 1921), wood, 93 cm. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved

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Figure 2.2. Interior of the Holy House of Loreto. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved


Grace Harpster

to defending the shrine’s miraculous foundation, early modern histories of the site extol the virtues of the cult statue, often attributed to St. Luke, pronouncing it ‘a most beautiful simulacrum’ and ‘as great as a mortal could possibly do.’2 Our own assessments of the Madonna of Loreto might today be less effusive.3 Its unremarkable appearance is similar to many other wooden Gothic sculptures of the same subject, and its surface, moreover, is dark and damaged. Amidst their praises, early modern descriptions of the Madonna of Loreto do register this darkened appearance, albeit briefly. Late sixteenth and seventeenthcentury texts began to account for the dark color of their most beautiful Madonna, variously describing the work as ‘shaded with brown’ or ‘blackened’ – the latter word connoting either hue or material corruption. 4 For these authors, the sculpture’s color required justification. Some cited theological or symbolic motives for the Madonna’s coloring, or connected it to a vaguely Eastern antiquity. Others, however, interpreted its dusky appearance materially. Many texts attributed the dark color to accretions of smoke from the scores of candles burning before the statue over many centuries, an explanation still prevalent today. The notion that the color of the Madonna of Loreto derives from candle soot is persistent. It resolves questions and alleviates potential confusions. Yet this explanation also obliges soot to prefer one class of objects over all others. The logical dilemmas inherent in this theory only increased in the decades of religious reform following the Council of Trent, a period often referred to as post-Tridentine, or, more broadly, as the Counter-Reformation.5 Beginning in the late sixteenth century, the rapidly expanding cult of the Madonna of Loreto and the new liturgical imperatives of the Catholic Church necessitated that Italy’s most venerated images received increased cleaning and care. Custodians, charged with maintaining such works, and artists, enlisted to restore them, ensured the decorum of the cult Historia della traslatione della Santa Casa, p. 17). For a discussion of this in the secondary scholarship, see Grimaldi, ‘L’iconografia della Vergine lauretana nell’arte,’ pp. 15–19; Santarelli, Introduction to Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, pp. 44–52, 64. 2 ‘pulcherrimum Virginis simulacrum’ (Ricci, Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, p. 138); ‘quantum mortali fas erat’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 19). All translations are my own, unless otherwise stated. The former painted icon, the statue, and a painted crucifix in the Holy House were all variably attributed to St. Luke at one time or another. The earliest clear attribution of the sculpture to Luke dates to 1531 (Angelita, Historia della traslatione della Santa Casa, p. 12). On the legends of Luke’s portraits more generally, see Bacci, Il pennello dell’Evangelista. 3 Throughout I use italics to refer to the sculpture of the Madonna of Loreto, as opposed to a more general Marian titular identity associated with the shrine. 4 ‘ombreggiata di bruno’ (Bartoli, Glorie maestose, p. 50); ‘infuscatio’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 16). The Latin infuscare can signify darkness or blackness as well as a stained or corrupted quality. 5 I employ the term ‘post-Tridentine’ throughout this essay because its reference to the Council of Trent emphasizes the legislative side of reform within a broader early modern Catholicism.

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image. Pastoral documents show that sullied, darkened images in church spaces were considered unseemly. Soot was sacrilegious, an indicator of neglect rather than venerability. An exploration of this candle-smoke theory reveals that such contradictions resolved themselves through the agency of the image. Readings of surface as soot functioned to confirm expected truths about Marian cult images in the age of Catholic reform and to verify their divine capabilities. The Madonna of Loreto, however, also outperformed such expectations. The work’s blackened surface, caught between material claims and those of similitude, adhered to its subject matter, complicating the image and the referent both.

The Problem of Perception The unembellished statue of the Madonna of Loreto gives little indication of the prayers and precious gems once heaped upon it. We must rely on the medium of black-and-white photography in analyzing its characteristics, as the statue was destroyed in a 1921 fire. The photograph hinders our discernment of surface. The sculpture appears uniformly dark, of a shade not unlike richly hued wood. Tones of flesh meld with those of vestments and hair. One must rely upon plays of texture to differentiate folds of fabric from strands of hair or the smoothness of skin. Upon closer observation, remnants of painted ornamentation emerge. There are repeated circular patterns on the Madonna’s belt, and further decoration at her collar. A single star, raised in slight relief, is perceptible on the Virgin’s robes beneath her right hand. Flecks of paint are missing, as at the Virgin’s feet or beneath the Christ Child’s elbow, although it is difficult to discriminate between moments of minor surface damage and illusions of photographic exposure. Conclusions are elusive. One might perceive varnished wood, lost polychromy, or a thin coating of dark paint. Most art historians concur that wooden three-dimensional sculpture in Europe was painted, at least before new experiments in monochrome glazed retablos at the turn of the sixteenth century.6 We must contend with this historical likelihood no matter how we read the equivocal photograph of the Madonna of Loreto.7 Nevertheless, the statue’s replacement, created in 1922 after the destruction of the original, seems to corroborate the perception of a homogenous surface: its creator forwent 6 For interpretations of this monochromatic phenomenon, see Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture, chap. 8; Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, pp. 41–48. 7 Furthermore, my focus is on the color’s perception at a certain moment rather than its original material state, a move inspired by the approaches of Scheer and Peterson. See Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery’; Peterson, ‘Perceiving Blackness, Envisioning Power.’


Grace Harpster

Figure 2.3. Leopoldo Celani and Enrico Quattrini, The Madonna of Loreto, 1922, wood, Basilica of the Holy House, Loreto. Photo: Bruno Longarini, reproduced with permission of the Delegazione Pontificia per il Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, all rights reserved

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any trace of ornamental variation, instead painting the sculpture uniformly dark, akin to a work in white marble or bronze (Fig. 2.3).8 The Madonna of Loreto is often regarded as one of Europe’s mysterious Black Madonna statues, collapsing its visual and material ambiguity into a label of chromatic certainty. The designation ‘Black Madonna,’ popular only after the late eighteenth century, refers to cult images of the Virgin Mary with a dark color, primarily in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.9 Many examples, like the Madonna of Montserrat in Spain or that of Le Puy in France, are enthroned Romanesque wooden sculptures of the Virgin and Child, while others, including the Madonna of Loreto, are standing figurines. Scholars have also applied the appellation to Byzantine-style icons with a swarthy skin tone.10 Despite early modern references to certain dark Marian images, these diverse objects only coalesced into the ostensibly official category of the ‘Black Madonna’ at a later date. Scholars have put forth numerous theories to account for the color of these works, variably interpreting blackness as a marker of antiquity, a subaltern expression of a pagan spirituality, or a purposeful symbolic choice.11 The enduring hypothesis that the dark color arose from natural accidents of material, either candle smoke or oxidized pigments, has often served to reassert the conventional light-skinned image of the Virgin Mary, especially in the nineteenth century.12 While the object might be darkened, the abstracted image – and especially its heavenly referent – escapes such modifications. In post-Tridentine Italy, however, this same justification served different ends. The assertion that the sculpture’s color derived from candle smoke demonstrated the profoundly unnatural status of this condition. For devotees and clerical viewers, contaminations of soot clashed with the typical treatment of 8 Grimaldi asserts this replica is unpainted, so that the natural hue of the wood is visible, but one must suppose that at least a unifying varnish has been applied. See Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ p. 172. 9 The category itself is ill-defined, causing discrepancies between quantitative studies. See Nolan and Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage, pp. 202–203; Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ 1414–1416. 10 Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Madonna,’ 1413. 11 Others have summarized these approaches. See Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Madonna,’ 1418–1420; Fedele, ‘“Black” Madonna versus “White” Madonna’; Barral i Altet, ‘Madonne Brune,’ pp. 95–96; Massing, ‘From the Old Testament to the New Testament,’ pp. 300–303; Nolan and Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage, pp. 202–210. For an extended look at blackness as a signifier of Eastern antiquity, see Foster, ‘Out of Egypt,’ and Foster, ‘The Black Madonna of Montserrat.’ 12 The oxidation thesis was first popularized by Charles Rohault de Fleury in 1878, although earlier mentions are discussed in Peig, ‘La Madonna di Montserrat,’ pp. 131–132. Late medieval sculptors were aware that silvers oxidized, however, so they avoided this through the use of protective glazes (Hägele, Colour in Sculpture, p. 154). Beissel’s 1909 study is often cited as a major impetus behind the candle-smoke theory, although as we will see, this had a much longer history (Beissel, Geschichte der Verehrung Marias in Deutschland, pp. 344–346). Two decades prior, English author Samuel Butler would mention several of these theories in an essay (Butler, ‘A Medieval Girl School,’ pp. 133–140). For summaries of this early research on the Black Madonnas, see Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Madonna,’ 1418; Forsyth, Throne of Wisdom, p. 21.


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important cult images, but this reading of the statue’s surface persevered nonetheless, operating precisely in the preternatural or divine spaces that exceeded the limits of the physical world and its laws.13 To investigate a post-Tridentine perception of the Madonna of Loreto’s blackness is to evoke particular art historical precedents. From Ernst Gombrich’s attention to the primacy of cultural convention in viewing and making artwork, to Michael Baxandall’s excavation of the ‘period eye,’ to more recent attempts to debunk the innocent ‘fact’ of seeing in a postcolonial, postmodern world, few would argue that perception is a neutral act.14 The case of the post-Tridentine response to the Madonna of Loreto builds on these approaches while reminding us that in certain moments, the artwork itself was thought to participate in the project of seeing. This Marian statue inserts the object’s own miraculous agency into these formulations, examined here in an expanding post-Tridentine world of renewed ritual decorum and proliferating sacred images. The strange surface of the Madonna of Loreto is caught somewhere between ethnic or subversive blackness, dusty accretions, and material monochromy, inviting us to explore what was thought to belong to the sculpture, and what was imagined to corrupt it.15 The point is not to exonerate the early modern eye, distancing it from the more explicitly racialized anxieties that emerged forcefully in later centuries, but rather to examine how the post-Tridentine cult of images prompted certain ways of understanding the Madonna of Loreto, both purposeful and indeterminate.

Confessional Senses of Soot On a practical level, early modern recourse to the candle-smoke theory drew from the realities of experience. Though modest in size, the Holy House was once crowded with candles, oil lamps, and other extravagant offerings that together produced an astounding sensory effect. Orazio Torsellino, a historian and rector of the Jesuit College at Loreto, described the intense sounds and smells at the shrine in his 1599 treatise on the Holy House. Torsellino wrote that pilgrims frequently cried out as they entered the Holy House, amazed by the heavily adorned statue and the ‘white waxes and silver lamps’ that made the chapel shine.16 Documentation confirms 13 On the category of the preternatural in the sixteenth century before its gradual naturalization, see Daston, ‘Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence.’ 14 Gombrich, Art and Illusion; Baxandall, Painting and Experience. On more recent revisions to these approaches, see Leibsohn, ‘Introduction: Geographies of Sight.’ 15 On the status and representation of black Africans in early modern Italy, see Kaplan, ‘Italy, 1490–1700.’ 16 ‘Sacellum ipsum candidis semper caereis, lychnisque argenteis plurimis collucet’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 394). The first edition appeared in 1597. For more on Torsellino’s work and the Jesuit presence at Loreto, see Murphy, ‘The Jesuits and the Santa Casa di Loreto.’

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these claims. Pastoral visitations, part of the post-Tridentine renewal of local Church inspection practices, record that clergy members burned approximately ten pounds of white wax in the Holy House each day, more during festivals.17 Both ritual custom and private donations compelled custodians to ensure that ‘the usual lights both in wax and in oil burn continuously’ in accordance with recorded lists of obligations.18 The statue of the Madonna of Loreto was surrounded with such a great volume of smoke and burning oil, one visitor notes with concern, that all the heat and odors caused ‘many fainting spells, dizziness, lightheadedness, and similar things.’19 The same observations translated into superstition and sensory manipulation for many Protestants and other opponents of Catholic devotionalism.20 Earlier in the sixteenth century, the humanist reformer Erasmus of Rotterdam warned his readers of candles and other overly ‘external’ signs of devotion at Loreto.21 Pier Paolo Vergerio, a far more vehement critic, attacked the Church for using ‘all those burning lamps, candles, and torches’ to stupefy ignorant worshippers.22 The same Vergerio penned a 1554 pamphlet condemning the ‘idol’ of Loreto.23 It was not only statuary that connoted idolatry, but a sooty blackness associated with the material trappings of Catholic devotion. As Monique Scheer has shown in her work on the perception of Black Madonnas, such criticisms resonated for centuries – both Johann von Goethe and Karl Marx disparaged ‘black’ or ‘moorish’ images of the Virgin Mary.24 The same associations of image and soot that enhanced Catholic worship also became a site of critique. Save for the occasional fainting pilgrim, the overwhelming display of burning lights endowed the Holy House with a sense of sanctity for Loreto’s devotees, testifying to the veneration of the faithful. The statue’s dark surface spoke to this adoration while also confirming expected scriptural truths. Many such Black Madonnas have been associated with the Old Testament Song of Songs, a love poem 17 See transcription of the 1620 visitation in Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, III, p. 945. 18 ‘ardino di continuo i soliti lumi tanto di cera, come d’olio, secondo gli obblighi che si tengono registrati e che si tenono in nota’ (Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, II, p. 733). This is a seventeenthcentury document but points to a much longer practice. See for example the 1507 constitution at Loreto (ibid., II, p. 573). 19 ‘molte volte svenimenti, vertigini, mancamenti et cose simili’ (ibid., III, p. 946). 20 For an excellent contextualization of Vergerio’s criticisms in histories of church reform, see Caravale, Forbidden Prayer, pp. 55–68. 21 Erasmus, ‘Liturgy of the Virgin Mother,’ pp. 92, 108. 22 Translated passage quoted in Miladinov, ‘Madonna of Loreto as a Target of Reformation Critique,’ p. 298. 23 For more, see ibid., pp. 292–293; Caravale, Forbidden Prayer, pp. 57–65; Schutte, Pier Paolo Vergerio, pp. 178–179. 24 Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ 1438.


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associated with King Solomon in which a bride declares herself ‘black but beautiful,’ darkened by the sun.25 One allegorical interpretation of the text aligned this black bride with the Virgin Mary, whose own dark complexion in certain images then made typological sense.26 The Madonna of Le Puy, for example, seems to have been related to the Song of Songs by the early sixteenth century.27 Post-Tridentine authors sometimes, though not always, link the Madonna of Loreto’s dark appearance with the Old Testament passage, but the connection predates the cult of the statue. In the fifteenth century, the text was instead associated with the painted icon of the Virgin Mary that was once the devotional focus of the Holy House.28 The prophetic Old Testament poem could presage multiple images, demonstrating the strength of established formulas over a visual diversity of objects. The wooden substrate of the statue similarly fit pre-existing expectations. Authors consistently state that the Madonna of Loreto was carved from cedar.29 It was indeed fashioned from a type of pinewood, but cedar in particular connoted antiquity and the East.30 Cedarwood is native to the Middle East, and more importantly, it is repeatedly mentioned in scripture.31 The material of such sculptures was crucial enough that in a 1621 treatise on the Sanctuary of Oropa in Biella, in northwestern Italy, the author spends several pages arguing that cedar was used for Oropa’s own dark statuette, a work similar to that at Loreto (Fig. 2.4).32 This text claims that while ‘many professors of art’ have diligently debated the issue in the past, many agree it must be made of cedar, especially given the statue’s Palestinian origin and its resemblance to the cedarwood Madonna of Loreto.33 Perhaps to uphold the neat 25 ‘Nigra sum sed formosa’ (Song of Solomon 1:4 Vulg.). On the patristic interpretation of the Song of Songs and its impact on early Christian conceptions of blackness, see Courtès, ‘The Theme of “Ethiopia.”’ This does not explain the Christ Child’s color, however. 26 This interpretation dates at least to the Romanesque period (Forsyth, Throne of Wisdom, p. 21n44). 27 Foster, ‘Out of Egypt,’ 7. 28 Ricci, Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, p. 120. Directly before this, Ricci does mention a statue of Loreto, but does not explicitly connect it to the biblical passage. 29 Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 16; Richeome, The Pilgrime of Loreto, p. 10. Vittorelli, Gloriose memorie, p. 400; Serragli, Nuova relatione della S. Casa abbellita, p. 106. 30 An examination of its ashes after the 1921 fire concluded that it was a type of spruce, abete rosso or the Latin Picea (Grimaldi, ‘L’iconografia della Vergine lauretana nell’arte,’ p. 19; Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ pp. 171–172). 31 On importation from Lebanon and Syria, see Penny, The Materials of Sculpture, p. 143. On biblical references to cedar, see Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ p. 170. 32 Gatti, Breve relatione, p. 73. A similar treatise on Oropa from 1659 dedicates an entire chapter to the material of the statue (Historia della Madonna Santissima d’Oroppa, pp. 17–18). The Madonna of Le Puy was similarly associated with a type of ancient wood from Sinai called setin (Foster, ‘Out of Egypt,’ 16). Later editions of Serragli’s text sometimes write that Loreto’s sculpture could be made of either cedar or setin, as in the 1652 edition (Serragli, La S. Casa abbellita, p. 42). 33 ‘Molti professori dell’arte’ (Gatti, Breve relatione, p. 73).

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Figure 2.4. Anonymous, The Madonna of Oropa, wood, 132 cm, Sanctuary of Oropa, Biella. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Archivio del Santuario di Oropa



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prophecies of scripture, the 1922 replacement for the lost original at Loreto was carved from cedar in the Vatican gardens.34 The perception of an image, of each statue’s ‘blackness,’ was folded into a network of divinely prefigured expectations, expectations that could even outlast the artwork itself.35

Decorum and Decay The perceived pigment of the Madonna of Loreto satisfied symbolic and theological demands, typological conditions that had little to do with the practical problems of candle smoke. Yet many post-Tridentine accounts forwent the certainty of the Old Testament bride’s declarative statement to communicate a more variable darkness, the product of years of accumulated soot. In his treatise, Torsellino characterizes the Madonna of Loreto’s countenance as ‘covered by a dark patina that resembled silver, but blackened by the smoke of the lights.’36 He then defines the resulting color as a ‘darkening’ or ‘blackness.’37 A work from 1616 concurs that the silvery paint of the Virgin’s face was ‘rendered brown’ by candle smoke.38 In 1633, the shrine’s account keeper Silvio Serragli describes the face of the statuette as ‘glazed with a mixture, but already darkened by the many lights that emit smoke.’39 This explanation was also applied to other Black Madonnas. A 1659 treatise on the aforementioned Madonna of Oropa, for example, wonders if the statue’s ‘brown color’ came from the ‘varnish of the cedarwood, or rather originated from the candelabra in front of the sacred simulacrum.’40 Already in 1621, another history of the shrine defines the Oropa 34 Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, II, pp. 910–912; Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ p. 172. 35 Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood’s theory of substitution is relevant here. They do in fact discuss the Holy House of Loreto, though they favor the replicability of the house itself and minimize the importance of the cult statue. Nagel and Wood, Anachronic Renaissance, pp. 202–203. 36 ‘Cuius facies electro argentum referente oblita, sed luminum infuscata fumo’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 16). The noun electrum can refer to a gold or silver alloy, but can also suggest a painted patina or an amber, copper tone. I thank Francesco Cassini for his assistance in translating this passage. Period translations vary. The English edition from 1608 describes her face as ‘vernished with amber, giving a siver [sic] glasse’ (Torsellino, The History of Our B. Lady of Loreto, p. 15), while the Italian edition from 1610 writes, ‘la cui faccia miniata d’una mistura, che sembra argento’ (Torsellino, Della historia della santa casa, p. 13). 37 ‘infuscatio’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 16). The Italian edition translates the word as ‘nerezza’ (Torsellino, Della historia della santa casa, p. 13). 38 Vittorelli, Gloriose memorie, p. 400. See similar phrasing in Bartoli, Glorie maestose, pp. 50–51. 39 ‘hà la faccia smaltata di Mistura; mà già infoschita da tanti Lumi, che fumano’ (Serragli, Nuova relatione della S. Casa abbellita, pp. 106–107). For slightly different phrasing in the 1637 edition, see Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ p. 170. 40 ‘Non si sà se il colore bruno sia formato per la vernice del Cedro, ò pur originato dalli doppieri, che restano avanti il Santissimo Simolacro’ (Historia della Madonna Santissima d’Oroppa, pp. 19–20).

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statue as ‘tinted with a devout blackness because of age and smoke.’41 The Madonna of Loreto and similar statues were linked with soot and smoke, especially as the seventeenth century wore on. In a 1698 sermon about the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln (another artwork reminiscent of the Loreto statue), the preacher likens the shrine to a ‘wondrous forge’ filtering God’s wrath into Mary’s love, a truth confirmed by ‘this black color of the holy image, these blackened walls, [and] this steam and smoke in the holy chapel.’42 The soot of lit candles had long filled the interiors of Catholic shrines, but in these cases, it adhered to the cult statues within in more senses than one. This interpretation of the Madonna of Loreto, however, belies the liturgical directives reinvigorated in the era of post-Tridentine reform. Images and other objects within church space, even when damaged by an effusion of devotion, had to be decorously maintained. As one of Italy’s most frequented pilgrimage sites, the sanctuary of Loreto was affected by reforms in the decades following the close of the Council of Trent in 1563. In 1575, Cardinal Giovanni Morone, protector of the shrine, specifically recorded the need to ensure that the Holy House chapel adhered to the spirit of the Council’s decrees.43 This involved increased oversight of Church custodianship, newly documented through printed decrees and pastoral visitations. For example, Cardinal-Archbishop Carlo Borromeo’s 1577 guide to church interiors, an instrumental document of post-Tridentine reform, orders that images be protected from ‘spoiling and deformity.’44 One of his diocesan decrees is more specific, commanding that ‘if any sacred paintings or panels are of an unseemly appearance by reason of being all but effaced by age, decay, location or dirt,’ the bishop must order them ‘to be renovated, or, if not possible, altogether destroyed.’45 Borromeo confirms the same for ‘sacred statues,’ writing that they must be buried on church or cemetery grounds if damaged beyond repair. 46 Clerics implemented analogous rules at Loreto. Early seventeenth-century visitation documents stipulate that Loreto’s church furnishings, including its images, should be inspected for any unsuitable deterioration. 47 In 1588, norms from the diocesan bishop dictate that aged or dirty images must be either restored 41 ‘mà per l’antichità, et fumo tinta d’una divota negrezza’ (Gatti, Breve relatione, p. 68). 42 On this passage, see Siede, ‘Le Madonne Nere di Einsiedeln e Altötting,’ p. 191; Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ 1431. 43 Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, I, p. 123. 44 ‘corruptionem, ac deformitatem’ (Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, f. 183v). 45 ‘Si quae sacrae tabulae, imaginesve pictae, nimia vetustate, carie, situ, aut sordibus pene deletae, indecenti aspectus sunt; eas Episcopus pia, religiosaq. pictura, ab ijs, quorum interest, renovari iubeat; aut, si id non potest, omnino deleri’ (Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, f. 51r). I rely here on the English translation by Evelyn Voelker, with a few small changes (Voelker, ‘Charles Borromeo’s Instructiones,’ p. 241n5). Borromeo likely culled this from Guillaume Durand’s medieval liturgical treatise (see Durand, Rationale, f. 19r). 46 ‘sacrae sculptae’ (Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, f. 51r). 47 Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, II, p. 714.


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or burned, especially if the damage detracted from the artwork’s ‘similitude or devotion, or [when it] inspires mockery.’48 One might ask when the alleged ashy deposits on the Madonna of Loreto would have threatened the statue’s capacity for likeness or solemnity. These reforming directives reached the chapel of the Holy House already in 1564. In addition to minute guidelines regarding altar cloths and liturgical protocols, custodians were instructed to sweep the chamber each day and mask any bad odors with perfume. 49 Documents outline a host of individuals charged with maintaining order and cleanliness within the chapel.50 The cult image was likewise cared for: certain custodians and Capuchin friars were instructed to ‘dust the sacred statue each night.’51 Post-Tridentine archives at Loreto divulge a codified system of cleaning and maintaining church interiors. Against this backdrop of ritual decorum, the sooty cult statue should have indicated unheeded commands and impious neglect. Accretions of dust and smoke imply a prohibition of touch, but canons frequently interacted with the Madonna of Loreto. Wooden statues, lightweight and therefore portable, were often carried in procession.52 Traditionally, Loreto’s statue was processed twice annually.53 Early seventeenth-century documents also detail an official spogliamento, or disrobing ceremony, during Holy Week, which included a ritual cleansing of the statue.54 Marian sculptures had a long history of being functional religious objects, frequently carried, dressed, addressed, and cleaned.55 As Alois Riegl would declare in his 1903 discussion of use value, functionality necessitated newness.56 In order to use an object, it must be carefully maintained. The reigning Marian statue in Italy could not disintegrate, embroiled as it was in ceremonies of processions and investitures over its many ostensible centuries. Precisely because of this use value, cult statues were frequently repainted.57 Devotional functionality and its requisite aesthetic wholeness required repainting and re-varnishing, restorations 48 ‘verisimilitudinem vel devotionem minuant, vel risum moveant intuentibus’ (Pittori a Loreto, pp. 79–80). 49 Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, II, p. 651. 50 For examples, see ibid., I, pp. 175, 218; ibid., II, p. 733; ibid., III, pp. 945, 960. 51 ‘si spolverizza ogni sera la sacra statua’ (ibid., III, p. 946). 52 This occurred with Romanesque enthroned Madonnas as well, made of wood even in very expensive settings (Forsyth, ‘Magi and Majesty,’ 215–216). 53 Grimaldi, ‘Sancta Majestas,’ p. 174. 54 Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, I, p. 218. 55 Forsyth convincingly argues for the possibility that enthroned Madonna sculptures participated in liturgical dramas in the medieval period (Forsyth, ‘Magi and Majesty,’ 215–217, 219–221). 56 Riegl, ‘The Modern Cult of Monuments,’ pp. 79–81. 57 Taubert confirms that polychrome sculpture was repainted often, especially those examples used in churches (Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture, p. 140). Others have discussed frequent repainting of Renaissance miraculous images, perhaps based on Byzantine practices (Holmes, Miraculous Images, pp. 4, 8, 120–139, 161; Hoeniger, The Renovation of Paintings in Tuscany; Nagel, ‘Fashion and the Now-Time of Renaissance Art,’ 38–43.

