Renaissance and Baroque Art: Selected Essays 9780226668864

Leo Steinberg was one of the most original art historians of the twentieth century, known for taking interpretive risks

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Renaissance and Baroque Art: Selected Essays

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R e na i ssa n c e a n d Ba ro qu e Art

Essays by L e o Ste inbe rg Edited by Sheila Schwartz

Renaissance and Baroque Art Sele c t e d E s s a y s

Leo Steinberg Edited by Sheila Schwartz

The Univ ersit y of C hicago Pr e s s   |  Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2020 by Sheila Schwartz All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2020 Printed in Italy 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20   1 2 3 4 5 isbn-­13: 978-­0-­226-­66872-­7 (cloth) isbn-­13: 978-­0-­226-­66886-­4 (e-­book) doi: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Steinberg, Leo, 1920–2011, author. | Schwartz, Sheila, editor. | Steinberg, Leo, 1920–2011. Essays. Selections. 2018. Title: Renaissance and baroque art : selected essays / Leo Steinberg ; edited by Sheila Schwartz. Description: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2020. | Series: Essays by Leo Steinberg | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: lccn 2019042778 | isbn 9780226668727 (cloth) | isbn 9780226668864 (ebook) Subjects: lcsh: Painting, Renaissance. | Painting, Renaissance—Italy. | Painting, Baroque—Italy. Classification: lcc nd170 .S84 2020 | ddc 759.03/0945—dc23 LC record available at ∞  This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-­1992 (Permanence of Paper).

Con t e n ts

Preface and Acknowledgments, Sheila Schwartz  vii

Introduction, Stephen J. Campbell  xi 1.

Words That Prevent Perception  1


Mantegna: Did He Paint by the Book?  34


“How Shall This Be?” Reflections on Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation in London  70

4. Mantegna’s Dead Christ: Passion and Pattern  87 5.

Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel  97

6. Pontormo’s Alessandro de’ Medici; or, I Only Have Eyes for You  114 7. Salviati’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist  122 8.

An El Greco Entombment Eyed Awry  125


Observations in the Cerasi Chapel  130

10. Guercino’s Saint Petronilla  144 11.

Steen’s Female Gaze and Other Ironies  162


Deciphering Velázquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs  180


The Water Carrier of Velázquez  186

14. Velázquez’s Pablo de Valladolid  189 15. Velázquez’s Las Meninas  195 16.

The Glorious Company  209 Notes  237 Leo Steinberg: Chronology  281 Leo Steinberg: Publications (1947–­2010)  285 Photography Credits  291 Index  293

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eo Steinberg greeted the turn of the millennium with a new venture in mind: the republication of about a dozen of his most important Old Master essays in a single volume, a companion to Other Criteria, his 1972 compendium on modern art. But, as he passed eighty, the burden of age began to weigh upon him and he opened files on unpublished matter, eager to work up what had not yet been scripted and engage in fresh writing tasks. In the two years before his death in 2011, however, another, larger project evolved: the posthumous publication of essays in all fields written during his sixty-­year career, along with some unpublished lectures.1 His hope was that I would bring off what he had neither the time nor the inclination to do. The present volume is the third in a planned series that will extend into modern and contemporary art. I leave to Stephen J. Campbell an explication de texte, addressing instead the biographical origins of Steinberg’s art-­historical method. Steinberg had a well-­earned reputation as a writer of fine prose, which won him both praise and blame from fellow art historians. He often recalled Walter Friedlaender’s judgment at a faculty conference during his graduate studies at the Institute of Fine Arts: “I don’t trust Leo Steinberg, he writes too well.”2 Anyone concerned with style could not be concerned with scholarship; if it doesn’t sound like art history, it isn’t. Steinberg’s dedication to English style was that of a foreigner who had to learn what native speakers took for granted. English was his fourth language, preceded by Russian, Hebrew, and German. He arrived in Lon-

don from Berlin in May 1933, not quite thirteen years old, fluent in German, able to mimic half a dozen dialects, but without a word of English. He quickly came to resent English as the “instrument of my impotence” and “humiliation.”3 At age seventeen, however, he decided that English would be his language and began to school himself in its literature—­Shakespeare, Milton, Thomas Browne, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne, Dickens. English, he soon realized, was as noble a language as German. He memorized Shakespeare sonnets, pages from Paradise Lost, and long prose passages from other favorite authors, “reciting them to myself in order to internalize the rhythms of English prose and verse.”4 A friend gave him a copy of Joyce’s Ulysses, which became his cicerone to English. “I had the naive notion that any word or turn of phrase in Ulysses that was unfamiliar to me was unfamiliar because I was a bloody foreigner, and of course any native English speaker would know words like ‘tholsel’ or ‘inkle.’ I would look every one of them up.”5 Late in life, he still knew pages of Ulysses by heart. This internalized vocabulary—­and syntax, styles, and structures—­of great English literature became a vast linguistic resource. And writing, he taught me in the more than four decades we worked together, was thinking. Ideas and narrative structures evolve and are refined—­or forsaken—­in the search for the most precise and expressive locution. Put into the service of art history, his prose illuminated the subject, revealing what a more pedestrian style would keep hidden. Richard Shiff put it well: “Leo’s writing has the freshness of speech, even though he fussed over choice of word,

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syntax, and meter, just as a painter might fuss over nuances of color and the rhythms of strokes, without detriment to the overall picture. His models included Shakespeare and Joyce, writers who took delight in sound without losing the deeper reaches of sense. . . . Such sonorous writing risks striking its reader as self-­ indulgent, too finely orchestrated, leaving the impression that the rhetoric is the message. . . . [But] his descriptive terms and analytical concepts bore an organic relationship to whichever art objects he brought under investigation. He set eye and mind to the immediate task, as opposed to administering a fixed vocabulary, a fashionable method, or a hierarchy of values.”6

cism, visual corrections of perceived flaws that serve to reveal the intentionality of the original. Comprehending an artwork extended beyond two-­ dimensional replication. Steinberg often said that he didn’t trust art historians who’d never drawn and never danced.9 He didn’t mean those who’d never waltzed, but rather those who never tried to translate looking into physical equivalencies, to animate static art with gestural simulations. He taught his students that mere looking was never enough. They had to hold the figure’s pose “till the strains of it become an inward intuition.” “At stake is the identity of an action, its feel and import. It has to be danced to be known.”10

The roots of Steinberg’s art history lie equally in his training as an artist. He enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art, London, age sixteen. At graduation four years later, a skilled draftsman with prizes in hand for drawing and sculpture, he “had the good sense to know” that a career as a professional artist was not for him.7 But he continued to draw from the model and sculpt portraits of friends. In 1948, looking for a way to support himself in New York, he got a job teaching life drawing at Parsons School of Design, adding art history lectures to his course load in 1951. He taught at Parsons through the 1950s, drawing along with the students, even while studying art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, writing contemporary exhibition reviews for Arts Magazine, and becoming renowned for his lectures at the 92nd Street Y and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Long after he was an established art historian, he would now and then join artist friends for drawing sessions with a live model.8 Steinberg brought his artist’s eye to the study of art history. To understand a painted composition, sculpted figure, or building, to follow the creator’s thought, he drew it, in whole and in part, over and again. He respected every inch of a work as the product of an artist’s decision. Nothing, even if unsuccessful, was accidental or casual. Thus too the alterations made to great works of art by copyists—­in this volume, for example, engraved copies of Guercino’s St. Petronilla: he saw these alterations not as incompetence, but as negative criti-

Drawing, writing, dancing painted and sculpted figures—­all this built the foundation for Steinberg’s art history. We see it in the indefatigable conjunction of form and content. Nearly everything Steinberg wrote includes passages of old-­fashioned formal analysis. “The very distinction of form and symbol, insofar as it suggests different things, appears as an imposition, a projection from habits of language.”11 Looking long and hard, reaching into his verbal storehouse, he describes what is seen—­and drawn and danced. But in Steinberg’s work, such description becomes the basis for interpretative erudition. However learned his footnotes or discussions of difficult theological and critical issues, these textual reinforcements always followed visual analysis. He went to the museum before he went to the library. The primacy of the visual is a credo of Steinberg’s thinking about art. He titled the series of six Norton Lectures he delivered at Harvard in 1995–­96 “The Mute Image and the Meddling Text,” pleading against what he elsewhere called the “tyranny of the written word.” His writings are punctuated with such statements as “let thinking take off from what comes in at the eye.” Or “the primary problem is simply our educated reluctance to take seeing seriously; for it is easier to read and rely on one’s reading than to keep vision alerted and trust appearances. Reading discursive prose we feel confident that the vehicles of signification are guaranteed, that meaning is promoted . . . by dint of words. . . . In parsing

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a painting one stoops to inferior orders of certainty, and it is understandable that folks who seek surety while looking at art reach for collateral reading.”12 Finally, at the end of The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, he explains one of the reasons why he risked hypothetical interpretations: “to remind the literate among us that there are moments, even in a wordy culture like ours, when images start from no preformed program to become primary texts. Treated as illustrations of what is already scripted, they withhold their secrets.” Peppering the critical objections to Steinberg’s art history is the accusation of overinterpretation, of claiming more than the artist could have intended. Let Steinberg again speak for himself: “A word needs to be said about the limits and license of interpretation. I am aware of the position that frowns on excessively free speculation at the expense of the masters. But there are, after all, two ways to inflict injustice on a great work of art: by over-­ interpreting it, or by under-­estimating its meaning. If unverifiable interpretations are rightly regarded as dangerous, there is as much danger of misrepresentation in restrictive assertions that feel safe only because they say little. . . . [T]he probity of resisting interpretation is not the virtue to which I aspired. . . . [N]othing would seem to me more foolhardy than to project upon [an artist’s] symbolic structures a personal preference for simplicity.”13

Notes to the Texts The chapters follow the works’ chronology of creation and incorporate notes and revisions Steinberg made in the years subsequent to each publication. In the case of lectures, I have added endnotes from material in his files. A word about these previously unpublished lectures, of which there are three in this volume. From the early 1950s on, Steinberg was a sought-­after lecturer in museums and institutions here and abroad. He used the occasion of a lecture to work out and test new ideas, in the expectation of eventually publishing them. Sometimes

he did manage to publish; but more often, his speaking schedule as well as teaching obligations kept important lecture material from reaching the printed page. Steinberg poured as much effort into lectures as he did into published books and essays, though such effort took time away from writing. But he felt a sense of responsibility to his listeners, a conviction that they deserved his very best. Even when a lecture was repeated over the years, he revised it for each venue, updating and improving it. Moreover, he treated the spoken word differently from the written: “I try to write the lecture not as publishable prose, but as speech to a living audience. It’s written the way a playwright might write dialogue, to sound spontaneous.”14 Small wonder that he usually played to packed houses. Lecture texts originally took the form of typed notes on small cards, with much ad-­ libbed. But around 1980, with his reputation as a lecturer secure, he began to write out his lectures in full, every word, every impromptu aside, with notations for emphasis and pace—­all so as not to disappoint the audience’s expectations, no less than to avoid the clichés born of improvisation.15 It is these lectures that he authorized me to include in the present series. The literature cited or discussed by Steinberg reflects what was relevant to him at the time of publication. If his postpublication notes contained comments on or references to later literature, they have been included. The attentive reader will observe that some literature which Steinberg must have known goes unmentioned. These omissions were intentional, for they often involved text-­based interpretations completely at odds with his image-­based principles. No point, he felt, in arguing apples and oranges. He would dismiss such literature in the spirit of Dante, guarda e passa.

Acknowledgments Ever since Steinberg published “Acknowledgments for a Book Not Yet Begun” (1980)—­“a mischievous satire” to divert those who have been “struck by a certain self-­ addressed puffery amidst the ostentation of thanks”—­ I’ve been aware of how easily the form can slip into


Preface a n d Ackn ow led gmen ts [x]

inadvertent parody, though the acknowledgments he wrote for his own books raise the prefatory convention to a literary level. No matter the challenge, these volumes would not have seen print without the pragmatic and affective support of those who follow. Steinberg’s dear friends Paula and Herbert Molner and Kate Ganz cheered me on as I made the transition from working with Leo to working without him. Olivia Powell, while a student at Columbia, was Steinberg’s last research assistant, always ready to lend an investigative hand and a genial presence. Her PhD completed, she then became my own indispensable researcher, whose quick trips to the library kept the production of these volumes on a steady course. Equally essential have been her responsive and intelligent comments on parts of this manuscript. Christine Smith, professor of architectural history at Harvard, and my good friend for decades, answered pesky questions on architectural affairs with patience and expertise. Another old friend, Charlotte Daudon-­ Lacaze in Paris, stepped in to help investigate illuminated manuscripts and arrange contacts in French museums. Renaissance man John Cunnally was Leo’s student and assistant at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s. A longtime professor at Iowa State University, he came through with insights into numismatic forgeries as well as difficult Greek and Latin translations. Alexander Nagel’s astute counsel informs several of these chapters. My meetings and email exchanges with Daniele Di Cola, whose PhD thesis for the Sapienza, University of Rome, concerned the foundations and intellectual context of Steinberg’s art history, have added immeasurably to these volumes.16 I was fortunate to have the aid of James Whitman

Toftness, assistant editor at the University of Chicago Press, whom I enlisted to oversee the messy business of securing images and permissions; Christine Schwab’s sharp eye ensured editorial consistency in a disparate volume. Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the press, arrived there in 1996, just as the revised edition of The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion was going into production. She saw the book to completion with patient skill and soon became Leo’s supportive confidante in the publishing world. It is with great pleasure that I put this project in her proficient hands. Others have made key contributions to this endeavor with timely responses to questions or with references, photos, and translations. I list them here in alphabetical order, but with unsequenced gratitude: Jonathan Bober, Keith Christiansen, Nelda Damiano, Jérémie Koering, Leatrice Mendelsohn, Otto Naumann, Margaret Poser, Jennifer Thompson, and Dale Tucker. My largest debt is to Prudence Crowther, a staunch and devoted friend to Leo in his last decade. She has been a constant companion in this publication venture, offering both encouragement and wise editorial feedback. But my debt to her began at Leo’s death. The job of closing his apartment was a melancholy one. His presence, and his absence, abided in every pile of papers, every book, in his scattered jars of pencil stubs and the dust layers on long-­abandoned projects. For fifteen months, Prudence worked closely with me in the excavation of a man’s life, helping to sort, organize, or recycle thousands of documents and sustaining me with sound advice, welcome humor, and shared emotions. It would have been an impossibly lonely job without her. Sheila Schwartz New Yor k, 2 019

In t rodu c t i on Stephen J. Campbell


eo Steinberg’s first Charles Eliot Norton Lecture, delivered at Harvard in October 1995, is published here for the first time as “Words That Prevent Perception.” The subject of images and “the words that fail them”—­the tendency of critics and historians to rely on texts and textual precepts over the visual intelligence of art itself—­had been a polemical thread in his previous work.1 Now, at a retrospective moment in a long career, he commences a series of talks on Mantegna, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Picasso, and Velázquez with an expansion of this favorite theme.2 The tone is characteristically playful and urbane, but there is clearly a lot at stake. Steinberg jokes about his false starts, his digressions, the intrusion of personal memories, as a spectrum of concerns clamor to be addressed. One is the language of proscription that censures works of art on moral or ideological grounds. After a brief and less than fulsome defense of an Art Deco sculpture by Allan Clark against allegations of racism and sexism, Steinberg switches to reminiscence: in Berlin in 1932, the twelve-­year-­old Leo receives the gift of an old book on Renaissance art from a Berlin Socialist bookseller (his parents can’t afford to buy it) who predicts that current political events will bring his trade to an end. Steinberg observes that another notable Berliner would write two years later of how the aura of works of art is stripped away in mechanical reproductions like art books; his twelve-­year-­old self, entranced by the monochrome illustrations in Richard Hamann’s The Early Renaissance of Italian Painting, begs to disagree.

Is the point of the anecdote—­which Steinberg worries might be “too sentimental”—­to offer a riposte to the theory cults of academia in the late twentieth century, in which the complex thought of Walter Benjamin and others has become a collection of ready-­made formulas that “prevent perception”? Or could it be that Benjamin is introduced to underscore the pathos and bare survival of intellectual life under the diasporas of the twentieth century? Both, I think. The several beginnings of the lecture suggest a number of Steinbergian personae trying to have their say. Steinberg’s personal anecdotes are supposed to connote a lightness of touch, to be (as he says) “upbeat”; not so the one he buried in the footnotes of the written text, in which young Leo, now thirteen, witnesses the Nazi book burning of 1933, while a crowd watches in silence: “no jubilation, such as the Nazi press reported, such as there is among the angels in Counter-­ Reformation pictures of the burning of heretical books” (p. 238, note 1). It is as if a lecture on the betrayal of art by high-­minded or myopic language wants to turn into one on the betrayal of memory by a liberal world order that has too easily forgotten its hard-­won intellectual freedoms; or as if the critic’s voice, urbane and erudite, wants to show itself as formed in memories of cultural near-­annihilation. But he can’t quite bring himself to go there; he’s supposed to be talking about something else. Still, Steinberg’s opening provocation, in which he parallels the ideological shaming of art by American pluralists and the instrumental abuse of culture by Goebbels, might seem cantankerous or naive now,

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twenty-­five years after those Norton Lectures. He could not have foreseen the way the forces of reaction would once again rally behind the monuments of “white” European culture, with militant indifference to the realities of history. Certainly the epistemic and political shifts in the 1990s intellectual worlds appeared to be proceeding in a different direction: the academy and the museum were seemingly consumed by self-­critique, their artistic canons and critical criteria redescribed in terms of unequal relations of power that organized class, gender, and race, even as authority still somehow attached to whiteness and maleness. For those of us in graduate school, it was an urgent and exhilarating time: art history was “in crisis,” but it was also newly vital, and in demand—­philosophers and literary theorists were paying attention. And it seemed clear that if there was a “New Art History,” Steinberg had already been practicing something like it for a long time. His “Philosophical Brothel” of 1972 seemed prescient of the art history of the 1980s and 1990s, and of Steinberg’s accounts of earlier art, of pictures that appear to see more than they show (p. 118). It was particularly inspiring that when Steinberg wrote about Michelangelo or Velázquez, he laid claim to similar interpretive maneuvers as he did when writing about Picasso or Rodin or Rauschenberg. Who else could claim to have published in October as well as the Burlington Magazine? Some of the essays in this volume suggest Steinberg repositioning in order to align with a new ethics of scholarly inquiry. The 1996 Norton Lecture reworking of an earlier (1981) article on Las Meninas (chapter 15) tells us of the author’s attempt to refocus on the role of the infant princess, no longer just concentrating on the more portentous matters of pictorial metafiction, the ontology of seeing and representing. He appropriates the “female gaze,” perhaps a touch facetiously, in a decidedly against-­the-­grain (but utterly convincing) foray into scholarship on seventeenth-­century Dutch painting in the 1990 essay on Jan Steen’s Drawing Lesson (chapter 11): sprezzatura prevails over the serious academic metalanguage of younger scholars committed to the critical analysis of gender. Above all, several essays here show Steinberg’s keen,

nondogmatic approach to the analysis of Baroque art. In the 1970s the prevailing discourse on “the Baroque” looked like the demonstration of a theory of history, of “the Classical” and its post-­Renaissance dissolution. As he had done in Other Criteria with Clement Greenberg’s formalist genealogy of modernist painting, Steinberg regarded such an account of early modern art as another teleology to be rejected. He was concerned instead with the metaphoric potential of pictorial structure, with post-­Renaissance art’s preoccupation with staging its own past, and above all with its ways of implicating the viewer. He approached Caravaggio’s Cerasi Chapel (chapter 9) as something akin to the kinds of late twentieth-­century art that  “questioned what sort of presence the viewer is” (p. 131). In his account of   “the observer’s ectopic viewpoint” in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (chapter 15), Steinberg took a stand against interpretations that curtailed the richness of the work by treating it as a literal record of a historic interior that could be reconstructed, or as the illustration of a literary text—­ accounts that murdered the metaphoricity of mirrors, doors, frames, and of perspective itself. The essay on Fra Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation (chapter 3) similarly departed from prevailing narratives about the modernizing implications of geometric perspective in Quattrocento painting, with a demonstration of how a perspectival metaphor of light was central to a startling pictorial self-­exegesis, as the painter sought a nonverbal means of figuring the quomodo (the “how?”) of the Virgin’s miraculous impregnation. In its recognition that perspective is to be understood in theological as well as merely technological terms, the 1987 essay strikingly anticipates a series of comparable interventions from French poststructuralist historians.3 Similarly, the entire artistic charge of Mantegna’s Dead Christ is shown to lie in the tension between the unsparing naturalism of the corpse, seen under a relentlessly objectifying perspectival logic, and the manipulation of the “rules” of perspective so as to manifest the wounds of Christ as the symbolic pentagram of devotional tradition, both visual and poetic (chapter 4). All that said, there are signs in these essays of a studied insouciance toward the succession of new turns in

In t rodu ction

the academic humanities, an inclination to nonalignment as regards “theory” and “method”: “most general principles leave me speechless,” he writes (p. 7), and he’s more than likely not just referring to Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History. In chapter 2, Michael Baxandall is taken to task for an influential passage in his Giotto and the Orators, in which Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ was interpreted as a realization of Alberti’s humanist pictorial theory, modeled in grammar and rhetoric: “It is art history voiding the artist’s work of its own richness, content, and meaning under the slogan, ‘All power to theory!’ ” (p. 60). Michel Foucault, whom Steinberg certainly read, gets two scant mentions in the Las Meninas essay (pp. 195, 201), one of them a reminiscence about an unacknowledged gift of The Order of Things from Annette Michelson. Among the complex of motivations for the opening Norton Lecture, especially the sense of deferred confrontation alluded to above, was the fact that Steinberg was about to reignite the controversy following from his 1983 book The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. In “Words That Prevent Perception,” some of Steinberg’s instances of the precedence of the eloquent image over the reductive text anticipate the rejoinders to his critics in the “Retrospect” section of the new edition that would appear the following year.4 As many readers will know, in his 1983 publication Steinberg had presented numerous pre-­Tridentine images of the infant Christ, as well as the adult Christ of the Passion, that drew attention to the humanized god’s male sex. Before the new repressive Catholicism of the Council of Trent doubled down on the ambiguities of Renaissance naturalism, such sexualized imaging of the body of Christ was not—­Steinberg argued—­seen as prurient or irreverent; it constituted a form of image-­ theology, a demonstration by entirely visual means of the human nature of Christ. Images took the lead here, without needing to draw on any preexisting theological pronouncement on Christ’s human genital nature. Such a claim for Christian art’s free amplification of dogma, and the responsibility it imparts to artists, clearly flew in the face of art-­historical received ideas about the rule-­

bound logocentrism and conformity of the premodern religious image. Many critics responded accordingly: Steinberg would take them to task in the 1996 edition of the book for trying to explain away blatant visual facts or missing his central point in their demands for textual evidence. Caroline Bynum’s 1986 critique had taken a different tack, and one that proceeds from an intellectual affinity often lost sight of in assessments of a dispute that became notorious.5 In her books Jesus as Mother (1982) and Holy Feast and Holy Fast (1987), the medieval historian had addressed the religious experiences of women and non-­elites, wherein women’s devotional practice created a feminized role model in Christ’s nutrifying incarnational and eucharistic body—­corporeal life, food and nurture, were gendered as feminine. Bynum challenged Steinberg’s unrelenting focus on the masculinity of Christ, arguing that medieval beholders conceived of Christ’s body, with its emanations of life-­giving blood, in terms of feminine nurture, not sexuality: sex was our modern obsession. The tensions in “Words That Prevent Perception” might be seen as a reflection of the fact that when the Norton Lectures were being delivered, the second edition of The Sexuality of Christ, with its counterattack “Ad Bynum,” was in press. The vehemence of Steinberg’s rejoinder can still unsettle: in particular he castigated Bynum’s artistic examples of Christ-­as-­female and Christ-­as-­food. He insisted that her textual bias led her to contravene visual evidence: “in her system, the manifest is returned to oblivion, and with no sense of loss, because what is being ousted is merely visual, and visual things come, like illegal immigrants, without papers . . . visual images, like women in sexist theology, are secondary and obliged to obey.”6 But the display of the infant Christ’s sex wasn’t quite “without papers.” Steinberg tacitly acknowledges this in his first Norton Lecture, with a brief discussion of the visions of the fourteenth-­century mystic St. Bridget of Sweden. Ten years after the first publication of The Sexuality of Christ, an article by Vida J. Hull pointed out that in Bridget’s vision of the Nativity, she quite explicitly sees the Virgin revealing the child’s “natural


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parts and male sex” to the shepherds, “for the angels had announced to them that the savior of the world had been born, and they had not said that it was a savioress.”7 The passage clearly vindicated Steinberg against critics who decried the lack of textual sources, who refused to accept that first witnesses of the Nativity could have been believed to have performed a “gender check.” But what did it do for Steinberg’s larger argument that the ostension of Christ’s genitals was an iconography independent of Christian literature? Did he sense that it made it vulnerable? In fact Bridget’s vision of the Nativity is cited in “Words That Prevent Perception”—­but again as support for the postulate that images have the potential to give rise to textual traditions, not merely reflect them. Bridget’s vision is strong on concrete particulars—­ among them a description of a transparent sheer tunic worn by the Virgin Mary. Steinberg suggests that such particularization could not depend on textual authority, which would have abhorred the idea of the Virgin thus attired, but that it proceeds instead from a tradition of Italian pictorial naturalism typified by Giotto and the Lorenzetti; Bridget was resident in Rome at the end of her life and could have seen any number of examples. Steinberg is obliquely addressing Hull, resisting the conventional art-­historical tendency to see a text as a cause rather than an effect of pictorial art: however, many features of Bridget’s vision do indeed find their way into later paintings of the Nativity. While Steinberg asserts that Bridget’s witnessing of the Virgin’s transparent tunic derived from painting, he surprisingly hesitates to include her “gender check” on the child. His comments on St. Bridget in The Sexuality of Christ the following year would be far more measured, far less adherent to a binarism about texts and images: “St. Bridget’s addendum to St. Luke’s Gospel . . . rationalizes an impulse that puts her at one with the artists of her generation, the yearning to see the Incarnate in full human nakedness.”8 Disciplinary fault lines are visible between Steinberg and Bynum, for instance in the use of the words medieval and Renaissance, and perhaps in a territorialism about who gets to interpret what (Bynum also accused

Steinberg of extrapolating from texts to motivate visual evidence, a charge he had leveled at her). And yet both are scholars of metaphor: Bynum explored how symbols became sensual and tangible; Steinberg wrote memorably on how Renaissance naturalism gave an embodied and sometimes literal form to an inheritance of metaphors, such as “Christ as Bridegroom.”9 Both explored an intermedial zone between words and images, which is to say, both recognize the fluid metaphoricity or picturing character of language, and the symbolic, nonliteral character of the visible, in art and experience. For both Steinberg and Bynum the instability of verbal and visual signs is generative, enabling creativity on the part of both religious mystics and artists. And yet the confrontation over The Sexuality of Christ had the effect of making Steinberg more polemically antitext than he needed to be. There is much in the chapters below (1, 2, 10, 16) about the limitations of language in historical writing on art. Steinberg is always persuasive in his upholding of the intelligence of the image, of the nonverbal rationality of painting and sculpture, but his own texts point to the fact that writers of the premodern era valued images precisely for this reason and sought to embed such intelligent pictorial multivalence in their writing. From Dante to Ariosto to Shakespeare and beyond, texts contain images—­mental images constructed in words, and often conveying the characteristics of pictorial images. If, as Steinberg states in the final essay presented here, “all art is infested by other art,” it is equally the case—­to follow the very reasoning that he pursues in The Sexuality of Christ—­that literature is also infested with art (as well as with other literature). The very idea of literary language was grasped and understood by seeing the poetic text as a pictorial construct: Petrarch wrote to Boccaccio about the relation of a literary imitation to its model by evoking the language of painters; both of them conceived of literary art as the “weaving” of a “veil” of fiction. By making his discussion about language rather than about poetics, or about the intermedial dimensions of word and image, it was as if Steinberg knew that there was a bigger issue to tackle, one that his own writing

In t rodu ction

had constantly signaled: a long-­deferred debate about meaning in past art, stifled by the fashionable dismissal of  “iconography.” At stake was how to address the nonautonomous cultural dimensions of meaning in art—­ not just meanings or “programs” reconstructed from literary or theological texts. And yet in the hands of some thoughtful scholars, there was a sense that the field of art history is nothing if not through-­and-­through iconological, and that literary scholarship might be as well.10 Steinberg steered away from the terms iconography and iconology: his acute sensitivity to questions of formal organization and artistic decision-­making—­honed by his experience as a critic of contemporary art and in his graduate training in Italian Baroque architecture—­is obviously untypical of a mode of scholarship associated with the library and the photo archive. Yet Steinberg is arguably one of the greatest iconologists the field has ever seen—­certainly among the boldest and most creative. While his texts repeatedly state that art possesses a semantic richness that goes where texts cannot, they constantly show us how artistic invention might be a poetic exegesis of texts; thus he can draw out the literary qualities of Velázquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs (chapter 12) without positing any one text as the image’s “source.” And looking at the copious illustrations that accompany any text by Steinberg, which might include not only artistic comparanda but cartoons and news photos, we might be reminded of Panofsky’s quip, “the one with the most [photographs] wins.”11 In his excavations of motifs, of figures and gestures, and their migration through time and across media, it is hard not to think of the “visual atlas” collages of Aby Warburg, the originator of the terms iconography and iconology. Warburg was a near-­forgotten figure in the 1970s and 1980s; Steinberg’s one fleeting reference to him in chapter 16 is not to his writing or to his late unconventional practice of art history, but to Ernst Gombrich’s biography (p. 235 and note 32). However, earlier in the same essay he refers to the risks of  “mythifying our subject; as when (following German usage) we speak of ‘migrating motifs’—­Wanderungen eines Motivs—­as if the motif itself had the wanderlust and the itch to remove

from one work to another.” Art maybe infested by other art, he writes, but at the same time, motifs do not proceed “with the momentum of a virulent plague” (pp. 211, 213). Consciously or not, Steinberg is demarcating his enterprise from that of Warburg, a half-­forgotten spokesman for the unconscious in art; he was skeptical of psychoanalytic interpretation for the same reason: “That impulses from the depths of the psyche feed into works of art is not in doubt; they probably affect most human actions. But artists, if they are any good, preside over their work with eyes open.”12 “The Glorious Company” (chapter 16) is a methodological reflection on the inadequacy of words like influence, borrowing, imitation, and quotation in art-­historical analyses. The essay appeared in Art about Art, the catalogue for a 1978 Whitney Museum exhibition of what would come to be called Appropriation Art. Appropriation, a term that has acquired significant currency and political motivation in the years since, comes closest to what Steinberg outlines in his investigation of how art contains or transmits the past. It is not because an artist like Rembrandt needs the crutch of a print after Heemskerck, nor is it because artists are passively manifesting a cultural symptom. Instead of stating that citation is fully an act of will, however, Steinberg here gives it an odd sociobiological cast: “Between their experience of nature and their experience of other art [artists] allow no functional difference. Foraging where they live—­that is to say, among precedents—­they exploit their environment and, like all living organisms, avail themselves” (p. 213). Artists might not be universal geniuses, but here they start to look like another biological species. Another key reminder of Warburg is in Steinberg’s recurrent attention not just to the migrating capacity of the human figure in art but to its affective dynamics. His address to motion and gesture is one of his key interpretive maneuvers, as in his extraordinary description of Mantegna’s A Sibyl and a Prophet (pp. 22–25), or of the fainting Virgin in Daniele da Volterra’s Deposition as convulsed by “perpetual parturition” (p. 216). It is crucial to his perennial theme of the specific energy or force of images in their own nontextual domain


In troduc tion [xvi]

(although here again he supplies a gloss from Rupert of Deutz). Depicted motion in art offers a challenge to descriptive language, and an acute paraphrase of the kind that Steinberg typically offers tends to disclose paradox or ambiguity—­what, precisely, is the “before” and “after” of this depicted motion? There is a repeated preoccupation with the gravity of bodies being raised or lowered, in works by Mantegna, Pontormo, Caravaggio, and Guercino. For Steinberg, this is not—­as Lessing might say—­an instance of the limitations of visual art, but a willed and productive ambiguity. When an artist like Pontormo, as discussed in chapter 5, reflects with his mind and hand on a routine iconographic motif—­ Christ lowered into the tomb—­he addresses a full array of possibilities, including some not sanctioned by the text but licensed by his own sense of being a Christian and a poetic interpreter. What if the bearers of the body are themselves angelic, aerial bodies? Why should the motion downward not also signify a motion upward, a prolepsis of the Trinity reunified in the vault above? This is a dimension that John Shearman failed to grasp in his rebuke to Steinberg’s reading as “an insult to Pontormo’s intelligence and sense of de-

corum.”13 One can imagine what Steinberg might say in response: that a Christ of the Entombment should prefigure a Christ of the Ascension is entirely within the logical possibility of Christian poetry in the ambit of Michelangelo (who looked to Dante as a forerunner in poetic exegesis and invention); it should be no more controversial than the observation that the sleeping Christ Child on the Virgin’s lap prefigures the dead Christ of the Pietà. Rather than taking his insights and provocations as a starting point for conversation and debate, premodernist art history seems to have quarantined the very question of iconology: too bookish, too addressed to fine art rather than visual culture, markets, and materiality. Perhaps that’s a reason why Steinberg kept “the field” at arm’s length as well. “Fields” like ours are self-­disciplining communities, regulated by tactful aversion to troublemakers and the avoidance of confrontation. Maybe now that these essays are part of the twentieth-century-past–­ness of the discipline, we can open ourselves—­perhaps for the first time—­to the questions that they raise.



ithin the strains of sonnet 66, Shakespeare managed to cram into eleven lines all that he abhorred, such as gilden honor shamefully misplaced, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . And strength by limping sway disabled, And art made tongue-­tied by authority.

To get this lecture series going, I’ll start with art made odious by posterity. As we distance ourselves from the elitist aestheticism of the recent past, art formerly cherished comes to be seen as shamefully ideological—­ racist, sexist, imperialist, and Eurocentric, reeking of prejudice, of ugly politics or misguided religion. In living memory, it was preeminently the Nazis who took all art to be either on their side or pestiferous; and they were forerunners. When, in 1933, Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, ordered all non-­Aryan musicians purged from German orchestras, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler pled the autonomy of art as a realm apart from politics. Goebbels corrected him in a letter that laid down the winning position: that art either serves the cause or serves the enemy, its supposed autonomy being mere delusion.1 This, it seems to me, is the legacy now spreading around, so that, potentially, any work of art may become somebody’s enemy—­and incur the appropriate treatment. I am not speaking of outright destruction: that noble Renaissance bridge at Mostas in Bosnia, because it was designed by a Turk, must be studiously blown to bits. Or a sixteenth-­century mosque in Kashmir; or

Words That Prevent Perception

the Buddhas of Bamiyan retroactively execrated as paganry by a supervening religion; or Rembrandt’s Night Watch in Amsterdam, defaced by a throw of acid; or, in the mid-­1960s, the merciless dumping of nineteenth-­ century statues in the Jardin des Tuileries to make room for Maillols.2 The list of destruction, or of destructive neglect, is long and ever lengthening. But what I have in mind is the corollary of physical annihilation in current revisionist criticism, where works of art, newly endowed with adversarial status, are chastised on moral grounds. You see it in the fresh-­ faced hostility of young art historians who disdain the painting of long-­dead European males for usurping too much past attention; and find ways to disdain works by Picasso, Degas, and Rubens as inexcusably sexist. Consider an American sculpture of 1927—­ a 20-­inch-­high mahogany carving by Allan Clark—­ unfortunately titled The King’s Temptress (fig. 1.1). In 1994, it was offered for acquisition to the Fogg and was rejected on account of the “racial and gender biases inherent in the title and form of the work”—­its patent association with “Euro-­American colonialism in Southeast Asia” and the tang of prurience in “its depiction of The first of Steinberg’s Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, delivered October 11, 1995, the series titled “The Mute Image and the Meddling Text.” Steinberg gave revised versions of the lecture through 2008 using the Norton material but also replacing some of it with other examples of words that interfered with seeing. The structure of the text here remains that of the Norton Lecture but includes revisions following Steinberg’s handwritten edits on the typescript or redactions in subsequent versions. See the unnumbered note to chapter 1 on p. 238 for further details of this and the other Norton Lectures.

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Asian women as exotic and sexually available” to Western audiences.3 Now I can think of several reasons for not wanting to own or exhibit this piece. Some might spurn it as kitsch. In the age of Brancusi and Paul Manship, young Allan Clark sides with Manship. But is his piece guilty as charged? Clark had lived for three years (1924–­27) in the Far East and Southeast Asia, studying the art he saw and learning new techniques; in 1925, he joined a Harvard-­sponsored archaeological expedition in western China, on which he unofficially served as its artist.4 He evidently admired works such as the eleventh-­century Nepalese goddess Umā now being offered in reproduction by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for just under $300, excluding tax (fig. 1.2).5 In The King’s Temptress, Allan Clark was, I think, hoping to celebrate an alternative canon of feminine beauty—­with fuller lips, higher cheekbones, and the

lure of irresistible eyes—­and doing it within the compass of Art Deco chic. And I suspect that the curator who rejected the work with civilized indignation may have diverted an old-­fashioned aesthetic turnoff to the more justifiable, more readily shared repudiation of loathed Orientalism. Like subject matter, style itself may arouse political passions and become ideologically divisive, if you enlist the appropriate associations to bear down on the work. Here’s how you might do it. Take a familiar stylistic comparison—­a Classic Greek torso and the torso of Michelangelo’s David (figs. 1.3, 1.4). In the antique sculpture, every limb, every muscular unit sets itself off from the next; it stops to let the other begin, as at the junction of upper and lower arm, or where the torso secedes at the hip. Throughout the body, articulation defines discrete parts, respecting their separate juris-

Figure 1.2. Reproduction of the Goddess Umā. Metropolitan Museum of Art gifts catalogue, 1995.

Figure 1.1. Allan Clark, The King’s Temptress, 1927. Art market.

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

dictions. In the Michelangelo, an irrepressible energy imbues the whole, overrunning the classic divisions. You might say that the ancient Athenian conceives the body as a federated system, whereas the Renaissance sculpture suggests a centralized state. Now this may or may not be an illuminating analogy, but innocent it is not: it activates fierce political loyalties. Because, don’t we know about the evils of the centralized state? So, if you’re a responsible voter, dedicated to getting big government off our backs, you will of course side with the sculpture analogized to a federation and scorn David’s torso as politically incorrect. And that’s how, with a little deft rhetoric, works of art may be, and are being, demonized.6 And so I gaze ruefully at the quaint issues this lecture series intends to raise—­issues that long predate our age of flourishing animosity or irrationalism leagued with technology. I’ll be pondering the relation of literary sources—­texts penned with a goose quill—­to images that are noiseless and motionless, as if moving pictures and talkies and cyber thrills had not been invented. And I’ll ponder the lopsided partnership of textual authority and mute icon, bemoaning the latter’s subordination by folks who routinely prioritize literature. Lessing in the 1760s railed against writers who declared the Laocoön group in the Vatican to be a faithful illustration of a passage in Virgil.7 As they ranked letterpress above marble, they barely looked at the sculpture. And that’s my kind of problem. So I proceed as if questions touching the relation of text to image in the high art of the West really mattered. Begin with my first text-­image experience. I was twelve, living with my Russian-­émigré family in Berlin, having escaped from Communist Moscow in the winter of 1923. My parents were Socialists, and one day in December 1932 they took me along to visit a Socialist bookshop whose manager my father wanted to speak

Figure 1.3. (top) Doryphoros, detail. Roman copy of Polykleitos’s original. Minneapolis Museum of Art. Figure 1.4. (bottom) Michelangelo, David, 1501–­4, detail. Florence,

Galleria dell’Accademia.

to. While they talked, I browsed along the shelves and soon pulled down one of the few books there that had nothing to do with politics: Die Früh-­Renaissance der italienischen Malerei, Jena 1909, fifty pages of text


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by Richard Hamann which didn’t interest me at all, but two hundred full-­page gray-­and-­white reproductions of paintings by artists with melodious names like Pollaiuolo. I was instantly gripped by these pictures and couldn’t stop looking, from that day to this. And when, after too short an hour, I was told it was time to leave, I would not reshelve the book, but brought it up to my mother and asked timidly (for I knew we had little money)—­ could we buy it? But mother glanced at the price, and looked quickly away; and all those images to vanish forever. And then a miracle happened: the bookseller turned to my father and said, “Look, any day now Hitler will be coming to power [as indeed Hitler did five weeks later], and the first thing the Nazis will do is close this shop. So why don’t you just take the book for your boy.” I have the book still. Three years after this incident, another Berliner—­a grown-­up called Walter Benjamin—­published an essay that has since become famous, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” wherein it is argued that our growing distance from original works of art deprives these works of their native aura. But I consult the twelve-­year-­old in me and conclude that the aura of an art work is born in enchantment and nourished by reverence. While originals continually forfeit it, the dreariest reproduction may revive the aura of art in interaction with sensibility, communal or individual, adult or child. I had hoped that an opening about a young boy’s experience might seem upbeat. But it’s probably too sentimental for a lecture series like this. What the occasion requires is surely something more scholarly and less personal. So I considered this third opening to get me nearer the general theme of the series: why not unpack a few samples from a collection I am assembling of things written under the spell of images, but unawares, and without our acknowledging it even now. For we routinely assume that the worded statement came first, pictures following. This is certainly how early Christianity justified the very practice of image making—­as

instruction for the unlettered. And this may be why we find it so hard to concede that the current may at times run the other way. But St. Augustine suspected that images could insidiously influence thinking. In his Harmony of the Gospels, he attacks certain misguided Christians who mistook Christ for a sorcerer and claimed that Christ himself wrote how-­to books on the practice of magic, and that these manuals were addressed, in Christ’s hand, to Sts. Peter and Paul, even though, as Augustine points out, Jesus and Paul never met. Augustine speculates how such nonsense might have arisen. Peter and Paul occurred to them, I believe, just because in many places they chanced to see those two Apostles represented in pictures in company with Christ. For Rome, in a specially honorable and solemn manner, commends the merits of Peter and of Paul. . . . Thus to fall most completely into error was the due desert of men who sought for Christ and His apostles not in the holy writings, but on painted walls. It is not to be wondered at, that they were misled by the painters.8

I doubt that the notion of Jesus as magician derived in any way from Early Christian images of Christ flanked by Peter and Paul. Such images could at most have led some naive literalist to think that Jesus and the two Apostles had at one time been seen together. But Augustine has no use for art, except as a scapegoat. Elsewhere, he himself seems to succumb to its creeping influence, as in his answer to the question, “why do men have nipples? ” They do seem superfluous, but God would not have designed anything without purpose, the purpose here being aesthetic. “Question their use, there isn’t any; question the look of them, a chest with nipples suits men too. Take away the nipples from the manly breast, and see how much beauty you have spoiled, how much ugliness you introduced.”9 Now I am convinced, though the matter seems beyond proof, that Augustine’s answer was inspired by the pagan bronze statues he would have seen all around—­in North Africa as in Rome and Milan. Few such bronzes survive since most,

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

losing their aura, were sooner or later melted down for the metal. But those nude male statues usually had the nipples inlaid in reddish copper, neat ornamental disks interpretable as decorative accents (fig. 1.5). So when Augustine came to question the use of male nipples, he found his answer ready made, not in biology but in art. My second example—­to restore gender balance—­ comes from St. Bridget (1303–­1373). In her famous vision of the Nativity—­received, as the Virgin had promised, during Bridget’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 1372—­Mary appears “dressed in a white mantle and sheer tunic, through which from the outside I clearly perceived her virginal flesh.”10 This is most strange—­the Virgin in see-­through clothing! Ever since late antiquity, transparent dress had been denounced as wicked and wanton—­fit only for pagan figments such as the Three Graces.11 In view of such odium, this detail of Bridget’s vision should cause astonishment.12 But only if you have missed being astonished by the white shimmer of breasts under sheer tunics in Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna or by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s personification

of Peace. Earlier Christians would have thought such works scandalous. But St. Bridget had looked open eyed at the modern art of her day, and that’s what licensed her vision of the Nativity.13 I turn next to the German thirteenth-­century mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg (d. 1280). Mechthild declares that the bodies of our first parents had not at first been disfigured by genitals: Their bodies were to be pure, For God created for them no members of shame, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They were to get children in holy loves, As the sun in play shines upon water leaving the water unbreached. But when they ate the forbidden food, they were ignominiously altered in body, As we experience it even now.14

What made Mechthild so sure—­against the explicit assurance of both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aqui-

Figure 1.5. Bronze warrior found at Riace, c. 460–4­50 BC. Reggio Calabria, Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia.


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nas, who insist that genitalia are nature and were there from the beginning? Could it be that Mechthild had been looking at art, e.g., at images of Christ’s baptism? (fig. 1.6). She was a woman of education, and her early acquaintance with courtly culture would have included some experience of pictures. Though she may not have seen didactic juxtapositions of Adam before and after disfigurement (fig. 1.7), the appearance of Adam’s original sexlessness—­like that of Christ in medieval images—­was part of her field of vision. And she evidently accepted the ad oculum argument of such images as more compelling than the reasoning of her contemporary Thomas Aquinas.15 One last example: an anonymous, late fourteenth-­ century English poem has “The Christ Child Shiver-

Figure 1.6. Baptism of Christ, 13th century. Verona, San Zeno Maggiore.