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and updates. This is confirmed by conservation reports, some of which document as many as sixteen layers of paint on medieval Marian statues – not including layers that were stripped off or otherwise removed.58 Many Black Madonnas were also repainted, variably whitened or blackened according to changing expectations.59 Furthermore, cult objects were not the only artworks with a perceived lifespan, necessitating human intervention. Like other pilgrimage centers in Italy, the sanctuary at Loreto featured paintings and sculptures by some of the most valued sixteenth-century artists, from Donato Bramante to Lorenzo Lotto to Federico Zuccaro. Their artworks, like the Madonna of Loreto, were also subjected to the perils of smoke, humidity, and unstable materials. A quick foray into Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists reveals many sixteenth-century tales of burnt altarpieces, of paintings ‘spoilt by the smoke of the candles,’ darkened varnishes and of the ravages of humidity.60 Vasari praises those artists who, through expert knowledge of material and technique, produced long-lasting works, those whose paintings did not need much retouching.61 If permanence was the goal, restoration was the reality, as many anecdotes in Vasari’s treatise confirm.62 There was no established field of conservation in the early modern era, and archives at the Holy House of Loreto confirm that matters of upkeep generally fell to local artists. In 1618, for example, the Governor of Loreto ordered one Pietro Palo Bernasconi to clean each painting in the church – similar requests for retouching artworks and restoring processional banners are scattered throughout the financial logs.63 For artists and canons alike, 58 See the example of the Madonna di Viggiano, in Van der Werf and others, ‘Indagini archeometriche,’ p. 52. On the many layers used on wooden sculptures, see Marincola, Introduction to Polychrome Sculpture, p. xii; Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture, pp. 140–141; Hägele, Colour in Sculpture, p. 135; Theiss, ‘A Brief Overview,’ pp. 137–141. On the complexities caused by varnish or scraped away layers, see Mercier & Sanyova, ‘The Sedes Sapientiae,’ p. 77, 82; Forsyth, Throne of Wisdom, p. 19; Forsyth, ‘Magi and Majesty,’ p. 216; Martin, ‘Microscopic Examination,’ p. 69; Serck-Dewaide, ‘Support and Polychromy,’ pp. 87–91. For pertinent examinations including changes in flesh tones, see Italian Medieval Sculpture, pp. 105–108, 208–209, 212. Some wooden sculptures were covered with metal sheets, but could still be fully polychromed (Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture, p. 17; Barral i Altet, ‘Madonne Brune,’ pp. 104–105). 59 For a few examples of many, see Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ pp. 1434–1435; Foster, ‘Out of Egypt,’ 5, 22; Foster, ‘The Black Madonna of Montserrat,’ p. 26; Forsyth, Throne of Wisdom, p. 22. 60 On burnt altarpieces, see Vasari, Lives, II, p. 19. On works ruined by candle smoke, see ibid., VI, p. 12; ibid., I, p. 90. On darkened varnishes, see ibid., VI, p. 21. On humidity, see ibid., I, pp. 77, 204, 212; ibid., II, p. 176; ibid., VIII, p. 65; and many more. 61 This refers to Andrea del Sarto (ibid., V, p. 120). 62 There are dozens of examples. On Vasari and restoration, see Conti, A History of the Restoration and Conservation of Works of Art, pp. 31–46. 63 See transcription in Grimaldi & Sordi, eds., Pittori a Loreto, p. 83. There are similar examples from 1518 (ibid., pp. 286, 291) and 1616 (ibid., p. 298). There are many examples from the eighteenth century, when conservation was becoming a more established profession (ibid., pp. 84–87, 134). A 1564 rule orders that damaged liturgical objects be taken to the sacristy for repair (Grimaldi, La santa casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni, II, p. 652).


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wood was expected to rot and pigments were known to fade, to ‘die.’64 As such, the presence of the purportedly ancient small wooden statuette above the altar of the Holy House suggested that, like the incorrupt body of a saint, something endured when it should not have.

Soot, Fire, and Miraculous Agency The analogy between saintly body and cult statue has more to offer. The Madonna of Loreto thwarted expectations of natural decay and decorous restorations. One historical treatise tells us that artists, too, marveled at the incorrupt nature of the Black Madonna in Oropa.65 This text argued that especially given the extreme temperature and humidity of the location, ‘hidden and supernatural virtues’ must be involved.66 A 1655 description of the Madonna of Graglia, another dark cult statue modeled after that at Loreto, claims that ‘it is quite marvelous that this statue has been maintained in a most humid place for over thirty years without rotting,’ proving that ‘this statue was defended by the heavens.’67 Such states of conservation were viewed as inherently unnatural. In Torsellino’s history of Loreto, the statue’s survival contrasts with less divinely favored artworks. He tells us how plaques of the shrine’s history were constantly repaired, and how a copy of the sculpture in nearby Recanati was quickly ‘consumed by decay and old age.’68 If some cult images expressed divine favor through their unnatural resilience, others articulated their agency by refusing restoration. The Romanesque Madonna of Montserrat in Spain provides one of the most well-known instances of this among the so-called Black Madonnas. According to a collection of miracle narratives dating to the fourteenth century, the artist enlisted to repaint the statue of Montserrat was suddenly cursed with blindness. A sixteenth-century edition explicitly states that ‘God did not allow [the statue] to be renovated by anyone.’69 Miraculous images, 64 On the vocabulary of discolored pigments as related to death or dying, see Eikema Hommes, Changing Pictures, pp. 17–18. 65 Gatti, Breve relatione, pp. 73–74. 66 ‘vi sia concorso virtù occulta, et sovranaturale’ (ibid., p. 74). 67 ‘Ha molto del maraviglioso che questa statua si sia mantenuta per il spatio di trenta cinque anni e più in luogo humidissimo senza marcire […] e da questo effetto potremo conchiudere, che questa statua sia diffesa dal Cielo.’ This is from Agostino dal Pozzo’s 1655 Ragguaglio della Divotione della Madonna, printed in Torino, but I cite from the transcription in Ghirardello, ‘La Madonna Nera di Graglia,’ p. 330. 68 Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 90; ‘carie, et vetustate confectum’ (ibid., p. 68). 69 ‘God did not allow it to be renewed by anyone’ (Burgos, Libro de la historia y milagros, f. 28v). This text takes note of the statue’s complexion and relates it, perhaps, to the Song of Songs, referring to it as ‘morena, y muy bien formada’ (ibid., f. 24r). For a discussion of the miracle in various editions of Burgos’s text, see Peig, ‘La Madonna di Montserrat,’ p. 131; Barral i Altet, ‘I volti scuri,’ pp. 268–269; Barral i Altet,

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including many Black Madonnas, were thought to control their own conservation, their own material status. In Mexico, for example, the Black Christ of Tila allegedly restored itself to a pale-skinned color in 1694.70 Although no similar narrative about the Madonna of Loreto survives, her dark color was likely seen as a matter of miraculous preference. Torsellino describes various restorations within the Holy House, including a replacement of its ‘most ancient and smoky’ ceiling panels, but other interventions apparently offended the Madonna.71 One architect fell gravely ill while attempting to alter the walls of the Holy House, a project only later completed after many prayers and supplications.72 Even when buffered with new foundations, the sacred walls refused to adhere to them in a dismissal of all ‘human help.’73 The additional structures then miraculously disappeared ‘against all rules of architecture.’74 In the same way, the soot-covered cult object operated outside of natural laws, simultaneously offering a divinely sanctioned rejection of liturgical decorum. Established practices of church conservation and artistic restoration provided norms against which the miraculous could assert itself. It is no surprise that if we return to Vasari’s Lives, it was the famously pious Fra Angelico who never retouched his works, ‘believing, as he used to say, that this was the will of God.’75 The putative soot upon the surface of the Madonna of Loreto prompted thoughts of fire, a constant danger in church interiors, especially for wooden objects. This is strikingly demonstrated by the fates of many of these same Black Madonnas. Large fires broke out in the shrines of Montserrat and Einsiedeln, and the Madonna of Le Puy was publicly burned during the French Revolution. The Madonna of Loreto, as we know, was destroyed in a 1921 blaze inside the Holy House. Resistance to incineration pushed even further against the limits of natural phenomena. The obliterating nature of fire made survivals all the more redolent of the divine. Miracle narratives dating back at least to the eleventh century describe how wooden cult statues, often Marian, escaped fires miraculously unscathed.76 One medieval story tells how a statue of the Madonna and Child emerged from a fire safely if ‘somewhat ‘Madonne Brune,’ p. 100; Foster, ‘The Black Madonna of Montserrat,’ pp. 34, 42; Peterson, Visualizing Guadalupe, pp. 19–20. 70 Peterson, ‘Perceiving Blackness, Envisioning Power,’ p. 56. 71 ‘pervetustum, ac fumosum’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 175). On the restorations of the chapel’s floors, see ibid., p. 112. 72 Ibid., pp. 148–151. 73 ‘humanam opem’ (ibid., p. 58). 74 ‘contra omnem architecturae rationem’ (ibid., p. 59). 75 Vasari, Lives, III, p. 35. 76 On medieval miracles of fire survival, see Forsyth, ‘Magi and Majesty,’ p. 217. Paintings were also thought to miraculously survive fires as well. See examples in Hoeniger, The Renovation of Paintings in Tuscany, p. 35; Holmes, Miraculous Images, pp. 89–90, 169.


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blackened’ and its subsequent restoration revealed relics in its hollow wooden core.77 After a fourteenth-century fire, the cult statue of Montserrat merely became shiny but did not burn, in a strange prefiguration of the Madonna of Loreto’s own silvery black complexion.78 These long-standing miracle traditions reveal how blackness could function as a badge of miraculous agency. Once again, the soot-covered image confirmed its decidedly unnatural status, refusing the destruction of flames, the custodian’s cleanings, and the artist’s restorations. The Madonna of Loreto’s final surrender to degradation and disaster in 1921 must be viewed in light of its many previous survivals. By that time, accidental explanations of the statue’s blackness, attributing its color to soot, sought to provide a solution that safely avoided both non-European and miraculous connotations.79 However, in the post-Tridentine period, the same material explanations worked in favor of sacred agency, rather than reiterating possible symbolic or scriptural meanings for the Madonna’s dark appearance. Miracles, endowed with new urgency in an age of reform and evangelization, served to close the logical gap between liturgical decorum and discolored objects, between the natural processes of decay and the established practices of repair. In its early modern iteration, the Madonna of Loreto demonstrates that it was the objects that treated soot preferentially, not the other way around.

Accretions and Representation To read surface as soot pushes signification into the realm of the material, safely separating the color of the statue with the complexion of its referent, the Virgin Mary. Yet, the post-Tridentine image did not operate in such a straightforward manner. Both textual and visual sources reveal that soot adhered to more than the surface of the statue, imbricating itself more deeply in the task of representation. The unreserved compliments of the Madonna of Loreto’s beauty, her ‘majesty,’ as Torsellino would phrase it, hint that appraisals of the cult statue reflected upon the Virgin Mary’s own appearance.80 It would seem that such commendations have more to do with established rhetoric than close visual analysis of the cult image. Indeed, the exact same language was applied to the Holy House’s former painted icon, said to rival the works of Apelles and Praxiteles.81 Our historian of the 77 Forsyth, ‘Magi and Majesty,’ 216. 78 Story discussed in Peig, ‘La Madonna di Montserrat,’ p. 137; Foster, ‘The Black Madonna of Montserrat,’ p. 34. 79 See Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ 1430–1440. 80 The Latin noun is maiestas (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 16). 81 Ricci, Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, p. 120.

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Madonna of Oropa, too, dwells at length on the statue’s great beauty and admirable proportions, culling from the same set of descriptive conventions.82 Such sources also deploy the typical rhetoric of likeness, emphasizing that the cult statue was ‘very similar’ to the Virgin herself.83 A man in Torsellino’s history, for example, sees a vision of the Loreto ‘effigy’ and supposes that the statue must have been ‘the most similar [to the Virgin Mary] or at least the most dear to her.’84 Torsellino’s final clause introduces hesitancy, a retreat from his own strong claims about the statue’s resemblance to its subject. Perhaps the cult statue found divine favor through likeness – but perhaps not. Slippage occurred between various types of signification, complicating the perception of the Madonna of Loreto’s dark color. In its post-Tridentine context, the sacred statue could not escape the duty of truthful representation, especially given its own evident agency. A late Quattrocento sermon by the Dominican Gabriel de Barletta reprinted in 1571 draws upon symbolic and theological arguments in discussing the Virgin’s complexion but concludes that she was ‘a little on the dark side,’ as evidenced by images like that at Loreto.85 A revised edition of Torsellino’s text from 1610 concedes that the Virgin Mary must have appeared in life ‘more brown than white.’86 The sculpture of the Madonna of Oropa was at one time referred to as the ‘mooress of Oropa.’87 Others have shown how Black Madonnas were explicitly connected not only to geographic origin, as with one Jesuit’s assertion that the statue of Loreto was dark because Mary came from Palestine, but to the skin color of indigenous and black African viewers, especially in a missionary context.88 It bears noting that Shakespeare’s Moor Othello was 82 Gatti, Breve relatione, p. 68. See also Historia della Madonna Santissima d’Oroppa, pp. 13, 18–19. 83 Ricci writes that the apostles wanted to set up an image ‘most similar’ (simillimam) to Mary in her former home (Ricci, Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, p. 114). See also Angelita, Historia della traslatione della Santa Casa, p. 17. The Oropa treatise also confirms that the statue was viewed as a faithful portrait, calling it a ‘vero, et naturale ritratto’ (Gatti, Breve relatione, p. 70). 84 ‘ut facile appareat Lauretanam effigiem illi, aut similimam esse, aut certe charissimam’ (Torsellino, Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, p. 358). 85 On this passage, see Massing, ‘From the Old Testament to the New Testament,’ p. 301; Baxandall, Painting and Experience, p. 57; Scheer, ‘From Majesty to Mystery,’ 1425. The Latin is ‘Fuit nigra aliquantulum’ (see Latin transcription in Baxandall, Painting and Experience, p. 166). Although the text is early enough that it might refer to either the statue or its preceding icon, by 1571 this sermon would have indicated the statue. 86 ‘anzi bruno, che bianco’ (Zucchi, Introduction to Della historia della santa casa, p. ii). 87 The phrase is ‘mora di Oropa’ (Historia della Madonna Santissima d’Oroppa, p. 166). See related example in Massing, ‘From the Old Testament to the New Testament,’ p. 301. 88 On the former, see Hopkins, ‘“Black but Beautiful”,’ pp. 78–79. Barletta makes a similar point. On notions of blackness in New Spain, see Peterson, ‘Perceiving Blackness, Envisioning Power.’ Already in early seventeenth-century Spanish America – earlier than some have supposed – Black Madonnas were connected explicitly with black Africans, as well as with the Song of Songs (Brewer-García, ‘Imagined Transformations,’ p. 122).


Grace Harpster

Figure 2.5. Attributed to Nicolò Trometta, The Virgin of Loreto with Angels, early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 242 × 154 cm, Museo Civico di Urbania. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Museo Civico e Biblioteca Comunale di Urbania

characterized as ‘sooty’ and ‘begrimed.’89 The blackness of Italy’s principal cult statue, even while sooty and symbolic, also marked the phenotype of the Virgin Mary. Three oil paintings, all executed in the decades around the turn of the seventeenth century, display this entanglement between material surface and physical phenotype. Each of these works evoke the statue of the Madonna of Loreto, showing a Madonna and Child with the sculpture’s characteristic hieratic pose and ornamented dalmatica.90 The first, in Urbania’s Museo Civico, reveals no trace of soot or blackness (Fig. 2.5). The scene has been purged of the many lamps, candles, and votives that 89 On these passages from Shakespeare, see Vaughan, Performing Blackness, p. 94. On connections between Shakespeare’s Othello and the Black Madonnas, see Hopkins, ‘“Black but Beautiful.”’ For my related essay on material, surface-based conceptions of blackness in a Jesuit missionary context, see Harpster, ‘The Color of Salvation.’ 90 The phenomenon of cultic titles in Italian Catholicism allowed for fluidity in representation, and accordingly, the iconography related to the cult of Loreto varies considerably, especially between altarpieces, votives, and sculpted replicas. One popular type shows an enthroned Madonna and Child atop

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Figure 2.6. Attributed to Avanzino Nucci, The Virgin of Loreto with Angels, late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 176 × 166 cm, Pinacoteca Diocesana, Senigallia. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Ufficio Arte Sacra e Beni Culturali della Diocesi di Senigallia

would have crowded the statue, supplying instead a framing group of angels, each with a pale skin tone that mimics Mary’s own. The anonymous artist has freed the sculpture of its ostensible decay, merging the sculpture’s format with the European features and complexion often attributed to the Virgin. In a second artwork, from Senigallia’s diocesan museum, a detailed architectural setting more firmly situates the Madonna in an imagined version of the Holy House (Fig. 2.6). The artist has given Mary’s complexion a darker tonality, reading not as soot but perhaps instead recalling the Gabriel de Barletta’s contention that the Virgin was ‘a little on the dark side’. The flanking grisaille angels and hanging lamps also appear in a version by Carlo Saraceni, now in the church of S. Bernardo alle Terme in Rome (Fig. 2.7). Yet if Saraceni’s painting mirrors compositional elements a flying house, while other images visually resemble the eponymous cult statue. For an introduction to the iconography of the cult of Loreto, see L’iconografia della Vergine di Loreto nell’arte.


Grace Harpster

Figure 2.7. Carlo Saraceni, The Virgin of Loreto, late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 170 × 125 cm, San Bernardo alle Terme, Rome, patrimony of the Fondo Edifici di Culto. Photo: reproduced with permission of the Direzione Centrale per l’Amministrazione del Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero dell’Interno

from the Senigallia canvas, it renders the faces of the Madonna and Child in a deep, uniform brown. The conspicuous pigment, verging on something closer to chromatic blackness, complicates efforts to interpret this color as flesh tone, to connect it to, perhaps, conceptions of a Palestinian phenotype. The homogenous complexion of Saraceni’s Madonna, altered only by a slight reddish blush, could instead reference the hue of the material sculpture, or perhaps its theologically defined blackness. His painting better foreshadows the uniformly dark replica of the cult statue from 1922. These images deserve more elaboration than can be performed here. However, this brief comparison visually enacts the vacillating understanding of the Madonna of Loreto’s surface. Its perceived darkness was transmutable, shifting from the irrelevant to the phenotypical to the adamantly material. The equivocality of the candle-smoke theory lent itself to the concerns of the post-Tridentine era. Only the agency of the cult statue itself could resolve the contradictions of the sooty cult image, refusing the demands of liturgical decorum

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and the natural lifespan of the material object. Yet the separation between image and prototype was never quite complete. This confusion about complexion, however useful to later commentators or the causes of evangelization, did not overturn established orders of Christian color, cast in opposing notions of black and white. If medieval liturgical texts could associate the ‘despicable’ appearance of our Old Testament bride with plain church exteriors, or align white altar cloths with Christ’s flesh, post-Tridentine texts perpetuate such chromatic judgments.91 Torsellino contrasts the Madonna of Loreto’s majesty with her darkness; Oropa’s cult statue is taken as a comment on the opposing nature of beauty and blackness.92 Well before category of the ‘Black Madonna’ was established, the statue of Loreto recapitulated the unequal opposition between black and white. For all that its sooty surface did to reaffirm the post-Tridentine cult of images, the Madonna of Loreto similarly validated extant contrasts of beauty and ugliness, lightness and dark, cleanliness and contamination, despite – and through – objects that seemed to cut across such binaries. Although the cult statue exceeded post-Tridentine expectations, convoluting the nature of representation and problems of perception, it also reinforced the strength of certain interpretive limits.

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Ghirardello, Claudia. ‘La Madonna Nera di Graglia, un santuario tra passago e presente.’ In Nigra sum: culti, santuari e immagini delle Madonne Nere d’Europa: atti del convegno internazionale: Santuario e Sacro Monte di Oropa, Santuario e Sacro Monte di Crea, 20–22 maggio 2010, ed. by Lalla Groppo and Oliviero Girardi, 325–340. [S.l]: Centro Stampa Regione Piemonte, 2012. Gombrich, E.H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. New York: Pantheon Books, 1960. Grimaldi, Floriano. ‘L’iconografia della Vergine lauretana nell’arte. I prototipi iconografici.’ In L’iconografia della Vergine di Loreto nell’arte, ed. by Floriano Grimaldi and Katy Sordi, 15–30. Loreto: Carilo, Cassa di risparmio di Loreto, 1995. Grimaldi, Floriano. ‘Sancta Majestas Nostre Domine Virginis Marie de Laureto.’ In Nigra sum: culti, santuari e immagini delle Madonne Nere d’Europa: atti del convegno internazionale: Santuario e Sacro Monte di Oropa, Santuario e Sacro Monte di Crea, 20–22 maggio 2010, ed. by Lalla Groppo and Oliviero Girardi, 157–184. [S.l]: Centro Stampa Regione Piemonte, 2012. Grimaldi, Floriano. La Santa Casa di Loreto e le sue istituzioni. 3 vols. Foligno, Perugia: Accademia fulginia di lettere scienze e arti, 2006. Hägele, Hannelore. Colour in Sculpture: A Survey from Ancient Mesopotamia to the Present. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013. Harpster, Grace. ‘The Color of Salvation: The Materiality of Blackness in Alonso de Sandoval’s De instauranda Aethiopum salute.’ In Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America, ed. by Pamela A. Patton, 83–110. Leiden: Brill, 2016. Hoeniger, Cathleen. The Renovation of Paintings in Tuscany, 1250–1500. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Holmes, Megan. The Miraculous Image in Renaissance Florence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Hopkins, Lisa. ‘“Black but Beautiful”: Othello and the Cult of the Black Madonna.’ In Marian Moments in Early Modern British Drama, ed. by Regina Buccola and Lisa Hopkins, 75–86. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2007. L’iconografia della Vergine di Loreto nell’arte, ed. by Floriano Grimaldi and Katy Sordi. Loreto: Carilo, Cassa di risparmio di Loreto, 1995. Italian Medieval Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters, ed. by Lisbeth Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Jack Soultanian with contributions by Richard Y. Tayar. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. Kaplan, Paul, H.D. ‘Italy, 1490–1700.’ In The Image of the Black in Western Art, ed. by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., vol. III, part 2, 93–190. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2010. Leibsohn, Dana. ‘Introduction: Geographies of Sight.’ In Seeing Across Cultures in the Early Modern World, ed. by Dana Leibsohn and Jeanette Favrot Peterson, 1–20. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2012.

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Marincola, Michele D. Introduction to Polychrome Sculpture: Meaning, Form, and Conservation by Johannes Taubert, ix-xiii, ed. by Michele D. Marincola and trans. by Carola Schulman. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2015. Martin, James S. ‘Microscopic Examination and Analysis of the Structure and Composition of Paint and Varnish Layers.’ In Painted Wood: History and Conservation, ed. by Valerie Dorge and F. Carey Howlett, 64–79. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1998. Massing, Jean Michel. ‘From the Old Testament to the New Testament: Toward Salvation.’ In The Image of the Black in Western Art, ed. by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., vol. III, part 2, 261–306. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2011. Mercier, Emmanuelle and Jana Sanyova. ‘The Sedes Sapientiae of the van den Peereboom Donation to the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels. Materials and Techniques of a Polychrome Sculpture from the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century.’ In Paint and Piety: Collected Essays on Medieval Painting and Polychrome Sculpture, ed. by Noëlle Streeton and Kaja Kollandsrud, 77–91. London: Archetype Publications, 2014. Miladinov, Marina. ‘Madonna of Loreto as a Target of Reformation Critique: Peter Paul Vergerius the Younger.’ In Promoting the Saints: Cults and Their Contexts from Late Antiquity Until the Early Modern Period: Essays in Honor of Gábor Klaniczay for His 60th Birthday, ed. by Ottó Gecser, and others, 291–303. Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2011. Murphy, Paul V. ‘The Jesuits and the Santa Casa di Loreto: Orazio Torsellini’s Lauretanae historiae libri quinque.’ In Spirit, Style, Story: Essays Honoring John W. Padberg, S.J., ed. by Thomas M. Lucas and John W. Padberg, 269–282. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002. Nagel, Alexander. ‘Fashion and the Now-Time of Renaissance Art.’ RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 46, no. 1 (2004): 32–52. Nagel, Alexander and Christopher S. Wood. Anachronic Renaissance. New York: Zone Books, 2010. Nolan, Mary Lee and Sidney Nolan. Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. Peig, Concepció. ‘La Madonna di Montserrat e la sua “nerezza” in epoca medioevale.’ In Nigra sum: culti, santuari e immagini delle Madonne Nere d’Europa: atti del convegno internazionale: Santuario e Sacro Monte di Oropa, Santuario e Sacro Monte di Crea, 20–22 maggio 2010, ed. by Lalla Groppo and Oliviero Girardi, 111–156. [S.l]: Centro Stampa Regione Piemonte, 2012. Penny, Nicholas. The Materials of Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. ‘Perceiving Blackness, Envisioning Power: Chalma and Black Christs in Colonial Mexico.’ In Seeing Across Cultures in the Early Modern World, ed. by Dana Leibsohn and Jeanette Favrot Peterson, 49–72. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2012. Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. Visualizing Guadalupe: From Black Madonna to Queen of the Americas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014.


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Pittori a Loreto: committenze tra ‘500 e ‘600: documenti, ed. by Floriano Grimaldi and Katy Sordi. Ancona: Soprintendenza per i beni ambientali e architettonici delle Marche, 1988. Riegl, Alois. ‘The Modern Cult of Monuments: its Essence and its Development.’ In Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, ed. by Nicholas Stanley Price, M. Kirby Talley, Jr., and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro, 69–83. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1996. Santarelli, Giuseppe. Introduction to Virginis Mariae Loretae Historia, by Giacomo Ricci, ed. by Giuseppe Santarelli. Loreto: Congregazione universale della Santa Casa, 1987. Scheer, Monique. ‘From Majesty to Mystery: Change in the Meanings of Black Madonnas from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries.’ The American Historical Review 107, no. 5 (2002): 1412–1440. Schutte, Anne Jacobson. Pier Paolo Vergerio: The Making of an Italian Reformer. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1977. Serck-Dewaide, Myriam. ‘Support and Polychromy of Altarpieces from Brussels, Mechlin, and Antwerp: Study, Comparison, and Restoration.’ In Painted Wood: History and Conservation, ed. by Valerie Dorge and F. Carey Howlett, 82–99. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1998. Siede, Irmgard. ‘Le Madonne Nere di Einsiedeln e Altötting: devozione, copie, pellegrinaggio.’ In Nigra sum: culti, santuari e immagini delle Madonne Nere d’Europa: atti del convegno internazionale: Santuario e Sacro Monte di Oropa, Santuario e Sacro Monte di Crea, 20–22 maggio 2010, ed. by Lalla Groppo and Oliviero Girardi, 185–196. [S.l]: Centro Stampa Regione Piemonte, 2012. Taubert, Johannes. Polychrome Sculpture: Meaning, Form, and Conservation. Ed. by Michele D. Marincola and trans. by Carola Schulman. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2015. Theiss, Harald. ‘A Brief Overview of the Decorative Techniques used in Sculptural Polychromy in the Middle Ages.’ In Circumlitio: The Polychromy of Antique and Medieval Sculpture, ed. by Vinzenz Brinkmann, Oliver Primavesi, and Max Hollein, 137–153. Munich: Hirmer, 2010. Van der Werf, Inez, Rocco Laviano, and Luigia Sabbatini. ‘Indagini archeometriche sulle Madonne lignee dal volto Bruno nei santuari della Puglia e della Basilicata.’ In Nigra sum: culti, santuari e immagini delle Madonne Nere d’Europa: atti del convegno internazionale: Santuario e Sacro Monte di Oropa, Santuario e Sacro Monte di Crea, 20–22 maggio 2010, ed. by Lalla Groppo and Oliviero Girardi, 49–54. [S.l]: Centro Stampa Regione Piemonte, 2012. Vaughan, Virginia Mason. Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500–1800. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Voelker, Evelyn C. ‘Charles Borromeo’s Instructiones fabricae et supellectilis ecclesiasticae, 1577. A Translation with Commentary and Analysis.’ Ph.D. diss., Syracuse University, 1977.

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About the Author Grace Harpster is Assistant Professor of Art History in the Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She studies the art of early modern Italy and the Catholic missionary world. In addition to her current project, an examination of cardinal-archbishop Carlo Borromeo’s encounters with sacred images, she has published on the relationship between color theory, black African salvation, and print culture in the early Jesuit missions.


Sedimentary Aesthetics Christopher J. Nygren Abstract Around 1530 artists began painting on stone. Early on artists mostly used slate, though toward the end of the sixteenth century they began painting on various kinds of semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli. Such pictures were appreciated for how the pure lithic material was augmented by the painter. In the seventeenth century, artists (especially in Florence) began painting on a particular kind of sedimentary stone known as pietra d’Arno that subverts this aesthetic. Unlike semi-precious stones whose material splendor and purity lends itself to aesthetic appreciation, this stone is unrelentingly base: pietra d’Arno is essentially solidified mud. This essay investigates how artists used this sedimentary substrate to support ethical investigations of humankind’s position as fallen beings in the created world. Keywords: sediment, painting, geology, ecology, pietra d’Arno, lapis lazuli

As practiced in early modern Europe, painting was closely intertwined with geological pursuits.1 By 1500, most Italian paintings were created using an oil-based medium in which microscopic fragments of color were suspended in a mixture of linseed oil and other additives. Some pigments were derived from organic matter, principally the particularly intense shade of red that was taken from the desiccated corpses of cochineal bugs, from which it takes its name.2 However, the vast majority of pigments were produced by manipulating various minerals. Early modern artists obtained some pigments from metals; verdigris, for instance, is derived from copper alloys, which produce a green patina when brought into prolonged contact with acidic compounds. Others, like ultramarine, are made from pulverized stones, in I would like to thank David Marshall, Carla Nappi, Jason di Resta, and Molly Warsh for reading drafts of this paper and offering insightful and thought-provoking commentary. 1 Dunlop, ‘On the Origins of European Painting Materials,’ pp. 83–86. 2 Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red, pp. 1–52.

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_ch03


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this case lapis lazuli.3 When considering the geological heritage of painting, we do well to remember that prior to Linnaeus’s reorganization of taxonomy both rocks and metals were considered different species under the same category: ‘fossil,’ which encompassed essentially all things that came out of the ground. 4 Indeed, the Latin term fossilis simply means ‘dug out of the ground.’5 Pliny, the author of the most important ancient discussion of painting, took seriously the geological origins of painterly materials: his discussion of painting is embedded in a chapter that discusses various kinds of stone, making clear that painting is an epiphenomenon of stone.6 This is a point that pre-modern artists rarely forgot, and recovering the linkage between painting and the sediments of geology changes our perspective on early modern art history. Even as patrons and aficionados shifted toward appreciating the hand of the artist over the materials used to produce a painting, a shift so ably narrated by Michael Baxandall, painters nevertheless recognized that obtaining pure and unadulterated geological material remained of utmost importance to their livelihood, and this forced artists to view the world around them with a new gaze.7 During the early modern period, the Tuscan landscape was an important site of geological investigation. Owing to the particular nature of its formation, the Tuscan countryside carried visible traces of geological strata, which one could detect with the naked eye. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) turned his attentive eye to all aspects of nature, of course, including geological layers of the Tuscan mountains, which he sketched multiple times.8 However, he was far from the only artist making astute geological observations during the Renaissance.9 Historians of geology have noted that the attention Leonardo and his contemporaries showered on the local landscape helped pave the way for the first generation of geologists, including the Danish scientist Nicholas Steno (1638–1686), to turn their gaze to the stratigraphy of the Arno Valley.10 Based on his examinations of the Tuscan landscape, Steno laid out a series of revolutionary conjectures about the formation of the 3 Frosini, ‘L’oltremare. Il blu dei santi e dei re,’ pp. 123–133. 4 Rudwick, The Meaning of Fossils, pp. 1–45. 5 A Latin Dictionary, s. v. fossilis. 6 McHam, Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance, pp. 232–233. 7 Baxandall, Painting and Experience, pp. 14–15. 8 De Lorenzo, Leonardo da Vinci e la geologia and Geddes, ‘“Infinite Slowness and Infinite Velocity”,’ pp. 269–283. 9 Jones, ‘Mantegna and Materials,’ 71–90; Branagan, ‘Geology and the Artists of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,’ pp. 31–42; Morello, ‘Agricola and the Birth of the Mineralogical Sciences in Italy in the Sixteenth Century,’ pp. 23–30. 10 The studies of Nicoletta Morello remain foundational for this f ield. See Morello, La nascita della paleontologia nel seicento and Morello, ‘Steno, the Fossils, and the Calendar of the Earth,’ pp. 81–93. See also Rosenberg, ‘The Measure of Man,’ pp. 13–40.

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earth. Steno hypothesized that the earth was once entirely covered with waters, that it was formed through a mixture of mud and water, and that sedimentation occurred causing liquid and solid to separate. This led him to conclude that fossils dug from the earth resembling animals and other creatures are indeed the parts of former living animals that have been fossilized through a prolonged process of sedimentation.11 Steno’s groundbreaking hypotheses brought the idea of sedimentation to the forefront of serious scientific inquiry. For the first time, scientific analysis began to underline sedimentation as a process essential to all geological phenomena. But Steno was preceded in his conjectures by visual artists, who interrogated the local stones of the Arno Valley and intuited from them the deep history and ecological implications of the sedimentary process. Certain fifteenth-century painters focused their attention on accurately representing sedimentary layers in the landscapes they painted.12 But it was only in the first decades of the seventeenth century that painters began to scrutinize the indigenous sedimentary stones of the Arno Valley to see how they might spark pictorial creativity. The paintings produced in the early seventeenth century did not represent sedimentary layers, as Leonardo and his contemporaries had done; rather, they enlisted the stratigraphy of the Tuscan countryside into the representational logic of their pictures. In early seventeenthcentury Florence, painters laid down their pictorial inventions directly onto the sediment of the Arno Valley, painting on a kind of stone known as pietra d’Arno. Attending to the peculiar commingling of geology and artistry in these artworks reveals that the notion of sedimentation became increasingly important to the artisanal epistemology that produced these works.13 By recuperating the sedimentary aesthetic of Florentine paintings on pietra d’Arno, this essay seeks to illuminate the geological method developed by artisans and artists in early modern Florence and thereby to reconfigure the relationship between the visual arts and the emergence of geology in the seventeenth century. This essay suggests that artists discriminated between different types of pietra d’Arno, what I call ‘undulated’ and ‘serrated’ varieties. Although both varieties formed in the same geological environment and through similar processes, the sedimentary characteristics of these two types of stones create distinctive optical features, and artists worked to match the tone and character of the subjects they depicted to the individual quality and appearance of each stone. The distinctions that these artists made between types of stone (to be discussed at length below) 11 Yamada, ‘Kircher and Steno on the “Geocosm”,’ pp. 65–80. 12 On sedimentary themes in fifteenth-century painting, see Branagan, ‘Geology and the Artists of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,’ pp. 31–42. 13 On artisanal epistemologies, see Smith, The Body of the Artisan, pp. 59–94.


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reveal that they were capable of making taxonomical discriminations that outpaced the scientific language for describing their observations. In Seicento Florence, artists scrutinized the stratigraphy revealed in cut stones in ways that foreshadow later developments in the natural sciences, and this essay argues that from the mire of those layers they developed a sedimentary aesthetics that was unique within early modern visual culture. Beyond offering an historical perspective on the phenomenon of painting of sedimentary stone, this essay also describes how these rupestrian paintings – made, literally, on rock, rupes – precipitated a particular form of ecological thought that places humanity in the deep and tumultuous history of a planet made of base material. As a discipline, art history has recently made great strides in understanding how pigments, dyes, and colors traversed the globe in the early modern period: artisans and patrons desired pure materials and were exceptionally conscious of the risk that their merchandise might be contaminated and adulterated. Rather than track the mercantile aspects of material purity and contamination, this essay will examine how artists used sedimentary stones to bring forward a sophisticated understanding of humanity’s place in salvation history; the peculiar way artists chose to depict epic events from human history when painting on pietra d’Arno as opposed to canvas or wood panel reveals something about their understanding of humanity’s fallen state, and begins to shed light on the subtle ways that early modern painting could engage in the work of ethical investigation. Considering this sedimentary perspective may be salutary in reconceiving the position of humankind within earth’s ecology. To see this ecological approach to painting on stone in its highest relief, I shall begin with a brief account of earlier examples of painting on stone and then pivot to examine how the practice developed a particular regional character when transposed on to the local stone of the Arno river valley. *** Artists first began painting on stone in Rome around 1530.14 For the first fifty years or so, they did so mostly on slabs of hewn slate. Artists preferred a particular type of slate typically of uniform dark gray or black coloration, that came from the town of Lavagna, near Genoa.15 Renaissance paintings on slate do little to activate the surface of the stone as part of the pictorial ensemble; painters overlaid fictive similitudes onto a recognizably stony ground, but did little to call attention to the 14 For the most current research on the topic, see Almost Eternal; Collomb, Splendeurs d’Italie; and González Mozo, In lapide depictum. 15 Vasari, Vasari on Technique, p. 238.

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stony substrate. Figure and ground were held apart through inexorable surface tension; the figures painted by spreading ground minerals suspended in oil were never allowed to relax into a unified ensemble of mimetic representation with the stony surface below. A picture of Christ, for instance, could be rendered on a recognizably stony substrate without there being any fictive pictorial relationship between figure and ground.16 Toward the end of the sixteenth century, this changed as artists began to paint on a variety of colored stones and to use the striations of the stone as a constitutive element in the pictorial ensemble.17 The earliest documentary evidence of a painting on colored stone comes from the personal records of the Florentine painter Alessandro Allori (1535–1607).18 On 29 October 1581 Allori recorded a payment he received from Signor Cavalier Niccolò Gaddi for ‘a head of Our Lord and of the Madonna on two ovals of lapis lazuli.’19 Further documentary evidence suggests that Allori painted other pictures on lapis lazuli for the Medici family, probably around 1600. 20 One of Allori’s paintings recently came to light and Sotheby’s auctioned it in February 2018 (Fig. 3.1). In the words of a seventeenth-century inventory, it depicts ‘Christ on the cross with Mary Magdalen at his feet, with the figure of death and other small figures.’21 In this painting, Allori uses the intense, jewel-like blue of the stone to stand in for the sky above Golgotha. Of course, this cuts hard against the biblical account of the event, which asks us to imagine that ‘at noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.’22 The bright blue lapis not only suggests that the sky has not darkened, but it also 16 Nygren, ‘Titian’s Ecce Homo on Slate,’ 36–66. 17 Collomb, Splendeurs d’Italie, pp. 167–249. 18 A 1564 inventory of the collection of Cardinal Ridolfo Pio da Carpi includes reference to ‘Un quadro di un Ecce Homo in pietra colorito a olio di mano di ms Titiano con ornamento intorno che è molto bello.’ This seemingly challenges the claim made here that painting on colored stone began in the 1580s. However, there are several issues with this inventory. Beyond the general question of its reliability, the description is also ambiguous. While the syntax of the sentence leaves open the possibility that ‘in pietra colorito’ refers to the material substrate of the painting, this seems unlikely as it would meant that the painting anticipated this trend in Baroque picture making by twenty years without leaving any other trace in the documentary record. Given this historical context, a much more convincing reading is to see ‘in pietra colorito’ as connected to the ‘ornamento intorno.’ Sixteenth-century sources describe how around the middle of the century it became common to produce increasingly elaborate frames for easel paintings. For instance, Vasari described how Sebastiano del Piombo would ‘surround his paintings with ornaments of different, beautiful mixed stones.’ See Gli inventari dell’eredità del Cardinale Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, p. 58; Vasari, Le opere di Giorgio Vasari, V, p. 579; Vasari, Vasari on Technique, p. 239. 19 ‘Una testa di Nostro Signore e di Madonna in due aovali di lapisi lazzari [sic].’ I ricordi di Alessandro Allori, p. 16. 20 Collomb, Splendeurs d’Italie, p. 189n68. See also Collezionismo mediceo e storia artistica, I, p. 128. 21 Sotheby’s ‘Master Paintings Evening Sale, 1 February 2018.’ 22 Mark 15:33 NIV translation.


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Figure 3.1. Alessandro Allori, Crucifixion, 1602, oil on lapis lazuli, 17.1 × 13.5 cm. Private Collection. Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc. © 2018

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injects an odd temporality into the scene. The stone itself exhibits a series of microfractures; whether by design or by chance, many of these cracks appear to emanate from Christ’s body. The brilliant pictorial conceit physically overlays Christ’s body onto a lithic substrate that is decomposing, and thereby gives figural power to the biblical account that the at the moment of Christ’s death the ‘the earth shook, and the rocks were split.’23 Although we cannot know for certain whether or not Allori’s Crucifixion from c. 1600 reflects the sort of aesthetic that he developed in his 1581 paintings on lapis (which do not survive), we do know that this approach to polychromatic pictorial substrates quickly became common among artists operating in numerous locales, including Rome and Prague. The practice of painting on colored stones presupposes ready access to a steady material supply. Indeed, Baroque painting on colored stone developed into a variety of local idioms, which depended on an artist’s ability to procure types of stones.24 Although documents suggest that painting on semi-precious stone began with the generation of Allori in Florence, it reached its apogee in Baroque Rome – one of the centers of early modern European culture and commerce. In Rome, artists painted on a vast array of stones, few of which were mined locally. For instance, Filippo Lauri (1623–1694) and others painted on amethyst, the highest quality of examples of which came from Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.25 While amethyst was also mined in France, there is no evidence that it was extracted locally in Lazio; these stones had to be imported, as did all fragments of lapis lazuli and most other polychrome stones. Rome’s position as caput mundi helped facilitate the expansion of painting on semi-precious stones. In the early 1600s, popes undertook major renovation projects to the Seven Pilgrimage Churches and, as Isabelle Bigazzi and Johanna Lohff have demonstrated, these renovations ensured a constant influx of raw materials. When stones like lapis lazuli were dressed for installation in the built environment, smaller fragments were left over and reused in a variety of ways, some licit and some not.26 Pope Paul V (r. 1605–1621) entrusted Pier Vincenzo Strozzi, scion of a noble Florentine family and a Medici agent in Rome, with overseeing the renovation of the Capella Paolina in Santa Maria Maggiore, which contained one of the most esteemed icons in Christendom, the Salus Populi Romani. The renovations were intended to give the powerful icon a more regal setting, framing it with vast quantities of semi-precious stones, especially imported lapis lazuli. Rapid expansion combined with little oversight created incentives for personal gain. In 1618, while those renovations 23 Matthew 27:51 English Standard Version. 24 Blümle, ‘Mineralischer Sturm,’ pp. 73–95; Seifertova, Malby na kameni; Collomb. Splendeurs d’Italie; Lohff, Malerei auf Stein; Baadj, ‘Painting on Stone and Metal,’ pp. 249–270. 25 Moscardo, Note overo memorie del museo di Lodovico Moscardo, p. 133. 26 Bigazzi, Un memoriale di Piero di Vincenzo Strozzi, pp. 46–47 and Lohff, Malerei auf Stein, pp. 78–84.


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Figure 3.2. Antonio Tempesta, Pearl Fishing, before 1618, oil on lapis lazuli, 30 × 50 cm. Photo: BPK / RMN / Paris, Musée du Louvre / Jean Schormans

were ongoing, Strozzi gifted the Medici Duke with a large painting on lapis lazuli by Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630), showing a scene of Pearl Fishing (Fig. 3.2), and he was also accused of profiteering by illicitly selling materials intended for the renovation of the Capella Paolina.27 Regardless of whether or not the materials were acquired illicitly, the Medici prized pictures like Pearl Fishing and prominently displayed them in the Guardaroba (also known as the Hall of Geographic Maps), which was a prominent room in the Palazzo Vecchio that served as a clearinghouse for all sorts of artistic, scientific, and natural objects.28 Within the rarefied context of a collection like the Guardaroba, paintings on stone such as Antonio Tempesta’s Pearl Fishing troubled 27 Lohff, Malerei auf Stein, pp. 54–60. On the Pearl Fishing, see Federici and Balbi, Viaggi di C. Federici e G. Balbi alle Indie Orientali, pp. 26–27. 28 Although the Guardaroba followed its own logic, it was organized along principles analogous to those proposed by Samuel Quiccheberg (1529–1567), who wrote one of the first European treatises on collecting, basing his analysis largely on the collection of the Duke of Bavaria Albrecht V. Quiccheberg classified objects into five groups: first Christian objects, followed by objects produced through artificialia (‘the manipulation of materials’), then naturalia (‘natural objects including plants and minerals’), artificial tools such as musical instruments and scientific tools, and finally varia (‘various objects’), which generally included paintings and prints. See Quiccheberg, The First Treatise on Museums.

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the distinction between natural wonders and man-made objects, or naturalia and artificialia, which was a trait highly desired by collectors.29 ‘Art,’ taken as a category of creation that depended upon human intervention, was opposed to natura, which was a separate source of imagistic generation. Indeed, descriptions of such collection made in the period testify that collectors liked to place artistic images in proximity of naturally made images (often described as acheiropoieta, or images-not-made-by-human-hands) as a way of troubling the distinction between the two categories.30 As Brett Rothstein has shown, early modern collectors enjoyed displaying diff icult object that challenged beholders, and paintings on stone discharged that task in a novel way.31 Tempesta’s painting was imported to the Medici collection from Rome, and brought with it a Roman pictorial aesthetic. Precious stones were certainly available in Florence as well. However, most of the precious stones the Medici Duchy imported were designated for purposes other than painting. In the late sixteenth century, the Medici dynasty took an increasing interest in how the strategic deployment of semi-precious colored stones helped consolidate family power through the conspicuous display of wealth, artistry, and technology.32 Such an approach to materials was institutionalized in 1588 when Ferdinando I (1549–1609) established the Opif icio delle Pietre Dure, an entire government agency dedicated to the study and manipulation of precious and semi-precious hard stones.33 Through its experimentations, the Opif icio developed novel techniques for picture-making, including a new kind of inlay in which artisans precisely carved pieces of colored stone, placing them into interlocking patterns to produce elaborate pictorial compositions. Known as commesso, this new technique was used to create fantastical representations of landscapes, animals, and other artifacts.34 Jacopo Ligozzi’s Harbor Scene is a prime example of this new mode of creation (Fig. 3.3). For that panel, the stone-cutter Cristofano Gaffurri transferred Ligozzi’s design into a compelling ‘painting in stone’ that gives the impression of perspectival recession as well as modulations in light and shade using nothing more than shards of stone.35 While artists had long attained impressive feats of illusionism through intarsia made with lacquered wood, this new technique brought these inventions 29 Callois, The Writing of Stones, pp. 32–36; Daston, ‘Nature by Design,’ pp. 232–253; Blümle, ‘Mineralischer Sturm,’ pp. 73–95. 30 Terzago, Musaevm Septalianvm, pp. 41, 142. 31 Rothstein, ‘Making Trouble,’ 96–129. 32 Butters, The Triumph of Vulcan; Barzman, The Florentine Academy and the Early Modern State. 33 Acidini, ‘The Opificio delle Pietre Dure,’ pp. 95–101. 34 Giusti, ‘Roman Inlay and Florentine Mosaics,’ pp. 16–21. 35 Lapis Lazzuli. Magia del blu, cat. 67.


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Figure 3.3. Cristofano Gaffuri (designed by Jacopo Ligozzi), The Harbor of Livorno, 1601–1604, inlay of lapis lazuli and other hard stones, 107 × 94 cm, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Photo: akg-images / Rabatti & Domingie

alive through the incorporation of vibrant color and modulation of hue.36 However, this kind of f ictive inlay was not without its critics. The seventeenth-century physician and art critic Giulio Mancini (1559–1630) refused to take the artform seriously: I will not speak about tables made out of commesso, in which diverse kinds of stone represent birds and other things, because these things reduce themselves to intarsia and mosaic, and are new only for the luxury of spending such a sum on a table from which to eat or [to make] other things which, even though they are notable and worthy artifices for a prince, if they have the bad luck of being dropped, throw away hundreds of scudi.37 36 Cortesi Bosco, Il coro intarsiato di Lotto e Capoferri. 37 Mancini, Considerazioni sulla pittura, pp. 308–309: ‘Non parlo delle tavole commesse di diverse sorti di pietre che esprimono uccelli et altro, perchè queste si riducono alla tarsia et al musaico, et sono nuove solo per il lusso d’una tanta spesa in una tavola da mangiare et in cose che con una disgratia di cascare si perdono tante centinara di scudi, pur è cosa notabile, artificiosa et da prencipe.’

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Similarly, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) imported observations from the visual arts into his literary criticism when he drew an extended analogy between oil paint and intarsia to help his reader understand the fundamental distinction between the epic poems written by Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) and Torquato Tasso (1544–1595). For Galileo, Ariosto’s poem was akin to an oil painting that mellifluously blended the contours of the figures; his beautiful verses sutured together different ideas, characters, and rhetorical figures into a unified composition. By contrast, Galileo believed that Tasso’s epic failed to cohere. For Galileo, the disjuncture between individual figures (rhetorical and narratological) and the larger composition of Tasso’s poem became most legible when compared to intarsia: just as in instarsia the contours of figures never resolve and remain detached from both the ground and other figures, so too did Tasso’s poem fail to produce a satisfying ensemble.38 Florentine commessi made great strides in overcoming the disjunctive aesthetic of intarsia, and first-time beholders often find it difficult to believe that paint has not been applied to a wooden support. We might expect that painting on stone produced in the circle of the Opificio would be generally analogous to these commessi. Indeed, Giulio Mancini discussed them together, implying that they were related phenomena.39 However, this is not the case. There is evidence that painting on colored stone began prior to the establishment of the Opificio; recall that Allori painted on lapis lazuli as early as 1581, seven years before the establishment of the Opificio. Perhaps more importantly, while the materials used to produce commessi were imported, the style of painting on stone that developed around the Opificio relied on locally sourced stone and became inextricably linked to the city of Florence and its surrounding sedimented landscape. This is evident even in the taxonomy of the stones used in the two different endeavors. Modern geology classifies stone into three main categories, which describe how the stone was created. Metamorphic rocks, like lapis lazuli, are produced when a pre-existing stone (protolith) is transformed under extremely high temperatures and pressure. Igneous rocks are formed when molten material cools, congeals, and eventually solidifies, producing stones like porphyry and obsidian. By contrast, sedimentary stones like pietra d’Arno are the product of a prolonged process of sedimentation, as layer after layer of clay and other minerals settled into what we would now call geological strata. Of course, pre-modern modes of categorizing the vast array of stones, gems, and crystals were much blunter and could not account for the process of the stone’s creation: they focused primarily on color. 40 While 38 Galilei, Considerazioni al Tasso, p. 1. See also Panofsky, Galileo as Critic of the Arts. 39 Mancini, Considerazioni sulla pittura, pp. 308–309. On Mancini’s art criticism, see Gage, Painting as Medicine in Early Modern Rome, pp. 1–36. 40 Dunlop, ‘On the Origins of European Painting Materials,’ p. 83.