Figure 1.7. Reliquary of St. Isidore, Creation of Adam (top) and Temptation of Adam (bottom), c. 1063 or earlier. León, Real Colegiata de San Isidoro.

ing with Cold” and the Virgin apologizing to her babe, saying, “Sweet Jesu, be not wroth, I have neither clout nor cloth to fold thee in.” Now this idea that Mary had nothing to wrap the newborn child in is very curious. In St. Luke’s gospel the shepherds are told by the angel that they would know the child upon finding it laid in a manger in swaddling clothes. So where the gospel had the child normally swaddled; where a Carolingian legend had St. Joseph provide makeshift swaddling by cutting his leggings up into strips; where St. Bernard in the twelfth century had the child wrapped only in wretched rags, and a thirteenth-­century tradition only in Mary’s veil, while St. Bridget says she saw Mary prepare a complete layette—­there our late fourteenth-­ century poet deprives the infant of even a stitch; n ­ ot so

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

much as a clout or cloth has his mother. What made the poet so absolute?16 I surmise that the poet was reacting to contemporaneous images—­perhaps Bohemian ones that were then coming to England with Anne of Bohemia, wife of Richard II—­images wherein, unaccountably, the Christ Child appears totally naked (fig. 1.8).17 The Virgin’s insouciance in permitting such nakedness in depth of winter—­against the express witness of Scripture and legend—­this was a problem that required an answer; and the poet responded by invoking holy poverty to acquit the Virgin of negligence. The text does not explain the pictures, for the pictures came first. They shocked, then inspired. The suggestion that images may have influenced some medieval and later writers is hardly new. But the acknowledgments are usually made in passing, and with diffidence as running against the norm. Most art historians carry a protective valve in their minds to ensure one-­way flow. They would not object if someone argued that modern thinking may be influenced by the imagery of advertising, TV, and film. But in history, which nestles chiefly in archives and libraries, we prefer to see the sequence run from prior texts to come-­lately pictures. Let this sampling do for the present. It was only intended as an alternative introduction—­my third attempt—­to today’s lecture. Unfortunately, as an introduction, it’s too scattershot. What this lecture series requires is surely something more methodical—­and a whiff, at least, of general principles. But since most general principles leave me speechless, I’ll make the approach by way of specific problems and images. First, why is it that period texts about Renaissance art seem so inadequate to their subject? I don’t blame this inadequacy on the writers who, excepting Alberti, seem to me entirely innocent.18 I’m more inclined to blame Renaissance artists for moving too far beyond the range of what critical language at the time could conceptualize. Within modern scholarship, this matter has some topical urgency, because many well-­bred art historians insist that a sound understanding of Renaissance art must be grounded on period texts, or else be


Figure 1.8. Nativity, c. 1355, Liber Viaticus of Johann of Neumarkt, fol. 83v. Prague, National Museum Library, Ms. XIII A 12.

capricious. Our task, says Charles Hope of the Warburg Institute, London, is to “understand what the art of the Renaissance meant to people at the time by reading what they said about paintings.”19 This sounds admirably methodological and might indeed be the slogan of many a graduate school. But I say, God forbid that we should let ourselves be so impoverished. What people at the time said about art is minimal, minimally recorded, and mostly banal. One wonders why any modern historians of art would find such pauperizing restrictions appealing. Do they regard period texts as hard evidence, comparable to the data scientists get from experiments? What Renaissance people said about the art of their day informs us about their degree of involvement, their attention span, the concepts at their disposal, and their vocabulary—­slim pickings. Who in those days talked about art, and who took their gossip to be worth recording? We have a Florentine shopkeeper’s diary for the golden years 1450–­1516, and it’s fun reading; as when he tells of a poor widow who was praying to a crucifix in her house, when suddenly she saw it break into sweat.

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Within days it was removed to a church and there publicly worshiped. This diarist, Luca Landucci, begins by listing the “noble and valiant men” who were living in Florence at the time he began writing in the 1450s. He names fourteen, beginning with the Archbishop Antoninus and ending with two masters who taught bookkeeping. Astonishingly, seven of those fourteen valiant Florentines are artists. But he says little about them. Of Domenico Veneziano, for example, only that he “appeared on the scene,” i.e., in Florence.20 And Domenico’s younger friend, Andrea del Castagno, merely gets named. The first comment on Castagno as a painter—­in fact, the only such comment to reach us from Castagno’s own century—­comes from the humanist Cristoforo Landino, writing in 1481, more than two decades after Castagno’s early death in 1457. And what does Landino tell? Castagno, he writes, “was a great draftsman and great in giving relief to his figures. He loved the difficulties of art and of foreshortenings, and was lively and alert and quick in execution.”21 That’s it. Now, if we follow Prof. Hope’s counsel, seeking to understand what Castagno’s art “meant to people at the time by reading what they said about paintings,” we learn first that they admired Castagno’s facility as a great draftsman—­but Landino had made exactly that point about Masaccio and Filippo Lippi. Next we are told that he “loved the difficulties of art.” Landino does not say what “difficulties” he has in mind. I could name some, like Castagno’s lighting the sleeping guard’s face from below while the risen Christ is lit from above in the Sant’ Apollonia Resurrection. But Renaissance humanists, being scholars of literature, would have thought such effects too mechanical, too unlike what you find in narrative poems, which rarely tell from what angle someone is lit. Imagine in an epic poem, “Then uprose Agamemnon, lit from below.” So why stoop to cite painterly practices that only widen the gap between painting and poetry? With one exception. Everybody was fascinated by the mystique of foreshortening, and here Castagno had pioneered. Early on, he foreshortened the ox of St. Luke in his fresco for the San Tarasio Chapel in San Zaccaria, Venice (1442). In his last decade, in a Death of the

Virgin now lost, he foreshortened the Virgin’s body. And so our Landino, writing in 1481, duly records that Castagno loved foreshortenings—­a comment repeated for the next hundred years whenever Castagno’s art was remembered.22 But isn’t it just as evident that he foreshortened selectively? In his fresco of St. Jerome’s vision of the Trinity (fig. 1.9), the Trinity is drastically foreshortened, but in the rest of the fresco, only Jerome’s nose and left forearm are foreshortened, and no foreshortening at all in the flanking figures. So why pick on the Trinity? Why diminish precisely the most sacred person? Among the most famous early exercises in foreshortening is the dead soldier in the London panel of the Battle of San Romano by Castagno’s contemporary Paolo Uccello. But it’s part of the message that he’s dead: such a fore-­ or backshortened figure in early Renaissance art, being diminished, deprived of its normal extension, was felt to have lost the dignity of commanding presence; it was considered appropriate to animals, or to those overcome and disabled. And that’s what makes Castagno’s foreshortening in his Vision of St. Jerome so extraordinary. In the mid-­1450s, three decades before Mantegna’s Cristo morto, Castagno invents the foreshortened Christ, and the impact of that invention proved irresistible. What made him do it? Was it, as Landino says, because he loved scorci, foreshortenings? So that, carried away by his love of difficulty, he inflicted a scorcio inappropriately upon the most sacred?23 Ask the question and you find that neither Landino—­nor Vasari in the following century—­is interested. After mentioning the “dry and wasted figure” of St. Jerome, Vasari writes, “and above him he painted a Trinity with a crucifix which is foreshortened.” It’s as if he were merely identifying the work for the kind of tourist who says, “Oh, look, there’s the one with the foreshortened crucifix.” To answer the question, we must try to rethink Castagno’s subject, the event he set out to depict over the altar of a family chapel in the great Florentine church of the Santissima Annunziata.24 At the time he received the commission from the chapel’s new owner, one Girolamo Corboli, the popularity of St. Jerome, the Church Father who lived more than a thousand

Figure 1.9. Andrea del

Castagno, Vision of St. Jerome, 1453. Florence, Santissima Annunziata.

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years earlier, was at its height. Best known were Jerome’s letters describing his hermit’s life in the Syrian desert, especially those addressed to an aristocratic mother and daughter who later joined him in Bethlehem to become the founders of Christian female monasticism. They are the women flanking Jerome in Castagno’s fresco, the elder St. Paula at right, and the young St. Eustochium.25 Also included is the lion who emerges in later Hieronymite legend. This lion had limped up to Jerome with a thorn in its paw; the good man removed it and healed the wound, whereupon the grateful beast became Jerome’s inseparable companion and a vegetarian for life. Outstanding among Jerome’s preserved letters was the famous Epistle 22, written to the young Eustochium. It describes the persistence of sexual craving even during Jerome’s penitential retreat, wherein his self-­punishment leads at last to felicity. I subdued my rebellious flesh with weeks of fasting . . . and I beat my breast without stopping. . . . Filled with stiff anger against myself, I went out into the desert alone. Wherever I found a . . . rough mountainside . . . I made it my place of prayer and of torture for my unhappy flesh. The Lord himself is my witness, after many tears, I fixed my eyes on Heaven and seemed to find myself among the angelic hosts. Then, full of happiness, I would sing out.26

Sometime around 1400 an anonymous author, writing in bad Latin and claiming to draw only on Jerome’s authentic writings, “followed the rules of legendary elaboration” in a Regula monacharum, a rule for nuns in the form of a letter to Eustochium. Whereas Jerome had written that “he seemed to find himself among the angelic hosts,” the faker has Jerome say [Although] I am still imprisoned in a body, I have often been among the angelic choirs; for weeks at a time, feeling no corporeal sensation, I have seen with the sight of divine vision. . . . How faultless was my happiness there! How unspeakable my delight! My witness is the Trinity itself, which I saw, I know not with what kind of sight.27

So where the historical Jerome, in his transports, seemed to find himself among the angelic hosts, the medieval imposter has Jerome actually seeing the Trinity. It was not until 1516 that the forgery was exposed by Erasmus in his critical nine-­volume edition of Jerome’s authentic writings.28 But there must have been skeptics long before. Although there are thousands of penitent St. Jerome images, along with scenes from his life and legend, apart from Castagno, the subject of Jerome actually seeing the Trinity does not turn up.29 To understand why Castagno foreshortened the Trinity, we have to abandon period texts and seek an explanation more responsive to the actual picture.30 What we see is that the foreshortened Trinity at the top of this frescoed altarpiece occurs as the vision of St. Jerome and of his two women disciples.31 What if Castagno had depicted the Trinity in standard fashion, that is, straight up, in presentation to us, as Masaccio had done? What then would Jerome and his companions have seen?—­the Holy Persons feet foremost, foreshortened, the rest crushed out of sight. Would this have properly represented their vision? Castagno has chosen instead to depict for us what they see, the sight they receive—­as if they were looking up at a helicopter hovering close overhead—­a Trinity which to them appears unforeshortened. And they behold only the Christ; and this Christ’s bleeding chest and head loom within touching distance above Jerome’s eyes—­face-­to-­face. What we get is literally his and his companions’ vision, ourselves inconveniently seeing only that the vision is being seen; while the eyes of God the Father at the summit see all. But is it the Trinity Jerome is seeing? As Castagno foreshortens it, the familiar form of the Throne of Grace is so skewed that two of the three divine persons remain—­for the viewers below—­out of sight. If you take this staging as seriously as I think Castagno did, it turns out that neither God the Father nor the dove (hidden by the disk of Christ’s halo) could be actually seen by Jerome, or by the women. Just as the lion’s vision is blocked by the bloodied stone in Jerome’s hand, so the crucifix held up by God serves as a ceiling, a limit to human sight; as if to say—­only in the Incarnate, only

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in the wounded humanity of the Trinity’s Second Person, do you, with the eyes of the body, see the divine. This is sound Christian thinking and a splendid corrective to that spurious text about Jerome’s better than twenty-­twenty vision. Clearly, the foreshortening of this Trinity betrays more than a taste for foreshortening; it is integral to the pictorial thought that informs the picture. I am led to suspect that if the patron, Girolamo Corboli, had indeed commissioned a picture of the live St. Jerome beholding the Trinity, the painter delivered a picture less superstitious but infinitely richer, subtler, and wiser than what our affluent committente could have envisioned. Am I making too much of it? If your instinct is to resist modern interpretation as meddlesome, you can al-

ways fall back on Vasari, our main “source” on Castagno, for whom the fresco depicts a “saint dry and wasted, well drawn, with much care: and above him he painted a Trinity with a foreshortened crucifix, so well made that Andrea deserves to be greatly praised, having executed the foreshortenings in a much better and more modern manner than those before him had been able to do.”32 Let me look further. Both Sts. Paula and Eustochium look inward and up into the picture, showing us only lost profiles. But their hands have not, I think, been understood. Rather than expressing astonishment, they seem to enact traditional gestures of eucharistic reception as found over and over in Byzantine representations of the Communion of the Apostles (fig. 1.10). The daughter extending receptive hands—­like the Apostles

Figure 1.10. Communion of the Apostles, left half, 11th century. Kiev, Hagia Sophia.


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receiving the wine or bread from Christ; the mother with one hand laid in the palm of the other—­in the old formula, “the right hand resting upon the left as on a throne to receive Christ the King.”33 Castagno would have known such ritual gestures since Florence had just been host to the Church council that attempted to reunite the Eastern and Western Churches. Between 1439 and 1445, the city was filled with Greek prelates who followed Eastern liturgical practices. The painter’s design tells us that these female flanking attendants behold the bodily Christ less directly than Jerome does; they receive Christ in the Eucharist. They receive what they see.34 Though I have not found these observations made in what I have read, they seem to me self-­evident and closer to what Castagno painted than anything you

could hear from Castagno’s contemporaries. They were not that interested. The patron, Girolamo Corboli, did not care enough for the chapel to make it his family mortuary; both he and his wife were buried elsewhere. We may not know what the painting meant to people at the time, but fortunately we’re not condemned to the slim diet of period texts. If we want to know what a given work of art meant in its own time, we can stretch our notion of “texts” to include the wordless testimony of artists who saw more, and more clearly. From Signorelli on into the seventeenth century, the idea of the godhead manifest in the privacy of one personal vision traveled across Europe even if its origin in Castagno was soon forgotten and adapted to other occasions (figs. 1.11–­1.14).35

Figure 1.12. Tintoretto, St. Roch in Glory, 1564. Venice,

Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

Figure 1.11. Luca Signorelli, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, c. 1498.

Città di Costello, Pinacoteca Comunale.

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The lack of period texts also suggests another approach: deducing a probable response to Castagno’s fresco from ideals embodied in other art—­not in this case to find similarities, but to remind us that there could be opposition to Castagno’s idea of painting. Thus, a large altarpiece, produced twenty years after Castagno’s fresco in neighboring Siena by Matteo di Giovanni, who knew Castagno’s paintings and sometimes borrowed from them (fig. 1.15). Matteo’s Assumption of the Virgin and Castagno’s St. Jerome have nothing in common, except a foreshortened Christ at the top and a saint below looking up. Matteo’s saint represents the Apostle St. Thomas about to receive Mary’s girdle as she is lifted heavenward amid a choir of angels. Hovering in midair, she faces us in stately frontality, hieratically scaled, while

Figure 1.13. (left) Hieronymus Wierix after Otto van Veen, Death of the Virgin. Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum; Gift of Mrs. Eleanor A. Smyth, M12078. Figure 1.14. (right) Mattia Preti, Martyrdom of St. Catherine

of Alexandria, c. 1657–­59. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Suida-­Manning Collection.

the whole picture centers on her resplendent womb, the site of the Incarnation. Any question about St. Thomas’s subjective, physical angle of vision as he looks up at the miracle would have struck this painter, no doubt familiar with Castagno’s fresco, as absurdly irrelevant. Yet Matteo, working in provincialized Siena, wants it known that he is aware of this new Florentine science of perspective. His Christ, and the sarcophagus at the bottom, which the Virgin is supposed to have just vacated—­these two elements protest that he knows all about it; but that he finds perspective of limited interest, because if you let it take over, perspective locks and binds all things together, producing a kind of instantaneous simplicity, whereas Matteo wants the delights of loose-­jointed variety. Therefore, disconnection is welcomed wherever possible—­in the scatter of local color,


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Figure 1.15. Matteo di Giovanni, Assumption of the Virgin, 1474. London, National Gallery.

even in the ornaments of the Virgin’s robe, which, flat and flattening, do their level best to ignore the folds of their fabric. Down at the bottom, the sarcophagus settles hard on a miniature landscape. The Apostle, scaled only to the sarcophagus, bears no relation to

anything else, so that even his upturned profile resists getting lost, refusing to turn functionally to its left to address its objective. The remaining forty-­nine figures—­I ’ve counted them—­come on at least three different scales. And the

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twenty performing angels: if they harmonize as they should, since there must be no discord in heaven, it’s no thanks to the painter. In fact, among these forty-­ nine figures I find only four individuals that relate to a neighbor: at top left, a white-­haired worrier lays a hand on the shoulder of St. John the Baptist—­the one who kicks up his right heel in imitation of Christ; on the opposite side, an old man looks at the harping King David; the uppermost angel at right gropes for another’s hand; and one assumes that the Christ had some previous acquaintance with the Madonna. The rest of the cast have yet to be introduced to each other. The picture, dated 1474 and made as the central panel of an altarpiece for Sant’ Agostino in nearby Ascanio, undertakes to hold the viewer’s attention through multiplication and thoroughgoing disjunctiveness. Given the choices made, I suspect that Matteo di Giovanni would have found Castagno’s work—­apart from its tragic passion—­rude and coarse grained. Its apparent simplicity and cohesion would have struck him as sensory deprivation; nor would he have understood that what appears foreshortened to us is not the vision of the seers depicted. For Matteo’s likely response to this altarpiece, I have no text other than his own painting. But that painted text persuades me that Matteo di Giovanni, like most of his contemporaries, would not have grasped the complexity of Castagno’s simple-­seeming design. Take Jerome’s lion, for instance—­whom we constitute from five visible portions, right to left: one hoisted tail, two intermittent hind legs, a scary forepart, and one raised paw. The poor beast stares at the fresh human blood on the stone right over its eye; while its bruised master stares at the blood dripping from the wound of the Crucified, blood that reddens the very clouds, so that one man’s personal penitence links up visually with the cosmic atonement. A continuum, on the central axis, runs from the sniffing lion, up Jerome’s bloodied chest and, by way of his gaze, to the redemptive blood overhead—­a signal of the communion which the two women, turned inward to face their vision, wait to receive. If the picture visualizes the vision of St. Jerome, vision is what it’s about, with even the lion abetting.

In the Matteo di Giovanni Assumption, sight has no power to bind. Whereas here, the three standing figures, alternating like the Three Graces and canopied by the Trinity, become continuous with what they behold. What to us looks foreshortened functions within a pictorial system that unifies space by making it optical, charted throughout by operant lines of sight. The intervals between bodies, which a parochial painter such as Matteo di Giovanni thinks of as blanks—­ under Castagno’s hands these intervals thicken into the medium through which psychic energy visualized is transmitted. The picture dramatizes the sense of sight, and this leads me to the generalization I’ve been evading so long. To a degree undreamt of for more than a thousand years, the representational art of the Renaissance was governed by the claims of optical vision, and to be governed by optical vision is to think continuities rather than discrete conceptual landmarks. The enormity of the shift from the conceptual to the visual mode is apparent in the contrast between medieval and Renaissance maps of Rome. Where the former assemble points of outstanding interest—­the seven pilgrimage churches and a few pagan monuments too big to miss—­taking no measure of and giving no thought to the intervening slack, the cartographers of the Renaissance start pacing the spaces between (figs. 1.16, 1.17).36 Rather than a cluster of memorabilia, the mapped area becomes a field of increasingly measurable extension—­as does all three-­dimensional space when the surface depiction of it submits to the embrace of perspective. For modern artists of the Quattrocento, the continuity principle must be all pervasive. Whatever had previously come in parcels is blended or integrated, whether an architect’s city square, a painter’s orchestration of colors, the diffusion of light and shadow, or interaction in narrative situations. And in the handling of human anatomy, the principle of continuity ensures that every transitional passage is made to count. Descriptive language doesn’t cope with such continuity and doesn’t need to. A speaker denotes a totality with words like “the whole shebang” or by naming the


Figure 1.16. Taddeo di Bartolo, map of Rome, 1414.

Siena, Palazzo Pubblico, Anticappella.

Figure 1.17. Alessandro Strozzi, map of Rome, 1474. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, ms. Laur. Redi 77, fols. viiv-­viiir.

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poles, “from A to Z,” to imply all there is. When the Book of Revelation has Christ say, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last,” we are to understand Christ as the all in all. We say “from sea to shining sea” to include even Texas; and, to posit a man’s body entire—­you remember Hamlet’s inquiry about the appearance of his father’s ghost: “Arm’d, say you?” “Arm’d, my Lord.” “From top to toe?” “My lord, from head to foot.”

Yet Hamlet had just been told that the ghost had been sighted “armed cap-­a-­pe” (Hamlet, I, ii, 200, 227–­30). That makes three variants within two minutes. And we have others—­“from crest to heel,” or, as Tennyson has it, “from scalp to sole.”37 The point is that such naming of terminals evokes a satisfying completeness—­from the head all the way

down, leaving the terminals at their proper distance from one another. Yet the phrase is syntactically analogous to, say, “living from hand to mouth,” where the terms couple; and this given adjacency in the “head to foot” formula could strike a thoughtfully scathing Renaissance painter—­one of my favorite painters—­as sheer mayhem. It is my fantasy that Mantegna questions the verbal shortcut with excruciating pictorial irony, mocking the claim of language to be positing a continuity when it says “head to foot.” So in his early Translation of the Body of St. Christopher. Since the original fresco is horribly damaged, I reproduce a small early copy (fig. 1.18): as the giant’s carcass is hauled away, his severed head lies at his feet. “Head to foot” means dismemberment, murder. Then in Mantegna’s marvelous small St. Sebastian in Vienna, amid the ruins of antique buildings and marble sculpture, there lie, at lower left, the mutilated vestiges of what had once been a whole (fig. 1.19). My fantasy has Mantegna commenting on that verbal tag,

Figure 1.18. After Andrea Mantegna, Translation of the Body of St. Christopher. Paris, Musée Jacquemart-­André.


Figure 1.19. Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian,

c. 1470–­75. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

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da capo ai piedi, which does not give you a man but a disruption, a dismal discontinuity. And once again in his late image of Judith (fig. 1.20). That upended sole on the distant couch is Mantegna’s abbreviation for a full-­length cadaver. The sole reads pars pro toto as the beam end of a man whose departed poll is up front, about to drop into a sack. We see the man’s visible portions on this and that side of her, still hailing each other. We can still see Holofernes, as it were, from head to foot, but interrupted. In my fantasy this is the painter’s riposte to the arrogance of the poet who thinks “head to foot” makes a whole. Needless to say, I would not want these comments construed as a criticism of language, English especially. In fact, a few lines from a Tennyson poem, read in London by a refugee boy from Berlin, have stayed with me ever since, because I remember their splendor convert-

ing me to the study of English. You will see in a moment why I now quote these lines. They are spoken by Tithonus, the once-­beautiful youth beloved of the dawn goddess Aurora, whom he had neglected to ask for eternal youth along with the gift of immortality. And so Tithonus shrivels and withers, longing only for unattainable death. He watches as the day dawns, sees Apollo’s chariot harnessed to cross the heavens, then speaks these lines: and the wild team Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes, And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

How does Tennyson evoke these celestial horses? Exactly at head and hoof, or more precisely, at their re-

Figure 1.20. Andrea Mantegna, Judith with the Head

of Holofernes, c. 1495–­1500. Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland.


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spective actions, with one reference to the shake of their manes, another to the sparks underfoot, the “flakes of fire.” And no idiot in the world would think of asking the poet, “what about the rest of those equine anatomies?” Because language plays a different game, governed by other rules. English has thirty words for the parts of a horse—­name-­brand features such as withers, gaskins, and fetlocks; and the rest out of language’s range. But for the Renaissance artist, a horse is a continuum of interconnected minutiae, every point known and conveyed. Renaissance physicality tolerates no pockets of unexistence, no hopping from this to that, as we find it in medieval topography—­and as we find it in the typical blazon, or catalogue of charms, the verbal description of a body itemized by select points of interest. Here’s an example from Latin literature, Petronius’s Satyricon, first century AD: The woman was more perfect than any artist’s dream. There are no words that can include all her beauty, and whatever I write must fall short of her. Her hair grew in natural waves and flowed all over her shoulders, her forehead was small, and the roots of her hair curved back from it, her brows . . . almost met again near her eyes, and those eyes were brighter than stars . . . and her nose [by the way, do you still remember her hair?], her nose had a little curve, and her small mouth was the kind that Praxiteles dreamed Diana had. And her chin and her neck, and her hands, and the gleam of her foot under a light band of gold!38

There are thousands of such descriptions. But language can’t help itself, being sequential; and for this failing was scoffed at by Leonardo da Vinci. Comparing the paltry resources of poetic description with the depictive powers of painting, Leonardo observed that poetry proceeds “by mentioning the individual components of beauty, and these are separated from one another by time, so that time itself interposes a forgetting between them.” In the poet’s art, he continues, “one part proceeds out of the other successively; the succeeding one does not arise without its predecessor dying. . . . It

is as though we wished to show a face part by part, continually covering up the parts already shown.”39 Here Leonardo anticipates by two and a half centuries Lessing’s devastation of the poetic blazon. The difference being that Lessing’s Laocoön sees the blazon, the catalogue of charms, as a mark of bad writing—­even when it comes from Ariosto; whereas Leonardo, sneering at poetry as if poetry had no other objectives than painting has—­what he calls the description of beauty—­ finds poetry as such a poor substitute for picture making.40 And he anticipates by three centuries a remark made by Goethe: “We ought to talk less and draw more. I, personally, should like to renounce speech altogether and, like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches.”41 Commenting on this remark, W. H. Auden, though he recognized the exaggeration in it, wrote, “By its nature, language is too abstract a medium. No verbal description, however careful, can describe a unique object; at best, it describes objects of a certain class.” So, from his painter’s vantage, Leonardo is right. Because description jumps like a medieval mapmaker, and the blazon remains perennially tied to the catalogue model, from antiquity through medieval and Renaissance literature to Virginia Woolf. Here is Woolf ’s account of old Queen Elizabeth appraising the young Orlando (Orlando, ch. 1, 1928): She held him a foot’s pace from her and looked up and down. . . . Eyes, mouth, nose, breast, hips, hands—­she ran them over; her lips twitched visibly as she looked; but when she saw his legs she laughed out loud. He was the very image of a noble gentleman.

The very image of a man of parts, as they used to say; an agglomerate. But what else expect from strung words? They hop from one thing to another, and it’s just as well that much is left out. Nobody faults a writer for skipping from eyes to legs, or from manes to hooves. But woe to the painter who slights the unspoken betweens. To the Renaissance artist it’s all glissando, all measurably emplaced in the continuity of the flow. Because the integrative energy of Renaissance art flows from a

Figure 1.21. Andrea Mantegna, A Sibyl and a Prophet, c. 1495. Cincinnati Art Museum; Bequest of Mary M. Emery.

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mode of cognition ruled by the eye as the outpost of mind. Here the operant intuition is an instant sensation of continuity, and such continuity is inaccessible to the blazoneers who convene a physique like a parliament, who muster a body by recitation. The effects of what I am attributing to the continuity principle are often regarded as a by-­product of naturalism. An integral body will seem more realistic, i.e., better observed, than one presented in bits and pieces, or as a composite of parts, like a jerked puppet. But the matter is rather more interesting, as I hope to show by staying awhile with Mantegna’s so-­called A Sibyl and a Prophet (fig. 1.21). They do attain a new level of naturalism, but how is it that they respond to diverse atmospheric conditions? How else explain that everything in the philosopher-­prophet submits to gravity—­from the tassel at the peak of his hat and the droop of his whiskers, all the way down to his sagging hose and the drop of his cloak. In the young sibyl, dressed in a thinner weave, everything rises or levitates. From between her feet, one long tendril fold springs up like a shoot, her sleeve positively invites ventilation, while her wake shows a triple flutter at thigh, shoulder, and nape, as if she were caught in the updraft of a vent or windblown in sudden arrival. The two parties, rising and settling, meet like complementary halves, almost like the segments of an arc. Unawares, they enact a joint movement, which the shared scroll between them distills in schematic abstraction, and at ninety degrees. I mentioned another modality of the continuity principle in Renaissance art: the interaction of characters in narrative situations, or in adjoined figures that convert into narrative situations, such as converse or heated argument. For this novel theme, there were strong recent precedents in Florence, known to Mantegna. I am thinking of Luca della Robbia’s relief on the Campanile in Florence, 1437–­39, with personifications of Logic and Dialectics, where the contestants almost invade one another’s body space (fig. 1.22). And, more important, Donatello’s contemporaneous bronze doors at the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo (1437–­43). There are ten panels in the Apostles’ doors, and the mutual engagement of the actors climaxes in the middle regis-

Figure 1.22. Luca della Robbia, Logic and Dialectic, 1437–­39.

Florence, Campanile, north side.

ter, where the continuity implied in the give-­and-­take of close mental engagement—­what we might call a meeting of minds, or an agon of contesting spirits—­is made visible as never before (fig. 1.23). And now comes Mantegna, a full generation younger than Donatello and Luca, taking two further steps: without narrowing the metric distance between the partners, he intensifies both the contrast between them and their communion. He has made them female and male, youthful and aged, talking, attending. Though one cannot be sure that they’re not both talking at once, the young woman seems to me the more audible; perhaps because she’s the more animated, and her face the more brightly lit; or perhaps because I see the man’s right hand raising sensitive, almost lip-­reading fingers. At any rate, watching her gesture, then his, the sense of energy flowing from left to right seems to me inescapable. The effect is mutual engagement, exchange of thought, most closely symbolized on the mid-­axis just above center. It is here that three hands maneuver in a visual symbol of hither-­and-­thithering voices.

Figure 1.23. Donatello, middle panels from the door of the Apostles, 1437–­43. Florence, San Lorenzo, Old Sacristy.

Figure 1.24. Leonardo, Last Supper, 1495–98, detail. Milan, Santa Maria

delle Grazie.

Figure 1.25. Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, 1447, detail. Florence, Sant’ Apollonia.

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Mantegna did not invent this motif, which Leonardo also picked up and, I think, at the same source. It comes from Castagno’s Last Supper of 1447, where three hands at the left end of the table meet in fleeting configuration (figs. 1.24, 1.25). Mantegna perfects the motif into a sign of shared mental activity and floats the action over two firm left hands upholding a scroll—­the text that serves as their hyphen. Such invention is not accounted for by the label of naturalism. And then the whole thing painted in grisaille, bronze colored, as if this were not an observed moment but some antique relief in continuous transit from sculpture through painting to tableau vivant—­and back into bronze.

The continuities achieved in this image are beyond enumeration. They encompass affects and gestures, the flow of drapery folds, the mating of shadow and light at the back of the woman’s dress, and, not least, the coordinates of space itself: that scroll of parchment which hyphenates the two figures at its linear one-­dimensional crest is assertively two-­dimensional throughout its roller-­coaster career—­except in the three-­dimensional rolls at its two ends, marking the nearest and farthest points of the depicted recession—­the three dimensions of line, plane, and volume fused in effortless continuity. I repeat: the continuities in the picture cannot be numbered without exhaustion and tedium, because the

Figure 1.26. Crucifixion, 1398, Lapworth

Missal. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Coprus Christi College, Ms. 394, fol. 102v.

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thing is so indivisible. And most of these continuities are utterly new and far beyond the range of Renaissance discourse. Painting is put at another remove from the descriptive power of words.42 Though time is short, I’d like to cite one more modality of the continuity principle in Renaissance art. Think of a human head: how many points can you see it from? Since we divide a circle into 360 degrees, there should be that many views. And how many of these can we name? We can say full face, back view, right and left profile, two three-­quarter views, and if you want to be picky, two profils perdus. That makes eight. The remaining 352 views are not conceptualized in common speech—­and this may be why they also remain outside most artistic traditions, including the medieval art of the West. As one example, I show, almost at random, an illuminated Crucifixion from just before 1400 (fig. 1.26) simply to remind you how tenaciously a pre-­Renaissance artist will hold on to the conceptualized three-­quarter view of the human head—­including here Adam’s skull at the foot of the cross. For a conceptual system that recognizes only a half dozen nameable views renders all other views meaningless for the very reason that the system excludes them. Who cares whether a head rotates sideways a few degrees more or less? Well, Mantegna cares. His prophet’s head responds to the sibyl in what is no longer pure profile nor as yet a three-­quarter view. The intermediacy of the turn suggests a novel mobility, a spatial ease that permits continuous rotation, or any degree of rotation, here in the interest of improved communication. Unfortunately, the lack of a word for this transitional angle makes the deviation conceptually, though not visually, negligible. But it is details of this kind that continually alert me to the major enterprise of Renaissance painting: to emancipate pictorial representation from the brittle symbols of language. And how about Mantegna’s younger contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci? As you know, ever since 1980, they’ve been trying once again to free the sad vestige of the Last Supper mural of overpaint and other accretions—­though little of Leonardo’s pigment sur-

vives. But one interesting revelation that emerged from the cleaning soon after it started, proceeding from right to left, concerns St. Simon, the Apostle on the extreme right (fig. 1.27). It was discovered that Simon’s head was not originally conceived in plain profile, like that of St. Thomas, third from the right, but turned slightly inward—­“not in pure profile . . . but in lost profile; that is, turned slightly away from the viewer, toward the figure of Thaddeus.”43 Why should this have mattered to Leonardo? For variety’s sake of course. St. Matthew, the third in this triad, shows a pure profile, and it would not be Leonardo’s way to repeat. But I think there’s more to it. Leonardo characterized each Apostle in accord with what could be gleaned from Scripture or legend. For some, the material available was abundant; for others, exceedingly scant; and for two of them, Thaddeus and Simon, near zero. But Christian legend is wonderfully resourceful, and one pious tale identifies them with the shepherds at the Adoration. Thirty-­three years later, they


Figure 1.27. Leonardo, Last Supper, 1495–98, detail. Milan, Santa Maria delle


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recognized the adult Jesus as the babe they had adored and enrolled among his disciples.44 That’s why these two end figures are the oldest at Leonardo’s table: they were grown men three decades before, when Jesus was born. Now, witnessing the mystery of the first mass and the announcement of Christ’s imminent Passion, their reflex, as from old habit, is to turn to each other. And this, I think, is why Leonardo gives his St. Simon that almost-­lost profile, which has only now again come to light. The turn had to be minimal—­not so far averted as to suggest inattention to Christ. Just a few unnamable degrees, available to the painter who can think of rotation in continuity. A well-­known work of Renaissance art theory contains a revealing passage. I refer to Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogue on Painting of 1557, conducted between a connoisseur and his stooge. At one point, the connoisseur explains that good painting, like poetry, requires variety, but not in excess. For, says he, there are some who, having painted a youth, put an oldster or a boy alongside, or next to a girl, an old woman; likewise, having painted one face in profile, they adjoin another in majesty [in maestà], or with an eye and a half.

Says the stooge: “I don’t understand what is meant by in majesty or by an eye and a half. ” He is answered: Painters call a face in majesty when it is shown entire, not turning one way or the other; and an eye and a half, when the face is so turned that it shows one eye whole and only half of the other. . . . But these are simple matters.

Stooge: “They were not known to me.”45 Not only is the stooge unfamiliar with artists’ terms, he has not even conceptualized the three-­quarter view, as most people today may not have conceptualized the lost profile, profil perdu or fuyant. The poor fellow reacts in puzzlement, as you would if, after hearing the alphabet recited, with the P’s and Q’s properly placed, someone asked, “And what about P-­and-­a-­half, Q-­and-­three-­

quarters?” Such fractions are not in the system—­as most of the turns Renaissance painters give to the human head, or to anything else, fall outside the frame of conventional language. Of course, that frame is unstable; it constantly shifts and expands to accommodate new concepts, higher resolution, closer approximation. In Dolce’s dialogue of 1557, the connoisseur himself had not conceptualized the lost profile, as the OED and Webster’s have not to this day. But French has had the term since the mid-­ nineteenth century, and we borrow it. This enables us to designate something that artists ever since Giotto did—­as their contemporaries could not. And so I look in dismay at the cautions widely taught in our graduate schools—­the injunction to base all interpretation on what you can find written down at the time or in texts known at the time; relying for your understanding of the phenomena of Renaissance painting not on your mind and eye, and not on today’s conceptual apparatus, but on stray comments from that alternative system, which by its very nature skims from Renaissance painting only the pittance it is equipped to articulate. I am reminded of a parable told by the British physicist Arthur Eddington back in the 1920s. A marine biologist undertakes to compile a definitive survey of all underwater life. He makes himself a stout net with meshes 1-­inch square, takes it out to sea, dredges up a huge haul, lays all his captured fauna out in his lab, and, after decades of meticulous study, publishes a corpus that begins with one overarching generalization: “All marine organisms are at least 1-­inch square in size.” Language, dealing with painting, is that kind of net. So much for the experience of visual continuity. Language does have continuities of its own, or we wouldn’t have phrases like fluent speech, flow of words, logorrhea. But on that subject, Jonathan Swift wrote an exquisite paragraph in “Thoughts on Various Subjects”: The common Fluency of Speech in many Men, and most Women, is owing to a Scarcity of Matter, and Scarcity of Words; for whoever is a Master of Language, and hath a Mind full of Ideas, will be apt,

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

in speaking, to hesitate upon the Choice of both; whereas common Speakers have only one Sett of Ideas, and one Sett of Words to cloath them in; and these are always ready at the Mouth: So People come faster out of a Church when it is almost empty, than when a Crowd is at the Door.

Well, whatever your opinion of verbal fluency, the visual continuity of Renaissance painting is of a different order. The two systems are not isomorphic. The glissando of Renaissance painting is intrinsically at odds with the sputter of word catenation. As Leonardo put it, “Your tongue will be paralyzed with thirst and your body with sleep and hunger, before you depict with words what the painter will show you in a moment.”46 Therefore no abundance of period texts about Renaissance art—­or, probably, about any art—­justifies the foreclosure, or the a priori invalidation, of later thought. If our concern is with cultural history, then the gap between what the artists brought off and what a few period texts say about it is part of that history. It is the discrepancy that wants to be studied. To gain historical objectivity, we’ll peer into that gap and measure it to gain material for a history of incomprehension. But I don’t see how objectivity is promoted by pretending that the parking lot of Renaissance criticism can hold the traffic of Castagno’s, Mantegna’s, or Leonardo’s imagination. Well, these were some of the notes I made when I thought that an opening for this series of lectures needed at least a nod in the direction of general principles. But now I see with embarrassment that I have hardly approached the announced subject of today’s lecture, which was supposed to deal with “words that prevent perception.” Did you ever know a public lecture to be so backward in getting started? So let me, in the fifteen minutes remaining, try to make up with just three examples, one drawn from antiquity, one from the Renaissance, and one from this terrible century which, thank God, is about to end. The first will take a bit of time, the last two, almost no time at all. We all know the famous Artemis, or Diana, of Ephesus, to whom two or three late antique writers refer as Artemis multimammia, the many breasted or, in Greek, polymastos (fig. 1.28). The earliest known representations Figure 1.28. Artemis of Ephesus, “The Beautiful,”

2nd century AD. Selçuk, Turkey, Ephesus Museum.


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of this once revered cult image of Asia Minor are found on Ephesian coins of the second century BC. But hundreds of later copies in various media survive—­all characterized by these multiple hangings, which come in any number of tiers, and which I shall call—­not “breasts,” between quotation marks, as scholars have been calling them for some time—­but UPOs, for Unidentified Pendant Objects. The original bearer of these UPOs was a benevolent mother goddess, later conflated with the Greek Artemis and the Roman Diana. Fecundity was her thing, as she presided over animal life and all natural growth. Unfortunately, her Archaic temple was burned down in 356 BC by a native son who wanted to leave his mark on history by performing a mega ergon—­one unforgettable feat. Having no talents, he turned to arson. And he succeeded in that his name is preserved, but the city of Ephesus passed an edict forbidding any future mention of it. (His name was Eratostratus, but don’t tell anybody I said so.) Soon after, the temple was rebuilt on the grandest scale to become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Artemision of Ephesus—­with a new cult statue inside, now lost, but to which the surviving copies are witness, every one of them distinguished by these UPOs.47 Three ancient texts, dating from late antiquity, tell what these objects were then thought to be. The earliest comes from Minucius Felix (d. c. 200 AD). He wrote a defense of Christianity in which he mocks the absurdities of pagan mythology, including the goddess Diana, who “at times is a high-­girt huntress; at Ephesus, [she is] fashioned with many breasts.” A second reference to this image comes two hundred years later from St. Jerome. “The Ephesians,” he writes, “worshiped the many-­breasted Diana, not the huntress who holds a bow, but the many-­breasted one, whom the Greeks call polymastos, and apparently by this image they would falsely show her to be the nurse of all beasts and living things.”48 The third and last text to survive from antiquity comes from Macrobius, a pagan scholar writing in Rome at about the same time. Saturnalia, his tract on the allegorical meaning of the ancient gods, explains that the image of Diana of Ephesus (which he

mistakes for a representation of Isis) is “either the earth, or the natural order subject to the sun. That is why the goddess’ entire body is thick with an unbroken series of breasts: the whole of the earth or natural order gains its sustenance from her.”49 Macrobius was read throughout the Middle Ages and became authoritative for the Renaissance and beyond.50 Accordingly, scholars and artists came to regard those UPOs worn by Diana of Ephesus as the distinguishing characteristic of personified Nature, and throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was no stopping the proliferation of these multimammia—­in marble, in fresco decoration, engravings, and book illustrations. And though a few documentary drawings of the period after authentic antiques clearly show that these UPOs never have nipples, most modern renderings—­even when they purport to reproduce ancient coins—­put them in, or add them to ancient Ephesia statues that were thought to need restoration.51 Since three-­thousand-­year-­old texts declared these UPOs to be breasts, let them be made to look like breasts, lest they contradict what was written. We will see in a moment that the texts were wide of the mark, but they launched a strong symbol for all-­nourishing Nature—­Natura as a female personification, whose multiple breasts proclaimed her infinite beauty. Not a bad symbol, but it sits best in the abstraction of language. Visualized as an enhanced anatomy, the image is barely tolerable if it stays in place and keeps still like a good emblem. It becomes comical—­as the artist is well aware—­when the Nature emblem starts fidgeting and goes into action (fig. 1.29). Then Rubens, who had a good sense of fun, invents the ambulant emblem, handcuffed and walking as in his Triumph of the Catholic Faith, where captive Time and Nature follow the victor’s chariot (fig. 1.30). Rubens’s Dame Natura gets just one extra pair, and even then he had to fudge the length of her right forearm to make it come round under the lower tier, trusting that no one would notice. For the rest, Rubens honors the static tradition, as in his painting of Nature and Her Followers (Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow). It was this picture that gave Hogarth his cue. The subscription ticket

Figure 1.29. Hieronymus Wierix

after Ambrosius Francken, Dawn (Childhood) from The Four Ages of Man, before 1619. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

Figure 1.30. Peter Paul Rubens,

Triumph of the Catholic Faith (cartoon for tapestry), c. 1626. Valenciennes, Musée des Beaux-­Arts.

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Figure 1.31. William Hogarth, subscription ticket for “A Harlot’s Progress,” 1731; reworked 1737. London, British Museum.

for a series of prints he was publishing shows, like the Rubens, an inquisitive little satyr exploring the secrets of Nature by peeking under her skirt (fig. 1.31). And so these UPOs of the Ephesian Diana, or Artemis, continued to be read as breasts even to modern times—­as on a postcard I bought at a newsstand on my last visit to Ephesus (fig. 1.32). Not until the nineteenth century did a few archaeologists begin to wonder whether these UPOs had been correctly interpreted, suspecting that “breasts” must be a late misinterpretation of some unidentified ornament.52 Since then, several suggestions have been proffered about these UPOs: they are bull’s testicles; rows of a hunting bag of Hittite origin (kurša); amber pendants attached to the original statue.53 But most scholars of the last half century agree that some decoration had been later misread as breasts—­perhaps by Christians intent on making this heathen idol seem monstrous. The texts we have from Minucius Felix, Macrobius, and St. Jerome merely transmit the misreading. Had St. Jerome actually seen those heathen idols? Unlikely; both he and Macrobius just repeated what they had found written in Minucius Felix. Yet their one-­

liners—­precisely because they were texts and therefore repeatable—­sufficed to overrule the plain visual evidence. And this is what intrigues me: that generations of literate adults will suppress what is there to be seen in order to agree with a text even where the text distorts what it pretends to describe. My second example is a Renaissance text concerning Michelangelo’s Last Judgment—­the angels just above lower center, sounding their trumpets to awaken the dead (fig. 1.33). Vasari in 1550 calls them “the seven angels of the Apocalypse,” and so, three years later, Condivi repeats. Is that who they are? In Revelation 8:2 and 6–­ 10, the seven of them blow one by one, and each blast brings on another catastrophe. “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood. . . . And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea,” and so forth. Does the fresco show any of this? No, but what difference does that make, since Vasari’s text has already told us that we are to see the seven Angels of the Apocalypse. And so the Michelangelo literature repeats from 1550 to 1960, when Tolnay, in the fifth and last volume

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

Figure 1.32. Postcard purchased in Ephesus, early 1990s.