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this can cause serious confusion in terminology, in the case of pietra d’Arno the emphasis on color is clarifying, for it focuses our attention on the muddy character of the stone. In general, the optical effect of visible sedimentary layers meant those stones were considered less pure and therefore less valuable than other stones, whose appearance has been rendered more refined and purified through prolonged exposure to intense heat. Cost and availability may begin to account for why Florentine painters took up these adulterated materials, but I do not believe that market explanations exhaust the significance of the turn to sedimentary stone in seventeenth-century Florence. The tight relationship between the artists and the surrounding landscape that produced their materials helped them develop an ecological approach to painting that is unique among early modern experiments in painting. When a painter approached a stone as a potential substrate, he first considered what the material afforded pictorially, and the pictorial affordances of pietra d’Arno distinguish it from other kinds of rock and suggest that artists pursued the broader implications of the sedimentary aesthetic visible in the stone’s striations. 41 The geological characteristics of the Arno Valley were established about 70 million years ago, when the region was a vast sub-oceanic mountain range. In contrast to the nearby Val d’Orcia, which was formed primarily through volcanic activity that created massive lava domes like Monte Amiata, the mountains of the Val d’Arno emerged from an extended process of sedimentation. There, calcareous rocks began to form as layer upon layer of clay subsided over millions of years. The alternation of layers – from calcareous lithoids to clay to marl and back again – created a haphazard stratification of smooth, undulating layers in different earthen shades, from sienna to umber to ochre. Seismic activity introduced between these sedimentary sheets microscopic strata of fluids carrying calcite crystals and iron oxide, which served not only to keep the strata distinct from one another, but also contributed to their lithification. 42 Typically, such deposits would have resulted in a porous limestone, soluble in water. However, the peculiar progression of layers – sediments isolated by chemical compounds – instigated a process of oxidation that converted these soft and permeable layers of sedimentation into banded, compact agglomerations of limestone, marl, and other minerals. Colloquially known as pietra d’Arno, the stones of the Arno Valley carry in their name the aqueous origins. Conventions of naming also point another salient characteristic of these stones: when sliced into thin slabs of stone – ones perpendicular to the sedimentary layers – the geological deposits mimic picturesque ‘landscapes’ and ‘cityscapes’ that appear to have been ‘painted,’ as it were, by the sedimented calcareous material. Thus, these stones are 41 On affordances, see Gibson, The Ecological Approach, pp. 127–143. 42 On the geological creation of pietra d’Arno, see Cipriani, ‘La pietra paesina,’ pp. 39–43.

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Figure 3.4. Filippo Napoletano, Jonah and the Whale, c. 1610–1620, oil on pietra d’Arno, 37 × 90 cm, Florence, Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Photo: Christopher Nygren

also called lineato d’Arno (roughly, ‘lined stone’), registering the striated nature of the stone, or pietra paesina, on account of the landscapes that can be perceived in the sedimentary layers. 43 In some regions of the Arno Valley these sedimentary layers were simply compressed under high pressure and heat over millions of years. In these stones, the sedimentary layers appear as long bands of clay that gently swell across the surface of the stone in such a way as to mimic the undulating shape of waves (Fig. 3.4). These ‘waves’ are the result of the enormous pressure produced by shifting tectonic plates, which cause the unctuous sedimentary layers to stretch and fold, almost like taffy. However, the sediments of pietra d’Arno did not always settle in such gently curving patterns. In certain regions of the Arno Valley the subterranean pressure of tectonic movement was not gradual; it was violent and explosive, which fractured the sedimentary layers. Under the force of tectonic shift, a clay layer that had once presented a relatively smooth surface across an entire topographic region splintered. The toothed edges and sharp, unpredictable slivers of the geological record that register in these strata can lend certain specimens of pietra d’Arno a ragged aesthetic (Fig. 3.5). The historically cohesive layer of sedimentation can be perceived only if one reads across the spikey margins that mark the geological landscape of the Val d’Arno. The disparate aesthetic impact of these two kinds of pietra d’Arno are so distinct that I believe it is useful to distinguish between them. The first variety, which I call ‘undulated’ pietra d’Arno, exhibits the aqueous characteristics while the second, which I call ‘serrated,’ has jagged patterns that record violent geological activity. Because both varieties of stone were produced through a similar process 43 In modern parlance, the stone is usually called alberese, which is a catch-all term encompassing many varieties of calcareous stones produced in Tuscany see Sartori, ‘Alberese,’ 16–19.


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Figure 3.5. ‘Serrated’ pietra d’Arno, 26 × 9.5 cm. Photo: Gpierlu, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

of sedimentation, this convention of naming is not meant to distinguish anything geologically particular about the stones. Rather, it speaks only to the optical effect caused by the ruptures in the sedimentary layer of the stone when the rock is sliced perpendicular to the grain. The distinction between undulated and serrated pietra d’Arno was not verbalized in the early modern period. However, as we shall see, the relatively persistent alignment of certain subject matters with one or another variety of pietra d’Arno suggests that this distinction was a part of the artisanal epistemology of Florentine painters in the early seventeenth century. Moreover, in English we already implicitly make such a distinction by calling ‘serrated’ pietra d’Arno ‘ruin marble’ on account of the way in which the jagged layers of sedimentation suggest elaborate cityscapes that have fallen into ruin. 44 Bearing in mind the distinction between undulated and serrated varieties of pietra d’Arno will help us better understand the strong connection that these stones evoke with the landscape of the Medici Duchy and help explain how and why Florentine artists chose to paint on these stones rather than the purer semi-precious stones that were preferred in locations like Rome and Bohemia, and which were used in the production of elaborate Florentine commessi. Paintings on pietra d’Arno have been the subject of a few recent studies. 45 However, the most salient feature of the pictorial experiments has been largely overlooked. Bringing these paintings into contrast with commessi made out of 44 Frantisek, Pivko, and Hurai, ‘Ruin Marble,’ 241–252. 45 Bellesi, Stefano della Bella; Chiarini and Acidini Luchinati, Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte; and Langdon, ‘Salvator Rosa,’ pp. 328–354.

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lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones highlights the radical project of the Florentine painters who took up pietra d’Arno. Unlike semi-precious stones whose material splendor and purity easily lent itself to aesthetic appreciation, this stone is contaminated and unrelentingly base: pietra d’Arno is essentially solidified mud and artists were aware of its ignoble origins. As painters in other cities relentlessly pursued the precious aesthetics of painted stones, artists operating in Florence forged a different path, one that seems submerged in the amalgamated sludge upon which they chose to paint. From the first moment that artists began working with colored stones, they were especially entranced by how the natural coloration of the stone could enhance the otherworldly effects of their paintings. As with Allori’s Crucifixion discussed above, artists tended to use precious stony substrates to give presence to the un-figurable, the ineffable, the otherworldly. Polychromatic stones like lapis lazuli offered the painter a new, non-mimetic way of conveying transcendence. 46 Florentine paintings done on pietra d’Arno speak in a different idiom; their tone and subject matter are distinctive, more terrestrial and more mundane. Paintings on sedimented mud and clay struggle to escape earthly mire, and this distinguishes the local Florentine practice of painting on sedimentary stone from other experiments of rupestrian painting in early modern Europe. The closest comparanda to the Florentine paintings on pietra d’Arno are pictures made on dendrite, another stone that was prized for its pictorial qualities. Dendrite derives from the Greek word dendron, meaning ‘tree.’ The stone takes its name from the peculiar fern-like patterns that that appear when the stone is cut perpendicular to the grain. Dendrite is in fact a form of agate, and the tree-like apparitions are caused by the presence of manganese and iron oxides that settle within the mineral structure of the chalcedony composite. Georgius Agricola (1494–1555), one of the most prominent mineralogists and metallurgists of the pre-modern era, noted of dendrite, ‘These stones may show one, two or more trees and sometimes they seem to contain an entire forest and hence are called dendrachates (‘dendrite agate’) … Some portray rivers, chariots and horses. They do not contain as many images of birds as of beasts of burden and men.’47 Antonio Tempesta was the most prolific painter to work on dendritic agate. While Tempesta operated mostly in Rome, paintings on dendrite were especially targeted at the export market, with some of the prime examples of this type destined for the collection of Rudolf II in Prague (Fig. 3.6).48 The peculiar mineral structure of dendritic agate was conducive to a particular kind of painting: these pictures mostly 46 Nygren, ‘The Matter of Similitude,’ pp. 131–159. 47 Agricola, De Natura Fossilium, p. 141. See also Aldrovandi, Musaeum metallicum, pp. 765–769. 48 Lohff, Malerei auf Stein, pp. 66–74.


Christopher J. Nygren

Figure 3.6. Antonio Tempesta, Landscape with Hunt of Wild Boar, c. 1610, oil on dendrite, 40.7 × 31.2 cm. Photo: © KHMMuseumsverband / Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

show hunting scenes that take place in a vast wooded space. Although Tempesta painted the figure, the setting is the work of nature. As the scholar Johanna Lohff notes, ‘In Tempesta’s hunting scenes on dendrites, the leaves of the trees are not painted, but result from the specific structure of the stone. Only the tree trunks and branches have been added [by the artist], and in combination with the natural specifications of the stone a forest landscape emerges.’49 While these paintings certainly present terrestrial events, it is important to underline that they cater to their beholders by illustrating one of the primary pastimes of the nobility, namely hunting. Paintings on pietra d’Arno again prove distinctive, with their own idiom, tone, and variety of subject matter. In the case of undulated pieta d’Arno, the stone was used largely for maritime scenes. The smooth swells of sediment give the sensation that one is looking at waves gently cresting on the sea, and naval battles feature 49 Ibid., p. 32: ‘In Tempestas Jagdszenen auf Dendriten sind die Blätter der Bäume nicht gemalt, sondern resultieren aus der spezifischen Struktur des Steins. Lediglich die Baumstämme und Äste sind hinzugegeben, zusammen mit den natürlichen Vorgaben des Minerals entsteht so eine Waldlandschaft.’

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Figure 3.7. Filippo Napoletano, Miracle of St. Francis Xavier and the Crab in the Spice Islands, before 1619, oil on pietra d’Arno, 35.5 × 47 cm, Florence, Istituto di Studi Etruschi. Photo: Antonio Quattrone

prominently as do genre scenes that might be called Vedute di mare, which sometimes show a port city and numerous boats.50 Occasionally paintings on undulated pietra d’Arno show sacred events, but the selection of scenes was curated to feature episodes that likewise have an aqueous connection: Jonah and the Whale and Christ Walking on Water both feature in the repertoire of paintings on undulated pietra d’Arno.51 Painters also turned to the lives of the saints, but even then, the selections of scenes was tailored to the sedimentary aesthetics of pietra d’Arno. A delightful example of this trend is a painting showing one of the miracles of St. Francis Xavier (Fig. 3.7). One of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus, Xavier (1506–1552) was known for his vigorous missionary work in India, Japan, and Indonesia, to name only a few locations he visited. His canonization records hold that once, while traveling by boat somewhere near the Maluku Islands (the so-called Spice Islands), he dropped his crucifix into the sea during a storm while trying to quell the gale through prayer and devotion. The next day, having arrived safely near shore, Francis was surprised to see a crab approach him with the missing crucifix 50 Pietra dipinta, cat. 135; Paintings on Stone, cats. 1, 2. 51 Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte, cats. 6 and 26; Pietra dipinta, cat. 49.


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in its pincers. Francis took the crucifix and blessed the crab. Legend holds that this blessing gave rise to the distinctive red cruciform shape on the carapace of a species of crab indigenous to the region, known alternatively as charybdis feriatus and charybdis cruciata.52 The painting of this scene has been attributed convincingly to Filippo Napoletano, an artist who learned to paint on all varieties of stone in the workshop of Antonio Tempesta in Rome and later moved to Florence.53 Napoletano condensed the scene to only the most essential elements. Francis and his traveling companions hold down the center of the composition in their galley, the scale of which seems cartoonish when compared to bodies of the protagonists. In the lower left-hand corner, an aristocratic soldier ambles along a sliver of beach, which the artist has inserted to anchor the scene close to shore. A rather odd (and particularly un-maritime) tree grows out of the shifting sands to establish the left-hand border of the pictorial space. A small red crab saunters confidently toward the ship, holding aloft a crucifix. In the background, two brave sailors fight against the currents in a dingy that is tossed by the swelling sea. This scene was a part of the standard iconography of Francis Xavier, which had been codified by his canonization in 1622; thus, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the iconography of Napoletano’s picture is unique. However, when combined with other paintings of religious subjects executed on undulated pietra d’Arno, a trend of sedimentary or muddy aesthetics becomes immediately apparent. Napoletano (or an artist close to him) also painted numerous other relatively unusual episodes from the lives of (mostly) modern saints in which the viscous combination of mud and water became the central element of the iconography. Examples include: St. Filippo Neri Saving a Young Sailor Lost in a Naval Battle,54 St. Francesco di Paola Crossing the Strait of Messina with his Habit,55 St. Carlo Borromeo Saving an Infant Who Fell out of a Boat,56 and St. Augustine Encountering the Infant Trying to Empty the Sea.57 These pictures tend to be located on or near the shore; the unique ecological interchange between sand and water that marks the tidal zone is conveyed through the sedimentary character of the stone. If undulated pietra d’Arno encouraged artists to imagine and project onto them seascapes in the stone, the jagged effect of the sedimentary layers in serrated pietra d’Arno conjured darker visions. Over millions of years, tectonic shifts altered the sedimentary layers embedded in these stones, creating an irregular set of features 52 53 54 55 56 57

Schurhammer, ‘Das Krebswunder Xavers,’ pp. 537–564. Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte, pp. 42, 48. Ibid., cat. 3. Ibid., cat. 4. Ibid., cat. 5. Ibid., cat. 7.

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that resemble buildings collapsing, bridges faltering, and towers crumbling in desolate landscapes. In fact, it was not uncommon for the workshop of the Opificio to cut, polish, and frame serrated pietra d’Arno, leaving it untouched by artists so that it could be collected and displayed as a mineralogical marvel within the context of rooms like the Medici Guardaroba or Wunderkammern in northern Europe (Fig. 3.5). Early modern natural philosophers like Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522–1605) and Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) marveled at the complexity of such fantastic ‘figured stones’ and the designs impressed on them, struggling to explain the natural processes that had produced these natural wonders.58 Numerous exemplars of this kind of marvelous stone survive. Some appear to have been displayed independently, although it is unclear whether they were framed or left to circulate freely within the collector’s space.59 Surviving pieces suggest it was relatively common practice to frame and present the ruin landscapes of serrated pietra d’Arno within the context of small boxes or collectors’ cabinets.60 By contrast, this does not appear to have been prevalent with undulated pietra d’Arno.61 Serrated pietra d’Arno was perhaps most effectively deployed as the ground upon which the tensions between the creativity of nature and the ingenium of the artist were made manifest. The scenes layered on top of serrated pietra d’Arno generally were not the kind of languid maritime panoramas seen on the undulated variety of the same stone. Rather, they tended to take the theme of ‘ruin’ quite seriously, showing desolate landscapes, desolate cityscapes, and apocalyptic scenes. Some of the most impressive paintings on serrated pietra d’Arno illustrate episodes taken from the epic chivalric romances of the poets Ariosto, Tasso, and Matteo Maria Boiardo.62 The fractured sedimentary layers produce what appear to be sweeping landscapes ideally suited to open-air scenes showing dramatic battles between errant knights or the rescue of damsels in distress. Siege scenes were also a common motif among exemplars of painted serrated pietra d’Arno.63 By focusing on the contrast between human construction (the city) and human destruction (siege machinery and armies), these pictures show civilization and its accomplishments on the brink of collapse. Scenes from the Old Testament are also common. These tend to focus on narratives of epic destruction, like Lot and His Daughters Fleeing Sodom (Museo di Storia Naturale, Florence). Similarly, the tribulations of the Jewish people during their time in exile were popular subjects; 58 Aldrovandi, Musaeum metallicum, pp. 435–979 and Kircher, Mundus subterraneus, II, pp. 30–50. 59 Baltrušaitis, Aberrations, pp. 67–70; Callois, The Writing of Stones, pp. 15–36. 60 Pietra dipinta, cat. 95. 61 One exception is Pietra dipinta, cat. 96, which combines undulated and serrated pietra d’Arno within a single decorated cabinet. 62 Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte, cats. 9, 14. 63 Pietra dipinta, cats. 30, 114.


Christopher J. Nygren

Figure 3.8. Franceso Ligozzi, Dante and Virgil in the Inferno, c. 1620, oil on pietra d’Arno, 31 × 33 cm, Florence, Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dura. Photo: Christopher Nygren, artwork in the public domain

the serrated sediment of the pietra d’Arno immediately conveys to the beholder the hostile interaction between the chosen people and the barren landscape of the desert region during their decades in exile.64 A painter like Francesco Ligozzi saw in serrated pietra d’Arno the principal coordinates for a terrifying hellscape: one of the most impressive paintings on pietra d’Arno is Ligozzi’s picture illustrating Dante and Virgil visiting the rings of hell (Fig. 3.8).65 The two protagonists look menacingly toward the viewer from the lower left while the condemned stew in a pit of black pitch heated by belching flames of red and orange. As Roger Callois noted of this painting, ‘There seems to be a clear case of complicity here between the subterranean levels of suffering and the genesis of the stone that itself comes from the depths of the earth, roasted in the heat of some non-human furnace.’ In the case of a painting like this, it is no longer simply the painter’s wit that is exploiting the material substrate, but rather, 64 Pietra dipinta, cats. 54 & 96. 65 Callois, The Writing of Stones, p. 33.


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Callois continues, we see and an ‘encounter between a subject and a medium which might be called a demonstration of that subject.’66 Even when artists chose to depict sacred subjects, the character of the depictions on serrated stone are distinctively informed by the seismographic ruptures registered in this type of stone. By contrast with the somewhat ironic presentation of saints’ miracles seen on undulated pietra d’Arno, the serrated variety tends to show a different aspect of saintly life, highlighting the combat between the ascetic saint and the hostile landscape, as in scenes of the Temptation of St. Anthony,67 the Stigmatization of St. Francis,68 or Mary Magdalene in Penance.69 Martyrdoms were also frequent subjects portrayed, showing the execution of a saint taking place just outside of the city gates.70 As with images of city sieges, these dramatize the very thin line that separates some of the most admirable aspects of human achievement (the city, portrayed in the sedimentary layers; unerring devotion to god) and the most depraved forms of human behaviors (homicide) illustrated through the artist’s suggestive addition of colored pigment. The commingling of dignity and perfidy is stressed by overlaying it on a sedimentary ground. At its best, humankind rises above the mire; at its worst, it cannot escape. *** The marine biologist Rachel Carson offered one of the most insightful and poetic accounts of sediment in her 1951 study The Sea Around Us. The sediments are a sort of epic poem of the earth. When we are wise enough, perhaps we can read in them all of past history. For all is written here. In the nature of the materials that compose them and in the arrangement of their successive layers the sediments reflect all that has happened in the waters above them and on the surrounding lands. The dramatic and the catastrophic in earth history have left their trace in the sediments ‒ the outpouring of volcanoes, the advance and retreat of the ice, the searing aridity of desert lands, the sweeping destruction of floods.71

The secrets of the proverbial ‘book of the sediments’ have been unlocked only in the last century, as scientists have become increasingly adept at mining core samples 66 Ibid., p. 32. 67 Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte, cat. 1 68 Di Castro and Kugel, Paintings on Stone, cat. 4. 69 Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte, cat. 19; Bona Castellotti, Pietra dipinta, cat. 28. 70 Pietra dipinta, cats. 112a, 112b, 112c, 112d, and 135. 71 Carson, The Sea Around Us, p. 76.


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and cross-referencing geological strata from geographically distant regions to track the history of change in the global climate and to measure its accelerated pace in the Anthropocene. The archive of world history is contained in the layers of mud and sludge that surround us. Even if they did not understand these stones as an archive of climate data, the painters who took up the task of painting on the solidified mud of the Arno Valley anticipated an ecological mindset by developing a sedimentary aesthetic that overlaid the foibles and folly of human existence onto the muddy substrate from which humankind was molded. The King James Bible sterilized the process of muddy creation, dehydrating the Latin turn of phrase de limo terrae of Genesis 2:7 and rendering it as ‘dust of the ground’. The Douay-Rheims translation is much more powerful in its imagery and philological in its accurate translation: ‘The Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth.’ The book of Genesis presents the first act of creation from sediment and holds out the hope that something dignified and autonomous can arise from the basest and most contaminated material. Many episodes from the tragicomedy of human history bely that hope. The desire to overlay the scenes from the human drama – from miracles to catastrophes; from episodes of epic poetry to seascapes devoid of action – onto the bones of the earth excavated from their local environment reveals that the painters of pietra d’Arno had developed a sedimentary aesthetic that was at once jaundiced and hopeful, weighed down by a realistic recognition of humankind’s fallen state while buoyed by a belief in the redemptive power of human creativity. An aesthetic, in sum, that speaks to the dramas and contradictions of our contemporary predicament as we contemplate the disastrous consequences of forgetting our origins in the mud and mire of this planet. We emerged from earthly sediment, and in due time each of us shall be absorbed as sediment into the sea around us. Pictures on pietra d’Arno comingle oil painting and stone in a way that is distinctive among early modern artifact, and the meticulously choregraphed interaction between the muddy substrate and the human events depicted thereon calls us to respect the sludge from which we emerged rather than mistakenly believing ourselves superior to it. That is the force of sedimentary aesthetics.

Works Cited Primary Sources Agricola, Georgius. De Natura Fossilium (Textbook of Mineralogy), trans. by Mark Chance Bandy and Jean A. Bandy. New York: Geological Society of America, 1955. Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Vlyssis Aldrouandi patricii Bononiensis Musaeum metallicum: in libros IIII distributum. Bologna: Battista Ferroni, 1648.

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Balbi, Gasparo and Cesare Federici. Viaggi di C. Federici e G. Balbi alle Indie Orientali (Venice, 1587), facsimile edition. Rome: Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 1962. Galilei, Galileo. Considerazioni al Tasso di Galileo Galilei e discorso di Giuseppe Iseo sopra il poema di M. Torquato Tasso. Rome: Pagliarini, 1793. Gli inventari dell’eredità del Cardinale Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, ed. by Claudio Franzoni, Giorgia Mancini, Tania Previdi, and Manuela Rossi. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2002. I ricordi di Alessandro Allori, ed. by I.B. Supino. Florence: Barbèra, 1908. Kircher, Athanasius. Mundus subterraneus, in XII libros digestus : quo divinum subterrestris mundi opificium, mira ergasteriorum naturæ in eo distributio, verbo [pantamorphon] protei regnum, universæ denique naturæ majestas & divitiæ summa rerum varietate exponuntur: abditorum effectuum causæ acri indagine inquisitæ demonstrantur: cognitæ per artis & naturæ conjugium ad humanæ vitæ necessarium usum vario experimentorum apparatu, necnon novo modo, & ratione applicantur. Amsterdam: Janssonium & Weyerstraten, 1664–1665. Mancini, Giulio. Considerazioni sulla pittura, pubblicate per la prima volta da Adriana Marucchi con il comment di Luigi Salerno. Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1956. Moscardo, Lovodico. Note overo memorie del museo di Lodovico Moscardo, nobile Veronese, academico filarmonico, dal medesimo descritte, et in tre libri distinte : Nel primo si discorre delle cose antiche, le quali in detto museo si trouano. Nel secondo delle pietre, minerali, e terre. Nel terzo de corali, conchiglie, animali, frutti, & altre cose in quello contenute. Padua: Frambotto, 1656. Quiccheberg, Samuel. The First Treatise on Museums: Samuel Quiccheberg’s Inscriptiones, 1565, trans. by Mark A. Meadow and Bruce Robertson. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013. Terzago, Paolo Maria. Musaevm Septalianvm Manfredi Septalae Patritii Mediolanensis Indvstrioso Labore Conscrvctvm. Tortona: 1664. Un memoriale di Piero di Vincenzo Strozzi, ed. by Isabella Bigazzi. Florence: Edizioni Gonnelli, 1986. Vasari, Giorgio. Le opere di Giorgio Vasari con nuove annotazioni e commenti, ed. by Gaetano Milanesi. Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1906. Vasari, Giorgio. Vasari on Technique, trans. by Louisa S. Maclehose and ed. by G. Baldwin Brown. New York: Dover, 1960.

Secondary Sources Acidini, Cristina. ‘The Opificio delle Pietre Dure: Half a Millennium.’ In Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, ed. by Wolfram Koeppe and Anna Maria Giusti, 95–101. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008. Almost Eternal: Painting on Stone and Material Innovation in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Pier Baker-Bates and Elena Calvillo. Leiden: Brill, 2018.


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Baadj, Nadia. ‘Painting on Stone and Metal: Material Meaning and Innovation in Early Modern Northern European Art.’ In Almost Eternal: Painting on Stone and Material Innovation in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Pier Baker-Bates and Elena Calvillo, 249–270. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Baltrušaitis, Jurgis. Aberrations: An Essay on the Legend of Forms. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1989. Barzman, Karen-edis. The Florentine Academy and the Early Modern State: The Discipline of Disegno. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Baxandall, Michael. Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Bellesi, Sandro. Stefano della Bella: otto dipinti su pietra paesina. Florence: Bruschi, 1998. Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte dalle collezioni dei Medici, ed. by Marco Chiarini and Cristina Acidini Luchinati. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana, 2000. Blümle, Claudia. ‘Mineralischer Sturm. Steinbilder und Landschaftsmalerei.’ In Vermessen: Landschaft und Ungegenständlichkeit, ed. by Werner Busch and Oliver Jehle, 73–95. Zurich: Diaphanes, 2007. Branagan, David. ‘Geology and the Artists of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Mainly Florentine.’ In The Origins of Geology in Italy The Geological Society of America: Special Paper 411, ed. by Gian Battista Vai and W. Glen E. Caldwell, 31–42. Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2006. Butler Greenfield, Amy. A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. Butters, Suzanne B. The Triumph of Vulcan: Sculptors’ Tools, Porphyry, and the Prince in Ducal Florence. 2 vols. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1996. Callois, Roger. The Writing of Stones, trans. by Barbara Bray. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1985. Carson, Rachel L. The Sea Around Us. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Cipriani, Nicola. ‘La pietra paesina.’ In Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte dalle collezioni dei Medici, ed. by Marco Chiarini and Cristina Acidini Luchinati, 39–43. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana, 2000. Collezionismo mediceo e storia artistica, ed. by Paola Barocchi and Giovanna Gaeta Bertelà. 4 vols. Florence: SPES Studio per Edizioni Scelte, 2002–2011. Collomb, Anne-Laure. Splendeurs d’Italie: La peinture sur pierre. Tours: La Renaissance, 2012. Collomb, Anne-Laure. ‘Dall’ardesia alle pietre semipreziose. La pittura su pietra in Italia nel XVI e XVII secolo.’ In Lapis Lazzuli: Magia del blu, ed. by Maria Sfameli, Valentina Conticelli, Riccardo Gennaioli, and Gian Carlo Parodi, 111–120. Livorno: Sillabe, 2015. Cortesi Bosco, Francesca. Il coro intarsiato di Lotto e Capoferri per Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Milan: Pizzi, 1987. Daston, Lorraine. ‘Nature by Design.’ In Picturing Science, Producing Art, ed. by Caroline A. Jones and Peter Galison, 232–253. New York and London: Routledge, 1998.

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De Lorenzo, Giuseppe. Leonardo da Vinci e la geologia. Bologna: Zanichelli, 1920. Dunlop, Anne. ‘On the Origins of European Painting Materials, Real and Imagined.’ In The Matter of Art: Materials, Practices, Cultural Logics, ca. 1250–1750, ed. by Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela H. Smith, 68–96. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. Frantisek, Marko, Daniel Pivko, and Vratislav Hurai. ‘Ruin Marble: A Record of FractureControlled Fluid Flow and Precipitation.’ Geological Quarterly 47, no. 3 (2007): 241–252. Frosini, Cecilia. ‘L’oltremare. Il blu dei santi e dei re.’ In Lapis Lazzuli: Magia del blu, ed. by Maria Sfameli, Valentina Conticelli, Riccardo Gennaioli, and Gian Carlo Parodi, 123–133. Livorno: Sillabe, 2015. Gage, Frances. Painting as Medicine in Early Modern Rome: Giulio Mancini and the Efficacy of Art. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016. Geddes, Leslie. ‘“Infinite Slowness and Infinite Velocity”: The Representation of Time and Motion in Leonardo’s Studies of Geology and Water.’ In Leonardo da Vinci on Nature: Knowledge and Representation, ed. by Fabio Frosini and Alessandro Nova, 269–283. Venice: Marsilio, 2015. Gibson, James J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986. Giusti, Annamaria. ‘Roman Inlay and Florentine Mosaics: The New Art of Pietre Dure.’ In Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, ed. by Wolfram Koeppe and Anna Maria Giusti, 13–27. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008. González Mozo, Ana. In lapide depictum: Pintura italiana sobre piedra, 1530–1555. Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2018. Jones, Roger. ‘Mantegna and Materials.’ I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance 2 (1987): 71–90. Langdon, Helen. ‘Salvator Rosa: A Variety of Surfaces.’ In Almost Eternal: Painting on Stone and Material Innovation in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Pier Baker-Bates and Elena Calvillo, 328–354. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Lapis Lazzuli: Magia del blu, ed. by Maria Sfameli, Valentina Conticelli, Riccardo Gennaioli, and Gian Carlo Parodi, 123–133. Livorno: Sillabe, 2015. A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary, ed. by Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879. Lohff, Johanna B. Malerei auf Stein: Antonio Tempestas Bilder auf Stein im Kontext der Kunst- und Naturtheorie seiner Zeit. Munich: Himer Verlag, 2015. McHam, Sarah Blake. Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance: The Legacy of the Natural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Morello, Nicoletta. La nascita della paleontologia nel seicento: Colonna, Stenone e Scilla. Milan: Franco Angeli Editore, 1979. Morello, Nicoletta. ‘Agricola and the Birth of the Mineralogical Sciences in Italy in the Sixteenth Century.’ In The Origins of Geology in Italy The Geological Society of America: Special Paper 411, ed. by Gian Battista Vai and W. Glen E. Caldwell, 23–30. Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2006.


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Morello, Nicoletta. ‘Steno, the Fossils, and the Calendar of the Earth.’ In The Origins of Geology in Italy The Geological Society of America: Special Paper 411, ed. by Gian Battista Vai and W. Glen E. Caldwell, 81–93. Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2006. Nygren, Christopher J. ‘Titian’s Ecce Homo on Slate: Stone, Oil, and the Transubstantiation of Painting.’ The Art Bulletin 99, no. 1 (2017): 36–66. Nygren, Christopher J. ‘The Matter of Similitude: Stone Paintings and the Limits of Representation.’ In Almost Eternal: Painting on Stone and Material Innovation in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Pier Baker-Bates and Elena Calvillo, 131–159. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Paintings on Stone of the 16th & 17th Centuries, ed. by Alessandra Di Castro and Alexis Kugel. New York: Brimo Di Castro Kugel, 2017. Panofsky, Erwin. Galileo as Critic of the Arts. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1954. Pietra dipinta: tesori nascoti del ‘500 e del ‘600 da una collezione privata Milanese, ed. by Marco Bona Castelloti. Milan: Federico Motta, 2000. Rosenberg, Gary D. ‘The Measure of Man and Landscape in the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution.’ In The Revolution in Geology From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, ed. by Gary D. Rosenberg, 13–40. Boulder: The Geological Society of America, 2009. Rothstein, Brett. ‘Making Trouble: Strange Wooden Objects and the Early Modern Pursuit of Difficulty.’ The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 13 (2013): 96–129. Rudwick, Martin S. J. The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Paleontology. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Sartori, Rino. ‘Alberese, zone di estrazione, suoi impieghi nel passato e sue varietà.’ Bollettino degli ingegneri 12 (2007): 16–19. Schurhammer, Georg. ‘Das Krebswunder Xavers ‒ Eine buddhistischen Legende?’ In Gesammelte Studien: Varia, ed. by Lázsló Szilas, 537–564. Lisbon: Centro de Estudos Historicos Ultramarinos, 1965. Seifertova, Hana. Malby na kameni: Uměcký experiment v 16. A Na Začátku 17 století/ Painting on Stone: An Artistic Experiment in the 16th and Early 17th centuries. Prague: Nakladatel, 2007. Smith, Pamela H. The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Sotheby’s ‘Master Paintings Evening Sale, 1 February 2018,’ auctions/ecatalogue/2018/master-paintings-evening-sale-n09812/lot.19.html, accessed 17 March 2020. Yamada, Toshihiro. ‘Kircher and Steno on the “Geocosm,” With a Reassessment of the Role of Gassendi’s Works.’ In The Origins of Geology in Italy The Geological Society of America: Special Paper 411, ed. by Gian Battista Vai and W. Glen E. Caldwell, 65–80. Boulder: Geological Society of America, 2006.

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About the Author Christopher J. Nygren is Associate Professor of Early Modern Art at the University of Pittsburgh. His 2020 book, Titian’s Icons: Charisma, Tradition, and Devotion in the Italian Renaissance (Penn State University Press) re-examined one of the leading lights of Italian Renaissance painting to reveal the lasting impact of Christian icons on Titian’s career. He is currently developing a second book-length project that examines the phenomenon of painting on stone substrates, which emerged in Italy around 1530.

4. ‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’: Purity and Contamination in Clement VII’s Emergency Currency Allison Stielau

Abstract In early modern sites of smithing and minting, the point of flux – when solid metal became liquid – was always opportune for contamination and deceit. The reputations of metalworkers could turn on it. In chaotic, unregulated circumstances, the handling of molten gold and silver became even more suspect. This essay considers purity and contamination with respect to two acts of metallic transformation during the Sack of Rome in 1527, when papal treasures were melted down to consolidate financial assets and produce emergency currency. In addition to the expected anxieties surrounding the fineness of gold and silver in these circumstances, the two events also suggest an alternate conception of metallic purity that takes into account metal’s protean transit between forms. Keywords: currency, minting, siege, Sack of Rome, Benvenuto Cellini, Pope Clement VII

During the Sack of Rome in 1527, soldiers in the employ of Emperor Charles V plundered the city, looting valuables from homes and institutions, and ransoming private citizens for their life savings.1 One Swabian commander, reflecting back on his participation in this event years later, remembered capturing Pope Clement VII My thanks are due to Lauren Jacobi and Dan Zolli, for their invitation to participate in the volume and their careful editorial comments; Marina Rovelli for expert advice on the Roman confraternity literature; Adam Eaker; and Andrew Chen, for his thoughts on early modern minting and relevant primary sources. Unless otherwise noted, translations are my own. 1 For histories of the Sack including extensive eyewitness testimony of looting and ransoming, see Pastor, History of the Popes, IX; Hook, The Sack of Rome, passim.

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_ch04


Allison Stielau

Figure 4.1. Ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 42 mm, 36.1 g. Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. Pont Clemens VII A/11

and his cardinals in the Castel Sant’Angelo with the brusque and economical line ‘they made a big fuss and cried a lot; we became rich.’2 He and his soldiers profited financially because Clement VII eventually agreed to pay the enormous sum of 400,000 ducats in order to secure his freedom. Faced with an extreme cash shortage, raising the promised funds meant liquidating assets held in the papal treasury. Liquidation is used here not in the modern financial sense of selling off holdings, but rather as the actual physical act of melting down precious metal objects and turning the resulting material into coins. Available gold and silver objects – likely including ecclesiastical plate and papal ornaments – were transformed into ducats, half-ducats, and quarter-ducats (Figs. 4.1–3). The coins produced during Clement’s captivity are classified in modern numismatic terminology as emergency currency, money intended for temporary use that is made outside of standard minting procedures.3 In the sixteenth century, emergency coins were most often struck during military conflicts, in the context of sieges or during campaigns. Among the most well-known examples of emergency coins, Clement’s 1527 ducats are sometimes misidentified as the first objects of their kind.4 They are instead significant for being accompanied in the historical archive by documents discussing them from a wide range of perspectives, including clerics loyal to Clement and the Landsknechte (German mercenaries) eagerly awaiting their payday. Relevant as well is the Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini’s account of melting down papal ornaments in a makeshift furnace while the Castel Sant’Angelo was under attack. 2 ‘Was (war) ain grosser jamer vnder jnen, weinten ser, wurden wir alle reich.’ Schertlin von Burtenbach, Leben und Thaten, p. 7. 3 Stielau, ‘Sixteenth-Century Notklippen.’ 4 See the entry by Beatrice Schärli in Erasmus von Rotterdam, p. 112 (no. A 2.7).

‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


Figure 4.2. Ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 37 × 40 mm, 36, Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. Pont Clemens VII 12

Unfortunately missing from the record is a detailed accounting of how and where, exactly, the coins were minted, by whom, and a precise inventory of items that had to be sacrificed to pay Clement’s ransom. What the surviving texts do reveal, however, are the anxieties the coins prompted with respect to their purity, meaning the amount of precious metal each contained. The standards and procedures of early modern mints were extremely rigorous; the stability of the monetary system depended on them. Emergency coins were usually produced outside of the mint, with its equipment for refining and assaying as well as its vigorous checks and expected commitment to transparency. Their quality was thus suspect, as was the trustworthiness of those involved in making them. The transformation of a treasure of intensely valuable objects into coins to pay marauding troops was a situation rife with opportunities for theft and dishonesty. This essay considers the question of metallic purity and contamination with respect to Clement VII’s emergency currency. Contrasting the impromptu context of the coins’ making with the procedures of the mint, I show how dangerous and unstable the moment of flux – when solid object became molten metal – could be, potentially corrupting not just the metal but the integrity of the individuals responsible for this procedure. Cellini’s account of melting papal gold underscores this point, as do the accusations made against those involved in producing the emergency currency. After examining the corrupting potential of unregulated minting, I turn to the actual products of the liquidation campaign in the Castel Sant’Angelo, to analyze their precious metal content, as it was understood in the immediate aftermath and by later numismatists. The purity of the coins – their adherence to or deviation from a monetary standard – is but one level on which to understand them as products of the Sack.


Allison Stielau

Figure 4.3. Half-ducat, minted in Rome under Pope Clement VII, 1527, silver, 35 × 33 mm, 17.72 g. Photo: Vatican Library, inv. no. Mt. Pont Clemens VII 12/c

Their preservation far beyond the end of the emergency suggests a value irreducible to the simple calculation of precious metal content. This value seems to have been connected to their special role in the events, information that almost invariably accompanied them into numismatic publications and collections. It was the material transformation experienced by the metal in its transit from papal plate to mercenary pay that rendered them potent evocations of the event. To recognize them as transformational end-products was to acknowledge the continuing resonance of previous incarnations of the metal. This orientation to the coins has implications for understanding the ostensibly obliterating work of the furnace. The coins’ continued association with what they allegedly used to be – papal tiaras, for example, or the reliquaries of St. Peter – calls into question the process by which smelting and refining ‘purifies’ metal. At issue in this alternative definition of purification is no longer the ratio of precious to base metals, but instead what might be called ‘metallic provenance,’ knowledge, real or imagined, about where a volume of metal comes from.5 The framing of Clement’s emergency coins as originating in the papal treasures suggests their metal was not, for those who used, preserved, illustrated, and discussed them, ‘purified’ of that provenance. Instead, the metal was understood to maintain a connection to those symbolically resonant previous forms. The continued existence of those previous forms was not conceived of as a contaminant but rather as a crucial aspect of the coins’ significance for beholders on either side of the military and confessional divide. 5 On metallic origins, see Hahn, Strange Beauty, pp. 37–40; on metal’s ‘hereditary code,’ see Weinryb, Bronze Object, p. 3.

‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


Invigilating Purity Guild and civic regulations across Europe in the medieval and early modern period attest to the extreme vigilance with which precious metals were expected to be treated by all who handled them, from goldsmiths and minters to bullion dealers and sellers of scrap. Gold and silver were not simply high-value commodities, but materials that significantly structured monetary systems with metallic currencies. The reducibility of metalwork and other manufactured materials, like gold leaf and silver threads, to raw monetary value required that potential value be accounted for at every stage.6 The artisans who dealt daily with gold and silver thus had to maintain rigorous standards in their workshops in order to avoid any suspicion of theft or adulteration. Their guilds helped to protect the reputation of the industry by instituting procedures for self-regulation and by devising requirements that instilled confidence in consumers. One example directly relevant to the issue of transparency was the common regulation that goldsmiths’ workshops be in operation only during daylight hours, with premises open to the street, a situation aptly illustrated by early portrayals of smiths at work, where prominent windows allow natural light to illuminate the workbench, as well as the work undertaken there to be potentially surveilled (Fig. 4.4).7 The open windows also suggest the porosity of the boundary between workshop and street and the way in which matter might flow out. As they still do today, early modern goldsmiths sat at workbenches fitted with leather aprons to collect stray flecks of metal sloughed off in the process of shaping and engraving – these would eventually be burned to collect all of the precious metal dust trapped in their surfaces. A regulation in Rome required goldsmiths to wash, rewash, and melt all sweepings and leavings (scoppature e mozzature) publicly, at a designated location.8 The most significant area of oversight provided by the guild was the system regulating the quality of finished objects, in which members took responsibility for their products, on pain of prosecution. In Rome a guild for precious metalworkers had existed since ancient times but the Università degli orefici was instituted as a body separate from the saddlers and blacksmiths in 1509 and their statutes were reformed in this year.9 Contemporary standards for metallic currency were used to set the legha or lega (alloy) of silver. Finished pieces in silver could either be of the standard of bolognini (812 parts silver per thousand) or carlini (916.66 parts silver 6 Stielau, ‘The Weight of Plate,’ 8–13. 7 On similar requirements for bankers, see Jacobi, The Architecture of Banking, p. 42. 8 Thesaurus, p. 120; Cellini, My Life, p. 19. 9 Churchill, ‘Goldsmiths of Rome,’ 168. On the Roman confraternity, see also Rodocanachi, Les Corporations ouvrières, I, pp. 207–221; Kolega, ‘Il Collegio.’


Allison Stielau

Figure 4.4. The Nuremberg goldsmith Kunz Roth at his workbench, 1543, watercolor with red highlight on parchment, 250 × 201 mm, from the Hausbücher of the Nuremberg Zwölfbrüderstiftung. Landauer I, Amb. 279.2°, f. 30v. Photo: Stadtbibliothek im Bildungscampus Nürnberg

per thousand).10 They were always stamped before gilding: the lower standard silver was marked SPQR, a reference to the ancient Roman republic, while the higher standard bore the word ROMA with an image of the papal keys.11 Regulations on the titolo (fineness) of gold were introduced only in 1550, when all gold worked by Roman smiths was required to be 22 karat (916.66 parts gold per thousand).12 In addition to marks indicating metallic purity, metalwork was also meant to bear the marks of the workshop in which it was produced, which allowed individual objects to be traced back to their makers in cases where purity came into question.13

10 Bulgari, Argentieri, I, pp. 4–5. For comparison, ‘sterling’ silver is 925 parts silver per thousand. 11 Thesaurus, p. 113. 12 Kolega, ‘Il Collegio,’ 479–480. 13 Bulgari, Argentieri, I, p. 4.

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Fineness was determined by testing the metal through various methods. The simplest was the use of a touchstone, which allowed the observer to compare a sample of metal – scraped onto the black surface – with a standard set of metal ‘needles’ of known purity.14 This was a visual test of differentiating the subtly different tones that gold achieves when intermixed with other metals like silver and copper. In Rome, members of the corporation of goldsmiths achieved master status only after they had produced so-called masterpieces of suitable quality and undergone an assessment of their ability to evaluate precious stones and metals, which likely involved a process of visual and tactile testing.15 More sophisticated evaluations of purity required the techniques of fire assaying, which were laid out increasingly in publication in the sixteenth century.16 As trusted evaluators of precious materials, goldsmiths often were called to consult where issues of value, and thus of precious metal purity, were at stake. In addition to controlling all areas of the sale and production of precious metals and metalwork, the Università also verified weights and measures pertaining to precious metals, a duty that demanded and reflected enormous trust in the integrity of the institution, as its influence would be felt throughout the commercial arena.17 A reputation for unimpeachable probity and unparalleled experience with the assaying of gold and silver made a representative of the goldsmiths’ confraternity the appropriate choice for testing the quality of coins at the papal mint.18 Indeed the mint was the site where the issue of metallic purity – and the moral virtue of those producing and evaluating it – was at its most significant.19 As units of exchange on which the economy depended, coins needed to be reliable in terms of their precious metal value, which was set by regulation of both purity and weight. Distrust in the currency could destabilize the civic order.20 The Roman goldsmiths’ confraternity explicitly denied membership to any smith who had been accused of coining, or producing counterfeit coins.21 In Rome counterfeiters could be condemned to exile and hard labor, or even execution by hanging.22 The mint was thus a site of high security and strict controls. In addition to the regulations mint workers were required to abide by, there was a system of authority and responsibility similar 14 Bergwerk- und Probierbüchlein, p. 65. 15 Bulgari, Argentieri, I, p. 5. 16 Bergwerk- und Probierbüchlein. 17 Kolega, ‘Il Collegio,’ 482. 18 Churchill, ‘Goldsmiths of Rome,’ 176. 19 Kilburn-Toppin, ‘“A place of great trust,”’ 201. 20 Lane and Mueller, Money and Banking, II. On the physical procedures of minting, see Jacobi, The Architecture of Banking, p. 84. 21 Churchill, ‘Goldsmiths of Rome,’ 175. 22 Holman, ‘For “Honor and Profit,”’ 536–537.


Allison Stielau

to that enforced by the goldsmiths’ guild. The fact that the titolo of goldsmiths’ work was tied to existing currency (bolognini and carlini, and later the scudo d’oro) indicates the regulating role that coins played across the circulation of precious metal. To ensure their materials were of high standard, artisans often bought gold and silver as coin, whose struck surfaces testified to having undergone a process of refinement ending in a guaranteed fineness.23 When it came to gold and silver, thus ‘purity’ was not a simple binary (pure/ impure) but a variety of standards referring to the proportions of precious metal to baser materials. Different relative purities were employed for different purposes. Cellini wrote of the correct alloy for small-scale work in gold: ‘your gold must be good, gold of at least twenty-two-and-a-half carats, but not quite twenty-three carat gold, for you’d find that a bit too soft to work in; and if it were less than twentytwo-and-a-half it would be too hard, and rather dangerous to solder.’24 For gilding he recommended using ‘the purest, cleanest 24 carat gold.’25 Standards of purity were also associated with specific locales, and minting locations and specific coins became shorthand for those levels of purity. Purity was also a personal matter, and a matter of personnel, to the extent that trust in standards depended on individuals and the regulatory structures in which they were expected to work.

Dangers at the Point of Flux Although the purity of a metal object could be masked on its surface by gilding, to achieve a different level of purity throughout required the application of heat and a change of state from solid to liquid – the dissolution of the object. It was at the point of flux – when metal was molten – that it was possible to adjust the proportion of metals in a given volume. For smiths and others who worked at forges, moments when metal was in its liquid state were physically dangerous: liquid metal could scald, causing serious injury. They also presented a moral hazard, since metal in flux posed the opportunity for loss through spillage or the tampering with alloys for gain (by the inclusion of base metals, for example), and mint workers could face execution for stealing or adulterating metal during the refining process.26 Moltenness constituted a point of potential contamination in the circulation of precious metals. Regulations were designed to ensure that the passage through the liquid state was as carefully monitored as possible, through precise measurement and constant surveillance. 23 Wright, Pollaiuolo Brothers, p. 27; Passeri, ‘Gold Coins and Gold Leaf’; Jacobi, ‘Reconsidering the World-system,’ 135–142. 24 Cellini, The Treatises, p. 45. 25 Ibid., p. 95. 26 On abuses in the processing of gold and silver, see Stahl, Zecca, p. 73, p. 327, and passim.

‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


The Sack of Rome produced a situation in which the usual systems for monitoring molten metal, and ensuring harsh consequences for loss and contamination, broke down. Later in this essay I will turn to the coins produced to pay Clement’s ransom, which betray in many of their characteristics a non-standard and unregulated context of production. But the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, which the sculptor began in 1557, offers a narrative corollary to these objects: an account of melting down papal treasures during the Sack.27 Undoubtedly the most detailed scene of clandestine melting in early modern literature, it opens a window onto the moment that histories of metalwork, and even histories of emergency currency, rarely witness, the actual event of liquidation during which valuables are converted to bullion. Moreover, it succinctly frames this event as one with high stakes for both the physical and moral integrity of the goldsmith. In May 1527, Cellini was among the soldiers defending Pope Clement VII in the Castel Sant’Angelo, whose fortifications served in part to protect the papal treasury.28 Fearing the success of the siege, the pope called Cellini in to deconstruct the collection of jewels owned by the Apostolic Camera, including the intensely symbolic signs of office, the papal tiaras.29 Cellini broke out the precious gems, sewed them into the hems of the papal robes, and then took the gold back to his lodgings to melt it down: ‘I had built a small brick blast-furnace in the bottom of which I set a fairly large ash-tray shaped like a dish, [then] I tossed the gold on the charcoal, which little by little dripped down into the dish.’30 In his treatise on goldsmithing, Cellini described this process in greater, and sometimes differing, detail, within a set of instructions to other craftsmen for building an improvised furnace. He recounted how he tore the bricks from a wall to construct the sides of the furnace and created a grate with the shovels and spears he had at hand.31 For a crucible he used an iron ladle from the castle kitchen. He claimed to have melted two hundred pounds of gold. The physical liquidation of precious metalwork constitutes a conversion of assets to cash, or more accurately, into a material easily calculated as and transformed into metallic currency. It thus makes possible a transparent accounting of so-called liquid assets.32 Values placed on precious metalwork in early modern inventories 27 On the writing and reception of Cellini’s Vita, see Pope-Hennessey, Cellini, pp. 11–13; Amelang, Flight of Icarus, pp. 272–274. 28 Jacobi, The Architecture of Banking, p. 57 and p. 152. 29 Müntz, ‘La Tiare Pontificale,’ 309. 30 Cellini, My Life, p. 68. 31 The Trattati were published in 1568, meaning that references to Cellini’s smelting in the Castel Sant’Angelo were available long before the publication of his autobiography in the eighteenth century. See Cellini, The Treatises, pp. xii–xiii, 82; for technical analysis of furnace descriptions, see Cellini, Traktate, pp. 125–126; on the manuscript and printed versions of the Trattati, see Gamberini, ‘“E principi’” and Rossi, ‘“Parrem Uno.”’ 32 Groebner, Liquid Assets.