Figure 1.33. Michelangelo,

Last Judgment, 1536–­41, detail. Sistine Chapel.

of his magisterial Michelangelo corpus, pointed out that the number of those trumpeting angels is eight. But if they are eight, they can’t be those seven. And what follows? Frederick Hartt’s book on Michelangelo’s paintings, just four years later, where we read “Seven of the angels blow trumpets, as noted by Vasari, to illustrate the Book of Revelations.”54 For Hartt, even this painter is still a text illustrator. Will the eightness of those trumpeters ever prevail? It just might, if I were to publish my hunch that eight makes good sense here. Christian theology associates eight with rebirth and resurrection, which is why baptisteries are eight sided. The days of Creation are seven, the number of completion, and eight is a beginning anew. And so the Church Fathers, seeing the present world figured by the seven days of Creation, foresaw the world to come as the eighth age, “the day of the Lord.”55 According to Hugh of St. Victor, “seven denotes this present life which runs through the seven days; eight, which comes after seven, signifies eternal life.” The same periodization still appears in the Golden Legend, and it determines the structure of the popular Nuremberg Chronicle, first published in 1494. Here the world’s history is plotted through seven eons, to close in the eighth at the Last Judgment, when God sets a


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term to death in the institution of immortality. And, of course, Christ rose on the eighth day, which may be why Mantegna, in his Resurrection panel at Tours, disposed seven soldiers about his tomb instead of the usual three or four. We see seven aground, and the rising Christ as number eight. Admittedly, no text I know of says that since eight is the number of resurrection, therefore eight trumpeters should be recalling the dead. But the idea makes better sense than the implication that Michelangelo simply lost count. And so I think it just possible that my suggestion—­because I could have it ride in on a hundred texts—­might finally produce a recount. Without a new textual apparatus, Michelangelo’s eight can’t stand up to the authority of Vasari’s meddlesome seven. My third and last example concerns the critical history of Cubism through most of the twentieth century. From about 1910 until about 1970, Cubism was explained as a quasi-­scientific analysis of the depicted object from all

points of view, comparable to an architect’s rendering of a building in plan, section, and elevation. Even Braque put it that way. And you read it in the writing of Picasso’s youthful friend André Salmon; find it repeated in any number of textbooks; and restated triumphantly in Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: “Cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole.”56 This is what one was told to see. Do you see it in this paradigmatic Cubist portrait of 1910 (fig. 1.34)? There’s lots going on in it—­lots of discontinuity; but does it give you the back and the front and the bottom of M. Vollard? The image seems to me just as frontal as any mugshot. And if you move to Cubism’s other pole, a characteristic collage of 1913–­14 (fig. 1.35), where in it do you find that plurality of viewpoints McLuhan is claiming for it? In the circle at the mouth of the Bass bottle, which could suggest a view different from the

Figure 1.35. Picasso, Still Life with Pipe, Book, Dice, and Bass, 1913–­14. Basel, Galerie Beyeler.

Figure 1.34. Picasso, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1910.

Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

Word s T hat Prev e n t Pe rc e ption

side elevation? But if that detail were removed, would we not still have a Cubist picture? Then there is the dice cube at the right, and it seems to show us four sides, whereas a single viewpoint cannot see more than three sides of a cube at a time. But is that black facet to the left of the cube a fourth side? Picasso has spelled out that it’s not by repeating the four dots of the adjoining white face. So it’s not another side but a same side differently stated, like the negative of a photograph. Neither one of these two typical Cubist images comes anywhere near matching the traditional defini-

tion of Cubism, which McLuhan, of course, got from reading. But though as many people have seen these Picassos as have read McLuhan’s book—­say ten million, of whom one million perhaps overlap—­what will these million tell you Cubism is? Not what the pictures show, but what the book says. There are reasons why writers on art feel driven to substitute written texts for looking. Reading a text, even one of book length, is comparatively easy—­and fast. A picture, because it moves perpetually in its stillness, just takes too long.


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Mantegna Did He Paint by the Book?


et me introduce today’s champions, the elder, the purported instructor, first. Leon Battista Alberti (1404–­1472)—­the learned patrician who made himself the greatest architect of his generation and in 1455 produced the first modern treatise on architecture; a virtuoso of Neoclassical Latin who also championed the vernacular and whose Italian grammar was the first grammar compiled for any living European language. At age thirty-­one, he wrote the first modern treatise on painting, the De pictura of 1435, which appeared in the following year, in his own Italian translation, as Della pittura, so that painters could read it—­a book that lays out the principles underlying the practice of Renaissance painting; so lucid, so unique in its day, and so quotable, that art historians treat it as scripture and put all subsequent Quattrocento painting under its sway. To modern scholars, the man is almost as irresistible as he must have been in his day: generous, handsome, athletic, pleasing to all men and unabashedly proud of his attainments in music and mountaineering, high jump and mathematics, classical learning and horsemanship—­a man versed in every science and skill. There was nothing in which he was not keenly interested, except for two negligible distractions, women and Christianity. I find Alberti’s protean personality impossible to get a grip on. He was brought to modern attention in 1860 by Jacob Burckhardt, who devoted two glowing pages to Alberti in his Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Burckhardt begins:

In all by which praise is won, Leon Battista from his childhood excelled. Of his gymnastic feats and exercises we read with astonishment how, with his feet together, he could spring over a man’s head; how in the cathedral he threw a coin in the air till it was heard to ring against the distant roof; how the wildest horses trembled under him. In three things he desired to appear faultless to others, in walking, in riding, and in speaking. He learned music without a master, and yet his compositions were admired by professional judges.1

Et cetera. “Men can do all things if they will,” he would say. When I first read Burckhardt’s paean half a century ago, I was not yet churlish enough to question an author about his sources. That nasty strain in me only developed in graduate school. We now know that Burckhardt’s source was the Vita anonima, a life of Alberti, which came to light in the eighteenth century and is now recognized as a disguised autobiography.2 Burckhardt took it at its The second of Steinberg’s Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, delivered October 18, 1995, the series titled “The Mute Image and the Meddling Text” (see the unnumbered note to chapter 1 on p. 238). Some of the material derived from a lecture delivered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 29, 1992, “Why Mantegna Matters,” on the occasion of the museum’s Mantegna exhibition. In 1994, Steinberg extracted and amplified the section on the St. James Led to Execution as “Leon Battista Alberti e Andrea Mantegna,” in Leon Battista Alberti, exh. cat., ed. Joseph Rykwert and Anne Engel (Mantua, Palazzo del Te, 1994), pp. 330–­35. Most of that article was included in the Norton Lecture; parts that had to be omitted for length have been reinserted here.

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

face value, without considering the psychology of autobiography. Personally, I suspect it to be fifty percent fantasy, perhaps written by an ailing old man, musing on ideal manhood in the first person.3 Alberti’s modern admirers accept his claim to mastery in drawing, painting, and sculpture, and point to his self-­portrait medal (fig. 2.1). I find the modeling to be fairly crude; what seduces is the brow-­nose alignment all’antica, and the upright contours that ennoble his neck. No paintings by Alberti have been identified, but the 1994 Alberti exhibition in Mantua displayed two attributions of drawings: one of his motto and emblem, the winged eye, and one full-­length portrait.4 In his autobiography, Alberti claims to have skillfully drawn the likenesses of his friends while dictating new texts to them. These two tentative attributions betray modest talent. Was Alberti, with his feet together, really able to jump over a man’s head? Or was the man being jumped

over lying down? But there’s no doubting Alberti’s versatility. Proficiency in both literature and mathematics is rare enough; rarer to see them joined to a keen visual sense. One marvels at his ability—­while holding a job down at the papal Curia—­to combine archaeological studies with mapmaking and architectural design as well as athletics and socializing. In other men, any one of these activities would be time consuming, and any two of them—­like bodybuilding and musicianship—­ would interfere with each other. But not in this tireless achiever, who writes in his book Della famiglia, “all my desire and expectation is aimed at nothing but making myself as well liked . . . as I can.”5 The need to be universally loved and admired—­narcissism joined to genuine genius and enormous capacity for work—­all this makes it difficult to reduce this paragon pleaser to one personality. So that’s one side of the scale; it will be weighing in heavily in this next hour. On the other side, we have

Figure 2.1. Leon Battista Alberti, Self-­Portrait, c. 1435. Washington,

Figure 2.2. Andrea Mantegna, self-­portrait, detail of figure 2.20.

DC, National Gallery of Art; Samuel H. Kress Collection.


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Figure 2.3. Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, 1480. Paris,

Musée du Louvre.

this curmudgeon extraordinaire, Andrea Mantegna (fig. 2.2), Alberti’s opposite on just about every count, except architectural invention—­a full-­time painter whose personality seems somewhat more graspable, but whose creative output is less easily pigeonholed. When the aged, widowed Mantegna died insolvent in 1506, he had become an old-­fashioned painter, left far behind by such moderns as Leonardo da Vinci. Ever since, his work has been admired with reservations—­characterized as dry and hard, as if all things in his stare turned to stone: flesh, leafage, clouds, whatever failed to escape his Me-

dusa’s brush (fig. 2.3). There is enough in Mantegna to cause petrified people to shudder. Lawrence Gowing—­one of the finest writers on art we’ve ever had—­died just after writing the introductory essay to the catalogue of the 1992 Mantegna exhibition in London and New York. One of his paragraphs begins “There was no pity in Mantegna,” and ends with “the stony hostility that we recognize in his own face.”6 No pity? Is there none in the central figures in the Circumcision (fig. 2.4)? And why the sadness that overwhelms most of Mantegna’s killers—­Judith no less than her

Figure 2.4. Andrea Mantegna, Circumcision, c. 1460–­64. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi.

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Figure 2.5. (top left) Andrea Mantegna, Sacrifice of Isaac, c. 1490–­

95. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Figure 2.6. (top right) Andrea Mantegna, Christ Descending into

Limbo, 1490s. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett. Figure 2.7. (bottom) Andrea Mantegna, Minerva Expelling the

Vices from the Garden of Virtue, c. 1499–­1502, detail. Paris, Musée du Louvre.

maid (fig. 1.20). They kill as if with the reluctance of an Abraham drawing the knife on his son (fig. 2.5). As Mantegna never stopped thinking, so his work resists generalization. He loved the opposite of his rocks: the flutter that responds to the wind, and the iridescence of color, as in the skirts of Minerva (figs. 2.6, 2.7). Stoniness, yes; but there’s suddenness too—­accident, evanescence (fig. 2.8). The Latin motto that winds about the extinguished candle at lower right in the Venice St. Sebastian reads “Only the divine endures, all else is smoke.” And it is placed at the feet of a St. Sebastian conceived not as security against the plague but as “rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas).

Figure 2.8. Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian,

1490s. Venice, Galleria Franchetti, Ca’ d’Oro.

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In 1971, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about Mantegna and was eager to generalize. At a time when formalism was riding high and “subject matter” a dirty word, I began: Mantegna’s subject matter is fierce—­he is the first painter to endorse the type of the loser. St. Sebastian hurting is his invention. Not the model youth in the apathy of impervious beauty, but Sebastian aching, ageing, and crying out, as in the Vienna, Louvre, and Venice versions, respectively [figs. 2.9–­2.11]. Or Antaeus in Hercules’ grip conceding defeat. Or Samson asleep sheared by Delilah, or a philosophic Goliath abdicating his body; and, of course, over and over again, Holofernes.7

I should have added that Mantegna’s Christ is either the infant prematurely aggrieved or the mystic Child with troubled baby face as high priest and savior (figs. 2.12, 2.13). Or else Mantegna paints the Christ of the Passion. The ministry, in which the adult Christ acts in power, is passed over; and when Christ appears in action after his death, at the Descent into Hell, Mantegna has him show us his back (fig. 2.6).8 I thought back then that Mantegna might be the first painter in the Western tradition to evolve a personal iconography—­with returning emphasis on victimization, as if the artist had trouble identifying with confident doers. But then there are the rare portraits, models of contained strength and will power: the Portrait of a Man (Uffizi) or Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan (Berlin). The 1992 Mantegna show at the Met was reviewed for the Village Voice by Peter Schjeldahl, writing with the modish irreverence you have to affect to write for the Voice. Schjeldahl called Mantegna a “sourpuss,” and explained that “a Mantegna madonna and child is like

Figure 2.9. (top) Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, c. 1470–­75, detail

of figure 1.19. Figure 2.10. (middle) Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, 1480, detail

of figure 2.3. Figure 2.11. (bottom) Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, 1490s, detail

of figure 2.8.

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok? [41]

Figure 2.12. (left) Andrea Mantegna, Madonna and Child, c. 1475. Bergamo, Accademia Carrara. Figure 2.13. (right) Andrea Mantegna, The Infant Savior, c. 1460.

Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art; Samuel H. Kress Collection.

a lesson in the physics of baby-­holding.” In his overall judgment, Mantegna is “the archetype of the jealous academic . . . who pursues mastery of a discipline not out of any selfless passion for it but precisely for mastery’s sake.” 9 And so it goes: lock the man into your chosen slot. But no matter what we conclude about Mantegna in general, there’s always something turning up that says, “Hey, you’ve forgotten me!” (fig. 2.14). Personally, I’ve had a crush on Mantegna for the past sixty years—­not only for the passionate elegance of his art (fig. 2.15)—­of which only a fraction survives—­and not only for what is known of his personal character, which a certain nobleman in 1475 described as “so disagreeable and objectionable that none of his neighbors

can live with him at peace.”10 But also for the sweetness inside his severity, the grace and the wit. Consider the late altarpiece of 1496, the Madonna della Vittoria in the Louvre, and watch the pedestal under the Virgin’s throne (fig. 2.16). Unfortunately, the lateral scenes that decorate it are mostly obscured by the two kneeling foreground figures: on the left, the victor of a recent battle, Francesco Gonzaga; on the right, old St. Elizabeth with her son John. The pedestal’s middle scene obviously represents Adam and Eve absorbed in Original Sin (fig. 2.17), and you can tell from the predella to an almost contemporaneous Annunciation by Lorenzo di Credi (Uffizi) that the side panels should represent the Creation of Eve and the Expulsion

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Figure 2.14. (top) Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus, c. 1497, detail. Paris, Musée

du Louvre. Figure 2.15. (bottom) Andrea Mantegna, The Introduction of the Cult of

Cybele in Rome, 1505–­6, detail. London, National Gallery.

from Paradise. Could we, if we try hard enough, identify these same moments in the Mantegna, despite the obstruction of those genuflectors? I see, on the left, an upright male figure having something removed from its chest by the hand of a party offstage. On the right, the wingtips, streamers of drapery, and trailing foot of a jogger. Are these traces enough? Mantegna seems to be telling the likes of Lorenzo di Credi that you don’t have to spell everything out—­a word to the wise. The elisions honor us as capable of reconstructing events from minimal clues. I think of Mantegna as, among other things, the inventor of the visual synecdoche. The corpse of the slain Holofernes is represented by no more than the half sole of a foot (fig. 1.20)—­an abbreviation to which, more than three centuries later, Ingres paid homage in the lower left corner of his Oedipus and the Sphinx (Louvre). And here’s how Mantegna presents the Twelve Tribes of Israel in a space you couldn’t swing a cat in (fig. 2.4). The right-­hand lunette over the Circumcision panel in the Uffizi shows on its central axis the horned Moses with the Tablets of the Law, which the representatives of the Twelve Tribes beg to receive. Since the structure implies bilateral symmetry, and since you can just make out six kneeling figures stacked on the left, the corresponding side needs no more than barely two to intimate the remaining half dozen. Similarly in the Ovetari Assumption (fig. 2.28), where only eight Apostles watch the Virgin’s ascent, which number led Madonna Imperatrice, the chapel’s committente, to litigate for a fee reduction.11 But for Mantegna it was an aesthetic decision: why jam the narrow foreground with twelve standing figures when eight would suffice to signal the biblical dozen? As for the early Sebastian in Vienna (fig. 1.19), Jack Greenstein’s book on Mantegna includes a brilliant analysis of the working of time in Mantegna’s pictures and of the architectural vestige as just sufficiently clued to evoke, with perfect archaeological exactitude, the slow ruin of what had once been a Roman basilica.12 Such observations, and many more, make me doubt whether an art so self-­willed and inventive, produced by a man who has long ceased to ask what he can do, to ask instead what art can be made to do—­whether such

Figure 2.16. Andrea Mantegna, Madonna della Vittoria, 1495–­96. Paris, Musée du Louvre.

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Figure 2.17. Detail of figure


art deserves to be labeled “Albertian,” as though Mantegna’s work served to exemplify principles codified in a book. The question put to us is “who’s in charge,” the one who writes rules or the maker? Alberti’s book is indeed an amazing performance. Alberti had come to Florence in 1434, and he instantly understood the revolutionary achievements of its avant-­ garde artists, Brunelleschi, the late Masaccio, Ghiberti, and Donatello. Within a year he produced his De pictura, underpropping their practice, giving it a rational base. Most admirable, to my mind, is the first of its three books, only twelve pages long, where, for the first time, the sciences of geometry and optics are applied to the tasks and procedures of pictorial representation. Every time one rereads those twelve rather technical pages, one comes across more and marvels at their economy and precision. To what extent practicing artists profited from Alberti’s book I is another question. They probably had more to gain from book II, which treats of composition and expression in narrative pictures. Of course, art historians delight in the book, and not only for its intrinsic virtues. A novelty in its own day, Della pittura retains rarity value, for while we have hundreds of early Renaissance pictures, Alberti’s brief tract stands alone. For a long time it remained the only theoretical statement of Renaissance principles governing geometric

perspective, naturalism, pictorial narration; hence, art historians credit it with enormous effectiveness, as if it had caused what it set out to regulate or explain. According to one authority, “the practice of [Quattrocento] painting both within and outside Florence fell rapidly under the influence of concepts advanced in the treatise.” Another asserts that Mantegna’s early frescoes in Padua may only be understood in the light of Alberti’s book: these “frescoes offer the first proof of Alberti’s ascendancy over mid-­fifteenth-­century fresco painting.”13 Such formulations, now normative, accurately reflect the psychology of present-­day art historians. To an earlier generation of scholars, Della pittura seemed rather a codification of what Alberti, on his arrival in Florence, found its best sculptors and painters to be already doing. Alberti becomes their legislator only by art-­historical retrojection. The retrojection takes various forms: the most primitive—­practiced by scholars who themselves do not draw—­is to search the work of fifteenth-­century masters, and of Mantegna especially, for correspondences with Alberti’s prescriptions. Alberti recommends variety of types and postures in narrative compositions. You look at a Mantegna fresco, and if it exhibits variety of type and posture, you conclude that the painter must have been reading the theorist and publish it in Commentari or the Burlington Magazine. I’m hardly exaggerating; that’s how it’s done. The course was set by 1960, when Michelangelo Muraro

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

published his “Mantegna e Alberti” essay, attributing any feature in Mantegna’s art that corresponds with Albertian precepts to the direct influence of the book.14 There’s been a spate of such articles since. Most recently, the notion of direct dependence on specific Albertian precepts has been recognized as naive, at least with respect to Mantegna. I quote from Keith Christiansen: “Mantegna turned to Alberti’s treatise—­ and possibly to Alberti himself—­for guidance and inspiration rather than for detailed instruction, and it ought to come as no surprise that in the highly innovative depictions of buildings he designed in the antique mode in his paintings not one can be related specifically to the recommendations, let alone the actual practice, of Alberti.”15 Nevertheless, even for Christiansen, Alberti must have provided the inspiration and guidance. The model for the relationship of the theorist to the artist remains that of stimulus and response. Nowhere in this literature can I find a recognition of psychological factors; how an artist might react to a theorist-­critic who is both meddling and dictatorial. There is a hint of Alberti’s imperious side in book II of Della pittura. He has just explained his important invention of the velum—­a device later illustrated by Dürer—­as the indispensable means to get every shape, every foreshortened plane exactly right.16 Then he writes: “I will not listen to those who say it is no good for a painter to get into the habit of using these things” (II, 32). Alberti is evidently aware that some recalcitrant painters claim ways of their own to achieve their objectives, but he has no patience with them. He reminds me a little of Clement Greenberg, whom Jackson Pollock, you remember, finally threw out of his house. For whom was Alberti writing? Book II, which most closely concerns the operation of painters, is strangely diffused in its address: it speaks partly to educated amateurs, potential patrons, and partly to naive beginners, or, as he puts it, young people and “unlearned painters.”17 Unlearned and, I would add, old-­fashioned painters. So, for example, where Alberti observes that a man in upright position cannot raise his head past the point where the eyes fix the zenith (II, 43), he is censuring late Gothic painters such as Lorenzo Monaco around 1410,

whose rubbernecking characters seeking a glimpse of their Savior would have throats too elastic by Alberti’s measure (fig. 2.18).18 If anatomical accuracy is the objective, Lorenzo Monaco needs correcting. Alberti proceeds to note that a man’s head won’t turn sideways further than where the chin touches the shoulder. That is also true. But the artists Alberti admired at his arrival in Florence knew that already. Ghiberti and Donatello did not need to be told in the mid-­1430s that there are limits to how far a man’s chin can rise or rotate. What Alberti in each instance contributes is a measure, a rule, a conceptual terminus—­“no further than.” To which a trained professional of Mantegna’s generation responds, “You don’t say!” Alberti himself is aware of the risk he is taking in belaboring what professionals know, as when he concludes that the things he has mentioned may be “so obvious” to the “diligent artist . . . as to seem superfluous.”19  “ Just so,” says Mantegna, “you said it.” And I can imagine him

Figure 2.18. Lorenzo Monaco, initial V, Ascension, c. 1410. Los

Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 78r.


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angered when Alberti—­to prove that “painting is not unworthy of time and study”—­cites his own practice of it: “Whenever I devote myself to painting for pleasure, which I very often do when I have leisure from other affairs, I persevere with such pleasure in finishing my work that I can hardly believe later on that three or four hours have gone by” (II, 28). Here the absolute painter might sneer: “Three or four hours—­no kidding!” Alberti cites his exercises in painting as an engaging pastime yet constantly speaks of himself as a painter and “as a painter speaking to painters” (I, 23, and II, 28). The scholar who dabbles during hours of  “ leisure from other affairs” claims community with fanatic full-­timers. How might one of these respond to such arrogation, especially that young painter in Padua who would be perusing Donatello more avidly than Alberti. I shall therefore keep asking whether even the young Mantegna respectfully studied Alberti’s text with a view to applying its recommendations, or whether he read Della pittura as the work of a confessed dilettante telling painters what they should or should not be doing. That Mantegna came to know Alberti’s book is not in doubt, and from the evidence of his earliest monumental frescoes in Padua, art historians argue that the twenty-­year-­old Mantegna must then already have read the book and that a picture such as St. James Baptizing Hermogenes (fig. 2.19), with its exemplary perspective and stately portico, would have been inconceivable without the theorist’s lead. As Pope-­Hennessy put it: “The phenomenon of the Ovetari frescoes . . . is intelligible only if we assume the presence behind them of Alberti.”20 This has been the reigning orthodoxy since the 1950s. Unfortunately, Mantegna’s Ovetari Chapel in the church of the Augustinian Hermits, the Eremitani of Padua, was flattened by American bombs in 1944 so that we are left with only black-­and-­white photographs. Mantegna frescoed the left-­hand wall of the chapel, which recounts the life of the Apostle St. James. The two scenes in the middle register, St. James Baptizing Hermogenes and St. James before Herod Agrippa (fig. 2.20) display an exquisite perspectival precision and

an invented architecture all’antica the like of which had never been seen in a painting. This feat coming from so young a man used to be credited to three influences. First, Mantegna’s long apprenticeship with Francesco Squarcione, a Paduan master who avidly collected and doted on any available scrap of Roman antiquity and whose school also produced such a wizard of modern perspective as Niccolò Pizzolo, Mantegna’s senior collaborator in the Ovetari Chapel until he was killed in a brawl in 1453. Second, the university town of Padua, where Alberti also had gone to school, was awash with humanist scholars, one of whom, Felice Feliciano, Panofsky called Mantegna’s “friend and archaeological adviser.”21 Third, the working presence in Padua of Donatello during ten of Mantegna’s formative years (1443–­ 53). Donatello had been producing perspectival reliefs since the 1420s; now, twenty years later for the reliefs in the Sant’ Antonio altar in Padua, he was inventing elaborate perspectives—­presumably watched day by day by the adolescent Mantegna. Yet the current trend is to attribute the young Mantegna’s precocious achievement to the inspiration of Alberti’s book. I am not persuaded, if only because this most “Albertian” of Mantegna’s istorie engages in such hide-­and-­seek as the clear-­eyed Alberti never imagined. Alberti declares at the outset of his book I: “No one will deny that things which are not visible do not concern the painter, for he strives to represent only the things that are seen” (I, 1). It’s the kind of statement which, read in goodwill, makes good sense. But a painter might argue that his concern is to make absent things visible to the mind’s eye. Alberti will answer that the means used to achieve that result will be visible means, and those are what the artist is painting. To the painter this is a mere tautology, a confusion of means (the paint in the picture) and ends. The painter protests, moreover, that he strives to represent more than “the things that are seen,” that you can use visible means to evoke the invisible. The open piazza in fig. 2.19, for instance. It begins at the angle of the first pier on the left, and if you measure from there to the fresco’s right margin, you find that the hand pouring the baptismal water falls emphatically midway—­the

Figure 2.19. Andrea Mantegna, St. James Baptizing Hermogenes, c. 1450–­54. Formerly Padua, Church of the Eremitani, Ovetari Chapel.

Figure 2.20. Andrea Mantegna, St. James before Herod Agrippa, c. 1450–­54. Formerly Padua, Church of the Eremitani, Ovetari Chapel.

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emphasis deriving, of course, from the slender pier of the portal way at the back. The sacred action, then, is centered in the visible space of the piazza. But is that the piazza? Down the right margin falls a row of cast shadows. They register faintly, as fading shadows do when cast from afar. And they fall, equidistant, at every fourth flagstone; so that they must be thrown by the crenellations of a tall edifice, a palazzo that closes off the opposite side of the piazza a good distance away. We are alerted that most of the piazza before us is out of sight, but almost within our peripheral vision. Withholdings are rife, too, in the background arcade and occur again in the left foreground. Within the first interpier space we see a man addressing another. Of his implied partner we learn only that he is arriving in haste so as not to miss anything. One has to search the darkness behind the pier to just catch the curve of his back and the flutter of his mantle or cape. It is as if Mantegna

were contesting that Albertian opening: the painter, he says, represents far more than things that are seen. And I am not even touching yet on things spiritual. Alberti’s book I expounds the perspectival construction within which an action is to unfold, and early in book II, he explains how buildings are to be drawn. The relation of bodies to buildings is touched only in a brief caution to keep their respective sizes proportionate. Alberti hates to see “men painted in a building as if they were shut up in a box” (II, 39). But interaction between men and buildings in perspectival recession is not envisioned. As it hardly is by Fra Angelico, in his near contemporaneous Vatican frescoes in the Cappella Niccolina, where most of the figures spread laterally across the foreground, like actors in front of a stage set (fig. 2.21). Now look at Mantegna’s St. James Baptizing Hermogenes. The foreshortened architecture looks admirably

Figure 2.21. Fra Angelico, St. Lawrence Receiving the Treasures of the Church and Distributing Alms, c. 1448–­49. Vatican, Cappella Niccolina.


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Albertian. So, if you like, is the inclusion of children at the lower left, the elder holding on to a little brother who has only just learned to walk. Since Alberti, like Quintilian before him, calls for variety in narrative painting—­old men, young men, maidens, women, small dogs, and boys—­you may decide (as scholars have) that Mantegna included these minors because Alberti had told him to. But in Alberti’s text, the human action of an istoria is one thing and the perspectival construction another. Perspective lays out the set on which the dramatic action proceeds. Alberti might as well be talking theater, rather than painting, and that’s not how Mantegna thinks. Take the two foreground witnesses at right in their contrasting garments: the second man’s gown falls in vertical flutes like a column, as rigid as the masonry pier at his back. His companion’s dress forms hammock-­like folds at waist, rump, and knees until finally their respective hems make common cause. But it’s common cause as well with that background arcade, since the gown of the inward figure splits the difference between cut stone and cloth. These nameless bystanders stand clear and near us in the open space of a piazza, yet their heads are framed by the arch at the back. Watching them top to bottom induces simultaneous awareness of background and foreground. The men at once here and there, where their caps align with the capitals, a mysterious coincidence of flatness and depth, to which modern criticism has inured us, which good painters were always aware of, and which Alberti probably recognized but would not deal with as a critical factor because it’s irrational. Look next at the witnesses behind the Apostle and the spaces between the piers. As perspective squeezes these intervals, the inserted figures restore their true measure. One figure in the first interval; in the next, where the interval shrinks, two men shoulder to shoulder. As for that foreshortened portico: at lower left, the older boy leans against the first pier. Against the second, the Apostle posts his right leg, casting his shadow upon it. With his foot firmly planted at this second pier, he leans forward so that the point of his shoulder marks the third pier; then lowers his head to coincide with the fourth; and the reach of his baptizing arm, flush with

the picture plane, equals 30 feet of architectural frontage in perspectival recession—­a prodigious extension, and no less metaphoric than would be a verbal figure such as the “long arm of the law.” Metaphoric of what? As I see it, the portico, for all its superior bulk, sets off the reach of an arm—­the scope of one white-­clad arm in the power of the sacrament it administers. The baptismal act is good for a lifetime, and longer. How do you position a baptizing arm to convey the enduring effectiveness of the act? The fresco is a complicity of narration and architecture, of geometric perspective and theological import—­a structured coincidence undreamt of in Alberti’s notion of compositio. The young Mantegna did not discover this symbiosis of bodies and buildings by reading Alberti on perspective and grouping. Rather than studiously absorbing the theorist’s principles, he more probably said to himself (if he thought of Alberti at all): “This guy hasn’t got his act together. First he speaks of perspective, then of figure composition, and can’t see their necessary coincidence.” A painter in his early twenties, inventing such pictures in the mid-­1450s, is no follower; he does not “go to Alberti for guidance and inspiration.” It is rather the modern historian who strips the work down to what seems compatible with Alberti’s rules and applauds the depleted residue as “Albertian.” Alberti’s book I offered, for the first time, a rational definition of the picture plane. We are to imagine a pyramid whose apex is in the eye and whose base in the thing seen. The picture plane intersects this visual pyramid, and we are to think of this intersection as a transparent plane, on which everything in the visible field is projected, as on the transparency of a window. Then, in book II, dealing with narrative composition, Alberti recommends that someone within the depicted scene look out of the picture, pointing out to us who are stationed here what is happening there, so as to involve us emotionally in the event represented, even though we are separated from it by the divide of the picture plane. And how does Mantegna contrive to involve us in a depicted event? In the last scene on the left-­hand wall of the Ovetari Chapel, he depicts the Apostle’s martyrdom (fig. 2.22). St. James is about to be beheaded

Figure 2.22. Andrea Mantegna, Martyrdom of St. James, c. 1450–­54. Formerly Padua, Church of the Eremitani, Ovetari Chapel.

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by a device called the mannaia—­a primitive guillotine: two upright posts and a sliding crosspiece edged with a cutting blade. The use of the instrument is displayed in several fourteenth-­and fifteenth-­century representations, among them figures 2.23 and 2.24, the former taken just before and the latter just after the action.22 Alberti would have faulted the incoherent perspective and feeble draftsmanship of these two pictures, but not the normal positioning of the actors beyond the picture plane. In Mantegna’s design, the two mounted officers overseeing the operation exhibit again the melancholy of the killer—­except for one foreground watcher and the executioner, who does what he’s paid to do and whose eyes were scratched by some pious soul in disapproval of what he is doing. The rest seem to regret the treat-

ment St. James is getting, as if they thought, “Good man; too bad he’s a Christian.” As for the setting of the execution, look at the fence. Its crossbar is illusionistically attached on this side of the frame, so that the soldier resting his arms on it leans into our space. And then Mantegna angles the victim prone on the threshold of the pictorial field, head first, obliquely foreshortened. James’s head rests inside the guillotine, with the blade at his nape. In a second now, the mallet comes down, and the head will roll—­a sequel calmly awaited by the man at the fence. He leans over the bar, the better to see the head tumbling out of the fresco—­where we shall receive the most precious relic of the Apostle St. James. Surely a most extraordinary staging of audience participation. Mantegna has driven the means of illusionism far beyond their Albertian

Figure 2.23. Ciriaco d’Ancona (?) in Giovanni Marcanova’s Collectio

Figure 2.24. Follower of Lazzaro di Bastiani, Martyrdom of St. George, c. 1495.

antiquitatum, c. 1465. Modena, Biblioteca Estense, Ms. a.L.5.15 (lat. 992).

Philadelphia Museum of Art; John G. Johnson Collection, cat. 174.

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

competence to delight, edify, or move the viewer; they now implicate him—­or her; the person who commissioned the Ovetari Chapel was, in fact, a widow. Having completed the Paduan frescoes—­and the altarpiece for San Zeno, Verona—­Mantegna, in 1459, age nearly thirty, finally yielded to the insistent entreaties of the Marquis of Mantua, Lodovico Gonzaga, and moved to Mantua, where he spent most of the rest of his life. Lodovico had seen the work in Padua and Verona, and he respected his painter as perhaps no patron had respected an artist since Alexander the Great. The frescoes Mantegna did for various Gonzaga villas have perished; what survives is a painted chamber in the castello, the Camera Picta—­the Painted Room—­ under an ornate vault that displays simulated medal-

lions of Roman emperors, two walls at right angles, the fireplace wall depicting the ruling family and their court (fig. 2.25): the marquis turned to his secretary; at his left, his fat son and heir; a long-­nosed scholar behind; the marchesa, Barbara of Brandenberg; and a pride of gallants. They are mounting some painted steps, which Mantegna invented so he could station them on the mantel of the real fireplace, taking their places in front of the pilastered wall. Alberti’s definition of painting as comparable to a view we take through a window into a yonder space has yielded to a new reciprocity. More serious mischief looms as you look up (fig. 2.26). In a technical sense, the crown of the vault is treated compatibly with Alberti’s window analogy, that is, as a transparent projection plane opening on illusory space in one-­point perspective. But psychologi-

Figure 2.25. Andrea Mantegna, the Gonzaga court, fireplace wall of the Camera Picta, 1465–­74. Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio.


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cally, the window analogy fails because it defines us as the outsider—­unengaged, except optically, and at a distance, rather than as one targeted, accosted, or under threat. The vault of the Camera Picta is apparently pierced by an oculus, a feigned circular opening, rimmed by an openwork balustrade that hosts one peacock, four ladies with inscrutable smiles, a turbaned Moor who may be up to no good, one potted plant, and ten infant angels. I must insist on there being ten, or two teams

of five, including the three whose heads merely poke through the grillwork, one of them faceless. Though we only see his crown, we know he is there, and not to be overlooked, since he offers another instance of Mantegna’s synecdoches. The oculus is famous for its precocious illusionism; art historical texts describe it correctly as a first omen of Baroque ceiling decoration. My present interest in it is somewhat different, for I perceive it as an ironic inver-

Figure 2.26. Andrea Mantegna, oculus of the Camera Picta, 1465–­74. Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio.

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

sion of Alberti’s window analogy: the painting surface as “an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen” (I, 19). Mantegna’s oculus in the Camera Picta inverts the course of the action. In terms of its perspectival construction, the view up is orthodox. But if the transparent projection plane on which the illusion is traced has been made window-­like, then it’s a window that exposes us to a crew of voyeurs overhead. Of whom we see very little, while they get to see all of us—­and not at a flattering angle. Furthermore, no one behind that foreshortened balustrade points out to us what is happening there—­as Alberti advised (II, 42). On the contrary, they are intrigued by what is happening, or is likely to happen, down here. In fact, they are the privileged viewers, to whom we appear as fish in a tank or bears in a pit. And that puts us in a predicament unforeseen by Alberti’s rational picture plane. There is more: we are exposed not to their ogling only but to their caprice. In addition to being watched, we are threatened by that wooden tub, an immense flower pot beetling over the edge. Mantegna could have balanced it on a flat plank. But no—­it teeters on a round rod, which needs only a minute rotation to send its weight crashing down. And that’s just what I fear; for that turbaned Moor with his toothy smile is manipulating the rod with his left hand. And there’s yet more, for we are threatened as well by an apple, held up like a projectile, and by various waters. The bottom-­heavy clouds may presage rain, and who knows what those infants may do. In short—­we are not safe.23 Of course, Mantegna is joking, but jokes have their content, and this monumental jest about helplessness in a fix comes from a man fascinated by the experience of victimization. So even here two cherubic brats are in trouble, heads caught in the grille, and you can see the one leaning over them saying, “Well, it’s your own fault; who told you to stick your head through those holes.” But enough of victimization. Our concern now is the apparent inversion of privilege in the relation between image and viewer. I wonder sometimes how Alberti would have responded. In 1470, he had submitted his great design for the church (his “temple”) of Sant’ Andrea in Mantua (excluding the later domed crossing).

He died two years later in Rome, just in time to miss the unveiling, in 1474, of the Camera Picta, on which Mantegna had labored on and off for nine years—­and which, strangely enough, excludes Alberti’s portrait. Although much of the work in the Camera Picta is positively alien to Alberti’s idea of painting, he might nevertheless have welcomed the new uses to which Mantegna was putting perspective, just as, in his younger years, he had hailed Florentine modernism. Alternatively, Mantegna’s frisks may have caused Alberti, in 1474, to turn in his grave, though no such underground perturbations are documented. What we have is Alberti’s text, which conceives a painting as offering a semblance of yonder space, as through the diaphane of a window. The observer himself is safe because stationed at a fixed distance from proceedings that take place elsewhere. This separation is what Mantegna’s art strives continually to overcome. His very early St. Mark, the immature work of a teenager, is conceived as a picture that projects energy hitherward—­an elbow hanging over the parapet, tilting book about to crash into our space—­and sees more than we do (fig. 2.27). In the apse of the Ovetari Chapel, one Apostle, too agitated to stay behind the picture plane, wraps himself about a framing pier as he marvels at the Virgin’s Assumption (fig. 2.28). In the Martyrdom of St. James, we are about to be pelted with the fruit of decapitation; and we’re comically exposed to the open vault of the Camera Picta. More serious, but not unrelated, is Mantegna’s invention of the close-­up (fig. 2.29). Less surprising in what might be construed as domestic intimacy, but startling when an entire istoria—­Christ bearing the cross with Simon of Cyrene assisting—­is brought down to this focus (fig. 2.30). The picture, complete but alas almost totally ruined, discovers that a drama may be enacted without a stage set and with no basis in Renaissance theory, proposing as a possible picture an almost spaceless proximity, which still challenged Titian a half century later.24 And lastly, the Cristo morto, the foreshortened Dead Christ, whose lack of decorum would have offended Alberti (see ch. 4).


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Throughout Mantegna’s oeuvre, from first to last, his imagery projects an invasive, hithering energy that belies the label—­or the libel—­of  “Albertian painter.” He is so called even by Michael Baxandall in his fine book

Figure 2.27. Andrea Mantegna, St. Mark, c. 1447–­49. Frankfurt,

Städelsches Kunstinstitut.

Figure 2.28. Andrea Mantegna, Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1454–­57. Padua, Church of the Eremitani, Ovetari Chapel.

Giotto and the Orators.25 Baxandall shows how the educated art talk of Renaissance humanists from 1350 to 1450 was trapped in conventions of rhetoric, conventions that predetermined what could be said about

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Figure 2.29. Andrea Mantegna, Virgin and Child, c. 1465–­70. Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

pictures, what would be seen in them, and what was inevitably excluded from the discourse. The eulogies and the ekphrases written by the humanists of the Quattrocento honored late Gothic painting, such as Pisanello’s—­pictures that were sufficiently stocked with identifiable items to allow the ekphrasis to leap from thing to thing, always praising verisimilitude, and mentioning only those items to which standard rhetorical formulas could be applied. If there were birds in the picture, you’d swear you could hear them sing; if a laborer was depicted, you could barely resist reaching in to wipe the sweat from his brow. And so on.26 Before Baxandall, no one had so compellingly demonstrated the failure of fifteenth-­century humanists to deal with the serious art of their day—­except the amazing Alberti. Regarding the influence of Alberti’s book, Baxandall concedes that the run of Quattrocento artists would not have bothered with it: “They learned from visual things”; and I agree. But he excepts

Figure 2.30. Andrea Mantegna, Christ Carrying the Cross with Simon of Cyrene, c. 1505. Verona, Museo di Castelvecchio.

the learned Mantegna, for whose connection with Alberti’s book there are strong historical arguments. De pictura had been dedicated to the father of the reigning Marquis of Mantua. And it was the son, Lodovico Gonzaga, who made Mantegna his painter and Alberti his architect. Baxandall writes: “Out of this conjunction of humanist prince, scholarly painter and Alberti came the classic exemplaria of composition as Alberti understood it. One of them is Lamentation over the Dead Christ” (fig. 2.31). There follows a reading of this important and vastly influential Entombment engraving to demonstrate that Mantegna was “more than occasionally Albertian.”27 Before citing Baxandall’s demonstration, I’d like to share with you my own experience of the engraving. Looking at the Entombment in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum during the 1992 Mantegna exhibition, I stared at the rock of Calvary. The three crosses, I noticed, were disposed as three sides of a square or

Figure 2.31. Andrea Mantegna, Entombment, c. 1465–­75. Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art; Patrons’ Permanent Fund.

Figure 2.32. Andrea Mantegna, Virgin and Child with Saints, c. 1490–­1505. London, National Gallery.