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were only estimates of the weight in pure gold or silver that could be extracted from an object if liquidated. Only when the object was actually reduced, refined, and assayed, with the slight losses and labor costs those processes entailed, could its true material value be calculated. Cellini’s operation in the Castel Sant’Angelo was not sophisticated enough to perform this work of assaying and refining. The artist says he smelted gold, but it may rather have been a gold and silver alloy deriving from the various articles Clement had given him. Still, the amount of metal produced from the furnace would give a rough sense of the Curia’s immediate financial resources, knowledge that would inform future negotiations with imperial commanders. (The numismatist Mario Traina believed, conversely, that Cellini had been given the secret task of liquidating gold that could be kept out of the official record of material to be coined and then later smuggled out of the Castel Sant’Angelo when the pope was freed. This was not, he argued, the gilt silver that would become Clement’s coins, as many have assumed.)33 In his Vita, Cellini asserts that while tending to the gold, he continued to fight the raiders in the streets below, even shooting an important commander, the Prince of Orange, from his mount. Like much of his text, some aspects of this story come off as highly implausible.34 It certainly flatters the strengths of its protagonist, turning him into an adept multitasker whose status is elevated by being able to act simultaneously as a warrior and an artisan.35 But the juxtaposition of siege warfare and the liquidation of precious treasures aptly underscores the instability and danger inherent in the moment of meltdown. The primary risk entailed in liquidation, especially in such crude circumstances, is the loss and contamination of valuable material. A related risk involves the smelter himself: how will he handle those materials when no one is watching? The anecdote of the furnace appears to end with Cellini returning the smelted gold to the pope, who tells his servant to give the smith a small payment for his efforts. Cellini then leaves Rome for yet another series of adventures. But when he returns to the city, several pages later in the text, and has a private audience with the pope, it becomes clear the sculptor had left the narrative of liquidation incomplete. He tells Clement that the pope’s agent never gave him the fee for melting down the papal treasures. The goldsmith admits that when he washed the ashes of the furnace in his room, he found ‘about a pound and a half of gold in so many tiny grains, the size of millet seed,’ which, being impecunious, he took away with him, vowing to return the excess 33 Traina, Gli assedi, II, pp. 285–286. 34 Although Cellini may have exaggerated the simultaneity of his fighting and smelting, the bare outline of this story – that he deconstructed jeweled treasures and melted down metalwork – is confirmed by contemporary witnesses. Pope-Hennessey, Cellini, p. 34. 35 On the artist’s construction of his own heroic technical mastery, see Cole, ‘Cellini’s Blood,’ 219.

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someday. Cellini asks to be forgiven and the pope grants him absolution and agrees to treat the long-spent stolen metal (approximately 140 ducats worth) as a gift.36 Though only a small fraction of the amount melted in total, the pound and a half of gold shot found in the furnace’s ashes represented a significant sum. It illustrates the small but financially substantial losses that could occur when precious metals were melted, as well as the opportunity for pilfering created by this process. Outside of the regular monitoring systems of the goldsmith’s workshop and mint, where metal was weighed and tracked at every step, the temptation to pocket the dregs of the melting would have been high. Some suspicion about what Cellini had done when working alone in the Castel Sant’Angelo at this time manifested itself a decade later, when he was accused of having stolen some of the papal jewels he was entrusted with extracting from their settings. He was briefly imprisoned, but the accusation proved to be baseless, as inventories of the jewels showed nothing missing. Accounts of Cellini’s life often mention this unjust imprisonment, but rarely do they note his own admission of removing gold without authorization during the same event.37 Like the imperial forces who overtook Rome, Cellini saw an opportunity simply to take what he thought he was owed, and did so. The metal extracted from the Castel Sant’Angelo appears to have weighed on his conscience, at least enough to compel him to make amends. Some of the imperial soldiers who had stolen property from Roman churches and citizens during the Sack experienced a similar burden: notarial records preserve testimonies of soldiers asking that ransoms or stolen goods be returned to their owners.38 Both Cellini and these repentant soldiers may have had other reasons for admitting their actions and appearing contrite. The artist confessed to Clement perhaps in order to ensure the opportunity of receiving new commissions. A direct result of his melting down of two hundred pounds of papal treasure was an absence of liturgical implements and papal ornaments that needed to be filled once Rome returned to order.39 As a goldsmith, Cellini’s participation in the liquidation of metalwork was an investment in sustaining his livelihood. Confessing to the small theft of metal during the chaos of the Sack was, perhaps, a move calculated to secure a perception of him as essentially trustworthy. Thus being tasked with melting down the papal treasure proved to be a test of the goldsmith’s mettle. In Cellini’s account, his secret labors on behalf of the papal finances during the Sack were almost immediately rewarded upon his return to Rome. Clement soon 36 From Chapter 43, Cellini, My Life, pp. 76–77. 37 Wittkower and Wittkower, Born under Saturn, p. 189; Pope-Hennessey, Cellini, pp. 34 and 82; Rossi, ‘The Writer and the Man,’ p. 168. 38 Esposito and Vaquero Piñeiro, ‘Rome During the Sack,’ pp. 135–136. 39 Pope-Hennessey, Cellini, p. 34.


Figure 4.5. Attributed to Francesco Bartoli, drawing of a gold pectoral, made for Pope Clement VII by Benvenuto Cellini, profile showing height of gems, grotesques in relief and enameled foliate scrolls, 1729, watercolor with bodycolor, over black chalk, 180 × 83 mm, London, British Museum, inv. no. 1893,0411.10.4. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


sent for the artist, telling him, ‘I would have commissioned you to remake those two tiaras of mine that we ruined in the Castello,’ but offering a different project instead, the design of a new morse, which was captured in colored drawings in the early eighteenth century (Fig. 4.5). 40 Like the tiara and miter, the jeweled pectoral was an ‘enseign of office,’ to be worn exclusively by the pope on the most sacred occasions.41 The design brief required the reuse of a large diamond that had previously adorned the morse of Pope Julius II. Denise Allen argues that Cellini would have been familiar with Julius’ morse from his work extracting papal jewels from metalwork during the Sack a few years before. 42 In this case, the work Cellini performed in dismantling the papal treasures directly created the opportunity for a new, significant commission several years down the line.

Corrupt Minters, Adulterated Metals Cellini’s early successes in post-Sack Rome include not only the papal morse, but also his appointment, in April 1529, to the papal mint as ‘master of the dies,’ a position coveted for its steady salary and additional remuneration for newly engraved dies.43 In this period Cellini produced three new sets of dies for Clement VII, for a double carlino, and two gold ducats. 44 It was these numismatic accomplishments and Cellini’s association with the mint, along with rumors of the artist’s activities during the Sack, that led some to believe he was responsible for producing the emergency currency used to pay Clement’s ransom. 45 At the time of the Sack, however, Cellini was not yet accomplished as a die engraver and thus was not tasked with minting, but melting. 46 Records for both the papal mint and Rome’s confraternity of goldsmiths are almost entirely missing for the years immediately preceding the Sack and the tense period that followed it. 47 The production context for the emergency coins is thus not well documented, but details of negotiations and payment schedules suggest the circumstances in which they were created. 48 On 5 June Clement had agreed 40 Cellini, My Life, p. 78. 41 Allen, ‘Designed by the Dictates,’ p. 21. 42 Allen, ‘Designed by the Dictates,’ p. 24. 43 Holman, ‘For “Honor and Profit”,’ 522. 44 Attwood, ‘Cellini’s Coins.’ 45 He had left the Castel by the time they were being struck. Traina, Gli assedi, II, pp. 284–285. 46 Martinori, Annali della zecca, p. 137. 47 Allen, ‘Designed by the Dictates,’ p. 16n9. Martinori, Annali della zecca, p. 119. 48 On Clement’s emergency coins, see Muntoni, Le Monete dei Papi, I, pp. 147–149 (nos. 19–24 and 20–38); Traina, Gli assedi, II, pp. 249–303; III, pp. cccxcv–cdxiii.


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to a treaty that required him to pay 100,000 ducats at once, 50,000 within 20 days, and another 250,000 ducats in the following two months. 49 The timeframe was too short to raise funds through the usual procedures, which included taxing the populations in the pope’s domains and selling papal benefices, though later in the autumn Clement would resort to simony to pay the rest of the sum.50 Acquiring money in this context was not just an abstract problem of numbers and accounts, but also a material process of deriving actual coins from precious metal objects. According to a fellow captive, Clement ordered minters to come to the Castel Sant’Angelo to strike coins from the gold and silver gathered there, which may or may not have included the bullion Cellini extracted from the papal jewels in May.51 The metal in the Apostolic Camera was apparently enough for the first payment of 100,000 ducats. For the next 50,000, plate was gathered in from outside and from these candlesticks, crosses, reliquaries, and other ornaments, another payment of emergency papal coins was produced.52 When his store of precious metal ran out, Clement’s financial resources were exhausted and he was forced to beg his allies for help and to scrounge up funding through other sources.53 Precisely where and by whom that first installment of coins was made remains a matter of conjecture.54 The papal mint had been moved to a permanent location in Rome’s banking quarter by Pope Julius II; the building was updated to plans by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in 1525 at the behest of Clement VII.55 Although situated just a few hundred meters from the Castel Sant’Angelo, on a direct axis via the Ponte Sant’Angelo, it was unlikely that, during the chaos of the Sack and its aftermath, the mint was accessible for practical operation, or that it would have been practical to transport the precious metal outside the castle walls for minting.56 Instead, existing dies were probably taken from the mint to the fortified castle. Later documents indicate the existence of some kind of workshop that could be opened for the production of coin in times of need.57 Cellini’s account shows, furthermore, how even ersatz equipment might accomplish the task. A few eyewitness accounts offer perspectives on the transit of papal treasure to emergency papal coin that explicitly take up the question of purity and 49 Traina, Gli assedi, II, p. 275. 50 Guicciardini, History of Italy, p. 398. 51 Quoted in Martinori, Annali della zecca, p. 134. 52 Traina, Gli assedi, II, p. 275. 53 Pastor, History of the Popes, p. 430. 54 Traina, Gli assedi, II, pp. 281–284. 55 On this building and the series of mint locations that preceded it, see Jacobi, ‘A Proposition,’ 16–17. 56 On the spatial connection between the papal treasury in the Castel Sant’Angelo, the mint, and Rome’s banks in the Rione di Ponte, see Jacobi, The Architecture of Banking, p. 57. 57 This might have been located in space equipped with furnaces for the production of cannon.⁠ Traina, Gli assedi, II, pp. 280–281.

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contamination. According to the Bavarian cleric Ambrosius von Gumppenberg, who served as negotiator and translator between the pope and the landsknechts, once Clement had agreed to liquidate the precious metal plate in the Apostolic Camera in order to pay his ransom, he gave it to a man with expertise in minting whom he calls Angelo Schaur, but who was known to his German compatriots as Engelhard Schauer.58 Schauer treated the collected gilt silver as though it were poor quality silver scrap (schlechts Pruchsilber). From this material he ‘pounded out crude, rough Plagauner.’59 Gumppenberg accused Schauer, whom he described as corrupt (verdorben) and a German enemy, of capitalizing on this unusual set of circumstances to steal some precious metal for himself. In refining the pope’s plate, he separated the gold out and ‘added to the good silver (guetten silber) with other trickery (mit anderer Betruegerei),’ thereby making for himself a double profit. Gumppenberg seems to have been morally outraged at Schauer’s behavior. The nineteenth-century editor of the cleric’s text was less judgmental, making accommodations for the lawless individualism of the Sack and an explicit connection to Cellini, who he noted had not acted much differently in a similar context.60 Engelhard Schauer was a representative of the Fugger banking family in Rome and thus a part of their extensive financial dealings with the Curia in the early decades of the sixteenth century.61 He is known within the history of art primarily as the documented recipient of an impression of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melancholia.62 Schauer’s duties for the Fugger bankers included collecting and transporting monies owed from churches at the edges of the Holy Roman Empire. The Fuggers also controlled metal commodities on which the Vatican depended: copper for artillery purposes and silver for coinage. They held the lease for the papal mint from 1509 and coins produced there in that period bore the Fugger mark, a trident. Schauer was given a fifteen-year monopoly on minting by Pope Adrian VI, but this was quickly rescinded in 1524 when the Medici Pope Clement VII came to power and he gave minting privileges instead to the Florentine nation, with a contract meant to expire three years later.63 It is against this background that Gumppenberg’s accusations must be read. Although erstwhile mint master to the papacy, Schauer no longer held that position at the time of the Sack. He was seen by Gumppenberg, and presumably other 58 Gregorovius, ‘Ein deutscher Bericht.’ On Gumppenberg, see Burschel, ‘Die Freiheit der Engel,’ 83. 59 Because of this narrative, ‘Plagauner’ becomes the term for Clement’s emergency coins in later German writing about siege coinage, but its etymology is rarely discussed. Traina thought ‘Plagauner’ came from Plage (plague, trouble), raising once again the notion of ‘emergency coins.’ Traina, Gli assedi, II, p. 276. 60 Gregorovius, ‘Ein deutscher Bericht,’ 351, 382–383. 61 Häberlein, Die Fugger, pp. 48–51. 62 Brisman, Albrecht Dürer, p. 122. 63 Martinori, Annali della zecca, pp. 120, 122.


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members of the pope’s retinue, as untrustworthy and out to make a profit in a situation in which the papacy was desperate, and in which there would be little monitoring of refining and minting procedures. It is noteworthy that again it is the moment of flux, when the metal is passing through a liquid state, that the ‘trickery’ (Betruegerei) takes place – the separation of gold from the mixture of gilt silver, and then mixing in of base ‘additives’ (Zusaz). The adjectives in Gumppenberg’s account highlight the conflation of metallic purity and contamination with the moral implications of Schauer’s treatment of the metal. Pure, high quality silver is ‘good,’ while less pure, poorer quality silver is bad (schlecht). Schaur himself is verdorben, corrupt, a word that also has the connotation of being spoiled or contaminated. A similar accusation was made about the coins produced to pay Clement’s ransom, but from the opposite side of the conflict, shifting blame to a different set of actors. Adam Reißner was the private secretary of Georg von Frundsberg, commander of the landsknechts. His published accounts of the battles Frundsberg and his son Caspar fought in the 1520s included several chapters on their experiences in Rome.64 His perspective on Clement’s emergency coins and the context of their production reflected his position among the soldiers waiting to receive these coins as their payment, for whom their precious metal content, and thus their monetary value, mattered intensely. Reißner claimed that ‘These new coins were of low purity and weight, so low that they were soon forbidden.’65 More literally, he wrote that the coins contained the just amount of neither Korn nor Schrot, a metaphor borrowed from the milling trade, where standards of purity were based on the proportion of fine to coarser grains.66 In this case Korn (grain) was the weight of the precious metal and Schrot (grist) was the weight of the entire coin, a relationship between precious and base metals that gave the coin its monetary value.67 (In modern German, someone said to be of genuine or old ‘Schrot und Korn’ has authenticity or fulfills a set of standard attributes, a phrase sometimes translated as ‘sterling.’68) To his complaint about the low purity of the coins, Reißner posited an explanation: ‘The mintmaster and die-sinker were the pope’s servants and they had no assayer, overseer or warden, thus they made false coins.’69 Here Reißner called attention to the positions of responsibility and authority that ordinarily ensured the value of coins in the mint: those tasked with testing the quality of metal (the assayer) and 64 Reißner, Historia. 65 ‘Solche neue Müntz had weder an Korn noch Schrot je gerechtigkeit gehalten / so gering / daß mans bald hernach verbotten. Es waren die Müntzmeister und Eisenschneider / Bapsts diener / und hetten keinen Probierer / Auffzieher / noch Wardein / machten also falsche Muentz.’ Reißner, Historia, pp. 140–141. 66 Redon and others, The Medieval Kitchen, p. 17. 67 Von Schrötter, Wörterbuch, pp. 190, 319, 615, 739. 68 Schemann and Knight, German-English Dictionary, p. 880. 69 See note 65.

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of the coins (the warden or Münzprüfer). Reißner implies that those who made the coins were in the employ of the pope, and thus corrupt; they stretched the silver with false additives, making coins of such low purity and weight that they could not be used for monetary transactions (verbotten). The captive was thus not holding up his end of the bargain. Accusations of corruption from two different sides in the conflict may reflect the unusual position of Schauer and the Fuggers in this period. Although the Augsburg family’s involvement in papal finance was on the wane after Clement’s election, they remained entangled in the Apostolic Chamber. As was the case with most bankers during the Sack the financial services they provided both ransomers and captives protected their lives and livelihood.70 Rather than experiencing looting themselves, they stepped in to protect assets from the Welsers, another German bank, and agreed to transport the booty of German mercenaries home.71 If Engelhard Schauer was indeed the minter brought in to the Castel Sant’Angelo to produce Clement’s emergency currency, it was his previous experience running the papal mint that explains his presence there. Edoardo Martinori suggested that the dies used for Clement’s coins predated the Florentines’ tenure at the mint.72 Though he might have been invited to the Castel Sant’Angelo because of his minting experience, Schauer’s affiliation with the Fuggers, who served both sides, made him suspect to both the pope’s entourage and the mercenaries. While the accounts of Reißner and Gumppenberg differed on the particular motivations of the minters involved, they both agreed that the coins produced to pay Clement’s ransom were of low purity and that it was during the process of melting, refining, and striking the coins that deceitful manipulation of precious metal had taken place by corrupt individuals. Like Cellini’s narrative of melting gold for Clement during the Sack, these accusations demonstrate how highly susceptible emergency liquidations and mintings were to loss of valuable metal and to the production of low-quality coinage. Neither chronicler explains how he knows that the coins were really false and that their makers had cheated, though the irregular context, outside of both the expected urban location and the bureaucratic structures of the papal mint, certainly raised their suspicions. Lauren Jacobi has shown how the architecture of early modern Italian mints was designed to foster public trust in procedures that remained hidden from view.73 Removing currency production from the street-facing papal mint in the banking quarter to the vast and impenetrable structure of the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the pope’s secret treasures and archives 70 ??? 71 Schulte, Die Fugger in Rom, p. 236. 72 Martinori, Annali della zecca, p. 122. 73 Jacobi, ‘A Proposition,’ 13.


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were held, imperiled trust in the resulting coins’ precious metal value, especially when none of the contracted mint officials were involved. But precisely because of the lack of assayers and the regulatory figures of the mint in this situation, it is possible that the accusation of adulteration is actually conjecture and that Clement’s emergency coins were not as worthless as Reißner and Gumppenberg thought.

Gold as Monetary Contaminant The coins produced during the Sack to pay Clement’s ransom betray in their physical characteristics the unusual circumstances of their minting. Although the legends and images struck into their surfaces share the features of papal coins minted before and after the Sack, these coins are visibly rougher, with jagged contours, cracked edges, and metal spilling unevenly beyond the encircling edge of the die. Martinori suggested some of the ways in which the emergency minters ‘improvised’ with existing dies and legends, which is particularly visible on the half-ducat (Fig. 4.3), whose weight correctly corresponds to its denomination, but whose chosen die was much too small to cover the surface area of the blank.74 These examples share the material characteristics of other emergency coinage made in the Italian peninsula during the 1520s, and across Europe later in the sixteenth century, though the majority of these are uniface, with restricted legends.75 Reißner suggested that Clement’s ersatz monetary tokens were useless as real coins because they differed so significantly from the contemporary standard. So-called ‘siege pieces’ and other emergency coins were meant to be temporary currency, to circulate briefly in the context of a military event or other crisis, but maintaining enough precious metal to hold value if one were to scrap them. Though well known and attested to in numerous eyewitness accounts, the coins produced for Clement’s ransom in 1527 have long been extremely rare. Writing in 1715, Saverio Scilla attributed this rarity to the fact that the coins had been made out of such valuable material: those that were not carried off by soldiers and dispersed to other locations, would have been withdrawn from circulation and destroyed – meaning melted down for the value of their metal – in Rome itself. As evidence for their value, he cited the discovery in 1707 of a small hoard of Sack coins by a local farmer. When assayed, these coins were found to contain three to four denari of gold per pound of silver, apparently the result of their origins in articles of gilt silver.76 The mystery of the emergency coins’ alloy is captured in a modern 74 Martinori, Annali della zecca, pp. 138–139. 75 For an overview of emergency currency, see Brause-Mansfeld, Feld-, Noth-, und Belagerungsmünzen. 76 Scilla, Breve notizia, p. 231.

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numismatic table listing the values of all of the coins minted during Clement’s papacy. Alongside gold ducats and standard silver coins with precise purity, the lega of the emergency coins is given as arbitraria.77 Gumppenberg’s and Reißner’s claims that Clement’s emergency coins were low quality, with the gold separated out or the silver adulterated, were based on assumptions about the unmonitored circumstances of emergency minting and the visibly rough facture of the coins. Instead, the opposite may have been true. The speed at which papal plate needed to be melted, and the limited resources on hand, meant that the usual processes of refining and assaying were not available. If high-value gold did not have the chance to be extracted, as it would have been in the normal production of silver bullion and coins, it led to the unusual situation in which the resulting coins might be said to have been contaminated by gold, the metal most associated with purity and incorruptibility. They were contaminated in the sense that the presence of gold made it difficult for the Plagauner to function as regular coins. If contemporary observers knew or even suspected that the ransom coins contained gold, they would have been more valuable than other silver coins and thus more likely to be taken out of circulation, as Scilla suggested: either by being hoarded or, alternatively, being sold for their melt value and liquidated.78 Thus, when it came to coins, notions of ‘purity’ and ‘contamination’ did not correspond simply to high or low precious metal content and its correlated monetary value, but rather to the adherence to a currency standard, a set proportion of precious and base metals. Even the inclusion of desirable gold could upset the careful balance of Korn und Schrot.

Metallic Provenance and an Alternative Conception of Purity and Contamination Despite the monetary incentive to scrap Clement’s emergency coins, or to hoard them for their gold, there may have been other reasons to preserve them. Many sixteenth-century siege coins appear to have been kept because they functioned as resonant souvenirs of the historical events in which they were created, eventually entering into numismatic collections, where their extraction from treasure and tableware in emergency conditions received special mention.79 Such emergency coins are said to derive generally from liquidated ecclesiastical and personal plate, 77 Martinori, Annali della zecca, p. 158. 78 The phenomenon of monetary circulation by which ‘bad money drives out good’ is now known as Gresham’s Law. Von Schrötter, Wörterbuch, p. 236. 79 Stielau, ‘Sixteenth-Century Notklippen.’


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but the source of Clement’s siege coins was understood to be more specific. Accounts like Gumppenberg’s and Reißner’s mention papal tableware and ornaments, but also singular objects, like the reliquaries of St. Peter, the papal tiaras, even the famous treasure from Loreto.80 These putative sources were the containers for saints, the liturgical utensils that the highest echelon of the priesthood touched on a daily basis, as well as the bodily ornaments of a series of popes. The lack of documentation surrounding their creation meant that the true sources of Clement’s emergency coins could not be definitively known, but it also allowed them to absorb provenances that were speculative, if not outright fantastical. Cellini’s account of melting down Clement’s jewels was not published until the eighteenth century, but it eventually became a significant component in narratives of the Plagauner.81 The collector August Brause-Mansfeld recounted the even stranger myth that Clement’s emergency currency had been made from the ‘silver, heavily-gilt roof of the Sistine Chapel.’82 The emergency coins may not have been much use as currency in the long term, but for those aware of the coins’ previous incarnations, it is possible that they became a physical embodiment of the Sack. For Lutheran landsknechts the fact that papal luxury objects had been liquidated to produce the arrears for their fighting must have been a satisfying symbol of the triumph of Protestant values.83 For Catholic Romans, Clement’s emergency coins were yet another reminder of the losses their city had endured and a means of holding onto the material vestiges of those lost objects. Given the myriad ways in which coins were granted amuletic and talismanic value in this period, it is not far-fetched to suppose that the emergency coins also gained for some what has been called Erfahrungswert, or symbolic value deriving from a particular experience.84 Acknowledgment of the Plagauners’ metallic provenance reveals an important aspect of how the process of smelting is sometimes conceptualized. In the JudeoChristian imaginary, and indeed much more broadly, passage through the furnace offers a profound metaphor for purification.85 What is true and pure survives the flames, what is false and impure submits to them.86 The crucible is likewise conceived as a site for powerful tests of faith and character. When it comes to precious metal that has been used inappropriately, like the Golden Calf, or the 80 Hook, The Sack of Rome, p. 211. 81 Pope-Hennessey, Cellini, p. 12. 82 Brause-Mansfeld, Feld-, Noth-, und Belagerungsmünzen, II, p. 46. 83 The antipapal leanings of German mercenaries are a larger subject than can be addressed here. For some context, see Schottenloher, ‘Georg von Frundsberg.’ 84 Veit, ‘Amulett und Talisman,’ p. 65. 85 On the purifying powers of fire, see Aston, ‘Rites of Destruction.’ 86 Gearhart, ‘Work and Prayer’; Helms, ‘Joseph the Smith.’