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

rectangle—­the central one lit, the thieves’ crosses shadowed. And something more interesting. Though the central cross rises from higher ground, it does not top over the others but seems if anything slightly smaller. As in the background of the Copenhagen Ecce Homo, this lowering of the cross in relation to that of the thieves may be unprecedented in Christian art—­as idiosyncratic as the lowliness of the seat of the enthroned Virgin in the late altarpiece in London (fig. 2.32). But then, God’s assumption of human nature is theologically defined as a supreme condescension, and we read that Mary was chosen to be the vessel of the Incarnation for her humility. Hard to think of another artist who could so humble the enthroned Madonna. Humbled she is also in the engraving—­the lowest seated among its ten characters, with her right hand on the lowly earth, the humus from which Latin derives the word humilitas. Is it then a similar thought that might account for that lowered cross? Is it that Mantegna wants to see the Crucifixion as the final stage of Christ’s self-­abasement, deferring triumph to the Resurrection? Next look at the route traversed by the body. The procession, moving to its right, would have passed the cross of the Good Thief. Winding downhill, its path describes an S curve. Further down, a second S curve begins behind a tall outcropping of rock, but its lower loop is pulled in by the fluttering veil of the woman supporting the Virgin’s head. And that tells us where Christ’s dead body had come to rest; its first stop must have been the Madonna’s lap, as we see it in Donatello’s Lamentation relief in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The mother had mourned over the corpse; now at the separation she faints—­which alerts the compassionate weight-­bearer, looking back. Removed from the Virgin’s lap, the body now travels leftward, at right angles to its descent from the cross, and has just reached a point that requires another such turn. As the sarcophagus reaches into the depth of the cave, showing only its narrow end, Christ’s body, to align with the length of the sarcophagus, will need to be pivoted, turned once again through ninety degrees. Thus is laid out the full course of the body’s procession from Crucifixion to sepulcher. The devotional,

ahistorical theme of the Pietà is implicitly integrated with the historical narrative. Brought down from distant Calvary, the corpse rested first on the mother’s knees. It has now been carried cross-­stage. And this cross-­stage movement, which Mantegna treats like a figured relief loosed from its ground, becomes the fourth side of that squaring which began at the crosses of Calvary. The body’s imminent final turn completes the landscape of tragedy. Consummatum est. Now let me return to Baxandall’s reading, or rather, to what happens when this same work is looked at not for itself but to argue a point. May you and the author of Giotto and the Orators forgive me for singling out, from a splendid book, the one or two pages that I think blemish it. Alberti had urged painters not to overcrowd their compositions, because, he writes, there is no istoria that cannot be acted out with dignity by nine or ten figures. Baxandall notes that Mantegna’s print displays exactly ten figures. Proof that the artist has taken the theorist’s quota to heart: “no ‘historia’ [is] so rich in variety of things that nine or ten men cannot worthily perform it” (II, 40). Then, where Alberti had advised dividing the baseline of a perspectival construction at equidistant points from which to launch the converging orthogonals, Baxandall notes that Mantegna’s “ten figures are disposed on a pavimentum tactfully traced out in lines of pebbles.”28 This strikes me as less than fair. Mantegna’s lines of pebbles are neither equidistantly spaced nor rectilinear nor aimed at the centric point of a perspective. Those on the left all converge on the sarcophagus with its epitaph, which, as usual, declares the special achievement of the deceased—­in the present case, the redeeming of the human race. Further right, the pebbles converge in three sharpened curves on the swooning Madonna. And thereafter stop calibrating. With Alberti’s functionally divided baseline they have nothing to do. Meanwhile, I notice that the pebbled curves complement the rippled terracing of the rock of Calvary. Mantegna’s pebbles, interacting with the entire terrain and with the drama, are indeed doing things, but not Albertian things. Are there more features in the engraving that similarly follow Alberti’s prescriptions? Yes, the Christ bear-


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ers. Baxandall calls them “a specialized model of the counterbalancing, weight-­carrying corpora Alberti had explained,” referring to book II, paragraph 43: “When someone holds a weight, . . . the rest of the body is counterpoised to balance the weight.” In the engraving, the principle of counterbalancing, especially in the figure at extreme left, is clearly honored. But that Mantegna learned it by reading, or that his weight-­bearers were meant to exemplify the Albertian precept, I do not believe. Next, the draperies: Alberti advises painters to show fabrics windblown, to produce the pleasant effect of body contours revealed on the windward side. But, says Alberti, makes sure that all your draperies blow in the same direction. Baxandall comments: “Mantegna is meticulous in this.” But did Mantegna need that instruction? Loose ribbons exposed to wind from the left all fly to the right. That much even I knew, before they taught me to read. Must we, to prove a theorist’s influence, make a dimwit of Mantegna? Furthermore, Mantegna is not meticulous in respecting the wind, else he would not have rendered St. John’s head of hair as if carved in marble, while the hair of the mourner at left streams like a maenad’s. Baxandall, still on the wind, continues: “as a rational basis for this [one-­directional] movement of drapery Alberti recommended a head of Auster or Zephyr blowing from the clouds” (II, 45). But, because full-­cheeked personified winds “would have been eccentric in Mantegna’s time,” the artist, according to Baxandall, “improves on [the idea] with the . . . weathercock of the . . . cloudlets insistently pointing to the right.” Do they? Are these placid cloudlets an “improvement” on Alberti’s idea of full-­cheeked personified winds? They seem to me far less driven than the rock between the clouds and the figures. Finally, the body of Christ in the engraving is declared to be “an exercise in Alberti’s mortuus languidas,” i.e., it follows Alberti’s instruction (II, 37) that a corpse should be rendered with its every limb hanging lifeless and limp—­as in an ancient portrayal of the dead Meleager, in whom “there is no member that does not seem completely lifeless.” On this point, the 1992 Mantegna

exhibition catalogue follows suit, calling this engraved Entombment an attempt “to emulate an ancient depiction of the dead Meleager, praised by Alberti.”29 Is this true of Mantegna’s Christ figure? Were it not for the known story, the Christ in the engraving could well be taken for a man wearied, wounded, asleep. Note especially his vital right arm, which should hang—­and does in antique corpses—­but here does not.30 Now Alberti must have known that in the art of his culture dead Christs far outnumbered all other dead. But there is good reason why his model corpse should be a Greek casualty. Because there is this difference between Meleager and Christ. When Meleager dies, he is dead, period. Whereas the death of Christ is followed by a comma. St. Paul calls the resurrected Christ “the first fruits of them that slept.” And Mantegna’s dead Christ is closer to St. Paul than to Alberti, or Meleager. I won’t dwell on this topic since I have written about it repeatedly; only to say that from the late Trecento onward, and including the Christ of Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s Pietà, the artist’s subject in depicting the Crucified in his deposition was precisely the mystery of a body both dead and living whose human death entailed an awakening.31 But mystery, which is the stuff of religion, is not what Alberti, unlike Mantegna, wants to be dealing with. Yet the modern art historian’s agenda—­the delusion that you understand Renaissance art only by linking it to a text—­compels even so strong a scholar as Baxandall to argue Mantegna’s work into conformity with Alberti’s rational precepts. So that the artist’s clouds become weathercocks, his pebbles Albertian orthogonals, and his Christs praiseworthy for looking like a slain Greek. Not that Baxandall lacks respect for Mantegna in subjugating him to the theorist; it is rather that the theorist must be exalted. And so Baxandall ends his perusal of Mantegna’s Entombment by calling it “the proper visual appendix to De pictura.” It is art history voiding the artist’s work of its own richness, content, and meaning under the slogan, “All power to theory!” What about Mantegna’s direct relations with his famous elder, Alberti? How could these two not have met,

Ma n t e g na : D id He Pa in t b y t h e Bo ok?

seeing that they worked for the same Gonzaga patron in a city which Alberti visited more than once, designing two of its churches? Strangely enough, the abundant documentation we have of Mantegna’s associations with scholars and humanists conveys not one hint of contact between him and Alberti. “Only inferences remain . . . the meeting of their minds remains an enigma.”32 The enigma is easily solved. Instead of reducing the painter to a state of filial dependence on a fathering theorist, instead of seeing Mantegna as a loyal executant or exemplifier of Alberti’s precepts regarding perspective, composition, and affective expression, assume that their mutual relation was at least as ambivalent and complex as relations between headstrong sons and all-­knowing fathers usually are. Suppose a clash of incompatible temperaments. Alberti was facile and quick. Mantegna worked slowly, very slowly. How would he have read Alberti’s repeated commendation of speed in execution as the mark of the good artist? Speed, promptness, facility is what patrons want from their artists, and Alberti himself displays these enviable qualities in whatever he does and praises them as the recognizable characteristic of the artist who knows what he’s doing. Whereas the slowpoke just hasn’t planned in advance, so he stumbles about. “If there are slow artists they are so because they try slowly and lingeringly to do something which they have not first thought out clearly in their own minds; as they wander, fearful and virtually sightless, in the darkness of their error, like the blind man with his stick they with their brush test and investigate unknown paths and exits” (III, 59). Alberti has not understood that artistic temperaments come in two kinds. There’s the Speedy Gonzales type of Shakespeare, Rubens, Tiepolo, Mozart—­ artists who compose complex structures entirely in their heads and then get it down fast. And there are those who endlessly modify, because the work-­in-­progress keeps telling them where it wants to go, opening up new possibilities or necessities. That’s how Leonardo da Vinci and Cézanne painted. That’s how François Mansart built. That’s how Beethoven, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Joyce wrote. For this kind of creativity, an uncom-

prehending Alberti has only sneers, which Mantegna could have read as a personal insult. I’ll add two matters of fact. We know from documents that when, in 1472, Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, son of the reigning marquis, traveled from Rome to visit his folks back home, though he was not in good health, he asked by letter that a musician and Andrea Mantegna meet him in Bologna; the musician for entertainment. “With Andrea,” he writes, “I will have amusement showing him some of my cameos and bronze figures and other beautiful antiquities, on which we may study and confer in company.”33 We also know that Alberti had accompanied his eminence as far as Bologna, but by the time Mantegna arrived, he was gone. He may have been ill, since he died later that year. Secondly, why is Alberti’s portrait not included in the Camera Picta, as it should have been, given Alberti’s renown and the fact that Sant’ Andrea was just then going up in Mantua on Alberti’s design? The omission gains poignancy in relation to the closing paragraph of Della pittura, where Alberti writes: “This is all I had to say about painting in these books. If it is such as to be of some use and convenience to painters, I would especially ask them as a reward for my labors to paint my portrait in their ‘historiae,’ and thereby proclaim to posterity that I was a student of this art and that they are mindful of and grateful for this favor” (III, 63). We know of no fifteenth-­century painter who requited Alberti’s wish in this matter—­though scholars keep trying to pinpoint Alberti’s likeness in this or that fresco by Uccello, Masolino, or Ghirlandaio. They find it hard to believe that painters would be so ingrate as to ignore Alberti’s request. But Mantegna must have positively refused—­even if this refusal disappointed his patron, Lodovico Gonzaga, who writes in a letter of 1480 in reference to Mantegna: “These recognized masters have something of the fanciful about them, and it is best to take from them what one can get.”34 From these considerations and more, I conjecture that there was no love lost between the painter and the architect-­theorist. Rereading Della pittura over and over, I find much in the book that would have alienated


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a painter, especially where the theorist in Alberti runs away with his common sense—­as when he urges the painter who would paint “living figures” to “first sketch in the bones, . . . then add the sinews and muscles, and finally clothe the bones and muscles with flesh and skin” (II, 36). If Alberti means—­as I think he does—­ that the artist should know where the bones, etc., are, then that passage is deeply significant and prescient of subsequent Renaissance practice. But the way he puts it, as a modus operandi for painters, a phased operation, it’s silly. And so I began to think that Mantegna might have read Alberti’s book with impatient scorn; that he let fall—­in tune with his acrid nature—­some deprecating remarks, which some busybody would inevitably pass on; and that Mantegna’s mockery of Alberti was early embodied in at least one of his monumental frescoes at Padua. Mantegna’s Ovetari Chapel fresco of St. James Led to Execution—­and on the way healing a paralytic—­is readable as a critique of Alberti’s theoretic system (fig. 2.33).35 It offers a frog’s-­eye projection unique among the scenes of this chapel wall, unique anywhere before perspective ran wild. How does this wildness sit with the precepts of his alleged mentor? Alberti had championed one-­point perspective as a rational system of total intelligibility, to be employed for the sake of intelligibility. But the system is not without paradox. So, for instance, a given plane—­which Alberti calls a “quantity”—­may, from a certain angle contract into a line, a single line without planar extension, or quantity; as when a sheet of paper or the blade of a knife is seen edge on, the whole expanse of the sheet or blade being aligned with your line of sight, your visual ray, as Alberti calls it. Of course, Alberti knows this, and his section on optics recognizes and dismisses the effect in one brief technical sentence: “Quantities collinear to the visual rays have no room at the intersection,” i.e., on the picture plane (I, 17). In other words, a plane exactly continuous with your line of sight—­like the knife seen edge on—­does not register as a two-­dimensional plane but as a linear trace. A plane so angled takes up no room

in the picture; it will be there and not there. The result is a paradox which most Renaissance painters take care to avoid. The paradox would be compounded by a low viewpoint which Alberti, accordingly, forbids. Because a true perspective taken from too low a viewpoint may yield the further paradox of a vertical horizontal—­as displayed in 1436 by Uccello at left side of the corniced pedestal of the John Hawkwood monument (fig. 2.34).36 Alberti’s instructions on locating the centric point of a perspectival projection call for a precise altitude: “no higher from the base line . . . than the height of the man to be represented in the painting,” and no “higher or lower than the height of a man in the picture” (I, 19). But Alberti also wants each depicted thing “in a definite place in respect to the observer,” and this fundamental principle of one-­point perspective Mantegna now questions and queers by taking it literally.37 Acknowledging the observer who stands on the chapel floor, he plunges the centric point down past the pictorial threshold, down to the viewer’s subliminal eye level—­with the disturbing result that the entire event appears to us as the Apostle appears to the cripple. The effect of this downing is catastrophic, because Mantegna has also made the entire side of this giant arch collinear with our line of sight, our visual ray. As a result, the longest horizontals in sight, those that denote the cornices of the giant gateway and presumably surmount its receding side wall—­these convert on the picture plane to a sheer plummet drop. Is this still acceptable Albertian perspective in the interest of intelligibility? What book I of Della pittura proposes is all lucid reason; no ambiguity, no prevision of menace. Mantegna tracks this abstract rationality ad absurdum to arrive at the mystery of coincident opposites, the paradox of vertical horizontals.38 The dread razor edge of a cornice drops from the dark half of a twofold sky and swings against darkness like the pendulum over the pit—­an unhinged horizontal aimed at and plunging down upon the spectator trapped at his “centric point.” The outcome of this perspectival precision is eerie. Referred by “Albertian” principles to the viewer’s actual station, these errant cornices become nightmarish be-

Figure 2.33. Andrea Mantegna, St. James Led to Execution, c. 1450–­54. Formerly Padua, Church of the Eremitani, Ovetari Chapel.

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Figure 2.34. Paolo Uccello, Sir John Hawkwood, 1436. Florence, Duomo.

yond any dream of Alberti’s. The theorist’s one-­point perspective is driven to self-­contradiction, yielding a terrible ambiguity. Consider the narrow rectangular panel next to and slightly recessed from the medallion on the pier flanking the arch: what exactly is its angulation in space?39 Reading it from right to left, it sits upright, flush with the arch and parallel to the picture plane. But reading

rightward, does not this slender panel seem to convert into the underside of the beetling overhang next to the flag, i.e., solidly of a piece with that receding ledge, in other words, contiguous with and at ninety degrees to the figured cavetto frieze of the cornice? But no; this lateral cornice must be cresting a wall, must have its own supporting wall plane to rest on. But where on earth is the wall that sustains the

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top cornice? Where is the side wall of the pier under that lower cornice? Alas, foreshortening induced by the one-­point perspective has imploded, has collapsed these long walls into bodiless plumb lines, much as that knife blade contracts to a thread when its edge shows head-­on. So then the whole flank of this stately edifice, asserted by two dangling cornices, has been rendered invisible by dint of accurate perspectival projection referred to the viewer’s physical vantage point. The perspective is true, but at the brink of unreason; it houses concealment, promotes invisibility. A massive stone wall—­more than 10 feet in extent, to judge from the arch’s interior—­has become an arcanum. It is a cunning mystification which the visionary contriver presents to the genius of measure and rule. So much for Mantegna’s insubordinate comment on Alberti’s book I. I believe the fresco also contains a particularly scathing comment on Alberti’s book II, the one dealing with composition, where, in the original Latin version, Alberti proposes a cap on the number of admissible characters in an istoria. He disliked the overcrowded, undisciplined pictures dear to his fellow humanists. Alberti had seen old-­fashioned pictures that seemed to him wantonly overcrowded—­the “beguiling, undisciplined world of the late Gothic International Style painters.”40 Hence his sage admonition: “I do not like a picture to be virtually empty, but I do not approve of an abundance that lacks dignity. In a ‘historia’ I strongly approve of the practice I see observed by the tragic and comic poets, of telling their story with as few characters as possible. In my opinion there will be no ‘historia’ so rich in variety of things that nine or ten men cannot worthily perform it. I think Varro’s dictum is relevant here: he allowed no more than nine guests at a dinner, to avoid disorder” (II, 40). The above passage Alberti omitted from his Italian translation; and Baxandall attributes the deletion to Alberti’s awareness that “the mechanicals,” i.e., painters without humanist education, “could not be expected to see the joke.” The allusion to rhetoric (Varro), which limited the number of clauses permissible in a periodic sentence, would have been lost on non-­Latin readers. Here I disagree: the reference to Varro’s dinners may be

what Baxandall calls “a mild humanist joke,” but there’s nothing “half-­serious” in the precept that gratuitous crowding is bad and that any painted narrative may, like a drama, be fittingly told with no more than ten figures.41 Alberti could have published the vernacular text without the reference to Varro, or to ancient dramatists. Why delete the whole argument? It is interesting to find another passage deleted from the Italian on Alberti’s very next page and ask why it was dropped. Here, in the Latin original, Alberti demanded that characters in an istoria display appropriate facial expressions, citing, as usual, the model of an ancient Greek artist mentioned in Pliny’s Natural History. The deleted passage reads: “They praise Euphranor because in his portrait of . . . Paris he did the face and expression is such a way that you could recognize him simultaneously as the judge of the goddesses, the lover of Helen, and the slayer of Achilles” (II, 41). This nonsense from Pliny may have pleased a humanist Latin reader, who would not be given to visualize. He would just nod along, pleased to see the person of the Trojan prince correctly described as the one who did perform the Judgment of Paris, did abduct Helen, and probably did kill Achilles. Such an unvisual reader would gladly learn that some ancient statue had packed it all in.42 But an artist reading this passage will instantly know it to be idiotic. A human face does not tell that its wearer once refereed, once fell in love, and then killed a particular person. Alberti, I think, deleted this passage from the Italian because artist-­readers, unlike learned humanists, wouldn’t swallow such drivel. And I suspect that the preceding cut was made for the same reason. A general precept to limit pictorial compositions to nine or ten figures will sound good to humanists, especially if you invoke the models of ancient drama. But artists know that the appropriate number of characters depends on subject, size, format, purpose, and so forth. Even if you disregard such subjects as the Triumphs of Caesar, which Mantegna spent ten years elaborating, or such as St. Ursula with her eleven thousand virgins, or the martyrdom of the ten thousand, or Christ’s miracle of the loaves and fishes, or Noah’s flood, or the crossing of the Red Sea—­you


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are still left with Christian subjects that are central to the Renaissance repertoire. Varro may have admitted no more than nine to his table, but Jesus saw fit to have twelve at his Last Supper. Alberti writes as if subjects that involved the Apostles—­Pentecost, or the Virgin’s Dormition or Assumption, or Masaccio’s Tribute Money or the Ascension of Christ, did not or need not exist. In fact, he writes as if Christ did not exist. His description of Giotto’s famous mosaic of Christ walking upon the water, the Navicella, the only post-­antique composition to which Alberti refers, is a feat of evasion. Giotto had depicted Christ calling Peter out of the boat, the navicella, to join him. Alberti writes: “They praise in Rome the boat in which our Tuscan painter Giotto represented the eleven disciples struck with fear and wonder at the sight of their companion walking on the water, each showing such clear signs of agitation in his face and entire body that their individual emotions are discernable” (II, 42). Christ is downgraded to an unnamed “companion” (socius).43 It might be said to Alberti’s credit that it took

genius in 1435 to envision the possibility of a purely secular art. But Alberti is more than secular; though he took orders and held benefices from the papal Curia, his writing reveals a pagan thoroughbred who treats a thousand years of antecedent Christianity as many Russians today treat seventy years of Communist rule, unthinking it into nonexistence. Alerted to Alberti’s pagan mind-­set, the rereading of his texts becomes another kind of experience. For the common phrase, “God willing,” or “Deo volente,” he writes, “the gods willing” (superis ita volentibus, I, 18). It is wholly in Alberti’s character that Della pittura should ignore all Christian themes, that is to say, about 95 percent of what artists at the time were actually painting. I have not seen modern art historians make much of this side of Alberti, but it may help account for the fact that the book, though cherished by fifteenth-­ century trattatisti, was largely ignored by artists and that the Latin original (nineteen known manuscript copies) was not printed until 1540; the Italian translation (at most three manuscript copies) not until 1547. How Mantegna, a Christian artist who incorporated his

Figure 2.35. Andrea Mantegna, study for St. James Led to Execution, 1453–­57. London, British Museum.

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passion for antiquity with his religion, how he would have felt about Alberti’s secularism, we’ll never know; but I think we can know how he felt about that exclusionary Albertian quota. Suppose Mantegna pondering Alberti’s rule to hold a cast of characters down to ten figures. I would attribute to his deadly irony the invention of a remarkable incident in the fresco we’ve been looking at. Preserved in the British Museum is a pen-­and-­ink drawing for the lower zone of the composition (fig. 2.35). In both drawing and fresco, the right third of the stage displays

an incident of startling irrelevance. The drawing shows a file of seven figures being pressed back by the bar of a crowd-­control officer. Why? They are not doing anything out of line, not rioting or causing disturbance; yet the bouncer wants them offstage. In the fresco, the number of unwanted extras is reduced to just one, but his eviction is fiercely dramatized. In fact, as one entered the Ovetari Chapel, this drama of disputed entry would have leapt to the eye before the main event came into view—­and there is nothing like it in any earlier narrative picture.

Figure 2.36. Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration

of the Magi, c. 1619. Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-­Arts de Belgique.


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At the margin of a sacred istoria, the painter has introduced an intruder for the sole purpose of squeezing him out. Poor supernumerary! He is indeed one too many. Spread across his visual field—­lined up on the very stage he was hoping to enter—­behold exactly nine figures, with the armed bouncer himself repleting the Albertian quota of ten, and that’s it.44 The crowd-­ control officer monitors with precision, as if at Alberti’s command. Begone, out with you! We already have figures enough on stage to perform our istoria worthily, like it says in the book. This curious repulsion motif has been taken notice of once before. Peter Paul Rubens, who had a warm

admiration for his great predecessor at the Mantuan court, has anticipated me. His large Adoration of the Magi in Brussels, painted about ten years after Rubens left the service of his Gonzaga patron in 1608, displays in the foreground (not counting the baby) exactly ten figures, of whom the rearmost, an armored crowd-­control officer, puts up his shield to ward off another ten (fig. 2.36). Rubens may not have been reading Della pittura, but Mantegna he read. In the Rubens, the extras are effectively out of it. But Mantegna’s odd man stays in; his pied-­à-­terre locked into the fresco’s lower right corner, and his triumphant banner aloft: “so there!”

Figure 2.37. Detail of figure 2.33.

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I suspect a further touch of Alberti-­bound irony in this trespasser’s tottery, off-­balance stance (fig. 2.37). Such unstable footing will not appear again until Michelangelo’s Jonah. Is it derision that deprives Mantegna’s imminent outcast not only of right of entry but even of normal biped support? In Alberti’s text, the sentence that almost immediately follows upon the restrictive quota counsels the painter to vary his characters’ postures by having some of them “resting on one foot” (II, 40). On one foot? Alberti surely means shifting the center of gravity in contrapposto—­a reasonable suggestion, but here turned to burlesque. The right foot of our hapless reject hovers midair, leaving one immovable, stubborn foothold locked in the fresco’s lower right corner. Mantegna is ridiculing the kind of economy that allows a man but one leg to stand on and only so many actors to a group composition. The fresco personifies such reductive thrift in the figure of the unsuccessful gendarme—­who is not having his way, for the intruder

stays in, protesting Alberti’s numerus clausus with a triumphant banner, otherwise unexplained. But note, topping the flagstaff, a pair of scales, tipped parallel to the standard bearer’s unbalanced feet. Equilibrium wins. Of course, no document to support my reading of this marginal incident is known or is likely to be discovered. But the incident has never been explained, and I’ll stay with my interpretation until a better one comes up. I return to the question that has driven me all along: why are art historians so intent on putting this most independent artist of genius in debt to a theorist? Is it because painting is too unlike their own practice? I remember some years ago reading a clever art critic’s account of his visit to Istanbul. He had just mentioned his fellow art critic Hilton Kramer, and when he came to name his Istanbul hotel, he said he had chosen to stay at the Hilton because, he felt, one should do business with one’s own kind.


Figure 3.1. Filippo Lippi, Annunciation, c. 1450–­53. London, National Gallery.

Th r e e

“How Shall This Be?” Reflections on Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation in London

2000: How this paper came to be written


ondon, National Gallery, August 20, 1984. Gazing from a respectful distance at Fra Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation (fig. 3.1). A round-­topped panel, 60 inches across, dense as all Lippis are and lovely to look at. Suddenly, I noticed something I’d never seen before: the dove of the Holy Ghost down from its usual altitude to level with Mary’s belly, and so near, it seemed half enclosed, almost embowered in the bend of her acquiescence. Closing in on the panel, I saw what was happening: a consilience of dove-­to-­womb/womb-­to-­dove, diagrammed all in gold, as we shall see (fig. 3.14). Let a thousand Annunciation scenes pass in review, you will find nothing the like of this; nothing so intimate, so apt to be missed. What on earth was this painter thinking? Enter a helpful association—­something recalled from a book I had read about ancient theories of visual perception. Was Lippi analogizing the incarnational moment to the eye’s apprehension of light? As I remembered my reading, one ancient theory held that vision occurred in the eye’s passive reception of light (intromission); the other explained it as an outgoing ray spent by the eye (extramission). And I recalled that Roger Bacon, a thirteenth-­century Franciscan at Oxford, had proposed synthesizing the two so that perception would result, as it were, from reciprocal sorties—­ the perceived object emitting a light which the eye-­beam goes forth to receive. Could it be that in Lippi’s Annunciation, the instant of Mary’s miraculous impregnation, was being likened

to the encounter of light with sight? At this hunch, I stopped short, for the leap from my Carmelite friar in mid-­fifteenth-­century Florence back to that medieval English Franciscan seemed too wide. Lippi had never been thought of as an intellectual. How would he have known? In retrospect, I feel somewhat shamed by my ignorance on this point, but let truth prevail. In a colloquium held on March 15, 1985, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I presented my hunch along with my quandary. Following the formal session, Samuel Edgerton Jr. cornered me and, with his usual ebullience, demanded to know—­had I been reading St. Antoninus lately? No, not lately, I said. But Edgerton had been assiduous in reading this sainted archbishop of mid-­fifteenth-­century Florence—­confessor to the very Medici who commissioned Lippi’s Annunciation—­and he assured me that St. Antoninus’s copious Summa was replete with references to Baconian optics. In his irrepressible way, Edgerton went on about the metaphorical exploitation of science by Renaissance theologians. Fascinating. Two days later, March 17, 1985—­an excited letter from Sam included the following:

Originally published in Artibus et Historiae, 8, no. 16 (1987), pp. 26–­44, as part 1 of a joint publication with Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr. Edgerton’s part 2, not reprinted here, appeared on pp. 45–­53. Steinberg revised his text in 2000 and wrote the introduction that now opens the essay.

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St. Antoninus was remarkably up-­to-­date on current science, particularly that of optics as it was being studied by both artists and intellectuals in Florence. . . . He was clearly aware of Bacon’s species theory which models the grace of God on the nature of light. . . . As you mentioned, this theory was a compromise between the old classical notions of intro-­and extramission. [There are] passages in St. Antonine’s Summa moralis where he describes some of these divine implications.1 Incidentally, the Summa is no more than a compilation of the sermons actually delivered by St. A. in the Duomo of Florence between 1440 and 1450, some of which Fra Lippo Lippi undoubtedly heard. It must have been obvious to the painter, after listening to St. A., that the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb could be likened to the action of optical species [i.e., rays] and thus he diagrammed it as you pointed out in the Annunciation.

Responding to Sam’s enthusiasm, I proposed that we collaborate on a two-­part study of Lippi’s picture. I would write up my findings to the point they had taken me; Sam would move on from there, documenting the currency of Roger Bacon’s optics in fifteenth-­ century Florence. The plan materialized, and we published in Artibus et Historiae. Thereafter, Edgerton did more substantial work on the subject, had the picture examined at the National Gallery to confirm the authenticity of those gold particles, and summarized his conclusions in a chapter on “The Geometrization of the Supernatural” in his 1991 book, The Heritage of Giotto’s Geometry.

1987 When Mary responded to the archangel’s message—­ saying, “How shall this be, since I know not a man?” —­was she asking, incredulously, how this were possible, that is to say, how, in the absence of its necessary cause, this consequence could arise? Was she protesting that she had vowed perpetual virginity? Or did she offer instant faith and compliance so that only curiosity remained to be satisfied: “Quomodo,” she asks in the

Vulgate; in the Douay translation, “How shall this be done”—­in other words, by what means?2 It was evidently in this operational sense that the angel construed Mary’s query, for, as the Church Fathers and Doctors would point out again and again, the question Gabriel answered was not whether it would be done, but in what manner. To describe what God was about to do, Gabriel summoned two active verbs. The impregnation, he explained, would be accomplished by the Holy Ghost “coming upon” her, and by the power of the Highest “overshadowing” her. We read that the answer satisfied Mary; but Christian imagination was not appeased. Of the two metaphors adduced by the angel, the first, the superveniet in te, was too vague to silence a well-­meant “how”; and the odumbrabit tibi resists visualization: few Christian artists would see the event as casting Mary in shadow.3 Both terms beg the question in that they keep aloof from the virginal body, the site of the miracle. For to “come upon” is not to inhabit; to “overshadow” is not to enter. About the quomodo, the means that effected the Incarnation, the translation from pole to pole, godhead to maiden womb, nothing at all has been said. To amend Gabriel’s dodge, Western Christianity resorted to natural similes of contact and penetration, analogical figures among which three are preeminent. God’s working on Mary’s womb was likened to an infusion of breath, to sound entering by the ear, and to the vivifying action of dew. In the words of St. Bernard: “Was it not into her womb that the fullness of divinity descended, even as the heavens let fall their dew?”4 The metaphor of the dew appealed chiefly to poets; pictorial practice hardly responded to it.5 More pervasively influential was the idea of fertilization by divine breath, an early legacy from universal mythology. Even Celsus, the pagan skeptic whom Origen in the third century refuted at famous length, took it for granted that this is how Christians imagined the miraculous impregnation: “If he [God] did wish to send down a spirit from himself, why did he have to breathe it into the womb of a woman?”6 Some eight centuries later, when the spiritus sanctus in the form of a dove had become a regular visitant in depicted Annunciation

“How S ha l l T h is Be ?” Re f l e c t ion s on L ippi’s A n nu nc iation

scenes, the notion of divine exhalation was conveyed, as it were, by etymology, that is, by the literal meaning of spiritus—­breath of air. And if this intimation did not suffice, then the begetful ray that glides the dove toward Mary could be shown issuing from God’s mouth (figs. 3.2, 3.3). In naive or staunchly literal representations, God could appear aloft, blowing down through a tube (fig. 3.4); or exhaling the dove itself.7 Sometimes, in mid-­Quattrocento painting, the dove’s beak expels its own rays.8 In the imagery of Filippo Lippi, these rays may relay or redouble the jet discharged by the Father, as if to diagram the event as the cooperant work of the Trinity (fig. 3.5). Question: what form should this inspiriting radiance take? For centuries past it had proceeded toward

the Madonna in fine rods of metallic gold or single file, like coherent radiation with a point focus. But the Madonna, from halo down, was a large target, and their pictures are evidence that some Renaissance painters wanted a narrower mark. Accustomed by perspectival practice to trace convergences with precision, they began answering curious questions. For instance: should those heaven-­sent streamers be allowed to diffuse about Mary’s head, or should they collect in one beam? And this more delicate question, hardly thought of by painters until well into the Quattrocento: should a narrowly focused light bypass the Virgin’s head and aim at her bosom, or should it target the womb?—­as indeed it does in a Gentile da Fabriano panel (fig. 3.6), in Piero della Francesca’s Annunciation (Arezzo), and again in Lippi’s

Figure 3.2. Jacopo Torriti, Annunciation, 1295.

Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore.

Figure 3.3. Melchior Broederlam,

Annunciation, 1392–­99. Dijon, Musée des Beaux-­Arts.


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Doria panel (fig. 3.5).9 And if the dove, or its breath, was the procreant agent, how close should it come? Would the avian sign of the Holy Ghost forfeit its ethereality if it came nearly touching, like a tame bird? Of all Chris-

tian mysteries none demanded more tact in the telling, for surely the very purpose of ascribing the wonder of Mary’s pregnancy to the breath of God was to shield an unsearchable secret from misdirected curiosity and

Figure 3.4. Annunciation, 1430–­40, tympanum, north portal, Würzburg Cathedral. (See note 30.)

Figure 3.5. Filippo Lippi, Annunciation,

1445–­50. Rome, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

“How S ha l l T h is Be ?” Re f l e c t ion s on L ippi’s A n nu nc iation

imprudent investigation. Accordingly, in traditional exegesis, inquisitiveness was deflected by citing successively the types of the Virgin’s conception prefigured in the Old Testament: her womb, it was said, was bedewed like Gideon’s fleece; enkindled like the burning bush seen by Moses; budded without cultivation like Aaron’s rod, and so forth. If some of these “likes”—­ such as dew and fire—­cancel each other out, so much the better. Dwell on these multiple antetypes and your prurient imagination—­diffused by analogy, scattershot association, and the unexamined interloped “like”—­is effectively disoriented. But Renaissance painters do not lightly submit to disorientation; and it is remarkable to see Fra Filippo

Lippi—­the sweet purveyor of Victorian bondieuserie—­ emerge as the keenest in seeking to visualize, to define with precision. Think of the thousands of Annunciation scenes from the eleventh century onward that show celestial rays aimed at the Virgin. What exactly do these rays signify? Should they be qualified as divine light? In some instances, where the radiation starts from God’s hands (as in Piero’s Arezzo Annunciation), it seems to denote divine operation, or still more abstractly, insubstantial directional vectors. But when these golden rays issue from the mouth of the Father, or from the bill of the dove, they are surely interpretable as afflatus, though even here yet another meaning accrues:

Figure 3.6. Gentile da Fabriano, Annunciation, c. 1421–­25. Private collection.


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they may signify the word of his mouth and, rightly amplified, the Word tilting wombward to perform the Creator’s greatest deed, his descent into his creature’s condition, entering a sealed virgin womb. Yes, but quomodo, how comes it to pass? What is the substance that enters, and how, through what port is the entry effected? To answer the question without scanting the supernatural character of the event, the Latin Church Fathers evolved their acoustical metaphor. They taught that the Virgin conceived per aurem—­by way of the ear, the right ear. And this fantasy—­Gaude Virgo, mater Christi, quae per aurem concepisti10 —­was to haunt the popular and poetic imagination of Western Catholicism down to W. B. Yeats. His poem “The Mother of God” (1931) gives voice to Mary’s subjective experience: The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare Through the hollow of an ear. . . .11

The origin of this fantasy is surprisingly bookish—­ and it does not lie in remote myths of miraculous impregnation.12 The mariological doctrine of the conceptio per aurem was forged by theologians bent over Scripture and determined to match the Old Testament to the New. In their anxiety to present the Christian salvation as the fulfillment of what had long been prefigured, the earliest Christian apologists searched the two testaments for hidden typological parallels. Thus Justin Martyr in the mid-­second century. Recalling St. Paul’s apposition of Christ to Adam, he propounded a comparable polarity of Mary and Eve by contrasting the Annunciation with the Temptation. For just as the virginal Eve had conceived by the word of the serpent to engender disobedience and death, so Mary, a virgin again, conceived faith and joy when the angel brought the glad tidings.13 St. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (c. 180) further elaborates the typology of the two virgins. In book V, chapter 19, headed “A comparison is instituted between the disobedient and sinning Eve and the Virgin Mary,” Irenaeus explains: the eradication “by which that virgin Eve . . . was unhappily mislead was happily announced through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to

the Virgin Mary. . . . For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel . . . so did [the Virgin Mary] by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to his word.”14 Note that the ear’s hearing and the womb’s act of conceiving are implicitly successive moments that have not yet coalesced. Mary’s listening still conforms to the ear’s natural function. Similarly, Tertullian (d. 220): “Eve was yet virgin when the death-­bearing word stole into her; therefore in like manner the life-­bringing word of God had to enter into a virgin, so that what had been led to perdition through the female sex might, through the same sex, be led to salvation. Eve believed the serpent, Mary believed Gabriel. What the one had credulously committed, this other, in faith, redressed.”15 So far, the antithesis of Eve and Mary offers this constant: both lent their ear to persuasion—­one in credulity to the fiend, the other to the angel of God.16 As yet, none of these early apologists has Mary’s ear serve as the actual conduit of fecundation. It is only in the formulations of the latter fourth century that the act of listening is itself mystified and the auricular conception rendered explicit. Disengaged from its typological motivation, the conceptio per aurem now assumes a life of its own and, with it, the semblance of an authentic myth comparable to, yet (in the displacement of the receptive organ) surpassing, earlier wonderful impregnations by, say, the West Wind or by showers of gold.17 But the impulse was dialectic, not mythopoeic. If the ear was invoked as the proper inlet for the entering Word, the topos was purely verbal, a homiletic device—­no visualization intended. And yet, as the conceptio per aurem metaphor underwent repetition, the wording became increasingly carnal. St. Zeno, Bishop of Verona (d. 372), has Christ himself, not merely the angel’s message, “entering by the ear.”18 Similarly, St. Ephraim Syrus (d. c. 373): “In the beginning the serpent, getting possession of the ears of Eve, thence spread his poison throughout her whole body; today Mary through her ears received the champion of everlasting bliss.”19 From St. Augustine onward, the “myth” of aural impregnation appears detached from its typological root:

“How S ha l l T h is Be ?” Re f l e c t ion s on L ippi’s A n nu nc iation

“Deus per angelum loquebatur et Virgo per aurem impregnebatur.”20 For some, the formula was intended in a spiritual sense, causally understood to mean that the very words heard by Mary were the seeding by which she conceived. But other exegetes, evading the idea of semination by received utterance, preferred to separate Gabriel’s speech from the entering godhead. For St. Gaudentius (Bishop of Brescia, c. 400, and friend of St. Ambrose), the trope has become wholly physical:

He descends from heaven, sent forth from the breast of the Father [missus ab arce Patris]; having put on the purple stole, he enters our region through the ear of the Virgin, and exits through the golden gate.21

gint makes a distinction which in the Latin is lost. The Greek, at the opening of St. John’s Gospel, writes logos for the Word that was in the beginning, but writes rhema for what is merely spoken and heard. In Luke’s report of Mary’s submission (1:38)—­“ be it done according to thy word”—­“word” is not rendered as logos, but as rhema, i.e., that which has just been uttered. In the Vulgate, the same verbum appears in both places, canceling the distinction made in the Greek. Logos translates into verbum, and verbum, to users of Latin, suggests more readily than the Greek logos that which is merely audible. The consequent slippage from logos to vocal speech was, as it were, preconditioned by the respective languages used.23 Accordingly, it seemed fitting to Latin Christians preaching the mysterium of the Incarnation that the verbum, the Word, should be conceived as sound penetrating through the external organ of hearing. In this confounding of the wordless Word with audible speech, no matter how spiritually intended, the Latins—­as the Greeks would have judged them—­claimed to know more about the mysterious quomodo, the how of the Incarnation, than was divulged in the mute scriptural term “overshadow.” Whatever the reason, the Latin conceptio per aurem proved unacceptable to Greek Orthodox Christendom. A caution against seeking such topical knowledge as the doctrine pretended is sounded by St. John Chrysostom, who would have the faithful content with received Scripture without embarrassing the Evangelist and troubling him with unopportune questions.

In the Eastern Church, the conceptio per aurem fantasy never flourished; perhaps because the Greek term for the godhead that took flesh from the Virgin was logos. Given the vast connotations of logos in Greek philosophy—­as reason and inward thought, creative principle and indwelling rationality of the cosmos—­the term may have seemed too abstract to assort with an auditory event; to a speaker of Greek, the logos was not to be scooped by an ear. But Latin, in “the poverty of its language” (Quintilian), lacked the abstracting powers of Greek.22 Thus, in a crucial verse of the New Testament, the Septua-

Proceed no further, neither require any thing more than what hath been said; neither say thou, “But how was it that the Spirit wrought this of a Virgin?” For if, when nature is at work, it is impossible to explain the manner of the formation; how, when the Spirit is working miracles, shall we be able to express these? And lest thou shouldst weary the Evangelist, or disturb him by continually asking these things, he hath said Who it was that wrought the miracle, and so withdrawn himself. “For I know,” saith he, “nothing more. . . .” Shame on them who busy themselves touching the Generation on high.24

None other was born of Mary than He who glides in through the motherly ear to fill the Virgin’s womb.

A century later, in the wording of St. Eleutherius (bishop-­martyr of Tournai, c. 500), the Augustinian formula is itself verbally carnalized: O blessed Virgin . . . made mother without the cooperation of man. For here the ear was the wife, and the angelic word the husband.

And by Carolingian times, the locus of Christ’s point of entry could be specified in an antiphonary, as if it were part of the Creed:


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In a sermon of St. Hesychius (d. after 451), the check to excessive curiosity is administered by the angel himself. Rather than answer the Virgin’s plea for enlightenment, Gabriel urges her to join him in contented unknowing: “More,” he confides, “I am unable to announce. For I have no mandate to say the manner how, O Virgin. . . . Be in amazement therefore with me at the mystery, and receive the good tidings without doubting.”25 Finally, Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, incorporates implicit criticism of the Western tradition in a homily on the Annunciation preached in 862.26 He scorns the per aurem fiction and reverts to the original Eve-­Mary typology formulated by the apologists and sustained by early Greek Fathers—­formulations that respect the ear’s natural function. Do they say in the West that Christ entered Mary’s body by way of the ear? Photius objects and leaves ears to their task of hearing. What the Virgin received through the ear was not the Christ, but the announcement of Christ’s conception. And where the ear of Eve had absorbed the serpent’s poison of disobedience, we, by the office of Mary, “are enabled to submit and hearken only to the commands of our Creator” (homily 7). But by what route Christ came to inhabit the Virgin’s womb we neither know nor aspire to know. A passage in the fifth homily expands the Gospel’s dialogue between Mary and Gabriel to include an almost forthright rebuke. Photius’s angel has closed his initial address to the Virgin as follows: “Whom the heavenly vault could not contain . . . Him thou shalt conceive in thy womb.” The homilist then proceeds: But what did the most-­holy Virgin reply to this? Was she immediately softened by these words, and having opened her ears wide with pleasure, did she allow her thoughts to give assent without scrutiny? Not at all. But what says she? “Now I know clearly that thou describest to me conception, pregnancy and the birth of a son, but thou hast increased my perplexity all the more. For how shall this be to me, seeing I know not a man? For every birth comes from intercourse with a man, while abstention from relations with a man does not so much as permit one even to hear of

conception. How then shall I have offspring, whose begetter is unknown? How shall this be?”

The reply which Photius puts in the angel’s mouth is extraordinary; Gabriel seems almost to chide the Virgin’s inquisitiveness, avowing that even he does not know and would not dare ask. Who is able to relate the manner of the strange birth? Who has the strength to scrutinize an inscrutable mystery? How shall this be? One thing I know, one thing I have been taught, one thing I have been sent to tell. . . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. It is that which shall teach thee how thou shalt be pregnant. It shall interpret how thou shalt conceive. . . . I praise the miracle in song, and worship the birth, but I am at a loss to tell the manner of the conception.

Is Photius’s archangel here refusing to tread where the Western Fathers with their conceptio per aurem had already trespassed? He instructs Mary to rest content with the predictive signs furnished by the Old Testament—­the miracles of Aaron’s rod, of the burning bush, of Gideon’s fleece—­“these things which prefigured thy conception,” and which represent the miraculous pregnancy “from afar.” All further questioning is dispraised as idle curiosity. May one suspect that the great Byzantine patriarch who, five years after preaching this homily, excommunicated the pope and opened the East-­West schism, was delegating the angel of the Annunciation to accuse the West of a heterodox innovation? The Latin West continued to cherish its auricular myth. We hear it restated in the twelfth century by St. Bernard, then by Walter von der Vogelweide (c. 1200), then in a dozen known thirteenth-­and fourteenth-­century hymns and songs.27 A fourteenth-­century German scourging song asserts clearly enough that Mary’s ear received more than the angel’s tidings: “The message entered through her ear, and the Holy Ghost flew in with it, and so worked in her body that Christ became

“How S ha l l T h is Be ?” Re f l e c t ion s on L ippi’s A n nu nc iation

God and man.”28 Down to the seventeenth century the topos recurs in sermons and devotional poetry. A French seventeenth-­century version of the Gaude Virgo apostrophe reads Rejouyssez-­vous, Vierge, et Mère bienheureuse, Qui dans vos chastes flancs conçeutes par l’ouyr, L’Esprit-­Sainct opérant d’un très-­ardent désir, Est l’Ange l’annonçant d’une voix amoureuse.29

Thus the versifiers. The attitude of artists, on the other hand, seems to have been somewhat guarded. Annunciation scenes in which eared conception appears without equivocation are surprisingly rare.30 Simone Martini’s picture in the Uffizi may allude to it: here the angelic salutation, spelled out in lettered sequence, travels from Gabriel’s mouth to the Madonna’s right ear. But whether we are thereby shown what Mary was hearing or Gabriel’s speech as the actual agent of impregnation is left undecided. Fifteenth-­century painters sometimes beam the divine ray to the auricle, yet invariably keep it respectfully distant; contact is hinted at, never shown consummated (figs. 3.7–­3.9; later, fig. 3.10).31 Never once is the ray allowed to touch or to enter the ear—­as rays from Christ’s stigmata may be shown transfixing the sites of St. Francis’ wounds; or as the Trinity’s darts impale St. Augustine’s breast in Lippi’s predella panel of the saint in his study (Uffizi). Even Lippi’s small Annunciation panel of c. 1440 in the Frick Collection (fig. 3.11) avoids the indiscretion of actual penetration. Though few fifteenth-­century renderings of the subject come so close to suggesting a Holy Ghost near enough to whisper Christ into the Virgin, the dove’s golden jet still steers clear of its mark. And though Lippi returns to the subject again and again, testing the expressibility of its mystery, he will not revert to the per aurem fiction. It is as though the doctrine were acknowledged only to be played down. By and large, artists shunned the motif long before Rabelais burlesqued it in the birth of Gargantua from the left ear of his dam.32 Why this resistance? A half dozen possibilities come to mind. Did artists wisely recognize the purely verbal, i.e.,

the aniconic, nonvisual character of the metaphor as best left unrealized? Did they shrink from the indelicacy of depicting the impregnation of a young woman, no matter whither the receptive organ had been displaced? Did they think the per aurem motif ineffectual because the device of the dove at the ear was too commonplace?—­it occurs in images of Old Testament Prophets, of St. Jerome and of Pope Gregory (even of the Blessed Antonio Sansedoni), serving throughout as a token of mere inspiration in composing a text. Did Renaissance artists, in the manner of Photius, resist the motif as a vain novelty and gross superstition? Was it offensive to their growing respect for human anatomy? Or was it rejected on theological grounds? The case for a theological qualm could be argued as follows. The anatomic miracle implied in the dogma

Figure 3.7. Attributed to Niccolò da Foligno, Annunciation,

c. 1458–­60. Florence, Villa I Tatti—­The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.


Figure 3.8. Benedetto Bonfigli, Annunciation,

c. 1455. Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-­ Bornemisza.

Figure 3.9. Mantuan tapestry,

Annunciation, 1484–­1519. Art Institute of Chicago; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, 1937.

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Figure 3.10. (left) Jacob Matham after Giuseppe Valeriano,

Annunciation. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet. Figure 3.11. (right) Filippo Lippi, Annunciation, c. 1440. New

York, The Frick Collection; Purchased by The Frick Collection, 1924.

of the Incarnation is God’s personal inhabitation of a sealed chamber; and that is wonder enough.33 Mary’s body itself must not be marvelous, since its office was precisely to lend God her common humanity. Why then miraculize her internal anatomy by positing an unnatural passage from ear to womb? Is it because the slippage from logos to verbum-­Word had been punningly linked to audition and thus engaged to the ear—­piling paronomasia upon parthenogenesis? Granted that God can work miracles, but since God’s purpose in the Incarnation was to submit to nature and to a womb’s natural mothering, what profit is there in fantasizing an eccentric detour? Why not allow the divine influence direct access? I assume reasoning of this sort to find the probable motivation behind three remarkable images created in Florence between c. 1421 and the 1450s: the first by Gentile da Fabriano, the latter two by Fra Filippo Lippi. Gentile’s Annunciation narrative (fig. 3.6) begins at upper left with God the Father attended by sera-

phim—­a broad beam of golden light issuing from his breast, ab arce patris. Through a sixfoil tracery window, the beam pours into the Virgin’s chamber, carries the dove along, and comes to rest under her heart, settling there in the cusped shape of the oculus through which it had passed. And within that shape, behold the dove’s wingspread shadow at center impressed like a photogram on the Virgin’s womb, a foreshadow of the Advent.34 It could be Gentile’s way of honoring—­as no painter had done before—­Gabriel’s word  “overshadow.” And it prepares the ground for the leaps to be taken by Filippo Lippi. During his thirty-­odd years of productive labor, Lippi turned at least ten times to the subject of the Annunciation, searching the mystery and proposing original symbols. He appears as a radical innovator in a long-­ neglected predella panel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an image wherein Gentile’s projected imminence becomes boldly actual (fig. 3.12). The work is in lamen-

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table condition, its surface rubbed, and its status as an autograph Lippi unsettled. But the picture’s astounding novelty—­its central symbol, the unheard-­of intimacy of the bird—­has not been considered in debating the attribution.35 Yet it cries out to be noticed. The hands of the kneeling Mary, folded in prayer, canopy the arrived Holy Ghost as he presses breast and wings to her womb. What is the artist trying to show us? That the Virgin conceived, not by the Spirit’s breath, whisper, sound, scent, or shadow, but by imparted warmth? Surely no Christian painting, before or since, dared close the gap between the begetting spirit and its destination.36 Lippi’s Metropolitan Museum predella panel was followed a decade later by the Annunciation lunette in London, a work whose operational metaphor reconciles worshipful distance with penetration (fig. 3.1). This is the picture that pointed us to the quomodo question as a problem for Renaissance art.

One tends not to see it at once, but looking fixedly at the London Annunciation, one observes sooner or later that the dove of the Paraclete—­discharged from the hand of God at top center—­has relinquished its normal high-­flying station (fig. 3.14). Instead of looming aloft, or descending to hover in the vicinity of an ear, it comes vailed in profound condescension, leveled with Mary’s womb and but inches away. Look closer, and you discern a spray of rare golden motes—­an emanation of particles from the dove’s mouth—­aimed at the Virgin’s belly; then notice that the Virgin’s dress parts over the abdomen, opening in a tiny slit to release a burst of similar gold-­dotted rays. What is it we are seeing? A discreet tryst of photons in the fetch between bird and womb? That the artist, a Carmelite friar committed to public orthodoxy, was rethinking the familiar event with astonishing independence of mind is apparent from

Figure 3.12. Filippo Lippi (or shop?), Annunciation, c. 1445. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bequest of Maitland Fuller Griggs, 1943.

Figure 3.13. Virgin of the Annunciation,

c. 1360, from the Nuremberg Frauenkirche. Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum. (See note 36.)

Figure 3.14. Detail of figure 3.1.

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his disregard of the scriptural text—­the one certainty to hold on to. The Holy Ghost, the angel told Mary, would “overshadow” her, would literally “come upon” her; and the prefix in the term supervenio is not to be thought away. Accordingly, every earlier image of the Annunciation had pitched the Spirit in superior position. Lippi alone brings it down to earth and profiles the dove in the nether zone reserved for the flooring. The self-­abasement of the godhead’s Third Person is compassed with acute structural deliberation: a normally free-­coasting bird confined within rigid verticals and horizontals, narrowly quartered. Moreover, Lippi ousts rival metaphors of fecundation, so that the operant logos is made to work solely by silent light. We may or may not want to read these decisions polemically, but interpret we must. Before stating what to me seems most persuasive, let me consider two alternative explanations proposed by well-­meaning advocati diaboli. First: may the light issuing from the Virgin’s womb symbolize the divine presence within? In this reading, the rays from the dove are left to convention, while attention focuses on the miracle gleam emanating from the Madonna—­sign of the Word’s brightness shining in darkness. One can think of supporting texts. “Mary, though pregnant, joyed with healthful lightness,” wrote St. Fulgentius (468–­533), “for the Light she bore within could have no weight. She became the window of heaven.”37 Visualizations of such symbolism exist, but they are rare and somewhat unorthodox, for we read in the Fathers that the enwombed Christ (whether thought of as light, Word, or homunculus) was effectively hidden from sight.38 Nevertheless, it is thinkable that a painter would choose radiant light to suggest that the godhead, newly incarnate, shines forth from its tabernacle. Could this suffice to explain what Lippi intended? I think not, because such reading dismembers the given encounter. The plummeting of the dove, though unprecedented, is not taken into account; nor the fact that the respective effulgences from dove and womb are reciprocal and about to commingle. Second alternative: though Lippi delivers one compound event, may we interpret the action as a collapsed

temporal sequence? The angel has spoken; he has won Mary’s consent; now spends the Spirit and sets the womb aglow with the Word’s presence. Perhaps. But note that this reading scants a crucial link in the proposed chain of causation. We see radiation from the dove bound for the womb and see the cloistered godhead allegedly sparkling back through a slit in the Virgin’s dress. But how the radiant Word entered remains unconfessed. Nor is it clear why the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity should, at this denouement, persist in flashing light signals at one another. Yet this improbability is what this proposed alternative would have us see. Finally, the preferred reading. Lippi’s picture appears to be rendering the “how” of Mary’s virginal impregnation in symbolic analogy with the process of vision—­ that is to say, in analogy with the optical apperception of light as understood in fifteenth-­century Florence: visual rays exiting from the eye mingle with oncoming rays to constitute sight. This lucid simile is so apt that one marvels to be seeing it here in what is probably a unique instance. But then Lippi is merely clarifying—­or thinking through to a necessary conclusion—­a problem long dormant in Annunciation imagery: the problem of naming the matter, the quiddity of the procreative energy represented. For the clinquant beams that speed toward Mary in thousands of earlier Annunciations most often symbolize divine light, and this light should be all-­sufficient. Therefore, strictly speaking, these beams should deter, banish, disqualify all alternative metaphors, such as quickening moisture, leaping flame, voiced utterance, or a breeze from God’s mouth. In paintings of the Annunciation, the ethereal stream falling from heaven is, in fact, rendered as an emission of luminous energy and yet, in an inexcusable mixture of metaphor, aimed at the ear. But the sense of hearing is not responsive to brightness; light in the ear is not potent. Were those golden tracers, then, drawn in synesthetic confusion, in a dérèglement de tous les sens, somewhat as in poor Bottom’s postsomnial rave in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (IV, 1, 211) —­“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen; man’s hand is not able to taste,” and so on? Or

“How S ha l l T h is Be ?” Re f l e c t ion s on L ippi’s A n nu nc iation

was the bond passing from God to Mary designed to neutralize sense by confounding our specialized sensory apparatus? When the expounders of biblical verses say that God speaks or blows, illumines or fructifies, they do not imagine the divine operation strained through sensory channels but employ bodiless figures of speech. And so the seeming anomaly of radiant darts for inspiriting breath overshadowing the Virgin “as dew in April,” or “like a divine fire” (St. Bonaventure), or as a voice, or again as “a fallen flare through the hollow of an ear” is not anomalous after all, poetically speaking. But the Renaissance master, monogamous in his attachment to painting, thinks otherwise. It is as if Lippi protested: why engage synesthesia at all? Do they take sight itself, sight unassisted, to be somehow deficient? Is the visual spectacle spread before our eyes spread too thin? And are pictures inadequate unless stocked with a borrowed metaphoricity? What need is there to think the Second Person enfleshed by dint of breath, moisture, heat, fragrance, or voiced wording? Suppose the sole and sufficient symbol of fecundation were light. Is it not purest light that materializes in scores of pious pictures of the Annunciation, where the divine effluence assumes the similitude of ethereal gold? Is not this what Gentile da Fabriano conveys in his Annunciation panel—­a broad, unswerving sunbeam settling on Mary’s womb (fig. 3.6)? And is not light of all substances the most spirit-­like, God’s firstborn and most sensible attribute? Because light is empowered to pass without violation through glass and crystal, it is the preeminent figure of Mary’s virginal impregnation. Therefore, says the painter, we who are called to envision the incarnational moment prefer the visible propagation of light to all rhetorical fancies of fertile utterance or fecund breath. Then let the painter depict God’s imminent humanation as a radiance from the Holy Ghost finding the Virgin’s womb. And what follows? How is that emanation received? Why, in responsiveness, even as the eye receives light—­by reciprocation. In the London Annunciation, Mary’s womb is impregnated by light as the eye is by sights received. Lippi’s symbol of a uterine radiance drawn forth by approach-

ing light represents a precisely visualized mechanism: it reflects a theory, widely held in medieval and Renaissance speculation, concerning the nature of visual perception. From the time of the ancients, learned men—­pagan, Christian, and Arab—­had debated whether seeing occurs by intromission or extramission. In the former view, advanced by Aristotle and the great Arab philosophers Avicenna, Alhazen, and Averroes, the act of seeing occurred as an impression made on the eye as it passively receives the “species”—­that is, the image, or visible aspect—­of an illumined body. The alternative doctrine—­propounded by Galen, the Stoics and Neoplatonists, and by men of influence from St. Augustine to Milton—­explained the act of vision as a radiant emission issuing from the eye. There seemed to be evidence for both views.39 In the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon had proposed a compromise, a synthesis of visual reception and ocular radiation. He speculated that, when the eye beholds, a power issuing from it “alters and ennobles the medium and renders it commensurate with sight, and thus it prepares for the approach of the species of the visible object.”40 As I now learn from Samuel Edgerton, Bacon’s synthetic theory was variously restated in the two following centuries and gained wide acceptance. Edgerton’s part of our joint venture demonstrates that the theory appealed to mid-­fifteenth-­century theologians and was familiar to Florentine artists. And it was this contemporary understanding of light and visual perception that gave Lippi his operational metaphor for the miracle of the Incarnation. Edgerton shows that the dove’s loss of altitude—­so that it be perpendicular to its target when light is most potent—­follows from Bacon’s geometric optics, and that even the plotted course of the dove’s earthward journey, down from God’s blessing hand, conforms to Bacon’s notion of  “the approach of the species.” The theory allowed Lippi to gaze upon—­in Milton’s phrase, to “express unblamed”—­the actuality of the miraculous impregnation, making it happen as vision occurs, not passively, but by interaction. The Virgin’s responding womb, like the eye when it hails the


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light, “alters and ennobles the medium” through which the quickening ray is brought home. It would not be the last time that a painter resorted to science for its metaphoricity. But it was the last time that the mystery of the virgin conception engaged this precise symbol. Perhaps Lippi’s discreet example went by unnoticed. Perhaps it was scientifically superseded. Lippi’s recourse to a mixed diagrammatic mode may have seemed recondite, unacceptable. And the image may have raised theological scruples, since Mary’s womb must be only receptive, not reaching out. To which last objection, however, Lippi might have replied that Mary’s active consent to the angel’s proposal was prerequisite to God’s scheme of salvation. Her willing faith—­which would make her co-­redemptrix with Christ—­elicited the Incarnation, much as the shining eye invites kindred light. Lippi’s metaphor is marvelously consistent. As the eye is unhurt by the piercing ray, so the numinous light left Mary virgo intacta. As the eye conceives unsubstantial species by vision, so her virgin womb conceived soul, not semen. As light is the world’s noblest substance and its cognate, vision, the noblest sense, so their coupling is fittest to serve as a symbol of sacred union. And as the eye is the proper portal of love, so the mating of sight

with light is the appropriate figure for the exemplary love act—­God’s espousal of human nature. Finally, Lippi, like Leon Battista Alberti, would have held to the view that the manifestations of light, and they alone, define the painter’s true province. Drawing on the boundless sufficiency of the visible, says the painter, we affirm and flesh out the truths of the faith far beyond the flimsy constructs of poets. For as the eye outranks the ear, so does the painted image surpass the speech of the poet: a claim for the supremacy of the painter’s art in which Lippi anticipates a younger Florentine—­Leonardo da Vinci. In Robert Browning’s splendid dramatic monologue “Fra Lippo Lippi” (1855), the painter is cast as a natural genius—­rash, garrulous, lovable, not above whoring, and impatient of learning. Browning has him say: Such a to-­do! they tried me with their books. Lord, they’d have taught me Latin in pure waste!

How likely is it that this genial monk would have tackled exotica such as the Baconian theory of perception? With this rhetorical question, I yield the floor confidently to my partner, Sam Edgerton.

F ou r

Mantegna’s Dead Christ Passion and Pattern


t the turn of the twentieth century, it was taken for granted that a drastic foreshortening imposed on a revered body—­the apparent reduction of its ideal stature—­was at best a triumph of art for art’s sake. If Mantegna deployed so much optical science to reduce and belittle the corpse of Christ, he must have been wholly indifferent to his subject matter (fig. 4.1). Later scholars came to the defense of the picture, seeing its foreshortening within a traditional iconography of death and pathos. It was not until the 1980s that the foreshortening, in its compression of Christ’s body, was perceived as a means of intensifying the viewer’s emotional response to the depicted stigmata, in keeping with the evolving devotional emphasis on Christ’s wounds.1

Binary Vision: The Parity of Surface and Depth Reading the wounds in spatial recession is but half the proffer of the picture. For the wounds of the Dead Christ are received not only in perspectival space but as well on the surface as a shaped pattern: the foreshortened figure is impressed on the canvas with almost geometric precision. From heels to head the corpse scales the full height of the frame. Its axis aligns with that of the field. The height of the elbows bisects it. Meanwhile, still on the plane of the canvas, the body’s perimeter forms a roughly pentagonal figure that passes elbows and heels and returns to its apex at the right temple. Within this closed circuit, the five wounds fall at clear intervals: the chest wound offered to the Madonna;

the hand wounds displayed in the traditional ostentatio vulnerum; those on the feet, extruded, overlapping the pictorial threshold. The incidence of these stigmata is not the accidental by-­product of the foreshortening but the very reason for it. In other words, the five-­sided figure produced by Mantegna’s Dead Christ was meant not only to host the five wounds, but to project them in a specific symbolic form. Mantegna seems to me to be doing two things: one in the receding depth of perspective and another on the flat of the picture plane. At the very moment that Christ’s earthly body, laid out before us in physical space, is diminished and humbled, the stigmata on the symbolic plane of the canvas describe an intelligible, near-­regular five-­pointed figure—­a pentagram (fig. 4.2). “Near-­regular” because this pentagram is not to be taken literally; the site of the five wounds does not meet Euclidean standards. The apex rises too high and leans too far to the left; the hand wounds move too far out;

The material was first delivered as a lecture at MIT in 1969, followed by a presentation at the College Art Association, January 28, 1970. Steinberg then prepared it as an essay, but it remained unpublished. He revised it for a Mantegna course at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, and yet again for a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 29, 1992. The essay below adheres to the Metropolitan lecture while adding relevant text and notes from the earlier versions and material from Steinberg’s files. The 1970 version of the essay was the subject of Daniele di Cola’s “Leo Steinberg e un libro inedito su Mantegna: Presenze e assenze del corpo di Cristo,” in Spazi bianchi: Le espressioni letterarie, linguistiche e visive dell’assenza, ed. Alfonsina Buoniconto et al. (Milan, 2019), pp. 399–­411.

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Figure 4.1. Andrea Mantegna, Dead Christ, c. 1483–­84. Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera.

while those in the feet come too close together and don’t descend far enough. But the painting compensates for exactly these five irregularities. If the diagram finds the hands too far apart, the gesture performed by these hands suggests an inward pressure against the flanks, so that we feel their clinging rather than excessive distance between them. Conversely, the diagrammed feet seem too close together; but in the picture they part like two pylon limbs, separated as by an intercolum-

niation, which could not be widened without offense. Third, if the wounds in the soles are not low enough for a regular pentagram, they suggest an irresistible down drag at exactly these points. Finally, the lance wound: diagrammatically, the distance between it and the feet seems too great. But visually it is just this distance from chest to feet that collapses in the foreshortening. As regards the off-­centeredness of the side wound: not only has Mantegna unstressed its actual site, but he

Ma n t e g na’s Dea d C h rist : Pas s ion a nd Pat te r n [89]

Figure 4.2. Diagram of the Dead Christ showing the wounds as a pentagram.

has done much to offset its eccentricity. The mourners at left discharge psychic energy toward the open right, a drift sustained by the tilt of Christ’s head, so that we get a sense of the side wound tending on the vault of the chest from side to center—­toward the Sacred Heart. Thus, if indeed Mantegna wished to allude to the pentagram on Christ’s body, he summoned the viewer’s intuition to rectify every metrical irregularity.

The Five Wounds as Symbolic Form As soon as we shift our focus to see the body offering its redemptive wounds, it is clear that Mantegna is promoting a pious tradition of mystic devotion. “Lord, my soul kisses all your fresh bleeding wounds, all my senses are nourished by this sweet fruit,” apostrophized Henry Suso; in the Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis urged the faithful to “rest in the passion of Christ and dwell joyously in his sacred wounds.”2 The sheer possibility of identification with Christ through shared

suffering was proved by the stigmata bestowed on St. Francis. Gradually, in the practice and supportive imagery of devotion, references to the instruments of the Passion multiplied, intended to serve the exercitant as foci and memory aids.3 Devotion to the arma Christi was aided by an expanding vocabulary of pictorial symbols: pictographs whose regular veneration promised rewards—­indulgences or assurance against dying without hope of salvation.4 Though the wounds were not visually isolated from the instruments that inflicted them, by the late fourteenth century there were three variant dispositions of the five points—­as cross, quincunx, and pentagram. The cross type—­three points down the axis and one on each side—­was a disposition dictated by Christ himself to St. Bridget in one of the rules for the Brigittine Order. The lay brothers, Christ told her, were to wear five points in-­cross in honor of his five wounds.5 St. Bridget died in 1373. In the next decade, the stigmata entered the coat of arms of the kingdom of Portugal:

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five escutcheons, in-­cross, each set with five plates (bezants or besantes), arranged in a quincunx, a St. Andrew’s cross. And a legend sprang up attributing the heraldic symbolism to Christ’s personal intervention before a great battle against the Moors. Honor my wounds on your standard, Christ told the Portuguese king, and I’ll see to it that you win.6 Third, the shield of Sir Gawain, hero of a late fourteenth-­century English poem, displayed the pentagram or five-­pointed star—­ here called “pentangle” or “endless knot”—­because the knight’s “faith was fixed on the five wounds that Christ endured on the cross” (lines 619–­642). The cinquefoil sign of the stigmata had become an autonomous symbol. Its message was five, what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “the cipher of suffering Christ.”7 But the wounds in this form were conventional tokens, wanting immediate affective power. After the mid-­fifteenth century, chiefly north of the Alps,

Figure 4.3. Master of the Martyrdom of the 10,000, Christ Child in the Sacred Heart, c. 1450. Lehrs 86.

the five wounds began to appear in a novel synthesis, as the reverence long paid to the Sacred Heart linked up with renewed fervor in the cult of the wounds, then spreading in popular devotional practice and entering the breviaries of major religious orders.8 In the new devotional image, sign and pictograph met: the transfixed Sacred Heart at the center, speared on its right; and the stigmata in the four spandrels, rendered as detached hands and feet. The severed members are pierced or identified by cruciferous halos (fig. 4.3).9 In another conception of the pictograph, the child is omitted and the centered heart is scaled down, so that the wounds become five homologous elements in a quincunx; and they are enfleshed, often restored to their anatomic proportions (fig. 4.4).10 Only in this reinvestment of flesh are they assimilated to the arms of Christ, composed of the instruments of the Passion, to enter into Christ’s total heraldic achievement.

Figure 4.4. German woodcut, Arma Christi, c. 1455–­70. Munich,

Staatliche Graphische Sammlung.

Ma n t e g na’s Dea d C h rist : Pas s ion a nd Pat te r n

Thus, by about 1500, the veneration of the stigmata had become expressive under three forms. One was abstract: the stigmata could be evoked by any fivefold repetition in a liturgical or devotional context, as by five Paternosters or by the five large equidistant beads newly inserted in the Dominican rosary. Visually, the stigmata could be similarly expressed by any quintuple token or sign. The second mode was the popular pictograph with its regular pattern of anatomical parts. Neither of these bore on the Renaissance conception of painting with its bias toward figuration and naturalism. Few Renaissance artists would have allowed a nice patterning of the wounds to chill the expressiveness of the body. Except—­this is the third mode—­in one instance, that is, the visionary context of a Last Judgment. Several Last Judgment Christs from the Trecento show the wounds both on the body and as a pattern (fig. 4.5).11 Among these, the most important is Guariento’s vault fresco of Christ as Judge, formerly in the apse of the Eremitani Church at Padua (fig. 4.6). It presents Christ in ostensive posture, hands leveled, feet spread, the stigmata displayed. It was in the adjoining Ovetari Chapel some eighty years later that the young

Mantegna painted his own first fresco cycle. Every day for five years he could have seen Guariento’s figure filling its angel-­borne glory, its extremities at the points of a pentagon, and the wounds deployed for greatest emphasis—­surely not inadvertently.

Coincidence of Opposites For an artist of Mantegna’s generation, the abstract geometric mode was too disembodied to fully envision the sacrifice of the incarnate Christ. The pictographic or hieroglyphic mode, with its dismembered extremities, would offend the Renaissance sense of the integrity of the body. And the narrative naturalism of those Trecento Christs dimmed the sacramental character of the sign. They are three mutually exclusive modalities, which only a sovereign imagination could comprehend in a single vision. This I believe Mantegna has done. In his Dead Christ opposites coincide. Every modern resource of illusionism, of foreshortened anatomy and perspective, is enlisted to reconcile the polarities of body and diagram, flesh and transcendence. Begin with the picture’s much-­vaunted perspective. Correct Quattrocento perspective demands the conver-

Figure 4.5. Maso di Banco, Christ in Judgment, c. 1335. Florence, Santa Croce, Bardi Chapel.


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Figure 4.6. Guariento, Christ as Judge, 1338. Formerly Padua, Church of the Eremitani.

gence of all orthogonals on a common vanishing point, whereas the Dead Christ compounds two or three. The body itself is seen from a point slightly left of center and from below, as though from a kneeling position—­which accounts for the disappearance of the upper chest beyond the horizon of the pectorals. Yet the ointment jar at upper right displays all its rims as exact horizontals, implying, as do the mourners’ faces, an eye level directly opposite, flush with Christ’s chest. This apparent anomaly, the induced sense of a low viewpoint high on the picture plane, need not be self-­contradictory. But it is contradicted by the perspective of the supporting slab, which appears to be seen from the lofty vanishing point implied by its visible sides—­at an inaccessible level almost double the height of the canvas. And why is it that the slab obeys the law of perspective by narrowing as it recedes while the immense mass of the body, neutralizing the perspectival effect, expands to a giant’s head? The comparative scaling of head and hands suggests a reverse perspective. This counteraction, moreover, is sustained by a progressive dilation of the transversals.

In normal fifteenth-­century spatial construction, the measured intervals between the transversals diminish as they withdraw from the point of sight. In Mantegna’s picture, the drapery folds from ankles to loins, the marble veining, even the faint indication of brick flooring at right, show either a stepwise recession at constant intervals or else, like the body itself, a persistent enlargement. How is it that Mantegna, this master of perspectival projection, allowed such blundering? There is hardly a tenet of orthodox Quattrocento perspective that he does not pointedly question or contradict. Consider, too, the depicted space. Earlier foreshortened figures almost invariably recede on a diagonal, and their overhead space allows ample clearance. Only the Dead Christ combines a centered orthogonality with extreme spatial confinement. Because Mantegna’s extended corpse coincides with the field, because its seeming recession is the whole altitude of the plane, it becomes the first foreshortened figure that cannot be re-­erected in the known space. The effect is a compelling awareness of surface exactly where Mantegna

Ma n t e g na’s Dea d C h rist : Pas s ion a nd Pat te r n

seems most intent on feigning depth. It is this emphatic negation of an emphatically asserted perspective that facilitates the dual reading of the image as both three-­ dimensional staging and sign.12 The hands and feet likewise contribute to the twofold effect of depth and flatness: the former acutely flexed, the latter cocked up, and all at right angles to their respective limbs. Together they become one compound action which is as unnatural for a living man as for a corpse. But the action raises up four stigmatized planes, like so many tablets or plaques; and it appoints these four surfaces on the body—­and these only—­to remain unforeshortened. Is it far fetched to recognize here an approximation to those emblems which more literally isolate hands and feet?

The Seal of Salvation Unlike common wounds, which are accidents dispersed at haphazard, Christ’s stigmata are trophies, the credentials of the Incarnate, his insignia. The body bears them in the way an escutcheon bears its device. And this is precisely the way Renaissance piety had begun to venerate the wounds. Dante had described St. Francis’s stigmata as Christ’s “final seal”—­“de Cristo preso l’ultimo sigillo” (Paradiso, XI, 107). In Marco Vigerio’s Decachordum christianum of 1507, St. Francis’s stigmata are called “the standard of the triumphant Christ engraved [on his] body.” Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (completed 1516) speaks of “St. Francis upon whom an ardent spirit of love impressed the most holy seal of the Five Wounds.”13 And there was a parallel interpretation of the five-­ form seal of the wounds, surely known to Mantegna, which supplied it with a mythical history as exalted as that of the cross. It is grounded in the esoterica of Egyptian hieroglyphics, a subject that fascinated fifteenth-­century Renaissance humanists and artists, from Alberti and Filarete to Francesco Colonna and Bramante, and not least in Mantegna’s Paduan and Mantuan milieus.14 Mantegna himself may have suggested hieroglyphs in the frieze of the arch in canvas IX of the Triumphs of Caesar.15

The Renaissance fervor for hieroglyphs was sparked by the arrival in Florence of a Greek manuscript of the Hieroglyphica by Horapollo, a fifth-­century AD Alexandrian steeped in the study of ancient Egypt and of Greek philosophy. Discovered on the island of Andros in 1419 by an agent of Cosimo de’ Medici, the manuscript soon made its way to Florence, where it unleashed a wave of Egyptomania among intellectuals and artists no less than copyists and translators.16 Among the copyists was the inveterate traveler and epigraphist Ciriaco d’Ancona, who in the 1430s made a Latin abridgement of thirty-­ six signs from book I of the Hieroglyphica. Mantegna may have known Ciriaco, but in any case certainly knew of his work through Ciriaco’s disciple and Mantegna’s friend Felice Feliciano. Filarete’s close associate Francesco Filelfo, a leading humanist in the Milanese court, had a copy, possibly made when he was in Florence (1429–­34). The copy owned by the Carmelite scholar Michele Fabrizio Ferrarini, titled “Signum egyptia hieroglyphica,” may have derived from Ciriaco’s manuscript.17 Whether the Hieroglyphica translates a genuine Egyptian text or merely reflects Horapollo’s own understanding of hieroglyphics, whether he was the sole author, or whether the Hieroglyphica is actually a text of later date—­all these are matters of debate for modern scholars. For Renaissance humanists, Horapollo offered proof that ancient Egypt was a center of profound theology, matched by the Greek philosophers and antecedent to Christianity. Marsilio Ficino, noting the Egyptian use of the cross as a signifier of future life, explained that “what the Egyptians before Christ thought about the cross was not so much a testimony of the gifts of the stars, as it was a prophecy of the power that it was going to receive from Christ.”18 In his commentary on Plotinus’s Enneads, Ficino expands on the Neoplatonic concept of visual symbols (i.e., hieroglyphs): “The Egyptian priests, when they wished to signify divine things, did not use letters, but whole figures of plants, trees, and animals. For God has knowledge of things not through a multiplicity of thought processes but rather as a simple and firm form of the thing. . . . The Egyptians comprehend this whole discourse in one stable image . . . as Horus describes.”19


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The “stable image” Horapollo describes in book I, 13, is a five-­pointed star, i.e., a pentagram, charged with divinity.

signs and seals of faith.” He continues with a story told by the late-­Greek author Lucian from the reign of the Hellenistic king Antiochus Soter (“the Savior”):

What the star signifies To symbolize the cosmic god, or fate, or the number five, they draw a star. God, since the forethought of God preordains victory, by which the movement of the stars and the whole universe is accomplished. For it seems to them that apart from God nothing at all exists. Fate, because fate is determined by the arrangement of the stars. And the number five, because despite the host of heavenly bodies, the movement of only five determines the economy of the cosmos.20

Antiochus, surnamed Soter, once went on an expedition against the Galatians, a strong nation protected by a huge military force. He was about to engage in a very difficult battle of which, so Lucian writes, “he had very poor hopes,” when in the night he saw in a dream Alexander standing by him, ordering him to issue his soldiers before battle with a particular sign of health as their password [tessera] in the fight. Through this sign he was promised victory. The sign that was marked on their clothes was, as the same author from Samosata remarks in A Slip of the Tongue in Greeting, “a triple triangle which forms a pentagram [quinquilinearis].” Uplifted by this sign, Antiochus won a miraculous victory against the Galatians. I myself have often seen that symbol of the pentagon [pentagoni] struck on the silver coins of Antiochus. When the lines are laid out straight they reveal the Greek word hygeia meaning “health” [sanitas].24

The Hieroglyphica, first printed in 1505, remained unillustrated until the mid-­sixteenth century, but Horapollo’s definition could only have been understood to Quattrocento readers as a five-­pointed star.21 It is not difficult to imagine that Mantegna, whose own learning prospered among North Italian humanists, had access to the ancient Egyptian wisdom that infused the five-­ pointed star with a divine aura when he disposed the five wounds of Christ in the geometry of a pentagram. The final link between the pentagram and the vulnera was forged in the course of the sixteenth century in compendia of esoteric erudition infused with the fifteenth-­century pseudoscience of signs and emblems. Begin with Johann Reuchlin’s De arte cabalistica, published in 1517.22 Reuchlin (1455–­1522) was introduced to Kabbalah by Pico della Mirandola, founder of  “Christian Kabbalah,” for whom there was “no knowledge that makes us more certain of the divinity of Christ than magic and the Kabbalah.”23 With Pico’s death in 1494, the mantle of Christian Kabbalah fell on Reuchlin. The Art of the Kabbalah takes the form of a conversation between Simon ben Elazar, a Jew in Frankfurt, the Muslim Marranus, and the Pythagorean Philolaus. When the discussion turns to the power of signs among the Kabbalists, Simon opines: “It is not only the Hebrew Kabbalists who deal with such matters, for the most understanding of the Greeks also attributed much to

Illustrated in the margin is a five-­pointed star with the letters ҮГЕІА in the interstices (see fig. 4.8 for the same configuration).25 Observe that Reuchlin confounds what we think of as two different figures—­pentagon and pentagram. In Italian usage, the terms were equivalent.26 The two forms which mutually generate one another and whose names were interchangeable shared one symbolic charge. Missing from Reuchlin’s account is Lucian’s ascription of that symbolic charge to Pythagoras, whose philosophy, Reuchlin believed (following Pico), derived from Hebrew sources and who transmitted the secrets of the Kabbalah to the Greeks.27 All the followers of the “divine Pythagoras,” Lucian wrote in a remark preceding the Antiochus story, in serious letters to each other began straightway with “Health to you,” as a greeting most suitable for both body and soul, encompassing all human goods. Indeed the pentagram, the triple intersecting triangle

Ma n t e g na’s Dea d C h rist : Pas s ion a nd Pat te r n

which they used as a symbol of their sect, they called “Health” [hygeia].28

So much for Lucian. Now hear Cornelius Agrippa (1486–­1535), a theologian, physician, and diplomat long immersed in studying the occult sciences. Book II, chapter 27, of De occulta philosophia, published in 1533, explains that the human figure expresses the harmony between macrocosm and microcosm—­“from the very joints of man’s body all numbers, measures, proportions, and harmonies were invented.” One of the woodcut diagrams illustrating different harmonies of human measure presents a Vitruvian Man spread-­eagled in a circled pentagram—­a pentagonum (fig. 4.7).29 In the next book, Agrippa takes up the Antiochus story but now accents the revelatory nature of signs: There is a type of character which can be received only by revelation and no other way. The virtue of these characters is to reveal the deity; among which are certain secret signs breathing the harmony of some divinity. They are, as it were, a kind of covenant between us and them. Of this sort is the sign shown to Constantine, which many called a cross, and another, revealed to Antiochus in the form of a pentagon [in figura pentagoni]; turned into letters, it becomes the word ҮГЕІА , that is, health [sanitas].30

The regular five-­pointed figure thus carries an emphatic celestial provenance, as it had in Horapollo, and a salvific function comparable to that of the cross.31 It was the humanist philosopher Pierio Valeriano (1477–­1558) who made the final transition from the ancient Greek ҮГЕІА -­sanitas to the more Christian salus, “salvation.” His Hieroglyphica (1556) is a learned treatise on hieroglyphic lore transmitted to him by his uncle and mentor, Fra Urbano Bolzanio. In a section on the significance of arcane symbols composed of letters, Valeriano introduces the pentagram, which he calls the pentalpha (“composed of five alphas intricately joined together”), retelling the story of its supernatural origin in the apparition of Alexander and illustrated, as in Reuchlin and Agrippa, by an encircled pentagram


Figure 4.7. Agrippa of Nettesheim, De occulta philosophia (Cologne, 1533), book II, ch. 27, p. 163.

with the letters Ү Г Е ІА (fig. 4.8).32 Again, like Reuchlin, he replaces Lucian’s term synthema—­the password Alexander commanded Antiochus to give to his soldiers—with tessera. Whereas the Greek term refers to a verbal signal or code, tessera implies a physical token handed out to the soldiers on which the word and the sign appeared together—­a cunning translator’s shift that enables Valeriano to call Antiochus’s password a hieroglyph: “Which aforesaid hieroglyph, or pentagram, placed upon the standards . . . won a marvelous victory over the Galatians.”33 For the “eternal commemoration” of this victory he claims to have seen the Antiochan coin described by Reuchlin. Valeriano mentions other manifestations of the pentagram—­as an apotropaic sign and the salus Pythagorae, noting that Latin writers routinely replace the Greek letters with salus.34 But there is more. His account of the pagan career of the pentagram suddenly leaps ahead to Christian symbolism. He cannot, he says, leave the subject without pointing out that we can receive the five wounds of Christ in the sign of true salvation [in verae salutis significatum]. For when the hands are spread so that they extend downward from the sides, and the feet are spread a moderate dis-

Four [96]

Figure 4.8. Pierio Valeriano, Hieroglyphica, pentagram with the

word Ү Г Е І А (Basel, 1556), book XLVII, ch. 31, fol. 351v.

tance apart, and these four points are equidistant, plus the fifth in his breast [costas inter]; and when from these points five equal lines are drawn, connecting alternate points, they form a pentagram.35

This “sign of salvation” as the vehicle of the wounds is illustrated by a small marginal cut. It shows a naked Christ standing and exhibiting the stigmata as the vertices of a five-­point constellation, or pentagram (fig. 4.9). It is a strangely daring conceit to appear among Valeriano’s hieroglyphs so suddenly, out of its pagan context. One wonders about this invention—­a Christ image arranged to make the wounds spell the diagram of salvation. Did the idea, so inept in its execution, originate with Valeriano and his hack illustrator (who fudged on the gorilla length of the arms), or are we witnessing the vulgarization of some greater thought, attributable to Mantegna and realized in the Brera picture?

Figure 4.9. Pierio Valeriano, Hieroglyphica, Christ exhibiting the

stigmata as a pentagram (Basel, 1556), book XLVII, ch. 31, fol. 351v.

The pentagram, in both its Christian and mythic resonance, stamps the picture plane of the Dead Christ just as the five crosses engraved on Catholic altars invoke the five wounds to signify the eucharistic Christ. The incarnate Christ lies, with the ointment jar at his head, on the Stone of Unction.36 As this stone is equated with the slab of the altar, the stigmatized Christ becomes, as it were, the stencil of its decoration. “What is the altar but the form of the body of Christ?” runs the rhetorical question in the De sacramentis attributed to St. Ambrose.37 It is the last act of the incarnate Christ to imprint or impress the seal of his saving wounds on the altar. He is the corpus domini in his self-­sacrifice, and Mantegna gave him a twofold nature: as the humbled, foreshortened corpse, wounded in hands, side, and feet; and as mystic sign, a pentagonal figure, the matrix of the seal of salvation. Passion and pattern coincide. In their very subjection to perspective and natural law, the terrestrial limbs engender symbolic form.



ontormo’s work in the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita, Florence, began in 1525 with the decoration of its hemispherical dome, a fresco of God the Father surrounded by four Patriarchs. The fresco was followed by four circular panels for the pendentives with bust portraits of the Evangelists, partly Bronzino’s work,1 and by the great altarpiece, variously called Descent from the Cross (or Deposition), Pietà, or Entombment (fig. 5.1).2 The final work, datable in 1528, was the fresco of the Annunciation on the window wall. This last, the four tondi, and the altarpiece in its rich period frame are intact. The cupola decoration was lost when the original dome was destroyed to make way for the present shallower vault, probably in the eighteenth century. In fact, no clue to the dome decoration emerged until 1914, when F. M. Clapp cited a drawing at the Uffizi (fig. 5.13) as “probably a study for one of the Patriarchs.”3 Fifty years later, Janet Cox-­Rearick identified no fewer than seven Pontormo drawings for the destroyed cupola (figs. 5.5, 5.6, 5.11–­5.13, 5.15).4 Her comprehensive study remains the prerequisite for any consideration of the lost fresco, and hence for every attempt to reconceive Pontormo’s design for the chapel in its original unity. John Shearman took the next step. In 1971, he argued that Pontormo’s altarpiece had been “studied too much in isolation,” that it belongs to “a larger whole.” He reads the representation as a sequential action: as “Christ is taken away from His Mother, toward the tomb . . . the Virgin’s gesture . . . becomes one of farewell.” Meanwhile, on the vault surface directly opposite, the figure of God the Father (known to us from the Uffizi drawings, figs. 5.5, 5.6) extends his right hand in “a gesture of sublime

Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel

compassion and benediction directed across the chapel to the dead Christ.” “The fusion by gesture and emotion of dome and altarpiece has the effect that the subject-­ matter of the parts also becomes one, and that an action takes place across the space of the chapel.”5 In what follows, I will have to quarrel with almost every detail of Shearman’s analysis. But my disagreements, instead of invalidating, will, I believe, confirm his essential intuition.

1. The Vacant Center To begin with the two main characters in the altarpiece. Shearman sees the Virgin as “swooning backwards.” A moment before, she had held Christ’s left hand, “which she now releases, and it is taken instead by one of the two women who will go with the body to the tomb.”6 But we are given no indication that the Virgin is swooning. It was indeed during these very years that the propriety of the Virgin’s swoon—­lo spasimo—­was subjected to theological scrutiny. The official position is set forth in an important epistle of July 17, 1506 (republished 1529), written by Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan, and entitled De spasmo B. Mariae. The cardinal reasoned that since the Virgin was cooperant in Christ’s sacrifice and participant in its every phase with full decision and knowledge, she could not have swooned as the painters had pictured her.7 His closely argued deOriginally published in the Art Bulletin, 56 (September 1974), pp. 385–­99. The version below incorporates revisions made by Steinberg in 2004 and other notes in his files.

Figure 5.1. Pontormo, Santa Felicita altarpiece, 1525–­28. Florence, Santa Felicita, Capponi Chapel.

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

cision did not proceed with the force of law—­witness the recurrence of the Madonna’s swoon in sixteenth-­ century painting, from Raphael to Carracci. But it did help to promote an alternative to a tradition established since Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Thus, in the light of the cardinal’s ruling, the Santa Felicita altarpiece is both modern and orthodox in that the Madonna shows no signs of fainting. Though three or four figures stand by to comfort her, she sits unsupported and elevated, immense in scale, open eyed, her head high, the wave of her hand wholly volitional.8 A bareheaded woman—­probably Mary Magdalen—­ moves in from the right, and the bend of her naked arm crosses and accents the Virgin’s lap. But the Virgin’s closed thighs reappear sharply delineated under the Magdalen’s arm—­their deep blue brightening at the knees where they make a last contact with Christ. And the arc of Christ’s body still curves about the Ma-

Figure 5.2. Michelangelo, Roman Pietà, 1498–­99, detail. Rome,

St. Peter’s.

donna. The two bodies are separated as by a stretching cord. It is as though the dead Christ had slipped from his mother’s knees or, more accurately, had just been lifted from them by the two youthful attendants. “Das sonderbar leere Zentrum des Bildes,” to which Kurt Forster’s sensitive paraphrase of the picture reverts again and again9 —­that voided middle about which all revolves—­is the Virgin’s untenanted lap, the widowed center of the design. The prelude to the moment depicted, its implied precondition, emerges for us as a familiar icon, a devotional image in which mourner and mourned overlap and enfold one another; and we recall that with Capponi’s acquisition of the chapel in 1525, its dedication was transferred from the Virgin Annunciate to the Pietà.10 The allusion made in the altarpiece is precise and specific: Pontormo was evoking Michelangelo’s marble group at St. Peter’s (figs. 5.2, 5.3).11 Only Michelangelo’s

Figure 5.3. Detail of figure 5.1.


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Christ figure anticipates the crescent swerve of Pontormo’s Christ. The sinuous arabesque which the dead body describes in Michelangelo’s marble is, like Pontormo’s, a three-­dimensional curve, flexed both at groin and waist and, at the same time, bent to encompass the Virgin, so that the right, the wounded side, is arched to the full. Pontormo, then, reenvisions the Roman Pietà, but as a dissolving unit.12 The hidden presence of the Michelangelo image in the Capponi altarpiece is more than a stylistic resource. It enables Pontormo to direct our vision beyond what

is shown and to intensify the bereavement. As a disrupted Pietà, the depicted moment posits a compact norm against which to measure the separation. For the more indissoluble the implied original union, the more grievous the severance. Pontormo’s picture stages the breaking up of a revered symbolic form, the sundering of the familiar communion of mother and son, with the Virgin, cognizant and acquiescent, letting go.13 One significant detail in the preparatory drawing at Christ Church, Oxford (fig. 5.4), confirms Pontormo’s conception of the picture as a durational sequence. In its

Figure 5.4. Pontormo, study for the Santa Felicita altarpiece. Oxford, Christ Church Picture Gallery.

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

upper left corner a cleft in the composition is filled by a ladder whose diagonal path descends directly upon the Madonna’s lap. Implied is the antecedent descent from the cross—­and that the Virgin’s lap, having received the dead body, is now again yielding it up. We are given a threefold moment: Deposition—­Pietà—­Separation.14 The topical reference to Golgotha, which the ladder conveyed, did not survive in the painting. The ladder was replaced by a cloud—­a single crisp cumulus under a preternatural light. The cloud is light struck from the left, that is, the east, unlike every other depicted form in the chapel, illuminated as if by the western light of the real window. Pontormo must have had a good reason for suppressing the direct reference to the foregoing moment on Calvary. And the reason must lie in the evolution of the overall concept. In his final realization, he would still symbolize a three-­phased event, but with a thematic shift that puts the removal of the dead body not at the end stage but at the midpoint of the action.