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shekels Micah steals from his mother, high-heat transformation allows the metal to be purified of this taint of abuse.87 In histories of metalwork, the furnace is discussed primarily in this way, as an agent of obliteration, relieving objects of form, inscription, past uses and accreted history: nothing but metal ‘passes through.’ As we have seen, the moment of flux is to be treated with suspicion and control, to ensure that purity is not compromised and that trust is not betrayed. It too offers a test of moral character. To connect the previous form of metal to its current instantiation – the papal tiaras with Clement’s emergency coins – is to doubt and disable the furnace’s power to destroy entirely the object entered into it and the concomitant associations of that object: its previous function, physical context, owners and users, its history. These might easily be assumed to be inessential to the metal, representing ‘impurities’ the object has accreted through its worldly experience that burn off as it loses its form. That is the logic behind ‘converting’ a bad object by melting it down and giving it new form: the tainted part of its past existence evaporates in the heat. But the desire to maintain knowledge or memory of those associations of use and user, context and history, beyond the point of meltdown suggests instead they are not easily or universally understood as contaminants. Surviving the test of the fire means that such associations have become essential to the metal to the extent that they are not easily extracted from it. In this model, then, purity is not a static ontological antithesis to contamination, nor a proportional value that can be scientifically determined, but a quality that changes through the experience of use and transformation.

Coda: Return to the Furnace Cellini drew on a classical version of purif ication by f ire in the medal he made for Clement in 1534, which referred implicitly to the Sack (Fig. 4.6). 88 The pope wears the beard that became a symbol of mourning for the calamities of the late 1520s. 89 On the reverse, the personif ication of Fury lies bound before the Temple of Janus and Peace lights a pile of arms with a torch. Cellini took this motif from ancient Roman coins and it was also deployed by contemporaries like Giorgio Vasari.90 The burning of weapons signaled the end of their need, and thus the inception of a new period of peace, in which art and culture could 87 For Micah, see Judges 17, Douay-Rheims Bible. On purifying metal through transformation, see Hahn, Strange Beauty, p. 37. 88 Holman, ‘For “Honor and Profit”,’ 525. 89 Chastel, Sack of Rome, pp. 186–187. 90 Attwood, ‘Cellini’s Coins,’ p. 100; Chastel, Sack of Rome, p. 234.


Allison Stielau

Figure 4.6. Benvenuto Cellini, Portrait medal of Pope Clement VII with Peace Igniting Arms, 1534, silver, 38 mm, Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. no. 6215. © Photo SCALA, Florence

flourish again under the patronage of the Church, perhaps even putting the transformed materials of martial conflict to new uses. (One thinks of Cellini’s canny repurposing of spears to build his temporary furnace.) But the rapacious requirements of war were never far. Cellini’s elaborate morse for Clement managed to survive until 1797, when Pope Pius VI had to pay Napoleon an indemnity of 30 million francs after the Treaty of Tolentino.91 In an agreement that echoes Clement’s own ransom, Pius was required to provide the money immediately and was allowed to pay a third of it in diamonds and other valuables. The majority of historical papal treasures were taken apart and melted down, a ‘massacre’ that the Vatican’s official jeweler apparently retained in vivid memory from his youth.92 Like the minting done in the Castel Sant’Angelo in 1527, documentation of this operation was not extensive enough to trace the precise destination of Cellini’s morse into new gold objects, whether coins or ornaments, gold leaf or thread. But as in the case of the Sack coins, the very absence of records creates the opportunity for conjecture about the current whereabouts of that liquidated metal. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, any gold item produced after Pius’s indemnity payment might theoretically contain, mingled within it, some of the gold particles that Cellini shaped and Clement once wore in the pectoral pinned to his sacred robes.

91 Thurston, ‘Two Lost Masterpieces,’ 37. 92 ‘Les Artistes Milanais,’ 45.

‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


Works Cited Primary Sources Cellini, Benvenuto. The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture, trans. by C. R. Ashbee. New York: Dover, [1967]. Cellini, Benvenuto. Traktate über die Goldschmiedekunst und die Bildhauerei, trans. by Ruth and Max Fröhlich, ed. by Erhard Brepohl. Cologne: Böhlau, 2005. Cellini, Benvenuto. My Life, trans. by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Bergwerk- und Probierbüchlein, trans. and ed. by Anneliese Grünhaldt Sisco and Cyril Stanley Smith. New York: American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, 1949. Douay-Rheims Bible,, accessed 28 May 2020. Gregorovius, Ferdinand. ‘Ein deutscher Bericht über die Eroberung Roms durch die kaiserliche Armee Carl’s V. im Jahr 1527, von dem Augenzeugen Ambrosius von Gumppenberg,’ Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-philologischen und historischen Classe der k.b. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München (1877): 329–397. Guicciardini, Francesco. The History of Italy, ed. and trans. by Sidney Alexander. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. Reißner, Adam. Historia Herrn Georgen unnd Herrn Casparn von Frundsberg: Vatters und Sons […] Frankfurt: Rab & Han, 1568 repr. [1572]. Schertlin von Burtenbach, Sebastian. Leben und Thaten des weiland wohledlen und gestrengen Herrn Sebastian Schertlin von Burtenbach, durch ihn selbst deutsch beschrieben, ed. by Ottmar F. H. Schönhuth. Münster: Verlag der Aschendorff’schen Buchhandlung, 1858. Scilla, Saverio. Breve notizia delle monete pontifcie antiche e moderne. Rome: 1715. Thesaurus legalis Universitatis Aurificum Urbis cum annotationibus D. P. A. Antolini. Rome: 1655.

Secondary Sources Allen, Denise. ‘Designed by the Dictates of Ceremony: Cellini’s Cope-Morse for Clement VII.’ In Pratum Romanum, ed. by Renate L. Colella, Meredith J. Gill, Lawrence A. Jenkins and Petra Lamers, 13–25. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert, 1997. Amelang, James S. The Flight of Icarus: Artisan Autobiography in Early Modern Europe. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. ‘Les Artistes Milanais.’ Le Cabinet de l’Amateur, 26 (1863): 26–56. Aston, Margaret. ‘The Rites of Destruction by Fire.’ In Faith and Fire: Popular and Unpopular Religion, 1350–1600, 291–313. London: Hambledon Press, 1993. Attwood, Philip. ‘Cellini’s Coins and Medals.’ In Benvenuto Cellini: Sculptor, Goldsmith, Writer, ed. by Margaret A. Gallucci and Paolo L. Rossi, 97–120. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


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Brause-Mansfeld, August. Feld-, Noth-, und Belagerungsmünzen. 2 vols. Berlin: J. A. Stargardt, 1897–1903. Brisman, Shira. Albrecht Dürer and the Epistolary Mode of Address. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Bulgari, Constantino G. Argentieri, Gemmari e Orafi d’Italia, 2 vols. Rome: Del Turco, 1958–1959. Burschel, Peter. ‘Die Freiheit der Engel: Versionen des Sacco di Roma.’ Saeculum 60, no. 1 (2010): 79–89. Chastel, André. The Sack of Rome, 1527. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. Churchill, Sidney J. A. ‘The Goldsmiths of Rome Under the Papal Authority: Their Statutes Hitherto Discovered and a Bibliography.’ Papers of the British School at Rome 4 (1907): 163–226. Cole, Michael W. ‘Cellini’s Blood.’ The Art Bulletin 81, no. 2 (1999): 215–235. Erasmus von Rotterdam: Vorkämpfer für Frieden und Toleranz, ed. by Andres Furger-Gunti and Burkard von Roda. Basel: Historisches Museum, 1986. Esposito, Anne and Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro. ‘Rome During the Sack: Chronicles and Testimonies from an Occupied City.’ In The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture, ed. by Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl E. Reiss, 125–142. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2005. Gamberini, Diletta. ‘“E’ principi grandi hanno per male che un lor servo dolendosi dica la verità delle sue ragioni”. La censura dei Trattati di Benvenuto Cellini.’ Schifanoia 44–45 (2013): 47–62. Gearhart, Heidi C. ‘Work and Prayer in the Fiery Furnace: The Three Hebrews on the Censer of Reiner in Lille and a Case for Artistic Labor.’ Studies in Iconography 34 (2013): 103–132. Groebner, Valentin. Liquid Assets, Dangerous Gifts: Presents and Politics at the End of the Middle Ages, trans. by Pamela E. Selwyn. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. Häberlein, Mark. Die Fugger: Geschichte einer Augsburger Familie (1367–1650). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2006. Hahn, Cynthia. Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400–circa 1204. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Helms, Mary W. ‘Joseph the Smith and the Salvational Transformation of Matter in Early Medieval Europe.’ Anthropos 101, no. 2 (2006): 451–471. Holman, Beth L. ‘For “Honor and Profit”: Benvenuto Cellini’s Medal of Clement VII and his Competition with Giovvani Bernardi.’ Renaissance Quarterly 58, no. 2 (2005): 512–575. Hook, Judith. The Sack of Rome, 1527, 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Jacobi, Lauren. ‘Reconsidering the World-system: The Agency and Material Geography of Gold.’ In The Globalization of Renaissance Art: A Critical Review, ed. by Daniel Savoy, 131–157. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Jacobi, Lauren. ‘A Proposition: Minting and the Public Sphere in Preindustrial Italy.’ Wolkenkuckucksheim 37 (2018): 11–21.

‘Adding to the Good Silver with Other Trickery’ 


Jacobi, Lauren. The Architecture of Banking in Renaissance Italy: Constructing the Spaces of Money. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Kilburn-Toppin, Jasmine. ‘“A place of great trust to be supplied by men of skill and integrity”: assayers and knowledge cultures in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London.’ British Journal for the History of Science 52, no. 2 (2019): 197–223. Kolega, Alexandra. ‘Il Collegio degli orefici ed argentieri di Roma ed il controllo sulla produzione orafa tra Cinque e Seicento.’ Roma moderna e contemporanea, II, no. 2 (1995): 467–489. Lane, Frederic C. and Reinhold C. Mueller, Money and Banking in Medieval and Renaissance Venice. 2 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985–1997. Martinori, Edoardo. Annali della zecca di Roma (Clemente VII), 1523–1534. Rome: Istituto Italiano di Numismatica, 1917. Muntoni, Francesco. Le Monete dei Papi e degli stati pontifici. 4 vols. Rome: P. & P. Santamaria, 1972–1974. Müntz, Eugène. ‘La Tiare Pontificale du VIIIe au VXIe Siècle.’ Mémoires de l’Institut National de France, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 36 (1897): 235–324. Passeri, Irma. ‘Gold Coins and Gold Leaf in Early Italian Paintings.’ In The Matter of Art: Materials, Practices, Cultural Logics, ed. by Christy Anderson, Anne Dunlop, and Pamela H. Smith, 97–115. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015. Pastor, Ludwig von. The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, ed. by Ralph Francis Kerr, IX, 4th ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950. Pope-Hennessey, John. Cellini. New York: Abbeville, 1985. Redon, Odile, Françoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, trans. by Edward Schneider. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Rodocanachi, Emmanuel. Les Corporations ouvrières à Rome depuis la chute de l’Empire Romain, 2 vols. Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1894. Rossi, Paolo L. ‘The Writer and the Man: Real Crimes and Mitigating Circumstances, Il caso Cellini.’ In Crime, Society and the Law in Renaissance Italy, ed. by Trevor Dean and K. J. P. Lowe, 157–183. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Rossi, Paolo L. ‘“Parrem Uno, E Pur Saremo Dua”: The Genesis and Fate of Benvenuto Cellini’s Trattati.’ In Benvenuto Cellini: Sculptor, Goldsmith, Writer, ed. by Margaret A. Gallucci and Paolo L. Rossi, 171–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Schemann, Hans and Paul Knight. German-English Dictionary of Idioms. London: Routledge, 1995. Schottenloher, Karl. ‘Georg von Frundsberg und die Eroberung Roms durch die kaiserliche Armee im Jahre 1527.’ Die Wahrheit IX (1906): 108–116. Schrötter, Friedrich von. Wörterbuch der Münzkunde. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1967. Schulte, Aloys. Die Fugger in Rom, 1495–1523. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1904. Stahl, Alan. Zecca: The Mint of Venice in the Middle Ages. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.


Allison Stielau

Stielau, Allison. ‘The Weight of Plate in Early Modern Inventories and Secularization Lists.’ The Journal of Art Historiography 11 (2014): 1–29. Stielau, Allison. ‘Sixteenth-Century Notklippen as Objects of Warfare?: Realia, Representation, Narration.’ In Objekte des Krieges: Präsenz & Representätion, ed. by Romana Kaske and Julia Saviello, 105–122. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. Thurston, Herbert. ‘Two Lost Masterpieces of the Goldsmith’s Art.’ The Burlington Magazine 31, no. 8 (1905): 37–39 and 42–43. Traina, Mario. Gli assedi e le loro monete (491–1861): Monete, medaglie e cartamoneta ossidionali battute o emessa in Italia e da italiani all’estero. 3 vols. Bologna: Renato Giannantoni, 1975–1977. Veit, Ludwig. ‘Amulett und Talisman,‘ in Münzen in Brauch und Aberglauben, ed. by Hermann Maué and Ludwig Veit, 65–74. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1982. Weinryb, Ittai. The Bronze Object in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Wittkower, Rudolf and Margot Wittkower. Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists; A Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963. Wright, Alison. The Pollaiuolo Brothers: The Arts of Florence and Rome. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

About the Author Allison Stielau is Lecturer in Early Modern Art at University College London. Her research interests cover ‘object cultures’ in early modern Northern Europe in the period 1400 to 1700, including artifacts that test the limits of traditional art historical categories, like mineral samples and ingots. The meltdown and transformation of precious metalwork in the early modern world is the subject of her current book project.


Tapestry as Tainted Medium: Charles V’s Conquest of Tunis Sylvia Houghteling

Abstract In 1546, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commissioned a tapestry series to commemorate his successful 1535 campaign against Sultan Suleiman I’s Ottoman forces in the North African trading city of Tunis. The Conquest of Tunis tapestries have been regarded as a metaphorical statement of Charles V’s role as the defender of Christendom against Ottoman encroachment. However, the history of their production undercuts any simplistic formulation of his empire, with the metal for threads arriving from the New World and silks procured from forcibly converted Muslim artisans in Granada. The seeming clarity of the tapestries’ meaning obscures the heterogeneity of Charles’s empire, as well as the tension, and potential for perceived contamination, between the materials and the iconography of the tapestry medium. Keywords: tapestry, weaving, dyeing, Charles V, Granada, Conquest of Tunis

In 1546, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1558) commissioned a series of twelve tapestries to commemorate his successful 1535 campaign against the Ottoman forces under the great admiral, Khair al-Din (‘Barbarossa’), in the North African trading city of Tunis. Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, a court painter who had accompanied Charles V to Tunis, created the cartoons for the tapestries, many of them from sketches that Vermeyen made during his travels.1 The colossal tapestries were then woven in the workshop of Willem de Pannemaker, one of the preeminent This research began in a graduate seminar taught by Professor Kishwar Rizvi. I am grateful to her for her thoughtful feedback and for encouraging me to develop this project further. I would also like to thank the Getty Research Institute, María Belén Dotú Montes, head of the photographic management department of the Palacio Real, and Nobuko Shibayama of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their help with images. I am indebted to Allison Stielau for her help with translations, and to Lauren Jacobi, Daniel Zolli, and the anonymous reviewers for their productive responses to the text. Any errors are my own.

Jacobi, L. and D.M. Zolli (eds), Contamination and Purity in Early Modern Art and Architecture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789462988699_ch05

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tapestry weavers in Brussels. Mary of Hungary, the sister of Charles V, took charge of the contractual arrangements for the tapestries, specifying in her 1548 agreement with Willem de Pannemaker that the tapestries would be woven using silk from Granada and gold- and silver-wrapped threads, as directed by Charles V.2 Charles V intended the tapestry cycle of the Conquest of Tunis to be a celebratory commemoration of his victory over the Ottoman forces of Sultan Suleiman I (1494–1566) and the re-installation of Charles V’s vassal, King Mulay Hasan, in Tunis. As triumphal tapestries, the series joined the earlier 1531 Battle of Pavia tapestry series, commissioned to commemorate Charles V’s 1525 victory over the French in Pavia in northern Italy. The defeat signaled the end of French ambitions in Italy and the tapestry series, completed just six years after the battle, constituted the first major tapestry depiction of a contemporary event.3 There are also stylistic similarities between the two series: in both, the figures in battle press into the foreground, allowing for blue-green topographical views in the distance. More broadly, the tapestry cycle positioned Charles V as the defender of Christian territory against Ottoman encroachment.4 Charles V had assembled 30,000 troops for the attack on Tunis, an excessive number for the task, and was thus able to easily defeat the Ottoman opposition. In actuality, the invasion was a ‘propaganda coup,’ an incident that allowed Charles V, leader of the Holy Roman Empire, to claim himself a ‘scourge of the Infidels.’5 Beyond the iconographic and typological significance of the Conquest of Tunis cycle, Charles V communicated his supremacy through the sheer monumentality and cost of this tapestry series, which was the largest and most expensive of any of his tapestry commissions.6 Lisa Jardine and Jeremy Brotton argue that in the early modern period, tapestry itself was a ‘symbolically over-determined’ medium, superlative in its size and cost of production.7 Renaissance tapestries did not simply depict scenes of political supremacy. Rather, they 1 Schmitz-von Ledebur, ‘Emperor Charles V Captures Tunis,’ 387–404; Seipel, Der Kriegszug Kaiser Karl V Gegen Tunis: Kartons und Tapisserien. 2 ‘Contract between Mary of Hungary and Willem de Pannemaker, Brussels, 20 February 1548,’ in Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, II, p. 348. See also Resplendence of the Spanish Monarchy, pp. 75–81; see Tapestry in the Renaissance, pp. 385–389. 3 Tapestry in the Renaissance, pp. 321–328. See also Buchanan, ‘The “Battle of Pavia” and the Tapestry Collection of Don Carlos,’ 345–351. 4 Silver, ‘East is East,’ pp. 200–202. 5 Jardine, ‘Mapping Space,’ p. 115. 6 Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 320. 7 Lisa Jardine and Jeremy Brotton argue that political power – in the form of territorial control and religious supremacy – dominates the message of the Conquest of Tunis tapestries. ‘In the early sixteenth century, the large-scale tapestry series became a symbolically over-determined artefact upon which the political hopes and aspirations of the imperial courts of the period were repeatedly projected.’ Jardine and Brotton, Global Interests, p. 63.



embodied this domination in their very existence as extraordinarily enormous, costly, and yet mobile objects. In the case of Charles V, however, the tapestry medium intertwined with his imperial and domestic agenda in a more complicated manner. The Conquest of Tunis series is remarkable for its scale, but also for the archival record left behind from its commission. The extensive corpus of letters documenting the production of the tapestries, first brought to light by tapestry scholars in the nineteenth century, includes missives between Charles V and his sister, Mary of Hungary, urgent inquiries about Vermeyen’s continual delays in producing the cartoons, and notes on shipping costs submitted by minor couriers.8 This archive reveals the volume of material components and diverse artisanal labor that preceded the weaving of the tapestries, elements of the process that are usually unknown or overshadowed by the vastness of the final woven product. Recent art historical research has drawn attention to the materials and materiality of Renaissance objects, and to the meanings that textiles and tapestries transport into paintings when they are rendered in pigment.9 Although tapestries were previously overlooked as a ‘minor’ art, scholars such as Thomas Campbell, Elizabeth Cleland, Tristan Weddigen, and Laura Weigert have worked to recover the historical significance of tapestry displays and the spatial interventions that tapestries made in sixteenth-century public life.10 The materials of the Conquest of Tunis tapestries – from the dyes likely used to color the fine threads, to the silk for the tapestries cultivated in Granada – can offer much to this field of study, as they bespeak the myriad pressing concerns that undercut the pageantry of Charles V’s woven commemoration of his conquest of Tunis. An emphasis on the dyes, silk, and metal threads of the series also brings the tapestry cycle into dialogue with postcolonial scholarship that has argued for the permeability between the material and visual cultures of the Spanish imperial center and its colonial, or contested ‘reconquered’ realms.11 The seeming clarity of the tapestries’ iconographic 8 On tapestry scholarship of the nineteenth century, see Cleland, ‘Tapestries as a Transnational Artistic Commodity,’ pp. 103–132. For discussions of the Conquest of Tunis, see Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes (1873). Houdoy’s findings were recounted, and contextualized in Wauters, Les Tapisseries Bruxelloises, pp. 76–82 and Göbel, Wandteppiche: Die Niederlande, pp. 144–145, 311–313, 420. Hendrik Horn published the most comprehensive account of the archival material related to the series in 1989. See Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen. Iain Buchanan also refers to the documentary history in Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ pp. 320–335. 9 For an excellent review essay on the topic of textiles and materiality in Renaissance studies, see McCall, ‘The Materials for Renaissance Fashion,’ 1449–1464; The Matter of Art; Kim, ‘Lotto’s Carpets,’ 181–212; Hills, Veiled Presence; McCall and Roberts, ‘Object Lessons and Raw Materials,’ pp. 105–124; The Material Renaissance; Rublack, ‘Matter in the Material Renaissance,’ 41–85. 10 Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor; Tapestry in the Baroque: New Aspects of Production and Patronage; ‘Wrought in Gold and Silk’: Preserving the Art of Historic Tapestries; Weigert, ‘The Art of Tapestry,’ pp. 103–122; Unfolding the Textile Medium, pp. 7–8. 11 Hamann, ‘The Mirrors of Las Meninas,’ 6–35; Dean and Leibsohn, ‘Hybridity and Its Discontents,’ 5–35.

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Figure 5.1. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker (designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen), Map of the Mediterranean, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL

meaning obscures the tension, and potential for perceived contamination, between the materials and the surface decoration of the tapestry medium. The range of art objects and materials that combined in these monumental works suggests that while a tapestry may communicate a unified visual message about imperial Spain, it can also embody the unevenness and disruptions of Charles V’s vast domains. On 16 May 1551 the Deans of the Brussels guild of tapestry weavers certified the satisfactory completion of the first two tapestries of the twelve-piece set of The Conquest of Tunis series, one of which was a map of the Mediterranean, (‘la quarte’), which depicted a topographic view looking southeast from Barcelona towards the port of Tunis (Fig. 5.1).12 The map tapestry both rendered the geography of the military campaign, and recalled the movement and geography at work in the production and transport of the tapestries themselves. In the lower right-hand corner of the Mediterranean tapestry stands the tapestries’ designer, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, posing in the figure of a cartographer, identified by the astrolabe in his right hand and the text inscribed on the tablet beneath him (Fig. 5.2). His body is balanced on a narrow, marbleized stage framed by Corinthian columns that bear Charles V’s personal emblem of the columns of Hercules.13 The 12 ‘Document signed Jan van der Merre, Franchois Guebels, Niclaes Hellin, Brussels, 16 May, 1551,’ in Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 387. 13 Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 182.



Figure 5.2. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker (designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen), Map of the Mediterranean, detail of the cartographer, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL

figure’s legs cast a shadow onto the mottled surface below while the shadows cast by his head and shoulders ripple onto the column to his left. Behind him stretches a map. In certain places, thin lines of black thread mark out a grid, while in others, diagonal rhumb lines are drawn in the wide-open swathes of sea. Clustered in the bodies of water,

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labeled ‘Mar Despanna,’ ‘Mar de Francia,’ ‘Mar de Affrica,’ and ‘Mar de Italia,’ brown ships twist in the wind, their careening hulls set off by the use of darker brown thread. The vessels sailing from Genoa to Barcelona mark out the actual fleet commanded by Andrea Doria, the Genoese admiral who led Charles V’s naval forces (Fig. 5.3).14 For the sections of land, the tapestry weavers rendered the topography in an almost painterly way, blending blue, yellow, tan, and white threads to create highlights on mountains and shadowed valleys beneath, with picturesque groups of figures and animals walking in the landscape. The weavers have delineated islands by the scalloped contours of their coasts, a style that draws upon the conventions of the isolarii, or island maps, that were popular in the sixteenth century. The inscription on the tablet below the cartographer, written in the vernacular Castilian, explains that: As it is necessary for a clear understanding to know the country in which the events took place and what preparations had been made, the action is treated in this tapestry according to nature, all that concerns cosmography leaving nothing to be desired. In the distance the coasts of Africa, like those of Europe and its boundaries, are seen with their chief ports, their broad gulfs, their islands, their winds, at exactly the same distances at which they really lie, the author having taken more care over their precise situation than over the requirements of the [art of] painting…With accuracy thus established, the peculiarities of the other tapestries can be better understood.15

Yet the tapestry map obscures as much as it clarifies. The suggestions of a compass rose, although they tie the map to the accuracy of sixteenth-century maritime navigational charts, are overwhelmed when they meet the waving lines that render the ocean turbulent. Even the landscape of Spain comes into competition with the flourishes of aerial perspective. Madrid is hidden behind what Hendrik Horn describes as an ‘improbable mountain.’16 As Jesús Escobar has argued recently, tapestries and maps in the early modern period retained a surprisingly reciprocal relationship.17 Although tapestries were associated with medieval pomp and circumstance, and the map with developing ideas of scientific accuracy, tapestries retained a sense of the monumental that the cartographic medium competed to achieve.18 In this case, the textured surface of the tapestry works against the logic of 14 Ibid., p. 183. 15 Quoted and translated in Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 181. 16 Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 182. 17 Escobar, ‘Map as Tapestry,’ 50–69; see also Ballon, The Paris of Henri IV, pp. 233–244. 18 Escobar, ‘Map as Tapestry,’ 63.