2. The Destination of Christ’s Body Vasari describes the altarpiece as though it comprised a temporal sequence: “Un Christo morto deposto di croce, il quale è portato alla sepoltura.” Recent Pontormo scholars have been more careful in specifying the precise moment depicted—­not a Deposition from the Cross, but a Grabtragung. Shearman too follows the revised reading: “The body is being carried and lowered forward . . . toward the tomb.” He adds: “It is curious, however, that the stained-­glass window of the Capponi Chapel duplicates the subject of the Altarpiece.”15 Since the window was made in 1526 as part of the general program, its “duplication” of the Entombment scene is indeed strange enough to make one wonder whether the now accepted interpretation of the action can be correct; whether it is in fact a specific historical moment that the altarpiece represents. Doubt is aroused at once by the disturbing allure of the adolescent Christ-­bearers—­“two completely unidentifiable youths,” says Hartt.16 Lithe, silken, androgynous, they are clearly not the Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea of the scriptural narrative. But

this is as it should be, for as the Pietà image itself is ahistorical, so must be those agents who alone may lift the divine body from Mary’s lap. They must therefore be angels—­as they are in Michelangelo’s Pietà for Vittoria Colonna, or in Luca Penni’s design for the Pietà engraved by Jean Mignon, or in Bronzino’s Accademia Deposition.17 But angels, though they may attend Christ in his tomb as Man of Sorrows, though they may assist at the miracle of Resurrection, do not engage in entombing the body. If then, Pontormo’s Christ-­bearers are angels, separating the divine son from Mary’s lap, what ulterior function can they perform? Can we be sure that Christ’s body is being “lowered”? This indeed follows from the presumption of imminent burial, but it does not follow from what we see. The visual data seem to allow contradictory readings. For one modern scholar (Hartt), “the figures ascend in the mysterious space like a fountain in a Renaissance garden”; for another (Forster), “Pontormo’s Entombment weighs and sinks downward.”18 Yet the Christ-­bearing youth at the left seems unbowed by his load: his inoperant hands touch a weightless burden, and his buoyant feet take no pressure. But the question of destination can be referred to more objective criteria since, in the conventions of Renaissance narrative, load-­bearing figures tend to signal their course: their intended motion is normally heralded by the tilt of the head. And it is noteworthy that in Pontormo’s picture, not one of the figures in touch with the corpse drops their gaze; none lowers a head in anticipation of a descent. The light-­footed youth at left advances with head erect. His crouching comrade strains to keep his head lifted. And the young woman beneath the cloud not only looks skyward, but so cradles the head of Christ in her hands that it too faces up. It is surely remarkable that this mourner, upholding the precious head, does not gaze down upon it. She presents it as one would an offering. The poignant motif of the cradled head was not new. It occurs in Perugino’s Lamentation (Florence, Pitti Palace) and again in Botticelli’s Lamentation (Milan, Museo Poldi-­Pezzoli). But inevitably, in both pictures, the woman involved gazes down; and in the Botticelli, the


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head of Christ aims at the sepulcher in the upper zone of the composition. It is a directional sign. As in Raphael’s Borghese Entombment, as in Michelangelo’s Entombment at the London National Gallery, as in Naldini’s Deposition at Santa Maria Novella, the head foretells where the body will go. Could the head of Pontormo’s Christ be predictive in the same way? The alternative is not supported by visual evidence. As an “Entombment,” Pontormo’s staging of the event is unique in neglecting to furnish the least indication of cave or sepulcher. Scholars have always been conscious of this omission and have met the problem in one of two ways: either by declaring the image too abstract to permit specification of time and place or by suggesting, as Shearman does, that the body, “carried and lowered forward as if out of the frame . . . is being lowered, in the first place, to the altar”—­the altar here symbolizing the tomb of Christ.19 This is an interesting proposition, but the logic of Pontormo’s choreography will not allow it; for the lowering of a body onto a slab parallel to the picture calls for a totally different action—­somewhat as in Luini’s Burial of St. Catherine at the Brera, where the corpse is neatly aligned with the tomb. What makes the transport of the corpse in our altarpiece so distinctive is its apparent rotation, confirmed by the differentiation of its two bearers—­one in procession, the other at rest. The youth at center—­immobilized by his crouch while his companion proceeds toward us—­acts as the fixed foot of a compass. And the woman at the upper left, presenting Christ’s head, ensures that the head will not be read ambiguously as falling backward, but as urged forward in our direction. The result is what Shearman correctly calls “the rotational effect” of the composition: “As the body of Christ is lowered forward it also pivots on the crouching figure in the center beneath the knees.” This pivoting movement is not only crucial to Pontormo’s design, it is essentially the depicted event: Christ’s upper body is at this moment revolving through ninety degrees, as if to back “out of the frame” on an orthogonal axis. Such an event cannot be written off as a formal artifice; what is done to Christ’s body cannot be void of meaning.

The imminent redirection of the body of Christ is not compatible with the notion of a recipient altar. One suspects that the suggested altar-­as-­tomb on this side of the picture plane is a conceptual expedient designed to explain the absence of any alternative goal for a body supposedly borne to its grave.20 The idea is contradicted by that “rotation,” which shows the body preparing to issue from its pictorial space—­head and back first. If Pontormo’s representation symbolizes an ongoing process, and if, in that process, the pivoting of Christ’s body has any meaning at all, then the altar, placed parallel with the picture plane, cannot be the body’s immediate destination. I suggest that its destination is God.

3. The Padre Eterno The figure of God the Father (figs. 5.5, 5.6)—­in the dome, facing the altarpiece—­is bestowing more than a blessing. Shearman reminds us that Raphael’s Borghese Entombment, too, was originally surmounted by a bust figure of God the Father with his hands raised in blessing (now in the Pinacoteca, Perugia), but the comparison sharpens the difference between the two works. As the Raphael indicates, and as Pontormo’s own benedicenti confirm, a blessing is given with the index and middle finger of a raised hand, and the giver usually turns his body so as to face the receiver. The gesture of Pontormo’s God figure exhibits none of these traits; the arm is not ceremoniously raised, but thrust out; the fingers are splayed, not uplifted; and the shoulders are still half averted, an offhand position incompatible with the priestly posture of benediction.21 It seems rather that the figure is reaching out and turning to face what it seeks. Its attitude is transitional, like the movement of the figures below. We recall Leonardo’s advice that a person, having his attention aroused, should be shown turning to his objective first with the eyes and head, then with the trunk, and only last with the feet.22 Pontormo’s Father figure is conceived as just such an alerted presence, a figure rotating as it responds to an appeal. The arm steers the trunk toward frontality, so that we see the Father in process of pivoting, pivoting like the Son, but in a reciprocal, clockwise direction.23

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Figure 5.5. Pontormo, study for God

the Father. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 6686F.

Figure 5.6. Pontormo, study for God

the Father. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 8966F.

His present action will be fulfilled when his lower limbs have caught up with the impulse of his upper body. Then, in the imminent sequel, he will present himself frontally, and in this posture receive the Son who even now turns to rejoin the Father enskied in the dome. The respective motions of the two divine figures are both transitional, but they are so intentioned, and so charged with promise, that we foresee a consumma-

tion in which both figures jointly come to face us. We, having witnessed the severing of the Pietà, are about to witness the assembly of another devotional emblem, the Trinity, Gnadenstuhl, Throne of Grace. It may be that here, too, as in his reference to the Pietà, Pontormo had a specific image in mind—­Dürer’s Gnadenstuhl woodcut of 1511 (fig. 5.7). Except for the reverse tilt of the shoulders, the Christ in his altarpiece

F ive

Figure 5.7. Albrecht Dürer, Gnadenstuhl, 1511. New York, Metropolitan

Figure 5.8. Hans Baldung Grien, Dead Christ Carried to Heaven by Angels,

Museum of Art; George Khuner Collection, bequest of Marianne Khuner, 1984.

1516. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1923.

shows considerable similarity to Dürer’s in the disposition of head and arms, in the solicitude bestowed on the left hand and wrist. And we observe that Dürer’s Gottvater sustains the Crucified with veiled hands, and that Pontormo’s Padre Eterno, with much surplus drapery across his knees, holds one end readied in his left hand, while the rest billows under his right. It was suggested before that none but angels may lift the dead Christ from his mother’s knees. Let us add that if a painter ever considered by what means the lifeless body (as opposed to the vivified body of the Ascension) reached the heavenly lap of the Father, he must have decided upon angels as the appropriate agents—­as did Hans Baldung in his woodcut of 1516 (fig. 5.8).

This functional logic is most clearly embodied in a Trinity fresco commissioned in 1567 from Pontormo’s disciple Bronzino and executed in 1571 by Bronzino’s adopted son Alessandro Allori (fig. 5.9). In the fresco the divine pair appear oddly unstable for their iconic role. The Man of Sorrows, with limbs dispersed and aflutter, seems all too nimble. But the reason for this extravagant posture emerges from a comparison with Allori’s own Descent from the Cross, produced in 1560 for Santa Croce, Florence. In this earlier work, the Christ figure, for which we have several drawings (fig. 5.10), is severely constrained, its attitude of oblique descent sanctioned by long tradition. But in his 1571 Trinity fresco, Allori undertook the more recondite task of combining the

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

Figure 5.10. Alessandro Allori, Descent

from the Cross, c. 1560. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 10263F.

Figure 5.9. Alessandro Allori, Trinity, 1571. Florence, Santissima Annunziata.

Gnadenstuhl image with the conceit of a corpse soaring. And his chosen procedure, almost naively mechanical, was to invert the action of his earlier Christ limb by limb, gesture by gesture. On the Christ of the Descent the head slumps to the left; a hand still impaled keeps one arm rigid, while the other, released and bent at right angles, hangs down; a linen band tightens about the chest; the torso is flexed against the left waist and the lower body deflected toward crossed ankles. Now, in the

Trinity, the body’s ascent would be indicated by exactly reversing whatever had formerly expressed its descent. Every term is inverted, while three wingless angels, exuberant as pagan putti hanging a garland, put the dead Christ in position. The aim is to reconceive the traditional Trinity group as a nascent event, as if the Son were just being delivered into the Father’s arms. The fresco was painted on the altar wall of the Cappella di San Luca in the monastery of the Servites in

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the Santissima Annunziata, where Pontormo’s body had recently been reinterred—­the first artist to lie in the sepulcher of the newly founded Florentine Accademia del Disegno. Within a year of the fresco’s completion, Bronzino died, and Allori returned to the work to make two additions a secco. On its flanking pedestals he painted the portraits of Pontormo and Bronzino—­ both now effaced but identified by their surviving initials. This tribute to the two deceased masters was aptly placed: it completed a fresco whose conception of the Trinity as a moment of dramatic reunion recalled Pontormo’s masterpiece, the Capponi Chapel, in whose decoration Bronzino had taken part.24 Dome and altarpiece in the Capponi Chapel are indeed one—­not because God the Father bestows a remote blessing on the entombing of Christ, but because God turns to receive the body turning to enter his arms. And this vision of divine receptivity is surely prefigured in the outstanding precedent for the fusion of dome and altarpiece—­Raphael’s Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, begun c. 1513. “In the original project,” writes Shearman, “the altarpiece was to represent the Assumption; drawings show the Virgin looking up and outwards as she rises in the direction of the dome where God the Father stands ready to receive her” (my italics).25 There are differences, of course. The Virgin’s Assumption and her reception in heaven are canonic iconographical themes which Raphael, thinking as painter and architect, reimagined diffused through—­or in a region beyond—­the given space, whereas Pontormo, in the present hypothesis, would have bonded two mystic symbols. Every reference to Calvary that would have held the depicted Christ to a known narrative sequence, with the descent into hell as the next act, is banished. Pontormo’s image is visionary and ahistorical; the event shown in the altarpiece is a translation from throne to throne, a passage from Pietà to seat of mercy. Capponi acquired and endowed his chapel as a family mausoleum. Before he was buried under the altar step, a tablet was sunk in the chapel floor stating that Lodovico Capponi had it placed there while still living but in anticipation of death.26 It was he who commis-

sioned Pontormo, with whom he presumably discussed the full chapel program—­a grandiose prevision of the Throne of Grace. Consider the meaning of the Throne of Grace.27 It is the personal vision of the worshipper in expectation of death and judgment; literally, the foreknowledge, through faith, that God’s justice for sinning man will be tempered by fatherly pity, the passio patris. In the Father’s acceptance of the Son stigmatized by human suffering lies the promise of human salvation. What Pontormo visualized in the Capponi Chapel was the eternal presentiment of redemption.28 Much that is troubling and strange in Pontormo’s conception seems clarified in this interpretation. We avoid the perplexing duplication of the Entombment theme in stained-­glass window and altarpiece. And the Annunciation fresco becomes an integral part of the whole. For if the altarpiece represents Mary’s surrender of the sacrificed Son to the Father, then its subject closes a cycle that begins with God’s gift to her at the Incarnation. Thus the fresco on the west wall—­sometimes described as “in no way related to the program” of the other paintings (Shearman)—­becomes less of an “afterthought.” The ties between dome and altarpiece become more insistent. The Virgin’s adieu is met by God’s outstretched hand—­farewell and welcome in apposition, while the sacrificed Son, hung between ground and sky, is returned to the Father.29 Even the naked exposure of feelings displayed in the altarpiece gains in structure and clarity. A correspondence emerges between the anguished look of the weeper above the Madonna’s right arm and that of the crouching youth. Both lend the agony of compassion to a parent bereaved.30 The distraught glances of the two Christ-­bearers become less “hallucinated,” less “Mannerist,” when one reflects that they are not staring at us. Taking the corpse of the only-­begotten Son back to their King—­how else should they look? And those other two upturned faces—­the woman with Christ’s cheek in her palm and the bearded portrait at the right edge—­their meaning deepens if their gaze is fixed upon God in the act of assuming the posture of grace. Theirs

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

is the emotion of St. Paul’s recommended approach (Hebrews 4:14–­16). “We have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens. . . . Let us therefore come boldly [cum fiducia] unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”—­which is to say, in the hour of death.

4. The Dome Fresco It remains to discuss the probable disposition in the dome of those five frescoed figures that were destroyed. Vasari described the work in a single sentence: “Nel cielo della volta fece un Dio Padre, che ha intorno quattro patriarchi molto belli.” Later references, such as Borghini’s, offer no further clues, and it was not until Cox-­Rearick’s work in identifying the drawings (figs. 5.5, 5.6, 5.11–­5.13, 5.15) that Pontormo’s arrangement became imaginable again. “Pontormo’s drawings,” she wrote, referring to nos. 259–­66 in her catalogue, “verify the descriptions of the destroyed work and give us a clear impression of a scheme in which God the Father was seated in the center of the vault with the four Patriarchs sitting below and looking up at him.”31 To this statement, which appears to follow Vasari’s account, Shearman raised several objections. Firstly, that “the viewpoint of all the figures in the drawings is the same, that is from a little below the knees.” Secondly, that the figure of God the Father “is gesturing outwards, and however we orientate such a figure in the center of a dome its gesture will be directed senselessly to the floor of the chapel.” Thirdly, that the bench or low wall on which the figure is seated  “is unimaginable traversing the apex of the dome.” Shearman therefore concluded that  “all the figures for which we have drawings were . . . seated on the same level . . . on a parapet or attic notionally erected on the ring of the dome.” To “assist our visualization” of the effect, Shearman cites several instances of dome decoration that suggest “how the gestures of Pontormo’s five figures might have been woven into a decorative and unified pattern around an open center.” For the dome’s center he proposed a dove of the Holy Spirit.32 But his arrangement presents greater difficulties

than the rejected Cox-­Rearick construction. Firstly, if God the Father consorted with the four Patriarchs on the same parapet, it is hard to see why Vasari would have singled him out as “nel cielo.” Secondly, it is unlikely that the position of God the Father was hierarchically undistinguished from that of the Patriarchs. Thirdly, at least two of the Patriarchs look up in astonishment—­ more probably caused by God’s sudden gesture than by the wingspan of the dove. Lastly, every parallel cited to help visualize the scheme of the Capponi cupola involves four (or eight) figures, but never five. And a quincuncial arrangement of five isocephalous figures on the ring of the dome would have put them out of phase with the Evangelists in the pendentives. A fresh look at the surviving drawings suggests a way to ease the dilemma, a way of reconciling the Cox-­Rearick and Shearman constructions, and both with Vasari’s text. It is true that all five figures (figs. 5.6, 5.11–­5.13) share the same height of support—­a running bench or step, about one foot above ground; whence Shearman concluded that all five were perched on the same level. However, one of the Patriarch drawings indicates that Pontormo had not one but at least two steps in mind, since this figure (fig. 5.11) rests its right elbow on a horizontal support at chest level. We must suppose that this upper level, this higher, recessed second tier—­was also continuous, though not necessarily around the dome’s full circumference. We should then have not a simple annular step, but a stepped parapet offering seats of different height to the figures. The result would be similar to the two-­tier effect Pontormo devised for the lunette at Poggio a Caiano. Accordingly, it becomes possible to visualize God the Father, still squatting low, but on higher ground. His position on a recessed upper wall would have withdrawn him to a deeper zone, so that his place in the chapel’s main axis, at the opposite pole from the altarpiece, would not have interfered with the orderly seating of the Patriarchs over the four pendentives. We would expect the scale of his figure to exceed theirs—­as the Madonna in the altarpiece outscales her companions. And his forward reach, emerging from greater depth and abetted (as in Byzantine decoration) by the curve of the vault, would


Figure 5.11. (top left) Pontormo, study for a Patriarch. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 6632F. Figure 5.12. (top right) Pontormo, study for a Patriarch. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 6513F. Figure 5.13. (bottom) Pontormo, study for a

Patriarch. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 6613F.

P on tor m o’s C a pp oni C hapel

have seemed more encompassing and more urgent. The Patriarchs, meanwhile, would rest on what becomes in effect the Lord’s footstool, with a low screen behind them, so that little more than their heads and shoulders would be silhouetted against the sky. Whereas God the Father would loom almost entirely against open sky, his head rising high enough toward the zenith to have justified Vasari’s “nel cielo.” The summit of the dome, now directly over the crown of his head, may well have carried the dove. The drawings identified by Cox-­Rearick permit us to visualize the disposition of the Father in relation to the Patriarchs on his right and left. In both surviving studies for God the Father (figs. 5.5, 5.6) the figure is lit from the left, implying a necessary location with respect to the chapel’s west window. As Shearman has pointed out, the lighting locates the figure over the chapel entrance (north), fronting the altarpiece. Among the drawings for the Patriarchs, two more (figs. 5.11, 5.12) are similarly lit from the left, and these pair themselves as flanking retainers, both facing inward. Our reconstruction (fig. 5.14) suggests that their contours dovetailed with those of the Father: the recoiling figure at

left makes way for the thrust of God’s arm; the hollow formed by the figure at right frames God’s feet. The fact that both figures look up, while God the Father appears to look down, confirms the necessity to seat God on higher ground; higher and at the same time deeper in space, for both patriarchal figures look backward over their shoulders. The two remaining Patriarchs, lit from the opposite side, fall easily into place. One of these (fig. 5.13) would have surmounted the southwest pendentive—­over the altarpiece on our right, as if gazing down on the dead Christ. The identification of the fourth Patriarch—­ the preserved study showing a bust figure only—­is somewhat less certain, except on stylistic grounds that connect it with other drawings made for the chapel (fig. 5.15); but his wide stare, his gesticulation, and his response to the light give him a fitting place over the southeast pendentive, whence he would hail the theophany directly across the vault. The success of the overall program, the inescapable unity of its elements, must have owed much to the compact scale of the chapel and to its openness on two sides. The visitor, turning right from the church entrance so


Figure 5.14. Author’s drawing of

the grouping of figures in the dome of the Capponi Chapel.

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Figure 5.15. Pontormo, study for a Patriarch. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, 6519F.

as to face the altar through the north arch, would have seen the altarpiece surmounted by paired Evangelists and Patriarchs—­one in each pair sending his glance upward into the dome. Approaching through the east arch (originally about 1.20 m wider than now), the visitor would have beheld, above the Annunciation fresco, the right hand of God reaching from the cupola toward the offered Christ. The entire chapel, from altar to dome, dramatized a supreme liturgical moment—­the prayer for the acceptance of the sacrifice “borne aloft by the hands of thy holy angels” and the granting of the petition.33 And what, finally, causes the perturbation of spirit in the four Patriarchs? No divine gesture of benediction accounts for their shock. But their exaltation is justified if, being raised under the Law, they now behold the world order changing, witnessing how the Passion of the self-­sacrificed Son, daily renewed in the work of the Eucharist, begets that compassion which converts godhead from justice to grace. This I believe to be the mystery of Pontormo’s program for the Capponi Chapel. That his altarpiece con-

tinually stirred our spirits without much of this being known is the greater mystery of his art.

Appendix The foregoing argument posits a complex relationship between Pontormo’s imagery and its visual sources. It is suggested that Pontormo rethinks a Michelangelo sculpture, or a Dürer woodcut, as an episodic event, imaginable in a later or earlier moment; that his figures of mother and son, in referring to Michelangelo’s marble group at St. Peter’s, reenact the Pietà as a dissolving group. Such elastic quotations would not surprise us in the Baroque period. They are normal for Rubens, as when he makes the Three Graces (at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) break rank and scatter. But is such a principle of imitation compatible with the artistic thought of the 1520s? Are there parallel instances? I believe that Raphael’s approach to the “copying” of Michelangelo offers a significant precedent. As Raphael recasts a borrowed figure from a different angle, so on another occasion, he rethinks a given pose from a differ-

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

Figure 5.16. Michelangelo, Bruges Madonna, 1504. Bruges, Notre

Figure 5.17. Raphael, study for La Belle Jardinière, c. 1506–­7.


Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, lat. 13391v.

ent point in time. The best-­known example of his shifting vantage in space is the reference to the Doni Tondo Madonna in the Borghese Entombment of 1507: Michelangelo’s hard-­edged design is reimagined as though it had real existence in space. In another instance, where the Michelangelo model is itself three-­dimensional, the figure is deployed as though developed in time, that is to say, from the viewpoint of a subsequent moment. I have in mind Raphael’s thoughtful preoccupation with the image of the Christ Child in the Bruges Madonna (fig. 5.16). The Bruges Madonna is a tragic conception; not only because the Virgin’s foreboding is heavier than what such adolescent beauty should bear, but because the chosen moment, though it unfolds in a solid block, represents an ominous parting. Issuing from between her

maternal limbs, the child is about to go forth, to set foot on earth. The Virgin’s right hand closes the book which contains the plan of the Passion. As if by accident, the child’s left arm is hung over the mother’s thigh, as in a Pietà.34 And the unbelievably complex interlace of the other hands—­his right and her left—­conveys conflict and shared reluctance; whether to go or stay, to release or restrain. The ambivalence is sustained in the child’s motion, the twist of the shoulders that belies the course set by his head and feet. Raphael knew this group and, while he rejected the precocious gravity of the mother, he adopted the child. The Bruges child appears closely copied in a Vatican drawing (fig. 5.17) and thereafter, progressively modified, in several other studies for La Belle Jardinière (fig. 5.18).35

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But Raphael’s borrowing is not morphological only. He copies more than the lucid outline, the shining belly and sweep of hip, the clear bone-­and-­muscle articulation of the straight knee, the amazing largesse of the infant anatomy. He senses the child’s intended step and the imminent unclasping of hands. He sees what the Michelangelo image foretells, lets it happen, completes the action—­and discovers a different denouement. In the Bruges Madonna, the joy radiating from the health of the child is curtained in sorrow; in La Belle Jardinière, the child is the same, but with all conflict resolved and the threat of parting dispelled. The grievous left arm that hung proleptically over the Virgin’s thigh now slides caressed through her hand; the head turns not away, but toward; and the action of stepping down

Figure 5.18. Raphael, study for La Belle Jardinière, c. 1506–­7.

Norfolk, Holkham Hall, Leicester Collection.

ends happily for both parties. Finding his feet and released from her grasp, the boy turns freely back to his mother. We are invited to share—­not the premonition of suffering—­but the pleasure of Incarnation. The child in La Belle Jardinière is unmistakably still the child of the Bruges Madonna, but pursued in time—­as Raphael would have us interpret the sequel. Pontormo must have been well aware of how his great predecessors related to one another. Borrowing a Raphael or a Michelangelo figure was no challenge. But he was willing to enlarge upon Raphael’s way of developing a Michelangelo model when, in his altarpiece, he projected the Christ-­Mary relation as an afterimage of Michelangelo’s Roman Pietà. Parallels exist also for that other mode of imita-

Figure 5.19. Marcantonio Raimondi, Crouching Venus, c. 1510–­27.

P on torm o’s C a pp oni Cha pe l

tion which our hypothesis imputes to Pontormo: the picture conceived as an anticipation, a situation that precipitates and necessitates some more familiar image—­a prior episode by which the finality of a known pattern is dramatically explained. Rubens again furnishes evidence of such practice. In his Holy Family in Chicago (1615; one of several versions), the lively activity of the mother and child visualizes the moment that precedes the fixed action of Michelangelo’s Medici Madonna. But we are better served by an instance contemporary with Pontormo—­Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of the Crouching Venus (fig. 5.19). The version (or versions) of the Venus accroupi available to Marcantonio must have shown—­as do several surviving replicas—­a child’s hand pressed against the goddess’s back. The original was evidently a two-­figure group, with a Cupid included,36 and the task of the Renaissance master

was to reconstruct, or reinvent, the missing child figure. Marcantonio solves the problem by asking how that clinging hand would have arrived on that famous back. Accordingly, he introduces his airborne Cupid alighting on a convenient pedestal and reaching down as if he intended to rouse the love goddess with a pat on her back.37 The hand in the engraving is still inches away, so that we are shown the Venus accroupi group in the process of being assembled. The foreknown image, in this case a famous statue, becomes the conclusion to an invented transitional situation. Direct imitation is stretched into narrative. And though this extension takes place on a trivial scale, and in the realm of lighthearted allegory, the operational principle is one of enormous potential. It is the principle put to work by Pontormo when he depicts the process which is the functional prerequisite of the Throne of Grace.


Figure 6.1. Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici, 1534–­35. Philadelphia Museum of Art; John G. Johnson Collection, cat. 83.



enaissance princes did not make their own pictures any more than they made their own clothes; they hired painters and tailors to do these things. And if one in his vacant moments painted or drew for relaxation—­an activity “which perhaps nowadays may seem mechanical and ill-­suited to a gentleman” (Castiglione)—­he knew better than to let himself be caught in the act. Why then does Pontormo portray the ruler of Florence engrossed in drawing?1 I shall submit two hypotheses: in the first, Pontormo’s picture becomes polemical; in the second, which I prefer, its argument remains private. When the portrait (fig. 6.1) was painted toward the end of 1534, men of leisure were much exercised over the question whether the practice of art edified or demeaned a gentleman. The Cortegiano of Castiglione, published seven years earlier in Venice, proposed the art of limning as a polite accomplishment. Arguing that the perfect courtier should be proficient in drawing, Castiglione’s spokesman proceeds to tell dubious anecdotes out of Pliny, tall stories whose quotability had been long established.2 “I recall reading,” says he, “that the ancients, especially throughout Greece, required of boys of gentle birth to learn painting in school as a decorous and necessary thing, and admitted it to the first rank among the liberal arts; then by public edict they prohibited the teaching of it to slaves.” He cites illustrious Roman families celebrated for performance in painting, which art, he says, “besides being most noble and worthy in itself, proves useful in many ways, and especially in warfare, in drawing towns, sites, rivers, bridges, citadels, fortresses, and the like.” Thus Casti-

Pontormo’s Alessandro de’ Medici; or, I Only Have Eyes for You glione. Four years later, in England, Sir Thomas Elyot (in The Boke Named the Governour) suggested that if a noble child be found inclined “to paint with a pen, . . . he should not be therefrom withdrawn.”3 Both Castiglione and Elyot were aware that their proposals challenged established proprieties, hence their apologetics. Elyot: “Now perchance some envious reader will hereof apprehend occasion to scorn me, saying that I have well hied me to make of a nobleman a mason or painter.” He recites again the names of those same “excellent princes” of ancient times whose painting and carving, he believes, met the highest professional standards. Nor was their skill useless, “for it served them for devising engines of war.” And he concludes: “I intend not, by these examples, to make of a prince or nobleman’s son a common painter or carver which shall present himself openly stained or imbrued with sundry colours, or powdered with the dust of stones, . . . or perfumed with tedious savours. . . . But verily my intent and meaning is only that a noble child, by his own natural disposition, and not by coercion, may be induced to receive perfect instruction in these sciences.” It is the gist of the argument that skilled draftsmanship had been held in honor by the ancients before they themselves declined (for Pliny projects those mythical art-­making princes into an ancestral past);4 and, secondly, that the art is useful in the noble conduct of war. To which Sir Thomas adds the humane consideration that where a Originally published in Art in America ( January–­February 1975), pp. 62–­65. The present version incorporates revisions Steinberg made in 2000 and 2004.

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child is by nature inclined to painting, nature should not be “rebuked.” An after-­dinner story about Albrecht Dürer and the Emperor Maximilian used to be told by Melanchthon, the famous German Reformer.5 His Majesty, intending to demonstrate how he saw a certain figure in his mind’s eye, picked up Dürer’s crayon, broke it in several trials, and at last asked the artist how he managed to keep it whole. Dürer, smiling, replied, “Gracious Lord, I should not be pleased if you were able to paint like me”; meaning, says Melanchthon, “I have trained myself in this art; you have more serious business.” But the interpretation misses the subtle fusion of tact and pride in the artist’s rejoinder. Instead of condescending to explain to the emperor how a crayon is managed, Dürer merely cites his own sovereignty as a painter, wherein he would not like to be matched; and makes his adroitness in the

Figure 6.2. Copy after a lost Pontormo study for figure 6.1. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

handling of tools a part of his creativity. Melanchthon makes it part of professional training—­hardly serious enough for the great ones of the world. Even Elyot commended drawing only “as a secret pastime or recreation of the wits late occupied in serious studies.” More serious than art? The proud spirits of the High Renaissance would not have put it that way. As Leonardo had spoken of the painter’s mind transformed into an image of divine mind, so Dürer in 1512: “This great art of painting was held in high esteem by the mighty kings many hundred years ago . . . because they felt that the great masters had an equality with God.”6 By 1529 Dosso Dossi could depict the omnificent Zeus himself laying the thunderbolt down to ply a paintbrush (Jupiter and Mercury, Vienna). In other words, no one, whether on earth or in heaven, was too high and mighty for art. In Pontormo’s picture the argument is quietly closed and the matter put forth as a fact. Drawing is an art fit for a prince; practiced here by Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, its patent of nobility is assured. And vice versa, for it ennobles the doer. It confers on him a dignity which this of all dukes stood much in need of. Alessandro, the bastard of His Holiness Clement VII lately deceased, was barely twenty when he became absolute ruler of Florence. Imposed on the beaten republic by the coalition of a Hapsburg emperor and a nepotist pope, he was execrated in his own day and has had a bad press ever since, incurring such titles as “foul, evil youth, . . . uneducated, vicious . . . detested”;7 while his life has been described (by Adolphus Trollope) as “one continued orgy.” But this must be an exaggeration for, if Pontormo may be believed, Alessandro did take time out to draw (fig. 6.2).8 And a prince, however depraved, can’t be all bad if he fills idle hours with innocuous diversions; nor can drawing be less than princely if practiced by a regnant protégé of emperor and pope. Such then is one possible hypothesis to explain the portrait’s unusual action: the prince and the painter become partisans in the debate touching the status of art. But I reject this hypothesis because the painting does not suggest propaganda, whether for art’s sake or for the duke’s; it is made to seem utterly apolitical.

P on torm o’s A l es s a ndro de’ Medic i

What a political portrait of Alessandro looked like we know from a panel painted earlier in the same year by the youthful Giorgio Vasari. Vasari’s duke (fig. 6.3) is an incunabulum of official Medici propaganda.9 Seated full-­length, the callow prince displays his heraldic profile, posing like Giuliano’s statue in Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel, but in complete steel, armed top to toe—­guardian of the city that basks in the background, in safety, under his protection. By contrast, Pontormo’s own portrait of the duke, done very soon after, is homely and private. Dismissing heroization, Pontormo depicted an orphan, a mourner clothed, for Pope Clement of blessed memory, in obsequious weeds; a person without defenses, a prince without steel, the odious despot as a hesitant mild-­eyed youth wielding, instead of the golden mace of the commander, a meek silverpoint. Many years later, in the 1568 edition of the Lives, Vasari recalled the genesis of the portrait:

landerer wishing to make her a gift that would protest his steadfast interest in her alone. Had this been the assignment, Pontormo’s portrait would be an inspired solution: the ruler of Florence in an action that reveals his mind and, to the lady looking at him, that he only has eyes for her. The anomaly of a reigning sovereign portrayed in the act of drawing becomes intelligible in view of the genesis and the immediate fate of the picture. For the problem which, I suggest, Alessandro posed to the painter—­or which, more likely, Pontormo had the wit to invent—­ was this: to incorporate the object of Alessandro’s attention as a virtual presence without the indiscretion of painting her in; to portray the regardant duke in such wise that the focus of his regard, the model at the

Duke Alessandro, having let Jacopo [Pontormo] know that he wished to be portrayed by him in a large picture, Jacopo, for his convenience, first portrayed him in little, on the scale of a medium-­sized paper, and with such study and diligence that the works of illuminators have nothing comparable to show; for apart from its excellent likeness, the head shows all one could desire in the rarest of paintings: from which small picture, now in the cabinet of Duke Cosimo, Jacopo proceeded to paint the duke’s portrait in a large picture, with a stylus in his hand, drawing the head of a woman.10

Two related points emerge from Vasari’s account: the small-­scale portrait, which was done from life and is now in the Art Institute of Chicago, did not show the duke drawing, but his head only;11 and the definitive version in which he does draw—­drawing a woman rather than a useful engine of war—­was not done directly from life but was synthesized—­an invenzione. And this leads to the second hypothesis. Imagine a young head of state engaged in an amour with a grand lady, and his paramour acquainted with his rake’s reputation. Now suppose our princely phi-

Figure 6.3. Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici, 1534.

Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi.


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receiving end of his gaze, knows herself looked upon—­ singly, with constancy. The female head traced on the duke’s paper (fig. 6.4) can never have been simply, as Vasari puts it, “la testa di una femmina.” For he goes on to state that Alessandro gave the picture to the Marchesa Taddea Malaspina, his known mistress in these years, in whose residence at the Palazzo Pazzi he nightly neglected affairs of state, to the great scandal of Florence.12 It seems to me safe to assume that he not only gave her the picture, but that, having had it executed as a private portrait under her eyes, he had intended it for her from the beginning. And if Alessandro presented the lady with a portrait of himself drawing a woman’s head—­whom was he drawing? To have made a gift of a picture wherein he appeared as it were in flagrante delicto, perusing or even bethinking another woman—­to have made this a gift would have been an indelicacy such as I doubt even the villainous Alessandro capable of. It follows that the drawn likeness within the picture was of her who was to receive

Figure 6.4. Detail of figure 6.1, upside down.

it, the whole work being conceived as a moiety lacking its implied better half. The picture itself, strangely barren of visual incident, appears to see more than it shows—­as if the transparency of the picture-­as-­window worked both ways, reciprocally, transmitting the draftsman’s gaze and storing its harvest. But the action, the directing of optical capability, flows inside out. All the design supports the inversion. The light shaft left by the door ajar is inaccessible. Hemmed in by jambs, panels, and moldings, it unflattens the backdrop without funneling the receding space toward a goal.13 Whatever a door ajar symbolizes elsewhere (on Roman sarcophagi the allusion is to the House of Death), in Pontormo’s design it admits no destination, symbolic or perspectival. Closed off and scaled for no entry, the slot of light acts like a valve to initiate an expansion—­from the blank narrow gleam, through searching face and working hands, toward our space.14 The picture falls early within a group of works that

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employ subject, design, and illusionism to place the actual world in a dependent position. There is a remarkable painting by Frans Floris, now in the Antwerp museum but originally (1556) done for the clubhouse of the Antwerp Painters’ Guild (fig. 15.2): it shows St. Luke at his easel, at work on a panel of which we see only the back. His subject of course must be the Virgin and Child. By showing the painter looking straight out of the picture, Floris makes known that the Virgin is with us and, no less emphatically, that painting deals with reality. And think of Velázquez’s portrait of the sculptor Martinez Montañés observing a sitter on this side of the picture plane as he models a portrait bust of Philip IV; and of Las Meninas, which leaves in doubt whether our coming intrudes on the persons depicted or vice versa. Or Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergères or Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon—­all pictures which, like the sexes, require opposites for consummation. Vasari’s account of the Alessandro de’ Medici portrait ends with an incident that hints at the sort of investment Pontormo made in his art: The duke, wishing to reward Jacopo liberally for this work, had his servant Niccolò da Montaguto inform him that he should ask whatsoever he wished, and it would be granted. But such was, should I say, the pusillanimity or the respectfulness and modesty of this man, that he asked only for so much money as would suffice to redeem an overcoat he had pawned; which, being told to the duke, he, not without laughing at the oddity of this man, had him given fifty gold ducats and the offer of a provision, though Niccolò had hard work to make him accept it.15

Vasari’s bewilderment over Pontormo’s behavior is truly touching. Hesitantly—­to explain an inexplicable breakdown of normal self-­interest—­he thinks of timidity, modesty, or excessive respect. To us, Pontormo’s action seems rather a bid to place the product of his art outside the market. What Pontormo is telling the duke is that he is poor, that money to recover his coat would be welcome; but that his painting, unlike his pawnbroker’s ticket, is without price.

As for the duke’s subsequent fortunes: on the night of January 6, 1537—­for reasons never perfectly clarified—­a young relative and former boon companion lured Alessandro to his house with promise to debauch a sister, and there clubbed him to death.16

The Later Fortunes of the Picture A pathetic letter concerning our picture is preserved in the Medici archives in Florence. Written by a suppliant, one Costantino Ansoldi on November 23, 1571, it is addressed to the regent Francesco de’ Medici, son of the retired Duke Cosimo.17 Ansoldi introduces himself as a former servant of Duke Alessandro, who had entrusted to him the care of a natural son, Giulio. Now old and destitute, Ansoldi lives in retirement in his hometown of Casalmaggiore where, three years before, i.e., in the fall of 1568, he heard that Duke Cosimo had issued a public appeal for information concerning the whereabouts of Pontormo’s portrait of Duke Alessandro. (The date—­thirty-­four years after the picture was painted and long after the death of the parties involved—­is significant; evidently Pontormo’s picture had been lost sight of, and Cosimo would have learned of its existence from Vasari’s Lives, dedicated to him and published in January 1568.) Upon hearing of Cosimo’s appeal, Ansoldi remembered the picture which, he says, Duke Alessandro had given to him and which he, in turn, had presented to the lady Taddea Malaspina. This contradicts Vasari’s more plausible version. Vasari was close to the duke and to Pontormo, and he would have had no personal motive for declaring, against the truth, that the picture had been the duke’s own gift to Taddea. Whereas poor Ansoldi, hoping to lay hands on the portrait to present to Duke Cosimo, proceeded, he says, partly from ancient loyalty and devotion and partly because, having five unmarried daughters and no money to dower them, he had need of the promised reward. Ansoldi further reports that he located the picture at Massa where Taddea Malaspina had died; that, having informed his former ward Signor Giulio to this effect, the latter recovered the picture but finally, instead of ceding it to Ansoldi, had tried to fob him off with a


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wretched copy, thus cheating him of his recompense and leaving him no choice but to appeal to the justice of the regent Francesco, recipient of the present letter. Ansoldi assures Francesco that the portrait recovered from Massa is truly the one made shortly after Pope Clement’s death in the Casa di Pazzi by the hand of the famous “Jacopo da pontor,” a picture showing the duke dressed in mourning, full-­face and half-­length—­ “lacking only the power of speech.” The letter concludes with the plea that the portrait be restored to him in consideration of his sixty-­nine years, his abject poverty, and his five spinster daughters.

Of the issue of the Ansoldi affair, nothing further is known. And the painting is lost sight of again until 1911, when Bernard Berenson, in a letter of April 26, tried to interest John G. Johnson in buying it from Böhler in Munich. The picture, wrote Berenson, “is obviously the portrait of an artist,” and “the second best Pontormo portrait I have ever seen.” In a second letter, dated May 9, 1911, Berenson congratulated Johnson on the acquisition of a “significant and splendid work.”18 The sitter, meanwhile, remained unidentified until a photograph of the picture was shown to Frederick Clapp, who recognized it as the portrait described by

Figure 6.5. After Pontormo,

Alessandro de’ Medici. Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.

P on torm o’s A l es s a ndro de’ Medic i

Vasari and proceeded to publish it.19 The unmistakable features of the sitter, of whom almost a dozen portraits exist, and the correspondence of the action with Vasari’s description, made the identification secure. Later in 1913, in his catalogue of the Johnson Collection, Berenson tried to excuse his own failure to recognize “the fascinating face [which] obviously recalls Duke Alessandro, the young tyrant of the Medici blood. [But] aware of the extreme caution required in identifying portraits, the present writer was hesitating as to whether he should state that this was the likeness of Alessandro.”20 That Berenson could mistake a duke for an artist is interesting not for exhibiting the connoisseur’s fallibility, but for confirming the uniqueness of Pontormo’s conception: a sitter shown in the act of drawing can’t be a sovereign duke. By 1975, the drawn profile was nearly invisible. Its existence and details had to be confirmed through a copy in Lisbon (fig. 6.5) and photos in the museum files taken at some unknown date before 1942. In that year

the picture was cleaned by David Rosen, whose reputation as a restorer is complicated; the records he kept are frustratingly skimpy. Rosen removed “extensive repaint” and uncovered a ruin—­carrying off, among other things, all but faint traces of the drawn profile. Only the contours of nose and mouth remained—­the tip of the nose tangent with the duke’s forefinger—­and even these visible only if one knew where to look. Were it not for Vasari’s description and the correspondence of the drawn profile in the pre-­1942 photograph with that in the Lisbon copy, published by the present author in 1975 for the first time, one would have taken the duke to be drawing nothing at all. In 2001–­3, an extensive technical analysis and conservation was undertaken by Irma Passeri. The profile drawing was carefully inpainted, using the old photograph and Lisbon copy as guides. With the narrative restored, we can again see Duke Alessandro limning his lady love.21


Figure 7.1. Francesco Salviati or school, Beheading of St. John the Baptist, 1553. Rome, Oratorio di San Giovanni Decollato.

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peaking of Salviati’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist (fig. 7.1), Rosalind Grippi made an astonishing observation—­that the saint’s execution had not only rendered his body headless, but also armless and almost legless from the knees down—­an excess of punishment which neither Scripture nor pictorial precedent justified. Grippi suggested that this human stump, doubled over in center foreground, was an ingenious allusion to the survival state of ancient sculptures. It reminded her, despite obvious differences, of the Torso Belvedere, the most mutilated of admired marbles to be seen in Rome at the mid-­sixteenth century (fig. 7.2).1 And this is but half the story. Towering over the truncated corpse as he stoops for the Baptist’s head, the headsman repeats a known pose. His original is in the

Salviati’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Sistine Last Judgment—­the angelic helper who pulls a pair of risen souls up by a rosary (fig. 7.3).2 When Salviati left Rome in 1539, Michelangelo had been for five years immured in the Sistine Chapel, working on the Last Judgment. The great wall was unveiled in 1541, the year of Salviati’s return. After another absence in Florence, he returned again seven years later, to find his close friend Vasari just completing the manuscript of the Lives—­a universal history of art that leads up to the Judgment as to its final summit. Salviati’s Decollation fresco, centered on the Michelangelo figure, was finished in 1553, when the painter had long passed his prime. Was he raiding the Michelangelo fresco as a convenient reservoir of foreshortened poses?3 What else should his borrowing signify? He has

Figure 7.2. Maarten van Heemskerck, the

Torso Belvedere lying on its back, c. 1535. From the Römische Skizzenbuch, fol. 72r. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett.

Originally published in ArtNews, 70 (September 1971), pp. 46–­47.

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Figure 7.3. Michelangelo, Last Judgment,

1536–­41, detail. Sistine Chapel.

laid a felled victim at the feet of his executioner. The latter’s pose, adaptable to works either godly or godless, is herewith established as neutral. It demonstrates Salviati’s indifference to matters iconographic, a warning to us not to out-­Herod St. John’s executioner through overinterpretation. Or was the Bible story meant to be somehow counterpointed by this montage of borrowed forms? Their two-­banked disposition—­if only Salviati had thought of it!—­celebrates a pattern of supersession: the triumph of painting over sculpture, of

the moderns over the ancients, of Michelangelo over antiquity. But the soldier surmounting the corpse is not triumphant. He stoops to reach, even as painting reaches for sculpture, the moderns back to the ancients, and Michelangelo to antiquity. Perhaps after all Salviati heard both strains of the counterpoint when he cast his central figure in the Michelangelesque attitude of a man reaching deep.

Ei g h t


verybody knows that artists steal one another’s inventions, but some transfers of property are so deft, and once recognized so revealing, that it would diminish the artist to leave them unadvertised.1 The large corpus of works attributed to El Greco includes a small multifigured Entombment of which at present four versions are known. All are on panels of roughly similar size. Two were published independently by Pallucchini and Camón Aznar in 1950 (figs. 8.1, 8.2). Three were listed by Soria in 1954 and are more fully described in Harold E. Wethey’s catalogue raisonné, 1962 (figs. 8.1, 8.2, 8.3). A fourth, arched at the top but identical in subject, was sold as an El Greco at Christie’s on March 19, 1965 (fig. 8.4).2 The date usually assigned to the composition fluctuates between 1576–­78, either shortly before or shortly after El Greco’s move to Toledo, or c. 1571–­72, shortly after his arrival in Rome.3 Before the appearance of Wethey’s catalogue in 1962, the critical response to the Entombment had been unanimously enthusiastic. A. L. Mayer called it “una verdadera joya”; Fiocco, “una splendida tavoletta.” Camón Aznar described it as “precious”—­“un cuadro fragrante, de una delicada emotividad, . . . una de las obras más poéticas y de más sensible pincel del Greco.” Pallucchini declared the work “fundamental for a thorough knowledge of El Greco,” a link between his Italian and Spanish periods, “vibrant with manneristic accents and an extraordinarily vivacious expression.” Even Halldor Soehner acclaimed the Entombment in a flourish of passionate prose.4

An El Greco Entombment Eyed Awry

It was above all the treatment of the Christ figure that aroused admiration.5 Yet this very feature confirmed Wethey in his low estimate of the work: “The chaotic composition, the grotesquely bad motivation of the individual figure, and the extremely clumsy handling of the body of Christ are all inconceivable as inventions of El Greco,” he wrote. Concluding that “the picture is a caricature of motives drawn from the master’s works,” Wethey catalogued the composition under “Wrong Attributions,” advanced its date to the 1580s, and left it unillustrated. The omission of photographs was unfortunate, for reproductions of the Entombment invite a simple armchair experiment which at once places the work in a novel perspective. Turn the picture on its right side so that the Christ is uprighted; then pair it with a photograph of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà (figs. 8.5, 8.6). The painter has plucked the Christ image from the marble group, changing its orientation, but repeating its attitude point by point. Such close replication is not normally found in El Greco. If he alludes elsewhere to this or to some other Michelangelo figure, the model is freely adapted, never exactly transcribed.6 But in the Entombment, the whole of an alien figure, celebrated for unprecedented complexity and unmistakable, has been lifted, tilted, and inserted intact. And so accurate is the transposition that one suspects the artist is not

Originally published in the Burlington Magazine, 116 (August 1974), pp. 474–­77, here with revisions following Steinberg’s notes.

Figure 8.1. El Greco, Entombment. Formerly in an office in the Royal Palace, Madrid.

Figure 8.2. El Greco, Entombment. Sotheby’s, New York, January

29, 2013, lot 7.

Figure 8.3. El Greco, Entombment. Newark, DE, The Alana

Figure 8.4. El Greco, Entombment. Christie’s, London, March 19,


1965, lot 44.

A n E l G re co Ento mb me nt Ey e d Aw ry

simply representing a Christ, but a Christ in quotation marks—­Michelangelo’s Christ.7 One suspects furthermore a degree of ambivalence about the prototype. The original is reproduced, but with an adjustment that says—­“ better this way.” It suggests the kind of corrective “borrowing” Titian practiced upon Michelangelo—­as when he invented a central role for an eccentric fringe figure such as the foreshortened bather sprawled in the lower right of the Battle of Cascina (figs. 8.7, 8.8). Seen with Venetian eyes, this marginal figure, destined to fill a triangular blank between another man’s legs, remains too disconnected. Like a river god at the squeezed end of a pediment, it lies apart—­uninvolved and unheeded. Of all the anatomies that fail to commingle in Michelangelo’s cluster, it is the most divorced, and the attempt at “grouping” by bracketing it in another man’s stride looks more like a difficulty than a solution. So, at least, Titian thinks as he plunges Michelangelo’s outlying bather into the

Figure 8.5. (left) Detail of figure 8.3, turned at right angles. Figure 8.6. (right) Michelangelo, Florentine Pietà, c. 1547–­55, detail. Florence, Duomo.

thick of his Andrians; as if to say, “This is how such figures are integrated.”8 El Greco’s Entombment makes a similar point. The painted counterpart of Michelangelo’s marble Christ is more polyphonically engaged, more deeply embedded. Its descent into the open tomb implicates the entire picture, even to the mountaintop at the upper right. The sheer number of its immediate supporters is doubled—­ six helpers and mourners where the original showed a mere three. And every part of the figure is newly involved: what had been a peripheral arm in the sculpture participates, in the painting, in a splicing of three interlaced limbs; the straying foot of the original is enfolded by the seated Madonna; and the spur formed by a lone marble knee turns into the central node of the composition. Granted that your Michelangelo invented great figures, it still takes a Venetian brush to incorporate such figures in a lived space. Can we allow such one-­upmanship to that hypo-


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Figure 8.7. Aristotile da Sangallo after Michelangelo, Battle of Cascina, c. 1542, detail. Norfolk, Holkham Hall.

thetical pasticheur, working in provincial Spain, whom Wethey postulates as the anonymous author of the composition? This willful approach to Michelangelo indicates—­as does the multiplication of copies—­that the conception originates with one who had looked close at the marble group, and who was moved by more than poverty of invention to enlist its main figure. El Greco’s “borrowing” in the Entombment yields a new criterion for dating it. Considerations of style alone have left unsettled the rival claims of Rome and Toledo. But the demonstrative reference to the Pietà is a strong argument for locating the conception of the picture—­though not necessarily its repetitions—­in Rome. It was in Rome, in the vineyard of Francesco Bandini on the Monte Cavallo, that painters were studying Michelangelo’s marble group. Among the many portrayals and adaptations produced, two were

Figure 8.8. Titian, Bacchanal of the Andrians, 1520, detail. Madrid, Museo del Prado.

especially conspicuous, both Roman work, dating from the 1570s (fig. 8.9).9 And in both, the figural grouping betrays an unassimilated sculptural conception; they present Michelangelo’s figure piously copied—­a Christ supported in upright position, the missing left leg replaced—­a fantastical posture which only Michelangelo could bring off. El Greco’s revision of the Pietà Christ is unique in respecting the one-­legged state of the original and making the figure work in a pictorial context through which the forbidding complexity of the pose is newly necessitated. Painted c. 1576, when Sabbatini’s meek adaptation of the Pietà had just gone up in the sacristy of St. Peter’s, the Entombment thus comes as a challenge to fellow painters in Rome; as though the young arrivista from Venice were determined to prove that he could Michelangelize better than any of them.

A n E l G re co Ento mb me nt Ey e d Aw ry [129]

Figure 8.9. Lorenzo Sabbatini, Deposition, after the

Figure 8.10. El Greco, Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, c. 1570,

Florentine Pietà, before 1576. Rome, St. Peter’s, Sacristy.

detail showing portraits of Titian, Michelangelo, Giulio Clovio, and Raphael. Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 24.1.

As a competitive gesture produced in a general climate of Michelangelo emulation, El Greco’s Entombment lends credibility to the story which Mancini recorded some forty years later: the young foreigner, we are told, scandalized his Roman confrères by boasting that, if the Sistine Last Judgment were knocked down, he, Domenico, would paint them another—­decenter in point of decorum and no worse for quality. It was the reaction to this piece of insolence which—­still quoting Mancini—­made El Greco decamp and seek his fortunes in Spain.10 Conceived as a manifesto, El Greco’s Entombment suggests one more provocation. Pallucchini tells us that A. L. Mayer “discovered the portrait of Titian in the old bearded man at the left: an old Titian with sunken

eyes and lined, tired features.”11 Titian died on August 28, 1576, about the time when the Entombment must have been painted. And Mayer’s suggestion that the Entombment gives us our “last portrait of Titian” seems persuasive, for that ancient head in its characteristic skull cap, placed vertically over the head of the Christ, appears almost as a repetition of El Greco’s earlier Titian portrait in Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple of c. 1570 (fig. 8.10).12 In the Minneapolis picture the Venetian takes rank as the foremost of four great masters, with Michelangelo fourth and last. In the Entombment, Titian and Michelangelo are adduced again—­the Venetian in person, while the “Michelangelo” is laid to rest.

Figure 9.1. Cerasi Chapel, Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo.


Observations in the Cerasi Chapel

2002: Postscript1 Summer 1957: an on-­site walking course on Roman Baroque architecture, taken in Rome with Wolfgang Lotz. I remember Lotz as a marvelous teacher, with one welcome flaw in his nature: a touch of laziness, which made him reluctant to read student papers during a summer jaunt. To spare himself without forgoing material for the assignment of grades, he devised an ingenious ploy. He led us into a church we had not previously visited—­not a Baroque church: Santa Maria del Popolo, a late Quattrocento structure that housed work by Bramante, Sansovino, Raphael, Pinturicchio, Sebastiano del Piombo, Carracci, Caravaggio, and Bernini. Lotz doled out a portion to each of us, told us to study it for fifteen minutes, then report in three minutes what it was all about. To me fell the Cerasi Chapel of 1601, with the sculptured busts of the Cerasi donors in the antechamber, fading frescoes in the vaults overhead, Carracci’s Assumption over the altar, and two Caravaggios flanking, i.e., the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter (figs. 9.6, 9.7). Twelve minutes ticked off, and with only three more to go, I still had nothing to say. Then, in near desperation, I started firing questions, some of which quickly paid off—­such as where does the light in the two Caravaggios come from? Do the vault frescoes correlate with the Caravaggio paintings below? Were the paintings meant to be seen head-­on or from an oblique angle? Answering these questions, I came to understand how Caravaggio conceives the spectator’s position and how that position explains the foreshortening of the pictures’ protagonists. When I had given my report, Lotz said simply: “That’s for the Art Bulletin.” One thing I did not put into the article: a hunch that major stylistic changes in art alter art’s

interaction with the beholder. This hunch—­I owe it to Caravaggio—­seemed confirmed in my experience of contemporary art, which, I thought, constantly questioned what sort of presence the viewer is. The Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome (fig. 9.1), is justly celebrated for three paintings—­two Caravaggios on the side walls and, between them, a Carracci Assumption. Architecturally, the chapel holds out little promise of interest: an oblong recess consisting of a sail-­vaulted anteroom with the tombs of the Cerasi on the lateral walls; and a narrower, barrel-­vaulted chancel where the altar stands under a dim lunette light. The whole is rich in gilt stucco and half-­faded frescoes, but remarkable chiefly for being the darkest chapel in the church. Accordingly, visitors enter only to see the great paintings on which the fame of the chapel has rested since 1601.2 But in facing these paintings, they convert them unwittingly into easel pictures—­and into easel pictures that are both ill lighted and ill hung, since their location in so cramped a space makes them uncomfortably hard to see. The purpose of this paper is to examine the design and decoration of the chapel itself, a study that will—­in a stark literal sense—­throw a new light on Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul. The examination must begin before entering the Originally published in the Art Bulletin, 41 ( June 1959), pp. 183–­ 90; revised here, with some updates, following Steinberg’s notes.

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chapel proper. From a slight distance, that is, from the north transept of the church, one sees first an arched entrance opening between two projecting responds and screened by low balustrades. Beyond these piers lies the anteroom, a rectangular chamber—­for the present of indeterminate width, since its recessed side walls have not yet come into view. The vault here consists of a transverse oval framed by pendentive-­like spandrels, the latter resting on the four projecting pilasters in the diagonals. Its frescoes, the work of Giovanni Battista Ricci, called Il Novara, include the four Evangelists in the spandrels and, in the oval, a dove of the Holy Ghost, looming in a clearing of clouds (fig. 9.2). The insistence on a transverse direction in this part of the chapel is brought home by the wingspread of the dove and by the inlaid repeat of its oval frame in the pavement. Beyond the anteroom, in the chancel, the span shrinks again to the clear width of the chapel entrance.3 The iconographic interpretation of such an arrangement seems irresistible: standing at a short distance from the chapel—­or better, walking toward it—­we are asked to imagine a miniature Latin-­cross church, complete with transept, domed crossing, and choir. The nave—­if the nave is conceived as an axial approach to the altar—­is not wanting; it is supplied by the visitor’s motion, sense of direction, and focus. The path ahead

must be interpreted as a longitudinal axis with unequivocal destination. The Cerasi Chapel, then, is conceived as a cruciform church, but one whose space interpenetrates with the transept of the mother church when traversed by a visitor. As we enter the chapel we become aware of the bust portraits of the Cerasi—­Tiberio, the chapel’s committente, at the left, his father Stefano at the right (figs. 9.8, 9.9). Their carved heads project from oval medallions, set in the broken curved pediments that surmount their wall epitaphs. Leo Bruhns has drawn attention to these heads as marking a significant change in tomb portraiture.4 Whereas the tomb portraits of the earlier sixteenth century were, as he puts it, guests in the church, passive and affixed to a chapel wall, and whereas the more agitated portraits of the later Cinquecento sent the appeal of their gaze outward, as if to enlist the prayers of passersby to their own patron saints and for their own souls, the Cerasi busts, dated 1601, adopt a new stance of perpetual adoration. Their heads and eyes are turned to the altar, “so that the wall to which they adhere seems drawn forward, the wide anteroom of the chapel seems narrowed, and the static room is converted into dynamic space.”5 Thus the simple space of the chapel grows restive. Even as the “transept” walls come into view, they lose

Figure 9.2. Giovanni Battista Ricci (Il Novara), vault fresco in the antechamber of the Cerasi Chapel.

Ob s e rvat ion s in t he C eras i Cha pe l

their mural inertia, since it is from them, and by means of their sculptures, that converging directives are propelled into the “choir.” This development traced by Bruhns within sixteenth-­ century tomb portraiture may also be read as a multiplication of interrelations. In the first group, then, the monuments are themselves alone, self-­contained; in the second group they maintain a two-­term relation between spectator and portrait. The Cerasi heads, finally, enter into a three-­dimensional complex: their own position and substance, the altar to which they direct themselves, and the observer, invited to participate in an act of worship enacted in a personal ambience. The visitor is thus thrust among the elements of the aesthetic illusion, like someone on stage while the play is in progress. In a different manner, the small frescoes in the short barrel vault over the “choir” reflect an equal concern with controlled spatial relations (fig. 9.3). They were executed by Innocenzo Tacconi, the first and one of the ablest of Annibale Carracci’s assistants.6 And a Carracci drawing in the Albertina (inv. 2160r) for one of the frescoes attests the master’s personal share in their general design. A system of gilt stuccowork partitions the choir vault into an oval and two flanking rectangles—­all aligned with the chapel’s main axis. The left field, just above

Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter, shows the Apostle kneeling before Christ on the Via Appia (fig. 9.4). The right field, directly over the Conversion of St. Paul, shows its protagonist, kneeling again, before the apparition of Christ (fig. 9.5). Here the scene, according to Baglione, is laid in third heaven;7 and this translunary setting, the saint’s questioning attitude, the “lifting” gesture of Christ’s left hand and the pointing of his right, leave no doubt that the moment depicted is that of Acts 9:6 (or 22:10): “And I said, what shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go unto Damascus.” That this dialogue, in addition to the usual fall to the ground, is depicted at all is clearly due to the desire for precise bilateral correspondence. In both these panels the light strikes from the east; in both, the main action is that of Christ pointing, and, whether Rome or Damascus is indicated, the two actions converge—­as did the glances of the sculptured Cerasi. Iconographically, both panels relate to the Caravaggio paintings in that they manifest the divine cause of what passes below. Finally, the vault’s central oval frames a Coronation of the Virgin, placed directly above Carracci’s Assumption (fig. 9.3). The Virgin’s ascent in the vertical plane of the painting finds its fulfillment in the upper celestial zone. There exists thus a series of intimate contacts, both iconographic and formal, between the three choir

Figure 9.3. Innocenzo Tacconi,

frescoes in the chancel vault of the Cerasi Chapel.


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Figure 9.4. Domine, quo vadis?, detail of figure 9.3.

Figure 9.5. Vision of St. Paul, detail of figure 9.3.

walls and the painted vault overhead. The relation is as between cause and effect, between heaven and earth, between now and anon. The question may now be raised whether, and to what extent, the two Caravaggios participate in the general scheme of the chapel. That they relate in subject to the vault frescoes above has been noted. That they respond to each other in a complex of deliberate formal and psychological contrasts has been convincingly demonstrated by Jacob Hess.8 But do they go beyond this to relate specifically to their architectural setting? What, to begin with, is the source of light in these paintings? Clearly, Caravaggio does not here repeat the traditional formula of matching the painted light in the

picture to the actual light from the window. Wolfgang Schöne has shown that this was the common practice in Florentine fresco painting since Giotto; that it was doctrinized by Cennini, observed by Masaccio, Mantegna, Leonardo, and Titian; and finally demanded for easel pictures as well as for frescoes by Lomazzo.9 Tacconi’s vault frescoes still obey the old rule; and we know that Caravaggio himself followed it in his last previous commission for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi. For the light in the Calling of St. Matthew (left of the altar) strikes from the right, while that in the Martyrdom (right of the altar) falls from the left. But no such logic seems to rule in the Cerasi laterals (figs. 9.6, 9.7). To the lunette over the altar they bear

Figure 9.6. Caravaggio, Conversion of St. Paul, 1601. Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel.

Figure 9.7. Caravaggio, Crucifixion of St. Peter, 1601. Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel.

Ob s e rvat ion s in t he C eras i Cha pe l

no relation and no debt of light.10 This has led most observers to interpret the light in these paintings as unnatural and irrational (particularly in the Conversion).11 However, though Caravaggio’s light does not flow from the window, it does demonstrably fall from the opposite direction. Its source is surely the painted heaven in the oval “dome” of the “crossing,” inhabited by the dove. Upon the Conversion of St. Paul, a steep light falls from the right; it falls from high left on the Crucifixion of St. Peter. Indeed, the reception of light in the two canvases contributes to the illusion of open sky over the “crossing”—­declaring its brightness, or rather that of the dove, by the power of its reflection below. The paintings then are not lit by a “mysterious illumination of ecstasy,”12 but by a perfectly rational operation. For even if the light of the Paraclete is not natural light, the paintings are lit naturalistically in the sense that the light effects are derived from an indicated and localized source.13 In two respects then—­in their storied relation to the overhead frescoes and in their dependence on a patent built-­in light source—­the Caravaggio paintings acknowledge their architectural context. Though painted on canvas, they are not easel pictures. In yet a third manner these paintings are locked in their setting—­a conclusion to which we are led by their placement, for they are surely not meant to be seen at right angles. In this chapel, a normal, perpendicular confrontation, such as we bring to an easel picture, compels us either to sidestep the altar or to mount its platform. This could not have been the intention, and we already have twofold proof that the pictures were painted with their specific location in mind. How then are they meant to be seen? They are so placed that they are strafed by our glance even before we have entered the chapel. From the line of the balustrade under the entrance arch, they are both clearly visible, thanks to the narrowing span of the choir and the wide-­angle vision of normal binocular sight.14 At this distance we see the paintings as complex surfaces, fretted by catastrophic chiaroscuro, and it is from here that we first recognize the protagonists in their brutal foreshortenings. We pass into the chapel

as far as the triumphal arch of the choir—­the limit, I believe, of our expected approach—­and we still see the paintings obliquely (figs. 9.8, 9.9).15 And at this angle of vision, avoiding the perpendicular confrontation, the placing of the bodies of Peter and Paul undergoes a marked change of meaning. The remoter parts of both bodies are so pivoted in the pictorial space that their axes become prolongations of our sight lines. Now their brutal foreshortenings no longer seem due to any grossness in them, nor to willfulness in the painter, but wholly to our standpoint and distance; they become a function of our situation. The irreverence implied in the forced distortion of sainted figures vanishes as soon as we consent to keep the altar at a decorous distance. And the terrible actuality of these paintings no longer resides in them alone, but invests our relation to them, which is never ideal, geometric, and neat, but in disorderly flux.16 It may well be asked whether the idea of a hanging picture designed to be seen at an angle is compatible with the year 1600. Tintoretto’s Last Supper at San Giorgio Maggiore, completed a few years earlier, provides one example.17 And Jurgis Baltrusaitis’s collection of anamorphoses reveals a fairly extensive preoccupation among artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with exaggerated perspectives that demand oblique siting to restore their propriety.18 This passage from Daniele Barbaro’s 1568 treatise on perspective might apply word for word to the Cerasi paintings: “Many times, with no less pleasure than wonder, one looks at some paintings . . . in which, if the eye of the observer isn’t placed at a fixed point, [the image] appears to be a completely different thing from what is painted; seen then from this [other] viewpoint, it shows what is really made according to the painter’s intention.”19 By the 1580s, Lomazzo monumentalized a dilated anamorphic image across an entire wall, with the beholder’s eye positioned by a carefully located peephole.20 And what seems most significant for our purpose is Baltrusaitis’s finding that these distortions, the invention probably of Leonardo, were chiefly cultivated in the Milanese circle of painters during the very years of Caravaggio’s apprenticeship there.21


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Figure 9.8. Cerasi Chapel, oblique view of left wall.

Furthermore, Rome itself in its early Baroque phase of building offers at least an analogy to Caravaggio’s process. Several church façades built at the turn of the century are conceived as strong plastic surfaces in sharp chiaroscuro, and are so placed that only an oblique view of them is permitted. This applies to the Volterra-­Maderna façade of San Giacomo in Augusta on the via del Corso. In several cases, such as Santa Maria in Vallicella or Sant’ Andrea della Valle, the subsequent widening of Rome’s streets has destroyed the original intent and effect. But all these façades averted their faces; we were to come upon them at a sharp angle, perceive them in a tangential relation which is actual, sudden, and transient. That Caravaggio should

have planned the Conversion and Crucifixion in a similar spirit thus appears wholly consonant. These, then, are paintings which no longer conceive of the beholder as a fixed witness;22 what they presuppose is a being in motion who is never perfectly placed. Thus, if Bellori found the Conversion of St. Paul  “affatto senza attione,”23 i.e., lacking in movement, he was right, except that the movement exists in the restless unease of the viewer. If a more recent critic called the Crucifixion of St. Peter “a study of buttocks in a composition of crossed diagonals,”24 he, too, saw correctly, but failed to observe that the intrusion of a gross executioner between us and the saint is here imputed to our position, laid, as it were, to our conscience.

Ob s e rvat ion s in t he C eras i Cha pe l [139]

Figure 9.9. Cerasi Chapel, oblique view of right wall.

Caravaggio achieves a somewhat similar result in the Burial of St. Lucy in Syracuse. Here the two bulking gravediggers seem closer to us than to the main scene, so that we are made to glimpse the dead saint and her mourners from this side of a barrier of callousness. It is through this hindering medium that we, poorly placed as we are, must project our compassion. We are engaged by this art largely because the image as it presents itself seems, in some measure, our own doing. Hence the poignancy of our sense of participation. Of this sense no one has written with deeper sympathy than Walter Friedlaender. “The three men [in the Crucifixion],” he writes, “are so direct, so intense, so close, that we feel almost forced to follow their operations,

and to participate in their terrible work. . . . This daring and unusual construction allows a direct approach into the core of the action.” And again: “The miracle of the Conversion of St. Paul, as well as the miracle of the faith of St. Peter, are not . . . spectacles, far separated from the spectator. They speak directly to him, on his own level. . . . Like St. Thomas . . . he can put his finger into the wound.”25 The pictures are thus so conceived as to assume movement in the spectator; and each is so composed that the spectator feels a sense of potential intrusion among its elements. It is well to keep these two factors in mind when gazing at one other great Caravaggio painting in which

Figure 9.10. Caravaggio, Death of the Virgin, 1601. Paris, Musée du Louvre.

Ob s e rvat ion s in t he C eras i Cha pe l

a revered figure is presented in offensive distortion—­ the Death of the Virgin in the Louvre (fig. 9.10). We read that the picture was rejected as indecorous—­“ because the Virgin had been made to look too much like the swollen corpse of an ordinary dead woman.”26 And, indeed, the inflated belly occupies almost the dead center of the design, while the Virgin’s fine head and extended left arm—­repeating the gesture of the crucified Peter—­are removed far to the right. In the right foreground an oversize mute mourning girl (Hinks and Friedlaender suggest Mary Magdalen) almost falls out of the picture. All these remain strangely disturbing factors even when the question of decorum is left out of account. But to shift somewhat to the left so as to glance at the picture obliquely is a revelation: for then, suddenly, the Virgin’s head moves into the center to become the ineluctable focus of the design—­the point of a wedge of open space into which we project our approach. And as we approach we leave the seated girl on our right. Such a design would be senseless had it been painted for a right-­hand chapel. The memory of a right turn just made would not then permit an empathic projection into the picture space from the left. Fortunately, however, the original destination of the painting is known—­ the Cherubini Chapel in Santa Maria della Scala, that is to say, the wide second chapel left of the nave, where Carlo Saraceni’s Death of the Virgin was hung in 1614 to replace Caravaggio’s. Accordingly, our first view of the picture would have been from the left as we passed into the nave; indeed, the Virgin’s bright face would have leaped into view after our third or fourth step from the church entrance; then, as we turned into the chapel, the picture space would have revolved with us in a further left turn. Discussing the painter’s treatment of this traditional theme, Friedlaender noted two significant innovations: first, the bier set awry, and second, the mourning female seated in front, a motif known in Gothic representations and here revived.27 Although oblique biers can be found in earlier art, in the Caravaggio both the bier and the seated woman, viewed from a left-­hand position, appear dictated by Caravaggio’s planned role for

the spectator: a shifting location and induced sense of what I have called potential intrusion.28 These two factors make an unexpected if somewhat timid appearance in another painting—­not Caravaggio’s—­which predates the Cerasi Chapel by a few years. It is the altarpiece of Sts. Domitilla, Nereus, and Achilleus on the south wall of Santi Nereo ed Achilleo painted by Cristoforo Roncalli (Il Pomarancio).29 Standard photographs of the painting show the female saint between her gelded companions gazing skyward with a look somewhat cloying and declarative of the life of the soul. Overhead, a triad of wreath-­ bearing putti levitate in heraldic formation. What such easel-­picture photographs omit, however, is the painting on the soffit of the aedicula architrave which projects over the altarpiece (fig. 9.11). Here, painted by the same hand—­and impossible not to see if one looks at the picture—­is the dove of the Holy Ghost; and it is to this that St. Domitilla’s gaze is directed; just as it is from this that the light and the very cherubim seem to emanate.30 The painting makes far more sense as a staged three-­ dimensional complex. It is a surprisingly literal demonstration of what Schöne calls the “Gemälde-­Bildbühnen der Zeit um 1600.”31 For here two flat painted surfaces at right angles to each other interact dramatically across actual space.32 There is surely a new principle at work here which goes beyond traditional devices for coupling aesthetic and real space. That objective had been much pursued since the beginnings of Renaissance painting, when perspective banished the painter’s imagery beyond the picture plane and so dissociated it from the beholder. Then, to compensate, as it were, for the loss of immediacy, one painted figure in a group scene might direct its glance or extended hand at the spectator; but the junction effected remained symbolic and psychological—­as it had been in much medieval art. That same continuity of real space with aesthetic illusion becomes more insistently physical—­because more purely optic—­in the Cinquecento, as illusionistic perspective reaches heights of virtuoso perfection. But the method employed requires a fixed station in the observer to make the projection come true. Like the space


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Figure 9.11. Cristoforo Roncalli (Il

Pomarancio), St. Domitilla with Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, 1597–­99. Rome, Santi Nereo ed Achilleo.

seen in a mirror, the space of Cinquecento illusionism remains detached from our own; though it may seem continuous with it, and seek to erase the partition, we do not conceive of ourselves as so entering the pictorial scene that we could interfere among its ingredients. The illusion remains purely visual; the spectator is only an eye, and an eye whose position is fixed.33 By contrast, the Roncalli altarpiece seems novel in two respects. Since the St. Domitilla relates herself to another painting in a separate plane, the illusion here does not depend upon a fixed station in the observer; it holds while we move, for St. Domitilla will continue to look at the dove, which in turn continues to shine upon her. The arrangement thus allows movement in

the spectator. Secondly, and as a matter of sheer physical fact, it allows one very particular movement, that of intrusion, for it has become physically impossible to intercept Domitilla’s light from the dove, to interrupt the picture midway. We are, in other words, beginning to be immersed in aesthetic space. The projected illusion is that of a painted figure invading our own ambience, painted space overflowing into, offering to envelop, the area of our motor experience.34 At this point it is perhaps not irrelevant to recall that Cristoforo Roncalli was one of the handful of painters in Rome to whom Caravaggio accorded the title of valenthuomo.35 For the Roncalli altar seems to link up with the Cerasi paintings. The intended illusion,

Ob s e rvat ion s in t he C eras i Cha pe l

though staked across a short distance and without the tragic dimension, is precisely that of an aesthetic space which includes us. Yet the analogy between the Roncalli space and Caravaggio’s as conceived in the Cerasi paintings must not be forced. The difference is, after all, that within Roncalli’s space our “potential intrusion” is a remote though actual physical possibility; in the Caravaggios our “intrusion” is virtual but immediate as an empathic sensation. In the Roncalli, the effect is attained by means better suited to architectural sculpture; whereas Caravaggio’s obliquities, foreshortenings, and abrupt changes of scale bespeak purely painterly means. The two artists are united by the common goal of making the aesthetic space bracket the real; they are separated by their different methods. But they are united also by the historical sequel. In the Baroque art to come, particularly in that of Bernini, while this common goal becomes more explicit, the two

methods converge. In the Constantine of the Vatican’s Scala Regia, we encounter the statue obliquely if we have mounted the stairs; if we approach from the vestibule of St. Peter’s, we see Constantine gazing up at the golden cross hung high to our right. And it is Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria which consummates flagrantly what the Cerasi Chapel had subtly suggested. Here, too, the chapel implies a miniature church, open to the painted sky.36 Here, too, the lateral decorations are clearly intended for an oblique view. Here, too, the chapel presents itself as an unphotographable three-­dimensional complex which only our binocular wide-­angle vision can perceive as a whole.37 And here, too, the spectator’s mobility and intrusive participation is permitted and sought. Indeed, the Cornaro Chapel seems like a grandiose transposition in sculpture of Caravaggio’s intuition.38


Figure 10.1. Guercino, St. Petronilla altarpiece, 1623. Rome, Pinacoteca Capitolina.


Guercino’s Saint Petronilla [A picture] can show what something is at a moment, but it cannot show us how it came to be that way or what will happen to it next. —­W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer 1


uercino’s colossal altarpiece for St. Peter’s (fig. 10.1) has been much admired and often discussed—­ except for its subject, which appears to speak for itself: a young woman has died in the odor of sanctity, is lowered into her grave, and received into heaven.2 Her name, her identity, her personal or posthumous history—­instructive as such information may be—­it can hardly improve the sufficiency of the image. Everyone knows that whoever dies on earth is buried in it, and that the elect speed to the welcome of Christ. The painter’s realism merely confirms common knowledge and pious faith. As subjects go, Guercino’s St. Petronilla seems to leave nothing to question, and no commentator of the past 350 years has thought otherwise. Yet these same commentators, reviewed together, disagree about what is shown. Is the corpse, in fact, being lowered? Admittedly, the majority read the picture to conform with its conventional title, Santa Petronilla sepolta e accolta in cielo—­The Burial and Reception in Heaven of St. Petronilla. Many, however, have thought they were seeing the body being exhumed, as if all the action, beginning from underground, kept moving up. Thus Goethe on November 3, 1786: “I saw a St. Petronilla by Guercino. . . . The body of the dead saint is lifted out of the tomb, restored to life and received in Heaven by a divine youth.” Similarly, the eighteenth-­century inventory of Guercino’s drawings at Windsor: “A Capital large Drawing, being the first thought for the Picture of the finding of the Body of Sta. Petronilla.” A century later, Charles Blanc wrote in his Histoire des peintres: “The foreground scene represents the exhumation of the body of St. Petronilla; a beautiful cadaver delicately

supported by rugged gravediggers.” To this day, an irrepressible minority of scholars (including Semrau, Voss, Künstle, Galassi Paluzzi) persist in reading the picture as a scene of disinterment.3 Needless to say, the still image itself offers no certain clues. Nothing in the action of the gravediggers tells whether they are raising the body or letting it down (fig. 10.2). Equally neutral is the bier at the left—­it may have delivered its burden, or else may be standing by to take the exhumed body away. And though a lament over a recent death seems to be indicated by the presence of weepers, who knows the proximate cause of their tears? At the discovery of a young life cut off in its flower, yet still abloom and incorrupted in a beautiful corpse, weeping would not be inappropriate. And there are further reasons for keeping both possibilities open. The preliminary studies for the altarpiece include one that depicts the opening of a tomb: a slab is being held up as a group of workmen and one curious elder look in (fig. 10.3). The alternative, then, the recovery of the body, had been in Guercino’s mind while he pondered the subject. And one may add that the averted head of the young man half-­seated at right would make better sense if the dead maiden were being raised from her tomb than if this were the final moment before her disappearance forever. The body’s imminent destination is not the only riddle which this pseudo-­narrative leaves unanswered—­ Originally published in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, vol. 35, Studies in Italian Art History 1 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1980), pp. 207–­42, with revisions here following Steinberg’s notes.

Figure 10.2. Detail of figure 10.1.

Figure 10.3. Guercino, study for

the St. Petronilla altarpiece. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection.

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

the picture is filled with evasions and ambiguities. To dispel them is neither within our power nor to be wished. But it does seem desirable to acknowledge their presence, and to consider whether the painter’s equivocations spring from weakness or strength; whether they carelessly muddle a simple tale, or satisfy an assignment more complex than had been thought. To do this, we shall have to examine three things: the picture itself, its critical fortunes, and the background of its ostensible content. To begin at the threshold. Careful hands—­huge enough for the little finger to exceed 7 inches—­rise from the lower edge. They belong to a gravedigger reaching out from inside a sepulcher to support a young woman’s corpse seen in scorto, head first. Two mates above ground sustain the body with slings: an older man on his knees, bent with reverence; another, half-­nude, hard at work. Behind them on our left, huddled at the head of a cushioned bier, stand four troubled witnesses: women weeping, a puzzled boy, an adolescent with aching heart and flickering candle. At the right, a steep incline is formed by a link of three men, their heads lined up bendwise against the margin: we distinguish a turbaned, black-­bearded speaker, a somewhat foppish youth listening, and, between them, a graybeard whose balding brow plays fulcrum to a visionary counterdiagonal—­St. Petronilla again, now unforeshortened, kneeling on a supporting cloud before an angel-­orbited Christ who, with seignorial grace, welcomes her at the outskirts of heaven. The celestial orbit is closed on the right by the corner of an Ionic entablature. Of other constructions we see no more than the torus and nethermost drum of an unbuilt column, squat on a dado and plinth; and a platform above the tomb. One detects a remarkably simple counterpoint of human and inanimate forms. Against the latter’s steadying horizontals and perpendiculars, the major figures mount three successive diagonals: upward from the emergent gravedigger’s hands to the right middle margin; then in a right-­angled swerve to top left, where a pair of alerted angels gaze eagerly up-­and centerward, promising a third turn (fig. 10.6).

We are given an unbroken concatenation of figures and, midway, unaccountably, a coupling of disparate spatial systems, as if it were commonplace to see heaven and earth overlap. To cool heads, the seamless conjunction of the two zones has often seemed faintly disturbing. Passeri, writing in the 1670s, regretted that the figures in heaven were shaded with equal emphasis—­inappropriate to the “glory in which the sweetness and charm of its splendors must appear.” For Goethe, the picture was beyond price, “whatever objections there may be to this twofold action.” Burckhardt, who took the scene for “a momentary event” (“ein momentanes Geschehen”), complained “that the celestial group remains disconnected from the earthly and yet presses too close upon it.” Max Semrau was witty: “Guercino feels more at home on earth than in heaven . . . the terrestrial action is well arranged, lively and interesting, the celestial scene, vapid and conventional.” A later critic observes that the division of a painting into two parts occurs in Guercino’s altarpieces “with such monotonous regularity that one is inclined to be doubtful of his imagination and ingenuity.”4 Guercino specialists of the last fifty years have focused on the stylistic disparity between the two zones: low naturalism crossed with high classicism, their anomalous coexistence being explained as a double surrender to the influences Guercino encountered in Rome—­Caravaggio’s influence agitating the bottom, Domenichino’s tranquilizing the top. Cesare Gnudi put it explicitly: In the group of two men who lower the martyred saint, supported by the knotty hands of a third gravedigger within the tomb, there is something new, not found before in the art of Guercino . . . there is something which, more than elsewhere, suggests the spirit of Caravaggio. The stylistic unity of the work remains essentially intact when, from the grand imminence of reality and human immediacy in the lower part, one passes to the more posed, idealized naturalism of the upper part, especially that of the saint, already showing the imprint of Domenichino.5


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Implicit in this analysis—­that Guercino compromised the unity of the work by swaying in two directions—­is the Wölfflinian view of the primacy of style over content. Calvi’s assumption (1808), that the creator of the St. Petronilla played on a contrast of styles in response to his subject, seems no longer persuasive.6 The Guercino of modern criticism has become too instinctual, too unsophisticated to be credited with such knowing manipulation. And one suspects this more general inhibition: where competing styles are seen as the driving forces of art-­historical evolution, it is difficult to let these same forces be driven like a team, two-­in-­hand. To recent students of the Seicento, it appears more historical to conceive Guercino as an impressionable provincial, yielding to pressures which he was powerless to resist.7 And yet, though the bipartition of the picture is undeniable, though its base portion is heavy-­laden with effort and brusque foreshortenings inadmissible in the upper air, Guercino did grasp both decks together, wanting them in one geometric configuration. A comparison with a large composition drawing at Windsor demonstrates some of his conscious decisions (fig. 10.4).8 In the drawing, the scale of the figures is less, and fairly constant throughout; and the tryst in heaven, with a Christ wholly engaged in giving audience, is confined to one lofty corner. All these features (among many more) Guercino repudiated. In the altarpiece, the otherness of the heavenly vision is not conveyed by remoteness and separation, but by change of style. The dramatis personae not only bulk larger within the available field, but diminish progressively from base to summit, the diminution of scale being so gradual and continuous that the fusion of the two spatial zones becomes but another expression of a continuity already given. And whereas the drawing posits no bond between those on earth and those enskied, the painting makes the antipodes of the field—­the face of Christ and the upturned face of the corpse—­act as terminals of one axis. Christ’s immediate attention may go to the genuflector before him, yet the same person in her mortality 21 feet away is not outside his pale. Her supine head, wreathed like a bride’s and facing skyward, aligns in a latent vertical

with the head of Christ. Stated in geometric terms, the immaterial coordinate that joins the respective faces of Christ and St. Petronilla becomes a hypotenuse that subtends the right angle formed by the bendwise figuration at the right margin. Christ and his saint—­face-­ to-­face—­are held apart by expansion, like open compasses. It is the meaning of the event that keeps taut the geometry of the composition.9 The literature on the St. Petronilla altarpiece is circumscribed by preoccupations with quality, expression, and style—­chronologically in that order. First came the disputes over merit, for there were detractors even in the seventeenth century. The work retained enough of Guercino’s habitual manner—­his plebeian types, graceless postures, and crepuscular color shot with erratic lights—­to affront certain classicists. Hence Passeri’s censure: “It is painted in his color style and in his customary manner, which never accommodated itself to a certain decorum and propriety for nobleness or to forms in lovely poses with artful drapery; but he always seized on that frankness of the natural; and often even lower.”10 How widespread such feelings were is difficult to determine; Passeri himself concedes that impartial cognoscenti approve the work, and the evidence bears him out. “In coloring, in invention, and in ease of working with sound judgment, I don’t know who surpasses him today,” writes Mancini; and of the St. Petronilla: “There is no doubt that he will achieve lasting fame.” Lanzi (1795) reports that “some Northerners have called him the magician of Italian painting,” and adds in his own voice: “How distinguished a colorist he was in garments, following the taste of the best Venetians, in landscape, in ornamentation, is sufficiently apparent in his St. Petronilla.” Calvi declared that Guercino had surpassed himself in this work: “Marvelous was the reception of such a work and everyone, even painters, was enraptured by the enchanting vigor of Guercino’s color, so much so that Cavaliere Giovanni Lanfranco is said to have remarked that this painting alone sufficed to terrify any painter, nor did anyone at that time speak of anything else in Rome.”11 Through much of the nineteenth century, the paint-

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a [149]

Figure 10.4. Guercino, study

for the St. Petronilla altarpiece. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection.

ing won stintless praise. It was, in Atti’s words, an “inarrivabile capolavoro.”12 Goethe admired Guercino for his “great moral beauty and charm”;13 Stendhal, for his tonality à la Shakespeare. “When I find myself before the painting of St. Petronilla,” he wrote, “it seems to me that no painter would have known better how to render the drama of Hamlet or King Lear.” But the great

novelist fudged the saint’s legend—­which, one suspects, he extrapolated somewhat hastily from the two-­line legend under the Frey engraving (fig. 10.10; see p. 263): “A young man, dressed in sixteenth-­century garb, returns from a voyage in order to marry Petronilla, whom he loves. He arrives in time to be a witness to the burial of his mistress. The body of the young girl is lowered

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into the grave. Her head is still visible. Crushed by grief, the young man to the right of the spectator asks two men for details, one of whom wears a turban.” A close parallel, then, to the graveyard scene in Hamlet and the funeral of Ophelia; matching not only in subject but in its tendresse and the gravity of its shadows the poetry of the Bard. “In this sense,” Stendhal concludes, “the splendor of Guercino has many parallels with [Shakespeare].”14 It is interesting to see Guercino’s subject so idly secularized in Stendhal’s imagination. Most writers on the St. Petronilla altarpiece have focused on the stylistic break in Guercino’s manner during the 1620s. Scannelli (1657) had commended the painter’s general progress toward clarification, and by the end of the eighteenth century, Lanzi recognized the St. Petronilla as the watershed in Guercino’s career, the beginning of his “seconda maniera.” It seemed to show a new firmness in modeling and pictorial structure, a use of light no longer as a pervasive solvent but as serving the individuation of forms, and a wholesome refinement in contour and dress. Calvi attributed the change to the salutary stimulus of the Roman scene: “and he strove to render his style even more praiseworthy and surprising since, in addition to the judicious invention and grandeur of the perfectly disposed parts, in addition to the improved drawing [or design] and the contrast of shadow and light, he expressed with greater precision the heads and the extremities, the complexions with the lively and soft impasto of real flesh, and he gave such harmony and nobility to the colors that for intensity and plasticity it seems he could go no further; and this is what some call his second manner.”15 But the shift to a nobler classical manner, which writers from the seventeenth century onward had applauded as a change for the better, struck twentieth-­ century critics as a thing to deplore. By 1920, Marangoni was reversing the judgment. The “true Guercino,” he protested, was to be found only in the pre-­Roman works, the St. Petronilla being “un passo addietro”—­an essentially academic exercise, an omen of slackening genius and waning sincerity, pointing inexorably to the slippage of Guercino’s later works. “Here Guercino lost his restrained good taste. Rome went to his head and he

became something of a figure of the bourgeois épaté.” The altarpiece as a pivot between two phases of style became symptomatic of encroaching debility. In Denis Mahon’s fundamental analysis of the work, its emergent classicism was diagnosed as a failure of nerve, a submission to prevailing patrician taste. Similarly in Cesare Gnudi’s introduction to the catalogue of the 1968 Guercino mostra: “The St. Petronilla remains the basic text . . . [with which] to grasp the first symptoms and the first effects of the crisis.”16 Nowhere do these discussions acknowledge what must have loomed large in the terms of commission, and hence in the painter’s mind: the dictates of the subject and the pertinence of the subject to a specific altar within St. Peter’s. How set were the mandates and what decisions were open? Which of the characters and situations did the subject prescribe? What determined the choice of St. Petronilla? And why she on such grandiose scale? The historic identity of Petronilla has given rise to intriguing conjectures. From observations made in the 1860s and 1870s by G. B. de Rossi during his excavations in the catacomb of Domitilla, it appears that the original Petronilla was a patrician lady of the Flavian house, probably put to death as a Christian under Domitian. Her tomb—­located in a chapel off the catacomb’s subterranean basilica—­was venerated as early as the fourth century, along with that of the martyred eunuchs (eunuchi cubicularii) Nereus and Achilleus. A fourth-­century fresco found near her tomb depicts an orante, named Veneranda, being conducted to heaven by “Petronella Mart[yr].”17 By the sixth century, a legend conflated from diverse sources had been woven around her name. Its main elements derived from the apocryphal Acts of Peter, where a daughter of the Apostle is stricken with a wasting paralysis which her father, despite his healing powers and the pleas of the people, refuses to cure. To prove that he could if he would, Peter bids the girl rise and causes her to walk naturally before them; whereat the people rejoice and praise God. But Peter, to their dismay, commands his daughter, “return to your infirmity, for this

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

is profitable for you and for me.” He then relates how, on the day of his daughter’s birth, the Lord imparted to him in a vision that she “will do harm to many souls if her body remains healthy.” And indeed, when she was ten, “she became a temptation to many,” including one Ptolomaeus who, having seen her bathe, had her brought to his house to make her his wife. Whereupon, of a sudden, “all one side of her body from her toes to her head was paralyzed and wasted; and we carried her away, praising the Lord who had preserved his servant from uncleanness and shame. And this [Peter concludes] is the cause why the girl continues in this state until this day.” To modern readers, one of the less edifying fables in the hagiological corpus: the editors of the New Testament Apocrypha describe it as “not especially noteworthy . . . a miracle-­story colored by encratite sympathies. . . . Peter demonstrates in the case of his daughter that outward suffering can be a gift from God if it has the effect of preserving virginity.”18 The child in this history, which is preserved only in a second-­century Coptic papyrus, remains unnamed. But the author of the Acts of Nereus and Achilleus (fifth–­sixth centuries), aware that certain older texts made St. Peter a father, and misled by the assonance of Petronilla and Petrus, identified the Apostle’s anonymous daughter with the saint venerated in the cemetery of Domitilla. In these later Acts—­ultimately incorporated in the Golden Legend—­the tale of the paralytic maiden forms part of a letter addressed to Nereus and Achilleus. The writer, Marcellus, reminds his addressees that they had personally witnessed Peter’s refusal to heal his child. The immediate sequel is then retold as in the Acts of Peter. At length, having grown perfect in the love of God, Petronilla is relieved of her malady and empowered to restore other sufferers to health by dint of prayer. The rest of the story involves an enamored young Roman count, here called Flaccus, who desires Petronilla in marriage. Being denied, he threatens to have her killed as a Christian if she consent not. Petronilla, her virginity vowed to the Lord, tells the noble youth to send for her after three days; but from that moment forward refuses nourishment until, having taken Holy Communion, she surrenders this life. God himself, to

spare her the martyrdom which in her heart she had accepted, called her away—­leaving the ardent Flaccus to witness her obsequies and to propose marriage to Petronilla’s companion Fellicula, from whom, thwarted again, he exacts cruel vengeance.19 A subsequent source, the Liber Pontificalis, assures us that St. Peter, with his own hands, carved the legend on her marble sarcophagus: “golden Petronilla, daughter most sweet.”20 The turning point in St. Petronilla’s posthumous fortunes coincides with one of the critical moments in the history of the West. In the year 753, Pope Stephen II journeyed to Gaul to solicit the help of Pepin the Short against the threat of the Lombards. The Frankish king came to the rescue, campaigned victoriously on Italian soil, and established the pontifical state under Carolingian protection. In return for this timely aid, Pope Stephen promised the Frankish crown a most puissant protectrix, the daughter of the Prince of Apostles, to wit, St. Petronilla, whose remains His Holiness proposed to transfer from their ancient site on the Via Ardeatina to St. Peter’s itself. And though the pope died prematurely, his successor Paul I (757–­67) redeemed his late brother’s pledge. St. Petronilla’s body was translated to the westerly of the two fourth-­century mausolea on the south side of the old basilica—­known thenceforth as the church or chapel of St. Petronilla, “la chapelle des rois de France.”21 Emile Mâle’s graceful account of these proceedings suggests why the pope’s choice for a special patroness of the treaties concluded between the papacy and the Frankish sovereigns fell upon Petronilla. The choice of St. Petronilla seems highly extraordinary and the ancient chroniclers do not explain it. But we can guess the reason. Defending the pope by granting him a realm, Pepin the Short became the son of the Church, the son of St. Peter. In a letter that [Pope] Stephen II sent to him and that was supposedly written by St. Peter himself, he has the apostle say that Pepin and the two young princes, Charles and Carloman, were “his adopted sons.” It therefore seems natural that St. Petronilla, daughter of St. Pe-