Figure 5.3. Workshop of Willem de Pannemaker, designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen. Map of the Mediterranean, detail of galleys, from The Conquest of Tunis series, c. 1548–1551, gold, silver, silk and wool, 520 × 895 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid (10005895). Photo: COPYRIGHT © PATRIMONIO NACIONAL

a map, concealing details and proclaiming in its fusion of techniques, threads, and metals from across the Habsburg lands that governing an empire was not simply a vision of conquest, but a fractious attempt to weave together disparate parts. Three years later, when Pannemaker’s weaving workshop had completed all twelve tapestries of the set, agents packed the tapestries into enormous iron chests and sent the Conquest of Tunis series to England. The tapestries served as a backdrop in London in 1554 for the festivities held in honor of the marriage of Philip II of Spain and Mary Tudor of England. In the years after the ceremonies in London, the Conquest of Tunis series traveled to Antwerp where the twelve textiles decorated celebrations for the chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece in 1555.19 By 1558, the year of Charles V’s death, the tapestries finally reached Spain where they were hung in the Royal Palace, known as the Alcázar, in Madrid.20 19 The presence of the tapestries at the ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Fleece establishes a dual crusading and classicizing precedent for the tapestries and the events they commemorate. The patrons of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a chivalric organization begun by Philip the Good in 1430, were the Biblical hero, Gideon, and the classical hero, Jason, the warrior from the Aeneid. Charles V, who was also a ‘knight’ of the Order of the Golden Fleece, drew upon both Biblical and classical narratives as typological precedents for his triumph in Tunis. The triumph of Gideon’s army of Israelites over the Midianites could be likened to Charles V’s victory over the forces of Sultan Suleiman I. Charles also drew analogies between his siege of Tunis and Scipio’s triumphs in Carthage. On the history of the Order of the Golden Fleece, see Tanner, The Last Descendant of Aeneas, pp. 126–134. 20 Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 126.

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In the 1630s, during King Philip IV’s redecoration of the Alcázar, the twelve tapestries of the Conquest of Tunis joined a series of painted portraits of the Kings of Castile as the primary decorations of the palace’s grand reception space. The earliest painting in the portraiture series was of Pelayo and His Consort, a king whose main source of recognition was his conquest, in 718, of a small Muslim army at Covadonga in Asturias, located in coastal northern Spain. In Castilian history, that early defeat was regarded as the beginning of the ‘Reconquista,’ or the Christian retaking of Spanish and North African territory from Muslim rule. This victory was understood as having initiated an unfolding series of reconquests, one of which, symbolically at least, occurred with Charles V’s victory in Tunis. As Steven Orso has argued of the portrait of Pelayo and His Consort: This reference to the Christian recovery of Iberia harmonized thematically with the recapture of Tunis and La Goletta illustrated in the tapestries on the walls below. During the sixteenth century, Spanish policy toward North Africa had been, in effect, a continuation of the final stage of the Reconquest, the campaign against Granada. Might not that perception of the African expeditions have lingered in the seventeenth century, even after Spain’s primary concerns in foreign affairs had shifted to the European theater?21

Set alongside the portraits of the kings of Castile, Orso argues, the meaning of the Conquest of Tunis series stabilized: the tapestries became emblems of the crusading violence that linked Pelayo to Charles V.22 In this reading, the Conquest of Tunis tapestry series can be interpreted not only as Charles V’s visualization of his ‘conquest’ of Africa, but also of his contentious (and ongoing) ‘reconquest’ of Spain. The map tapestry permits a view of southern Spain, where the military forces of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon defeated the last Muslim Nasrid rulers of Granada in 1492. During the reign of their grandson, Charles V, the government in Castile continued its at times brutal Christianization efforts within Granada, but the period was generally one of ‘uneasy’ peace.23 However, hostilities with the Ottoman forces redoubled Christian anxiety that Spain’s own Muslim population and its newly-converted Morisco community would sympathize with the Ottoman cause to blockade European shipping.24 Indeed, Muslim refugees from southern Spain formed a part of Barbarossa’s North African fleet that Charles V defeated in Tunis.25 In this light, the tapestry series and particularly the carto21 Orso, Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcázar of Madrid, pp. 141–142. 22 Elliott, Imperial Spain, pp. 20–21. 23 Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada, p. 23. 24 Lynch, Spain 1516–1598, pp. 119–120. 25 Hess, ‘The Moriscos: An Ottoman Fifth Column in Sixteenth-Century Spain,’ 8.



graphic textile with its military view of the topography of Spain, communicate royal perceptions of both southern Spain and North Africa as sites of continual contestation and warfare. To read the tapestry series solely as an assertion of imagined Christian and Castilian dominance, however, is to overlook the hybridity and negotiation that are physically woven into the Conquest of Tunis tapestries. The very medium of tapestry carried a history rooted in non-Christian traditions. While it is possible to find samples of the tapestry weaving technique from antiquity, Muslim weavers in Spain may have also re-introduced tapestry work to medieval Europe. As Laura Weigert notes, evidence for this derivation of tapestry is etymological. Tapestries in thirteenth-century France were known as tapis sarrazinois, or ‘Saracen’ tapestry, using the medieval word for Arab or Muslim. 26 Tapestry weaving as a process also shares certain features, such as production on an upright loom, with the methods of carpet-weaving, an art that flourished in Ottoman lands. Although these connections may have been remote in Charles V’s day, Gülru Necipoğlu has demonstrated that just before Charles V engaged in the battle for Tunis, Sultan Suleiman I was being courted by the Brussels tapestry f irm of Dermoyen, which had sent Pieter Coecke van Aelst with sample tapestries to convince the Ottoman court to become patrons as well.27 For Coecke van Aelst, who likely assisted Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen on the cartoons for the Conquest of Tunis, tapestries were not aligned exclusively with European or Ottoman rulers, but rather with those who wished to demonstrate their power in monumental art.28 Mary of Hungary, acting on behalf of Charles V, had also specified in the 1548 contract with Willem de Pannemaker that all of the silk thread (‘crimson and all other colors’) should derive from Granada. Politically, this choice of Granada silk may have held significance for Charles V’s relations with his domains in southern Spain. Charles V’s purchase of a large volume of silk for the tapestries constituted an investment in the Granada silk industry. Prior to the fall of Granada’s Nasrid dynasty in 1492, rural Muslim and Jewish households dominated the sericulture industry, cultivating silk cocoons from silkworms, and reeling and spinning the silk thread. Silk production remained central to the economy well into the sixteenth century. In 1548, the same year that Mary of Hungary ordered the use of Granada

26 Weigert, Weaving Sacred Stories, pp. 6–7. 27 Necipoğlu, ‘Süleyman the Magnificent and the Representation of Power in the Context of OttomanHapsburg-Papal Rivalry,’ 419. 28 For a discussion of the debates surrounding Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s possible involvement in the preparation of the cartoons, see Tapestry in the Renaissance, pp. 387–391; Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ pp. 326–328.

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silk in the tapestries, a visitor to Granada wrote that, ‘Almost all the common people of the city earn their living from silk.’29 Tensions soon emerged between the silk industry and the Spanish Crown. In the early part of the sixteenth century, the newly-established, Christian city government in Granada began to issue regulations and set up an office to oversee quality for the cleaning and reeling of silkworm cocoons.30 These efforts were an attempt to replace the informal system of collecting silkworms from disparate families with more closely supervised day labor, and, more broadly, to wrest control of the industry from the forcibly-converted Muslim (Morisco) silk workers who remained in Granada.31 In 1546, the Crown issued a law that required written licenses for all those running silkworm operations in the kingdom. Legal records in the second half of the sixteenth century contain references to the sanctioning of Moriscos involved in silk production for operating without these licenses.32 By the middle of the sixteenth century, the industry started to decline due to competition and a heavy export duty of fifteen percent that went directly to the crown.33 The slow disintegration of the silk industry was one of the grievances that led to the revolt of the Moriscos in the Alpujarras region in southern Granada from 1568 to 1570.34 In the last decades of the sixteenth century, a huge falloff in the population resulting from the expulsion of Moriscos from Granada after the uprising ruined the oncerenowned silk industry.35 In 1546, on the other hand, Charles V’s monumental tapestries supported the silk producers of Granada. In preparation for the weaving of the tapestries, Mary of Hungary sent an agent named Louis Chaussart to Granada, who proceeded to spend two years, seven months, and 25 days to procure the dyed silk. After his return, Chaussart was paid a one-time fee of over 500 Flemish pounds due to the travails of his journey, which included a ten-month illness, and an extended delay that kept him in England for two months.36 An official named Simon de Parenty had taken charge of collecting and distributing the funds for the purchase of silk 29 Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada, p. 13. 30 López de Coca Castañer, ‘La Seda en el Reino de Granada,’ p. 36. 31 The term Morisco is widely used in scholarship, but is also overlaid with the problematic ideological perspective of Christian Spain, as it implies that individuals living in Granada after the Castilian conquest underwent an ontological change from being Muslims, or ‘moros,’ to being converted ‘Moriscos.’ For a discussion of the scholarly use of this term see Harvey, ‘The Political, Social and Cultural History of the Moriscos,’ pp. 201–234, see especially p. 203. 32 López de Coca Castañer, ‘La Seda en el Reino de Granada,’ pp. 36–37. 33 Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada, p. 13. 34 For a recent account of the origins of the Alpujarras uprising, see Green-Mercado, ‘The Return of Muslim Granada,’ pp. 64–99. 35 Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada, pp. 23–24. 36 Published in Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 356.



and the weaving of the tapestries. The tapestry weaver, Willem de Pannemaker, confirmed that on 23 March 1549, he received 559 pounds and one ounce of silk that had been both ‘dyed and spun in Granada.’37 The final price for the silk totaled 6637 Flemish pounds (although others estimate the actual cost to have been 10,000 Flemish pounds) and the payment for the silk was to be deducted from the total amount that Charles V paid to Willem de Pannemaker for the tapestries.38 The silk arrived in 19 different colors, each of which had been dyed in three to seven different shades. The wide range of colors is impressive even today. Houdoy, writing in the nineteenth century, notes that he reproduced Simon de Parenty’s record of the dyed silk in order to capture the range of ‘resources’ available to tapestry weavers in this earlier period.39 Moreover, silk was only one of the materials deployed in the production of a tapestry. Mary of Hungary’s contract with Willem de Pannemaker also specified that the weaver should use precious metal-wrapped threads and silk first, and only when necessary resort to the use of the finest wool sayette threads. For the warp, the contract required the use of the ‘best’ and ‘most exquisite’ threads of Lyons, regardless of their cost. 40 The emperor himself, acting via Mary of Hungry, would provide the gold and silver for the metal-wrapped threads. 41 Although the exact cost of the metal is not recorded, Houdoy uses the records of the Antwerp merchant who delivered the gold and silk to estimate that the tapestries would have required 500 pounds of gold and silver for the threads, at a total cost of approximately 8,500 Flemish pounds. 42 Taken together, the silk and the metal-wrapped threads alone weighed over one thousand pounds, a staggering weight that excludes the other fine fibers that were used in addition to the silk and metal-wrapped threads. The materials themselves were also vulnerable to theft and spoiling. Another archival record suggests the pains that were taken to transport the dyed silk threads. An agent named Michiel de Sosaya de Anvers received over 75 Flemish pounds for the money he gave to the various ship captains who transported the chests of silk from the Spanish port of Biscay (Vizcaya) to coastal Sluis, located northwest 37 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 9. The document is held in Lille, Archives Départementales du Nord, Reg. No. B2477, No. 87693. Archival details published in Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 360. 38 Ibid., p. 9; Buchanan cites another source with this higher figure of 10,000 Flemish pounds. Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 330. 39 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 7. 40 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 5. 41 Ibid., p. 7; Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 329. 42 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 10. Buchanan calculates the total cost of the metal threads as 8736 Flemish livres [pounds], See Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 330.

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of Brussels. 43 Silk, whether in skeins or woven into tapestries, often suffered as it moved. Heinrich Göbel emphasized the great importance of the packaging materials used for tapestries, particularly the delicately-woven silk tapestries of the Conquest of Tunis. Göbel notes that Simon de Parenty invested in oil cloth and canvas prior to shipping out the tapestries. 44 The mention of oil cloth is a reminder of the risk to tapestries of a sea journey; the water-repellent oil cloth would protect the fibers and would keep the silk from getting wet, preventing rot and mold. After Willem de Pannemaker’s workshop received the materials, the contract for the tapestries specified that seven weavers should devote all day exclusively to working on each of the twelve tapestries. 45 When the workshop completed the series on 21 April 1554, and three officials had inspected the work, the price to be paid for the weaving of the tapestries totaled 14,976 Flemish pounds, from which was deducted the 6637 Flemish pounds for the silk. In other words, the payment for continuous weaving by seven guild weavers for four years amounted to 8339 Flemish pounds, not a great deal more than the price for the dyed and spun silk from Granada, and less than the cost of the metal-wrapped threads. 46 These relative costs suggest a surprising fact about the production of monumental woven works: the materials of the tapestries outweighed their artful weaving in value. These expenditures also indicate why Charles V may have so carefully specified that the extraordinarily valuable silk should be procured from Granada. Göbel praised the silk from Granada as exquisite or luscious (köstlich), but also as particularly strong. 47 The use of Granada silk in tapestries was rare. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, German and Flemish records more commonly included silk that came from the region of Talish (in present-day Azerbaijan and Iran), Morea (southern Greece), Messina (Sicily), Naples, the environs of Venice, and Verona. 48 For Charles V, most practically, the silk could likely be purchased for a cheaper price if it came from within his realm, because the taxes on the silk went directly to his treasury. It is nearly impossible that the silk for The Conquest of Tunis tapestries was made without Morisco labor. More broadly, the materials benefited from centuries of expertise in sericulture, silk reeling, spinning, and dyeing that Granada’s Muslim 43 Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, II, p. 353. 44 Göbel, Wandteppiche, p. 30. 45 Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 329. 46 For the painting of the cartoons, by contrast, Vermeyen received 18,720 Flemish pounds. Buchanan, ‘The Conquest of Tunis,’ p. 326. 47 Göbel, Wandteppiche, p. 53. As evidence of its strength, Göbel mentions that Granada silk was later used by weavers as the thread to sew up the tiny slits left by the tapestry weave, and these stitches, which have undergone intense pressure from gravity and wear, have remained intact over the centuries (p. 53). 48 Göbel, Wandteppiche, pp. 53–54.



and Jewish populations had developed. Urban Morisco families controlled the dyeing industry, and continued to play a large part in the vast trade in Granada’s silk that was centered around the Alcaicería, Granada’s famous silk market. 49 Historical evidence for the role of Morisco dyers is both documentary and linguistic. Well into the sixteenth century, the name for the head of the dyeing industry in Granada continued to be al-ʾAmīn, the honorific Arabic word meaning ‘the secretary’ or ‘the trustworthy one.’50 Another demonstration of the continuity with a pre-Christian past among Morisco dyers is that, in 1567, when arguments were made against the banning of the Arabic language in Granada, one author wrote that it would be to the detriment of the everyday work of the silk dyers if they were forbidden from speaking Arabic.51 For the Conquest of Tunis series, the nineteen different colors of silk that were dyed in Granada’s dye vats add further geographic diversity to the tapestries. Among the 559 pounds of silk dyed in Granada, 131 pounds were in the family of red colors. This included twenty pounds of crimson (‘cramoisie’) in three different shades, 33 pounds of orange, and 34 pounds that were dyed red in six different shades. The silk was also dyed green (103 pounds), and blue (102 pounds), as well as dark and light yellow, gray (forty pounds in four shades), violet, ‘couleur de cheveux’ in six shades, and sixteen pounds of ‘couleur de bois’ in three shades. The order for silk also included other threads ‘twisted’ in assorted colors, including the gray-blue turquin, azure, green, orange, gray, and yellow.52 A late seventeenth-century German artisan’s recipe book for dyeing wool gives a rough approximation of the various hues that a skilled dyer could achieve, and the balance that dyers sought between cost-effectiveness and the beauty and vibrancy of the final colors (Fig. 5.4).53 While the list of colors for the Conquest of Tunis tapestries does not specify the derivation of the dye materials, it seems possible that the crimson dyes that colored Vermeyen’s robes in the map tapestry were made from cochineal (Dactylopius coccus). Derived from the crushed bodies of a scale insect that lives on the nopal cactus, cochineal has been cultivated in Central and South America for millennia.54 After the Spanish encountered it in the New World, European dye workshops rapidly 49 Harris, From Muslim to Christian Granada, p. 13. 50 López de Coca Castañer, ‘La Seda en el Reino de Granada,’ p. 40. 51 This was one of the arguments made by Francisco Núñez Muley in his 1567 memorandum opposing new laws made by the Spanish Royal Council that outlawed Granadan Moriscos from using Arabic surnames, speaking the Arabic language, wearing their customary clothing, celebrating marriages and playing traditional music, and maintaining bathhouses and hammams. López de Coca Castañer, ‘La Seda en el Reino de Granada,’ p. 40; A Memorandum. 52 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 9. 53 Leonhard and Brafman, ‘Dyeing Wool in Seventeenth-Century Germany,’ https://recipes.hypotheses. org/1726. 54 Melillo, ‘Global Entomologies,’ 19–22.

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Figure 5.4. Artisan’s recipe book for dyeing wool, 1680, with supplementary papers from 1653–1762, manuscript with fabric samples, leaf 21v. Photo: Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (910012)



switched over to using cochineal instead of the more costly red dye from the kermes insect (Kermes vermilio) which grew in the coastal regions of the Mediterranean.55 The Spanish held a monopoly on cochineal imports, and all shipments into Europe were received in Seville, making it possible that the dyestuff traveled quickly from Seville to Granada. Cochineal became Spain’s second largest import after silver from the colonies in the New World. By the end of the sixteenth century, 72 tons of cochineal were imported into Spain in one year.56 On the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ‘Gluttony’ tapestry from the Seven Deadly Sins series, which was likely woven in Brussels around the same time as the Conquest of Tunis between 1550 and 1560, a recent scientific analysis found evidence for the use of cochineal-dyed fibers in the pink saddle of Silenus’s donkey (Fig. 5.5).57 Earlier versions of the Seven Deadly Sins tapestries, whose provenance leads back to the Spanish Crown, were also woven by the workshop of Willem de Pannemaker. This suggests that cochineal-dyed threads existed in Brussels at the time of the Conquest of Tunis series and were used in the most elite tapestry commissions.58 The cochineal-dyed silk becomes a material embodiment of the emperor’s imperial reach, as do the silverwrapped threads, whose metal likely derived from Charles  V’s mines in the New World. What is more enigmatic is a note from the agent Louis Chaussart that 160 pounds of fine silk had been spoiled during the process of dyeing it blue, requiring him to purchase replacement silk.59 Houdoy writes, incredulously, that it seems difficult to believe that the renowned dyers of Granada had not yet established, at the late date of 1548, a set procedure to dye silk threads a dark blue.60 The ‘spoiling’ of 160 pounds of the blue silk was an extraordinarily costly mistake, comprising nearly one-third of the total volume of silk that was eventually delivered. The dyers working with the blue silk would have been a different set of artisans than those who dyed all of the other colors. Blue dyes required different processes than the cochineal or madder used for red and the logwood-based dyes used for black. A basic distinction existed in the period between vat dyers, who dyed in relatively cool temperatures with blue indigo and woad dyes, as opposed to the dyers who worked by ‘boiling’ their dye vats, which usually referred to red, black and 55 Phipps, Cochineal Red, p. 8. 56 Ibid., p. 27. 57 Carò, Chiostrini, Cleland and Shibayama, ‘Redeeming Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s Gluttony Tapestry,’ pp. 157–158. 58 This is surprising because tapestries in the sixteenth century more often used madder dye (Rubia tinctorum L.) for red colors, rather than the Old World kermes or the New World cochineal. Masschelein-Kleiner, ‘Dyeing Techniques of Tapestries in the Southern Netherlands During the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,’ p. 37. 59 Houdoy, Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 9; Horn, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, p. 356. 60 Houdoy Les Tapisseries Représentant la Conqueste du Royaulme de Thunes, p. 9.

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Figure 5.5. Unknown workshop in Brussels (designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst), Gluttony from the Seven Deadly Sins series, detail of Silenus’s donkey, c. 1550–1560, wool, silk and silver- and silver-gilt-wrapped threads, 388.6 × 678.2 cm. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Frederic R. Coudert Jr. in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh A. Murray, 1957 (57.62)

other colors that needed high temperatures.61 This suggests that the silk intended to be blue was likely entrusted to a different dye workshop than the other colors. The failure of the vat dyers is surprising for a number of reasons. First, dyers in Granada would have been well-acquainted with the process of dyeing silk blue. While indigo (Indigofera tinctoria L.) was not native to Spain, a related plant, woad (Isatis tinctoria L.) – known in Arabic as ‘garden indigo’ (nīl al-bustānī) – was widely known and grown.62 Second, as part of the trade networks that crisscrossed the Islamic world in the medieval and early modern periods, the dyers of Granada would have had long-standing access not only to the weaker woad blue, but also to the much richer indigo dyes, which merchants imported into Spain from Gaza, the Persian Gulf, India, and Baghdad – the source of the highest-quality indigo at that time.63 61 Masschelein-Kleiner, ‘Dyeing Techniques of Tapestries in the Southern Netherlands During the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,’ p. 30. 62 Constable, Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain, pp. 157–158. 63 Balfour-Paul, Indigo in the Arab World, p. 22; Constable, Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain, pp. 157–158.



Jenny Balfour-Paul notes that as early as 1252, dyers in Valencia had adopted the sophisticated soda dye-vat for concentrated indigo, suggesting a strong connection with the indigo-dyeing practices of Islamic lands.64 The date of 1548 rules out the possibility for a New World origin for the indigo. It was not until around 1560 that the Spanish found that indigo grew (and had long been used in dyeing) in Central America.65 At first, the indigo leaves were harvested from plants that grew in the wild.66 Later in the century, the Spanish seized land to create plantations along the Pacific coast in order to cultivate and process indigo on a larger scale. Although colonial officials struggled to find laborers for the intensive indigo production, indigo quickly became a significant part of the economy of Central America (particularly in what is present-day Guatemala).67 The Spanish began sending New World indigo to Europe and by 1600, it had become one of the major export crops from the Americas.68 The failed blue silk, whose cost could be estimated at over 1000 Flemish pounds, also points to the insecurity inherent in a production process that relied upon such a large number of artisans, and that spanned a wide geographic region. The relationship between patrons and dyers in particular involved a great deal of trust, and was thus a site of suspicion and intense regulation.69 Dyers were given costly textile fibers after they been spun, but while they were still in their uncolored state. Dyers and patrons recorded the volume of raw materials by weight. When silk threads are dyed, however, their weight changes. The boiling process strips off the gum that encases the silk filaments and the silk decreases in weight by up to 25 percent.70 In order to make up for the lost weight, and as part of the process of preparing the fibers for the introduction of dye colors, dyers historically soaked silk fibers in metallic salts. To dye fibers black, the most common mordant was an iron mordant. Next, dyers added tannins, which also added weight and fixed the iron. The regimen of metallic salts and tannins used for black dyes led to great weight fluctuations, and Spanish records from the sixteenth century included very precise limitations on the amount that the weight of silk could change after dyeing it black.71 The introduction of metallic salts also made the dyes unstable over time; the metals would oxidize, decreasing the strength of the fiber. For this reason, Thomas Campbell points out that Netherlandish tapestries from the sixteenth century utilize the more stable deep blue-colored fibers made with woad or indigo 64 Balfour-Paul, Indigo in the Arab World, p. 22. 65 MacLeod, Spanish Central America, p. 176. 66 Ibid., p. 178. 67 Nadri, The Political Economy of Indigo in India, pp. 138–139. 68 MacLeod, Spanish Central America, p. 178. 69 Molà, The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice, pp. 113–117. 70 Hacke, ‘Weighted Silk,’ 3–15; Lesser and Wallace, ‘Dyeing Silk with Logwood,’ 142. 71 Montemayor, ‘La Seda en Toledo en la Época Moderna,’ p. 123.

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in lieu of the corrosive black.72 Dyers in Antwerp, however, were known to dye silk before boiling it, which meant that the gum was not removed and the weight (and strength) of the silk increased. In the early seventeenth century, this practice was banned as ‘deceptive,’ although city governments had long accepted the practice.73 These instances of unlawfully added weight and the spoiling of color speak to the inextricability of contamination and coloration in early modern textile production. Even the licit process of dyeing silk black or gray required the addition of colorless metals that would add weight and eventually corrode the silk fibers. In other words, the textile medium had a unique vulnerability to ‘tainted’ materials. The word ‘taint’ originates in the Latin verb tingere, meaning ‘to dye,’ or ‘to tinge.’74 The tapestries of the Conquest of Tunis series were fantastically ‘tainted:’ they were dyed, meticulously, in nineteen different colors, each arrayed across three to seven different shades from light to dark. And these dyed materials were immensely heavy: the silk from Granada contributed nearly six hundred pounds to the heft of the tapestries as they were carried from Brussels, to London, to Madrid. The Conquest of Tunis tapestries are also replete with what Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn have described as the less visible, or even invisible, forms of hybridity that exist in the materials, production techniques, and trade histories of both non-European and European early modern objects. The intensive labor required for silk: to prune the mulberry trees that provided food for the silkworms, to cultivate the silkworms over the course of their lifespan, to disentangle and reel the silk threads from their cocoons, to spin the silk, degum it, and dye it, disappears beyond the archival evidence of its procuration. Invisible too are the hybrid identities of the silk industry’s Morisco artisans. Dean and Leibsohn argue that while objects with more overtly hybrid iconographies or styles proclaim the cultural admixture of their makers, ‘the discourse of hybridity, especially in art history, does not value the labor of art production as much as it values an object’s final appearance.’75 The result is a skewed focus on visible forms of hybridity, and an erasure of the diverse makers whose contributions are not readily apparent. As Byron Hamann has argued in the context of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, canonical works in the Spanish royal collections are infused with the materials – cochineal, pottery, and silver – that derived from colonial realms. A recognition of these materials and makers constitutes an inclusion of the typically anonymous farmers, miners, and artisans at the very center of the history of art.76 72 Tapestry in the Renaissance, p. 222. 73 Thijs, ‘Perceptions of Deceit and Innovation in the Antwerp Textile Industry,’ p. 136. 74 ‘taint, v.’ transitive. To colour, dye, tinge. Obsolete. [