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ter, became the patron saint of the French kings, who now seemed to be members of her family. She was a sister who protected her brothers.22

The subsequent history of the chapel of St. Petronilla may be passed over briefly. It was honored by Charlemagne and continued for several decades to be lavishly decorated. In 846 it was despoiled by the Sicilian Arabs, and restored thereafter on a more modest scale. We hear of St. Petronilla again at the beginning of the fourteenth century: during Philippe le Bel’s conflict with the papacy, claims were made that her body had come to France, and a half dozen towns in the kingdom began venerating her relics. But the Roman claim to her remains was vindicated in 1474, when Petronilla’s original marble sarcophagus was rediscovered, bearing a decoration of dolphins at the four corners.23 This fact, communicated to Louis XI by Pope Sixtus IV, so impressed the French monarch that the dolphin was made the heraldic animal of the dauphin. When the incumbent dauphin fell sick and mended, his recovery was ascribed to the sisterly intercession of St. Petronilla. And when this same prince, become Charles VIII, sojourned in Rome during January 1495, he—­like his Carolingian predecessor—­heard mass in St. Peter’s, then paid homage to la patronne de la France in her chapel. It was for this chapel too that a French cardinal in 1498 commissioned the marble Pietà from the young Michelangelo. Not long thereafter, with the building of new St. Peter’s begun, the chapel of the kings of France was pulled down; Petronilla’s remains were transferred to the neighboring chapel of Santa Maria delle Febbre. In 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had them temporarily removed to the altar of the Holy Crucifix in the old nave of St. Peter’s, where they would rest until 1606.24 Meanwhile, certain learned had begun to question Petronilla’s family ties. In France itself, St. Francis de Sales pronounced her “not St. Peter’s physical but only his spiritual daughter”; and referred to the arguments advanced by Antonio Gallonio and Cesare Baronio.25 Both authors reason impressively against Petronilla’s natural filiation with the Apostle. The name, Baronio points out, does not connect her with Peter, since “from

Petrus ought to be derived Petrilla, as Priscilla from Priscus and Drusilla from Drusus”; whereas Petronilla derives from Petronius. Furthermore, at the time when Peter could have fathered a daughter, his name was not Peter but Simon. Nor could he have sired her after being renamed, “for both Tertullian and St. Jerome agree that the Apostles who were married practiced continence from the time they were called by Christ.” Moreover: “The epistle of Marcellus the presbyter, in which mention is made of the aforesaid Petronilla [contained in the Acts of Nereus and Achilleus], states that she was so beautiful that Flaccus, a nobleman, fell ardently in love with her. Now since a daughter of Peter would have been born before he became an Apostle, she would already have attained such an age that she could not have appeared so beautiful as to make men languish for love of her.”26 But Baronio was a believer first, and the fruits of his reasoning wilted before his faith. “However that may be,” he concludes, “these things regarding her are supported by a certain and firm tradition of the Fathers, and illustrated by many memorials; Petronilla, the saintly virgin, existed, and has been called by the Fathers, for whatever reason, the daughter of Peter; in her name was constructed an ancient and noble tomb and the anniversary of her birth is commemorated in all the well-­known martyrologies.”27 Thus, despite informed skepticism, St. Petronilla retained her credentials. When the new St. Peter’s was ready in 1606, her remains were translated for a fourth time, now to their final station. Borne in pomp along with the basilica’s other outstanding relics (the Holy Lance, Veronica’s veil, the head of St. Andrew, etc.), they were conveyed to the present altar of St. Petronilla, “in capite ecclesiae” (writes Grimaldi), that is to say, to the western end of the north aisle, or roughly midway between her father’s tomb and her father’s throne—­“the nearest to that of heaven.”28 It was sixteen years later that Guercino, under the pontificate of his former Bolognese patron Alessandro Ludovisi, now Gregory XV, received the commission to decorate the altar of St. Petronilla, an altar still apper-

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

taining to the French crown. For the thirty-­one-­year-­ old painter just summoned to Rome, the execution of this gigantic altarpiece, 7.2 meters high, was the most challenging of possible public assignments. And a commission of such importance must have been accompanied by instructions sufficient to assure the painter’s grasp of what mattered in the saint’s story: her earthly kinship and her status in heaven; the exhumation of her body under a pope who bestowed her eternally upon France as auxiliatrix vestra;29 and the fact that her sacred remains lay even now in St. Peter’s. That Guercino knew a lot more is indicated by the surviving studies for the altarpiece, above all, by the large composition drawing at Windsor (fig. 10.4). The drawing represents a circumstantial istoria with figures loosely packed on open ground. Far removed from their doings is the reception in heaven—­a Christ enthroned to whom a foreshortened angel presents a soft adolescent girl. Down below on the ground lies her corpse, propped up by a bearded worker in a beret. Others prepare the grave; women at lower right cower. And behind all this foreground stir, a young horseman flaunts an insouciant elbow at a rugged male figure at center. The latter—­his arms engaged in a demonstrative double gesture—­reacts with a fierce glance over his shoulder. While his left index points to the corpse, his other hand fingers a huge upright slab. Obviously, a precise narrative content is being communicated—­such punctilious dramatization cannot be arbitrary. The horseman, then, must be the thwarted Flaccus of legend, impenitent at the funeral; from which occasion the loving father of the deceased would not have absented himself. The artist has staged an encounter between St. Peter and Flaccus, incongruous antagonists who are nowhere paired in the sources but whose paths, deduced from the legend, would have crossed here. Nor was Guercino content merely to characterize. Directing the Apostle’s right arm to the stele, he surely recalled that the Liber Pontificalis attributes the carving of the inscription on Petronilla’s tomb to St. Peter’s hand. Accordingly, in the drawing, that hand is already leaving its mark, casting a comet-­tail shadow. Visually, that shadow guides Peter’s hand. A dart-­like

accent centering the wide vacant stone, it forecasts and anticipates the action to come. What we are shown—­ assuming that Guercino was not being thoughtless—­is the father’s epitaph for his filia dulcissima literally foreshadowed on the memorial slab. Thus the Windsor composition confirms what has been observed of the master’s drawings in general: “they show us a Guercino who was passionately concerned to tell a story well, to describe an event correctly . . . and to make it clear and impressive.”30 In the present instance, the sparse matter of Petronilla’s legend is made to yield a dramatic narrative of astonishing density. Guercino’s close familiarity with the legend is put beyond doubt, as is his interest in conveying the details of it through direct illustration. All the more reason to wonder at the artist’s eventual abandonment of this anecdotal approach. Of the characterizations and interrelations exhibited in the Windsor sheet very little would be retained in the altarpiece. Whether this change of focus reflects Guercino’s own evolution or a new set of instructions is hard to say. Denis Mahon, discussing certain stylistic differences between the Windsor composition and the final painting, has speculated on what might have occurred during a hypothetical meeting of the painter with the pope’s secretary of state. Monsignore Agucchi, Mahon suggests, would have tried to divert Guercino from his native manner to one more classicizing and decorous. I am inclined to believe that something of Agucchi’s mind is to be seen in the “adjustments” which Guercino made in the Santa Petronilla. . . . In any discussions with the artist Agucchi’s familiar point of view would have emerged. We can understand the retention, after due refinement, of the figure of Christ; it has that type of grazia which Agucchi would have appreciated. . . . As to the lower half we can imagine him perceiving in it, let us say, more grossolanità than seemed suitable or necessary, and un certo disordine Lombardo about the whole. . . . There are various reasons why Guercino should have paid serious attention to any comments of this kind by Agucchi. It would not be unnatural for the young peasant, a provincial even in Bologna, to be somewhat overwhelmed


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by Rome and the Papal Court. Moreover Agucchi had had much more familiarity with artists (during a period of twenty years) than the average learned prelate, and one might assume that he would have picked up sufficient of the current jargon to avoid gaffes of the cruder sort. Guercino very probably realized that some of the works of art which Agucchi praised were in fact good: why not make some experimental concessions to this method of picture-­making so unlike that to which he himself had become accustomed?31

Assume that a meeting such as Mahon imagines took place—­if not with Agucchi himself (the secretary’s time was chiefly occupied in diplomatic correspondence with papal envoys and heads of state) then with some other representative of official taste. One is still left to wonder whether a painter who had worked successfully for His Holiness in the days of his cardinalate would have been called to Rome in order to paint in a manner different from that which had caused his success. Nor is it apparent that Guercino heeded Agucchi’s hypothetical counsel, since the lower half of his altarpiece shows no abatement of grossolanità.32 If the Windsor composition (or some similar drawing) did serve as a base for discussion between painter and committente, Guercino’s attention would probably have been drawn

to considerations of a different order. He might have been told that the conception was somewhat trifling; that the false fleeting Flaccus was of too small account to merit direct confrontation with the Apostle, whose majesty would be belittled by so mean an encounter; that a St. Petronilla in genuflection before the celestial Christ should not be the slip of a girl shown in the drawing, but a lady of regal port, as befits the patroness of a royal house; and so forth. All of this is conjecture, of course. We cannot know how much Guercino’s revisions owed to official guidance, how much to his own deepening comprehension. Only one conclusion is certain: the Windsor drawing, like other surviving studies, shows what Guercino departed from to find a definitive composition wherein all definition of subject is blurred. In the passage from drawings to altarpiece, he executed a studied withdrawal from the particulars of the story. And the decisions he made with regard to the subject assort so well with his formal modifications as to suggest a single intelligence advancing on multiple levels toward significant ambiguity. Consider the posture of Christ: in the three drawings that stage the reception scene, Christ’s figure appears enthroned on a cloud. But the pose grows increasingly restive; gusty draperies, windblown hair, and

Figure 10.5. Guercino, study

for the St. Petronilla altarpiece. Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum.

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

a gracious bend forward bespeak eagerness to embrace the youngest recruit in heaven. In the study at Darmstadt (fig. 10.5), the figure still sits, but inclines with impending suddenness, unrestrained by its seat. Finally, in the altarpiece, the pose eludes definition (fig. 10.6): not sitting down, nor sitting up, but, as it were, sitting forth. To describe this Christ as “assiso in un trono di nuvole” (Passeri), or as “sedente” (Calvi, Atti), is simpleminded. Like the Christ in the Sistine Last Judgment, Guercino’s theophany is simultaneously throning, starting up, and approaching.33

Figure 10.6. Detail of figure 10.1.

Another kind of duplicity governs the anatomical disproportions of the glorified Petronilla. Her head is petite; but it is from the amplitude of the silken sleeves that her remaining proportions derive. The body swells in progressive undercover enlargement, trails away to a prodigiously distant foot.34 The sweep of it is magnificent precisely because the underlying anatomy is untrue. No comparable distortion was risked in the drawings, and copies of the work take care to “correct” it.35 The setting, too, gives way to ambiguation, especially in the deployment of the architectural elements.


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In the drawings they set a scene; in the altarpiece, these same elements promote a suspension of certainties. We may want to dismiss the centered column base or the Ionic pilaster as conventional plugs for leftover intervals. But it is remarkable that we cannot tell whether the column base (rid of the weeds that confer antiquity in fig. 10.7) is an antique relic or a building in progress, a vestige or a beginning. Or whether the structure at upper right has any terrestrial foundation. Leveled with the angelic host, it connects neither with the diminutive background landscape, nor with the burial ground. Passeri speaks of  “colonne e pilastri dimostrando il di dentro d’un tempio.”36 In fact, whatever these architectural members suggest in the way of a temple materializes in mystification, and we have no assurance of being indoors. Or consider the requirement, dictated by the two-­ phased narration, to keep the airborne epiphany clear

of the earthly zone. In the Windsor drawing (fig. 10.4) the problem does not arise; there the meeting in heaven looms like a cloud event out of reach, and a surplus of intervening slack prevents ambiguous transitions. Yet in the altarpiece the two zones coalesce unintelligibly. The conjunction has been made irrational and unclear, eliciting the sort of complaint one would offer a builder who had failed to separate the piano nobile from the street. Since the figures wear modern dress, the moment depicted cannot be literally assigned to Early Christian antiquity. But Guercino relies on more than sartorial anachronism to un-­specify the characters of the story. Who are all these people gathered about the dead saint? Is St. Peter, for instance, attending his daughter’s funeral? In a composition study at Copenhagen for the lower half of the altarpiece (fig. 10.7) an elderly man sits weeping in the left foreground: bald-­pated, with short square beard, tunic hoist over the knees all’antica, he

Figure 10.7. Guercino, study for the St. Petronilla altarpiece. Copenhagen, Thorvaldsenmuseum.

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

evokes a familiar type—­St. Peter penitent at his “task of tears.”37 His prominence in the drawing indicates that the artist at one time considered casting St. Peter in the role of chief mourner. In the altarpiece, however, the clues are unclear, and St. Peter’s presence is optional, depending on how the event is interpreted. Those who would read the scene as the saint’s original burial (which, we repeat, her devoted father would not have missed) might ask rhetorically whether a representation of the funeral of St. Peter’s daughter in an altarpiece for St. Peter’s Basilica is likely to have been negligent about including St. Peter. Accordingly, they will scan the characters for a suitable candidate and recognize the Apostle in the balding graybeard at right. To support their identification they might point to Guercino’s Incredulity of St. Thomas (London, National Gallery), painted in the preceding year, where an unmistakable St. Peter is the physiognomic double of the graybeard in our altarpiece. And they may rejoice in the latter’s felicitous placement, in his telling triangulation with Christ and the dead saint; or in the contact of his noble head with the form of St. Petronilla in glory. But, in fact, the identification has never before been proposed because the candidacy for a St. Peter in the St. Petronilla altarpiece is effectively understated. And with good reason, since the unequivocal presence of the dead maiden’s father would restrict the depicted scene to one narrative moment. Much the same applies to the person of Flaccus, usually recognized in the youthful gallant at right.38 If this figure stands for the would-­be son-­in-­law of St. Peter (forfeiting much of the dash he had as a cavalier in the Windsor drawing), Guercino has seen to it that there be no rapport between him and his intended. The space between them is blocked, and they look away from each other. Instead of straining, like a lover bereaved, for a last glimpse of his love, our putative Flaccus is caught up in men’s talk. Unseasonable inattention! And how bravely Stendhal explained it away: “Crushed by grief, the young man to the right of the spectator asks two men for details”—­which accords neither with what we see nor with the story we read.39 But does this young man have to be anyone in partic-

ular? Passeri gave him no special identity and included him among “alcune altre figure spettatrici.” Calvi (followed by Atti) called him “a young squire who seems to be in charge of the place, holding back the crowd of the curious.”40 In other words, emotionally unengaged. And this may be why Denis Mahon adopts the expedient of recognizing Flaccus in the perturbed candle-­ holder at left41—­though the latter is surely too young for the role and hardly patrician enough to wrest the title of suitor from the gallant. Calvi rightly calls him “un garzoncello,” Atti, “un garzonetto.” And so much for the dramatis personae. Their identity is diffused in a characteristic equivalent of Guercinesque shadow.42 Returning now to the general subject: what exactly is the moment depicted? Given the persistence of Guercino’s equivocations on so many levels, the question is very likely miscast. It presumes the possibility of a definitive answer, whereas the painter’s cunning forbids it. The records of payment published by Pollak are no help, since they refer to the altarpiece simply as “il quadro (or l’Ancona) di Santa Petronilla.”43 Some modern writers are similarly noncommittal, whether from indifference or wise caution. Most authors, satisfied that the saint’s body is being lowered, describe the scene as a burial. And those who recognize that the movement could go either way are left to wonder whether the ambiguity was intended or inadvertent—­and whether it matters. The problem of directional ambiguity is endemic to narrative art. It can beset almost any still picture that represents objects moving or being moved.44 Roger van der Weyden’s Exhumation of St. Hubert, for instance (London, National Gallery), offers no visual certainty that the corpse is not being entombed—­except that funeral paraphernalia are wanting. But narrative painters have always known that the problem exists and have used conventions and artifice to overcome it. They were also aware, at least since the Renaissance, that ambiguous destination could be an expressive resource. In his De sculptura of 1504, Pomponius Gauricus had distinguished between three kinds of motion in the rendering of an action: when the action shows retrospectively what had preceded it (which Pomponius calls Energeia);


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when it shows prospectively what is due (here called Emphasis); and Amphibolia, or ambiguity, when a movement hovers between possibilities, indeterminate in its trend. As the classic instance of Amphibolia, Pomponius cites a painting by Polygnotus which (according to Pliny) caused people to “argue whether the figure with the shield is ascending or descending.” And Pomponius adds proudly that he himself had fashioned just such a figure in bronze.45 We are thus assured that deliberate suspension of certainty, or ambivalence of direction, was an option available to Italian art from the beginning of the sixteenth century. Keeping this option in mind, how confidently may we interpret the action in our altarpiece? Should we see Energeia and assume that the body, lifted off from its bier, has just been brought to the brink of its grave? Should we see the body unsteeped from its sepulcher, with continuing upward Emphasis? Or should we acknowledge a willful reservation of clues, which would indicate intentional ambiguity? Since, before the picture was painted, no Frenchman or Roman could think of St. Petronilla’s burial without also thinking of her body’s subsequent exhumation—­this being the symbolic act that had affiliated France with St. Peter—­the painter would have had strong incentive to encourage the mutual association of both events, to equivocate between burial and disinterment as between two valid readings. Whereas a candid representation of the original burial alone would have constituted an abridgement of meaning. It is worth remembering that the cult of St. Petronilla never created an iconographic tradition. Our few scattered images of the saint yield neither canonic scenes nor common attributes. A twelfth-­century mosaic in the Cappella Palatina, Palermo, shows St. Petronilla veiled, holding a cross. In a fifteenth-­century panel at Saint-­ Goar, she holds a key; elsewhere a broom—­“ because she busied herself about the house, whenever her health permitted.”46 In a predella panel by Bartolo di Fredi (Siena, Pinacoteca), she is depicted being cured by St. Peter; similarly on a tapestry in Beauvais Cathedral. Sano di Pietro shows her serving at table and once more, in a subsidiary scene, on her sickbed (Siena, Pinacoteca). An

engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi has her holding a palm branch and a little book closed (Bartsch XIV, 183). In Gaudenzio Ferrari’s painting of St. Petronilla at Varallo, she wears a white veil and again holds a book—­as Mrs. Jameson observed, “she has no distinctive emblem.” And when Callot, c. 1633, etched a Sainte Pétronille under May 31 for his Images des Saints (small pithy scenes illustrating the Roman Martyrology), having no type or model to follow, he seated his saint on a mattress outdoors receiving communion. Never did it occur to an artist to represent the funeral of Petronilla; nor to a patron to request such an image. Since that occasion held no special significance and played no role in the saint’s legend, what cause was there to show her corpse merely going the way of all flesh? Yet someone in 1621 chose the moment of the saint verging upon her grave for a giant altarpiece in St. Peter’s. Surely the subject would never have been selected but for the association involved, that is to say, the historic association of St. Petronilla’s altar with the French monarchy for whose protection her sacred body had been exhumed. What part the painter had in inventing the subject we do not know. But whether self-­imposed or assigned, Guercino’s task was to comprehend the “burial” in a scheme larger than Burckhardt’s “momentary event.” That is why the persons of St. Peter and Flaccus had to be underplayed—­to enable us to discount their presence. Present they are (or may be) insofar as the occasion of St. Petronilla’s funeral is represented. Where the picture evokes the saint’s exhumation seven centuries later, both characters retreat from the scene. Not that the painting depicts the raising as opposed to the lowering of the body, but that the either-­or formula is misapplied. Guercino has made the most of the fact that painted figures are still—­that apparent movement accrues to them only by imputation. Under the guise of raw naturalism, the artist contrived a symbolic structure so drained of particularities that every significant element of the original story and of its aftermath can be found in it. In one particular, however, Guercino is absolute—­in the metric precision whereby he integrated the image of St. Petronilla’s corpse with the actual basilica. Two re-

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

cent scholars have sensed something of this integration, but in ways contradictory and, I think, unconvincing. Wittkower saw the foreground figures “lowering the body of the saint into the open sepulcher in which the beholder seems to stand.”47 This is unrealistic. The beholder stands, as the celebrant priest does, before the altar (fig. 10.8); if we project ourselves imaginatively into the painting, we may share the footing of the principal figures, but, in fact, our eye level is given by the landscape horizon, i.e., slightly above the face of the corpse—­not in the pit below. An alternative reading proposes an even closer connection between the depicted world and the real: “Guercino has used the lower frame as the near edge of the grave, so that when the painting was in its original location in St. Peter’s, the saint seemed to be lowered out of the picture and into the altar-­tomb that actually enshrines her remains.”48 But this interpretation, too, is untenable, for the painter has specified with redundance that the corpse not be referred to the altar as its receptacle. Firstly, the altar, being of normal size, is utterly overwhelmed by the gargantuan scale of the foreground figures, St. Petronilla included. Secondly, as regards orientation, the saint’s body lies at an angle of 45 degrees to the picture plane—­precisely aligned with the obliquity of the grave (fig. 10.2), but ill adapted for bedding inside the altar.49 Furthermore, the mobility of the body is patently upward or downward, as in a vertical shaft, but not hitherward. Finally, if we tried to imagine the corpse moved “out of the picture and into the altar-­tomb,” the hidden gravedigger whose hands support the saint’s head and shoulder would bar her entry: Guercino inserted him between the saint and the altar, and he cannot be thought away. The wielder of these enormous hands is understood to stand on the floor of the sepulcher, shielded from our sight by the pictorial threshold and the recessed wall below. We may not know whether he is easing the body’s descent or helping to lift it out; but the visible crest of his action is so revealing that, plumbing his altitude down to tiptoes and heels, the inferred depth of the tomb invades our consciousness. Just as higher reaches of heaven are unlocked for us by the glance of the angels

in the upper left of the altarpiece, so the hands fringing the threshold produce lower depths. The grave dips as deep as the man’s reach is high. The importance of this conceit is apt to be missed because Guercino’s painting no longer occupies its original site. It was removed in 1730, its place over the St. Petronilla altar being taken by an ingenious mosaic replica (fig. 10.8). Consequently, when we pass the altar in the basilica, we disregard what we know to be but a copy; and when we contemplate the original in the Capitoline Museum, we see no cause to remember St. Peter’s. This dissociation of picture from site breaks a vital link in Guercino’s ideological structure. For the device of the cresting fingers unfurled at the base—­the incentive they furnish to sound the whole man downward in his full stature—­gives us the measure to which the action behind the altar refers. The plummet formed by the gravedigger’s body drops ineluctably past the basilica’s floor; not to the real depth of the Vatican grottoes (a dimension outside the compass of the pictorial system), but just low enough to undercut our station, deep enough to bottom beneath the pavement that supports us. How meaningful we decide to make this implicit sublevel depends somewhat on our prior estimate of Guercino’s mentality. Suppose, as we have often been told, that Guercino composed more by instinct than by cogitation; then the hidden gravedigger’s stature merely follows from the given scale of the foreground figures, and the fact that its downward projection underruns the basilica’s floor becomes fortuitous. On the other hand, the scale of the foreground figures was never “given”—­as we learn from other, equal-­sized altarpieces produced for St. Peter’s. In these, the magnifying effect of the foreground tends to be neutralized by the use of partial repoussoir figures in collapsed postures; full stature being reserved for diminished figures in middle distance (e.g., Domenichino’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, begun in 1625). But in the St. Petronilla, Guercino made the daring decision to thrust the main action up to the picture plane. This gave him a figure scale of spectacular magnitude, appropriate to the largesse of the surrounding architectural space, but gross and monstrous in its


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Figure 10.8. Pietro Paolo Cristofari,

mosaic copy of the St. Petronilla altarpiece, 1730. Rome, St. Peter’s.

dwarfing effect on the very altar which an altarpiece is meant to exalt. What, then, determined the proximity and the cyclopean size of those foreground figures? There is surely no certain and no single answer; any major decision in so complex a work as the St. Petronilla presumably reconciles many motives. But it is tempting to regard the projective scale of the hidden gravedigger as a determinant for the entire proportionate system, so that the immensity of the foreground figures will have followed in consequence. In this inversion of the causal sequence, we are assuming that Guercino needed the phantom extension of his undepicted gravedigger to establish a precise measure of depth; and that he needed this measure as the critical means by which to associ-

ate the depicted body of St. Petronilla with the actual substance of the basilica. For Guercino has made the projected stature of the gravedigger testify to the habitation of the saint’s body. The scale of those reaching hands at the threshold serves to locate her remains beneath our feet, reminding us that St. Petronilla abides in St. Peter’s. In view of this collocation of place and image, it hardly matters whether the saint’s body is being lowered or raised. What matters is the empathic energy of her hovering at the mouth of a grave—­a grave situate underfoot below the basilica’s floor. We are led to realize that the depicted scene invites yet a third reading: the saint’s reinterment. Not the recent deposition

G u e rc in o’s S a int Petronil l a

of St. Petronilla’s bones in the new St. Peter’s, for this is clearly not the event nor the locale represented; the scene was surely not meant to refer to a known public ceremony held sixteen years earlier. But the allusiveness of the presentation could well call to mind her translation in the eighth century when—­in token of her new role as protectress of France—­St. Petronilla was first reinterred within the precincts of Old St. Peter’s. The margin of ambiguity in the picture is wide enough to accommodate, beyond the original burial and the deferred exhumation, a vision of the Apostle’s daughter come to rest by the side of her father. Since the painting was commissioned for the altar that replaced the demolished chapel of the French kings, one suspects that Guercino was given some sense of its political import. He may have learned that the French were inclined to lay claim to the possession of their patroness’ body; and that impostor relics of Ste. Pétronille were venerated in various French churches, so that the prerogative of St. Peter’s required reaffirmation. There may well have been considerations of greater weight. The national policy of the French during the pontificate of Gregory XV was a source of continual chagrin to His Holiness. He urged without cease that the Tridentine reforms be instituted in France, hoping to wrest control of the ecclesiastical hierarchy from the French crown; but his exertions were vain. As the

Thirty Years’ War dragged into its fourth and fifth season, he warmly supported the House of Hapsburg; France, though Catholic, remained its implacable foe. The pope had his heart set on a quick military campaign by the Duke of Savoy against Geneva, and his nuncio strove to secure the neutrality of the French, protesting how much their monarchy stood to gain by letting “the Rome of the Calvinists,” the font of Huguenot strength, be obliterated; but Paris signaled Savoy that if he stirred against Geneva, he would find the French in force barring his passage.50 With such stubborn resistance to the pope’s plans coming from the French side, it must always have seemed à propos to remind the advocates of Gallicanism that the protectrix of the French monarchy lay here in St. Peter’s, which—­as any viewer of Guercino’s painting in situ could see—­formed a continuum with the gates of heaven. To encode messages of this sort in a pious hagiological composition required a subtle and keenly conscious pictorial imagination. It was hardly a task for an unsophisticated provincial—­no matter how endowed with natural genius. Only a painter of large intellectual resources could have given visual substance to the program underlying the St. Petronilla and brought it off. What the work needed was an intelligent genius, and this must be why Guercino was called.51


Figure 11.1. Jan Steen, The Drawing Lesson, c. 1665. Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum.

Elev e n


an Steen’s elegant painting The Drawing Lesson, at the J. Paul Getty Museum (fig. 11.1), triggers a wicked thought. To say it at once: the girl in the picture is not watching her master’s instruction, and nor is the boy; which leaves the depicted painter, the man in the middle, flanked by bilateral inattention. Has this slight to the honor of art (or of teaching) not been observed, or is there an unspoken agreement to talk it away? The picture has been described as a true-­to-­life representation of a drawing lesson in a professional studio—­and as a noble allegory of education in art, the latter by John Walsh, then director of the Getty Museum.1 This, one would think, is content enough for a modest-­size canvas. But Steen’s pictures are unpredictable. Their mood may be unexpectedly somber, as in the astonishing painting in the Prague National Gallery of a scholar with his back turned on the death of a child.2 More frequently, Steen’s intentions are sly and in his own kindly way, mildly salacious. Think of his eighteen known variations on the theme of “The Doctor’s Visit”: in each case, the sufferer happens to be an adorable girl whose mysterious ailment turns out to be either love sickness or a slight touch of pregnancy.3 Sometimes the doctor sends us a knowing wink. Where he enters in the stock comedy role of the doltish physician, he acts befuddled, and we get the correct diagnosis from an older or younger brother, with harmless-­looking accessories in the picture furthering the epiphany. What is constant is a subtext of erotic initiation, the fade-­out of innocence. This much I gather from scores of Steen’s genre pictures, including that cunning piece at the Getty.

Steen’s Female Gaze and Other Ironies

Let me begin, as Walsh does, with a side glance at Steen’s contemporaneous The Harpsichord Lesson in the Wallace Collection, London (fig. 11.2). A winsome young woman—­the same who is taught to draw in the Getty picture—­lays hands on a keyboard. Standing by is her mentor, offering pointers. No evidence that he offers anything more or that the picture is meant to “embody the theme of unequal lovers.” In fact, the door at right is wide open so that, should the music stop, mother would hear. On the wall, over the young lady’s head, a curtain reveals just enough of a mythological painting to expose a nude Venus and Cupid asleep. Walsh comments: “For those who need the clavis interpretandibus, the key is literally hanging on the wall, and above it is a painting of a sleeping Venus, goddess of the unawakened libido of the girl, to adopt the sensible reading of Lyckle de Vries.” A footnote refers us to de Vries’s work of 1976.4 But I think de Vries was mistaken. He was following a hint dropped by H. E. Van Gelder (1927), who had written of the Wallace picture as follows: “The music master too has been portrayed with patience and care. His face shows the seriousness of the teacher but also the kindly concession of the old friend towards a beginner who gives proof of so much application. But is there not in the old man’s face, as he looks at the attractive girl, just a suspicion of a warmer spark? Railing Jan Steen does so like to tease. Had he really no thought of

Originally published in Artibus et Historiae, 11, no. 22 (1990), pp. 107–­28; here with minor revisions following Steinberg’s notes.

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Figure 11.2. Jan Steen, The Harpsichord Lesson, c. 1665. London, Wallace Collection.

symbolism when in the picture on the wall he allowed Cupid to peep round the corner?”5 To write such a passage in 1927, an author needed the courage of his subjectivity: Van Gelder was adducing a piece of home decoration, a picture within the picture, to shore up his hunch about a certain complex of feelings. Since then, his suspicion of the old music master has seeded a large body of writing wherein the latent eroticism of genre scenes with musical subjects is explicated by way of learning rather than intuition. Any musicale in Dutch seventeenth-­century painting may now be eroticized by interpretation—­which brings us back to Lyckle de Vries. On the strength of foregoing literature, and arguing from analogy, de Vries proposed that the characters in the Wallace picture would, if they could, make music together, a pastime whose amorous import he discerned in another Steen canvas, Two Men and a Young Woman Making Music on a Terrace (London, National Gallery). There a young woman makes ready to sing while the swain at her back tunes his lute, so that we expect them

to harmonize. But as the Wallace picture promises no such outcome, de Vries faults the music master’s senility and the tender youth of the girl—­as yet unawakened to feelings about the opposite sex; hence the sleep of Venus above. In other words, an amorous spark would ignite these two characters had they been of a different character. Against which I plead that the music master has been maligned. Guiltless of sexual harassment, his whole effort is to improve his pupil’s performance—­no bid to expand solo into duet. There is not even a second instrument within sight, and we would hardly expect him to sing. As for the framed Venus above, her nap is about to end. Dawn streaks the horizon; and if she is not being unveiled by a satyr (a common mishap in such period pictures), we have the pulled curtain to effect the same denouement. Thus Venus’s present slumber is an unstable condition, an imminence. It intimates the arousal (underscored by the key) of the girl’s libido through the suasion of melody. And the old geezer’s role in The Harpsichord Lesson is, I submit, not to staff the prover-

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bial pair of odd, mismatched lovers, but to burlesque the dim pedagogue, the kind whose professionalism keeps him impervious to what is being aroused. So much for the musical piece in the Wallace Collection. And shall art have no equivalent power? I believe that Steen’s Drawing Lesson offers a positive answer, and we shall come to it in due course, that is, after passing the required obstacle course of the literature. There is not much of it, and what little there is keeps resolutely impervious to what is being aroused. Begin with Hofstede de Groot’s monumental Catalogue Raisonné . . . of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century (1908). The Drawing Lesson is praised as “a very fine picture,” the woodcut on the depicted table is identified as by Jan Lievens (fig. 11.8), and the documentation is faultless. But the precision brought to matters of provenance and sales history gives way to slovenliness in describing what meets the eye: “A young girl is drawing a bust; the master corrects the drawing. She looks on and at the same time sharpens her pencil; in her left hand she holds a palette.” That makes three misfits in two short opening sentences: the held palette is not the girl’s; she is not “looking on” but looking elsewhere; and there is no bust in the picture—­ the drawing being corrected is of a standing figure.6 Was it the full-­length nude on the table that needed censoring into a “bust” before allowing the girl to have drawn it? No more is heard of The Drawing Lesson until 1926, when the Leiden museum mounted a Jan Steen exhibition. The picture, by then in the A. Reimann collection in Denmark, received a brief catalogue entry, beginning: “Jan Steen in his studio gives a lesson to two children, presumably his daughter Cornelia and his son Dirck.”7 Comment: that Steen’s children (though not necessarily the ones named) posed for him here and elsewhere is probable. But in the Getty picture, Steen’s well-­known physiognomy is excluded. The cataloguer merely assumed that when a painter depicts one of his kind he must inevitably create a self-­portrait. In the wake of the 1926 Leiden exhibition and catalogue, two famous Dutch experts took note of the

picture. H. E. Van Gelder wrote: “An artist in whom we recognize Jan Steen, although the features are somewhat unusually pointed, is giving a lesson in his studio to a young girl whose drawing he is correcting. . . . She looks with rapt attention at the marvels executed by the skilful hand. At the same time she sharpens her charcoal.”8 Comment: the “somewhat unusually pointed features”—­incongruous for Steen—­belong to a ferret-­ faced model Steen used repeatedly during the 1660s.9 Again, the author assumed self-­portrayal to agree with his notion that “the picture is worthy of attention” because it shows us a glimpse of Steen’s studio and “something of the painter’s technique.” The picture is valued as a document of autobiography. But is it true that the girl “looks with rapt attention” at the marvels the painter is executing? What stopped this diligent scholar from noticing her distraction? Abraham Bredius’s Jan Steen monograph appeared in the same year. Though he takes The Drawing Lesson to represent “without doubt Jan Steen’s own atelier,” he confesses himself unable to recognize Steen in the master portrayed. The girl, as usual, is said to be all attention (aandachtig).10 In C. H. de Jonge’s Jan Steen of 1939, three pictures of painters at work are brought together (figs. 11.1, 11.3, 11.4). In all of them, we read, Steen presents himself as a happy father teaching his children to draw, while they watch met bewondering—­with admiration.11 Once again, the painter’s unlikeness to Steen is suppressed and the blatant inattention of the pupils in the Getty picture resolutely ignored. To summarize the foregoing: Steen’s Drawing Lesson is described by successive scholars as a reliable factograph, wherein the painter shows himself in command of all his resources, to wit, a well-­appointed establishment, well-­behaved kids, and a professional skill that can only win admiration. No humor, no irony, no concession to sex, and no innuendo; and in the characters represented, no stir of emotion. We are halfway through the literature. There followed a series of world events that produced, among other things, a hiatus in the sequence of texts.


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Figure 11.3. Jan Steen, Interior with a Painter and His Family, c. 1670. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum.

Except for one item—­an important article by W. R. Valentiner, published in Detroit in 1942. The article identified the plaster statuette on the table—­of which more below. For the rest, The Drawing Lesson received but one line: “Two children, a boy and a girl, are drawing from a plaster cast.”12 This is more than we see them do, but then the article was only marginally concerned with our picture. In December 1958, the Mauritshuis staged a Jan Steen exhibition with catalogue by P. N. H. Domela Nieuwenhuis.13 The Drawing Lesson, lent again by its Danish owner, was included, with the designation of the painter as a self-­portrait happily dropped. The author describes the setting as a typical artist’s studio, but refrains from calling it Steen’s. Then comes a momentous shift. After citing some of the objects depicted—­the

“cow” on the shelf, the hourglass, laurel wreath, zither, etc.—­Nieuwenhuis suggests that the picture signifies more than a workaday drawing lesson: it allegorizes and celebrates the art of painting. This art, we learn, is to be understood as transcending base handicraft, being lofted up by spirit and muse—­an argument clinched with the mention of Vermeer’s famous Allegory in Vienna.14 The Drawing Lesson was shown again in 1965 in Delft and Antwerp as part of an important theme show, “The Painter in His World.”15 The catalogue entry on our picture opens on a sociological note: “That a girl from a good home here receives a drawing lesson proves the rising social standing of art in the 17th century.” We then learn that the three characters in the picture represent so many phases of art education: the boy would copy

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Figure 11.4. Jan Steen, The Drawing

Lesson, c. 1665. Rose-­Marie and Eijk Van Otterloo Collection.

a print, such as the Lievens woodcut; the girl draws from a three-­dimensional plaster cast and receives the master’s correction; the latter composes a painting. Finally, the dispersed still-­life elements are invested with meanings either certain or probable: those in the lower right may stand for the Five Senses; the laurel wreath surely signals the glory of art; and the ox on the shelf, “which might have been modeled by Adriaen van de Velde” (see note 30 below), is the ox of St. Luke, patron of painters. In sum, Steen’s Drawing Lesson is being upped from the lowly category of genre to the higher reaches of symbolism and theory. A modern corpus of the Steen oeuvre appeared in 1980.16 Here the picture assumes the dignity of a new title, Allegory of the Art of Painting (the former mere genre title is relegated to a parenthesis). The author rightly

denies that the painter portrayed represents (“as has often been claimed”) Steen himself, but he agrees that the pupils were modeled by Steen’s children Eva and Cornelis and that the setting must be Steen’s Haarlem studio. This seems not unreasonable, but it prompts a question: if Steen here represented his children being taught their father’s métier in his own place—­and given Steen’s habit of projecting his likeness into his genre scenes—­what made him absent himself from this occasion?17 1989: In the first full-­length article devoted to The Drawing Lesson, John Walsh propounded a thorough allegorical reading, seeing the picture as a “portrayal of the education of an artist.” Most of the essay builds on the work of his predecessors, but Walsh is the first to remark that the girl’s presence in the studio is unpar-

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alleled in Dutch art. Yet he rationalizes her visit. Since a woman artist or a female apprentice “would not have been dressed like this,” he decides that she must be “one of those girls from well-­to-­do families” who took lessons in drawing. Now it is true that Dutch girls in the seventeenth century enjoyed remarkable freedom of movement.18 However, Walsh’s assertion that “they were sent to painters’ studios to learn to draw and paint as amateurs” is not borne out by his supporting note. Nor is it clear why a picture said to portray “the education of an artist” should center on a well-­to-­do teenager who is not training to become a professional. The argument I am questioning seems to me to evade the centrality of the young woman’s experience. Walsh concludes: “Her body language and expression unmistakably convey her

Figure 11.5. (left) Detail of figure 11.1. Figure 11.6. (right) Alessandro Vittoria, St. Sebastian, 1566. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940.

attentiveness, even submission, to the master.” This is not how I see it, but our differences will emerge as we start looking in earnest, that is to say, mindful of Steen’s sense of fun.19 On the table about which the action revolves stands a nude plaster statue (fig. 11.5). Back in 1942, Valentiner recognized it as derived from a life-­size St. Sebastian, carved in the 1560s for a Venetian altar by Alessandro Vittoria.20 In Veronese’s portrait of Vittoria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the sitter fingers a similar replica of the statue, stripped of loincloth and attributes. Vittoria evidently took pride in the figure and had two small-­scale variants cast in his lifetime (fig. 11.6). Thereafter the work must have attained popularity

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among painters as a means to enliven still life. Reduced and unfrocked, the ex-­martyr finds employment as a studio prop (fig. 11.7).21 Steen’s version of the Italian paradigm is a translation into vernacular. Behind the original’s aristocratic physique, he detects a poseur’s exhibitionism. Which could mean either that Steen was insensitive to higher values, or that his deep irony strips ideality of its pretensions. In his revision, a paragon of manly valor becomes something else: a stud with no clothes on striking a pose. But surely the use of the figure as an anatomy for a young female to draw from is unrealistic. If well-­bred ladies in mid-­seventeenth-­century Holland took drawing lessons—­in their homes, hardly in a professional man’s atelier—­it was not nude masculinity they were urged to investigate. Yet in Steen’s picture, the tender novice confronts the unspeakable. Just what she’s expected to do about it is hard to say. She may be preparing to draw the uncensored cast. She may have done so already—­on the blue sheet now undergoing the master’s correction; or she may shortly be handed that drawing to copy. There is a fourth possibility: that the statue had been assigned to the painter’s apprentice, while the visiting

girl is to copy the Jan Lievens print (figs. 11.8, 11.9). Why else make that woodcut so prominent, beetling over the edge of the table, yet right there at her fingertips, like a placemat? Of course, such guessing at moments not actually represented is inconclusive.22 But I see that the master has two sheets under his hand, one bearing a drawing already done, the other still blank. I observe further that the boy lets his arms drop, like one who has done his work; while the girl sharpens her drawing tool, like one about to begin. And if she is a beginner, it would be normal to have her copy a print, making the statue pure happenstance, an interference from outside her curriculum. In this scenario, the girl’s task will be to spend her next hour perusing the stubble and wattles of Lievens’s scruffy old man, rather than a young man of parts, and the two model art works now on the table contrast in ironic antithesis, consonant with Steen’s wit. For these weighty reasons I prefer the last of the four proposed options, allowing that we don’t really know who’s to draw what. Steen himself left the issue uncertain, and I take this to be part of the tease. But whichever alternative we select, and regarding only the given instant, Steen has the young woman in an unlikely predicament. As Walsh justly remarked, “to find the girl

Figure 11.7. Evaristo Baschenis, Musical Instruments, c. 1670. Bergamo, Accademia Carrara.


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in the studio is a surprise.” No other atelier in Dutch seventeenth-­century painting admits such an improbable visitation. In fact, by showing us what a nice girl in a place like this would be likely to find, Steen makes a good case for taking drawing lessons at home. From the beginning, I thought it curious to see both pupils ignore a demonstration offered for their instruction. When Steen repeated the theme of a drawing lesson in reduced format and with only two figures (fig. 11.4), he had the young male disciple avidly follow the master’s hand. Some years later, Steen produced yet another “drawing lesson”—­I refer to A Painter and His Family of c. 1670 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (fig. 11.3)—­and again the onlookers pay full attention, as they normally would, barring some urgent distraction.23 The Getty picture thus stands alone in arresting deflective impulses—­blinks of inattention so fleeting that scholars deny they occurred. But it is surely not difficult to name the object of the young boy’s


Figure 11.8. Jan Lievens, Bust of a Balding Man. Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art; Rosenwald Collection.

Figure 11.9. Detail of figure 11.1.

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preoccupation: he looks at the pretty lady, with all his enamored heart in his eyes; while she, preoccupied on her own account, takes no notice. What diverts her attention may be more elusive, more recondite, but if we care to follow the action, if we allow that Steen means what he paints, then our part is precisely to register the distractions that cause girl and boy to not look at what their master is showing. Their master: he has come all the way from the rear of the studio, leaving behind his own work-­in-­ progress—­a Rest on the Flight into Egypt, I think (fig. 11.10); I make out a woman seated, a child in her arms; behind her an upright male figure with staff in hand against a backdrop of trees. The painting when finished will be conventionally iconic in structure, hitched to a

timeless theme, unembarrassed by anecdote. In short, a high art commodity—­not Steen’s kind of picture. I repeat: the conscientious preceptor has come all the way from behind the partition to attend to his teaching duties. Without letting go of his palette, he applies a corrective touch to a student drawing unaware that nobody cares; and this surely constitutes an enigma. However, like The Harpsichord Lesson in London (fig. 11.2), our picture, too, displays a clavis interpretandi. Discreetly shadowed, the key hangs at a telling point near the cocked elbow of the statue showing off its physique—­an apparition arresting enough to hold the girl’s gaze. Could it be something in the line of her stare, some feature perhaps of that front view she gets, that has caught her attention? Might the flying amorino that

Figure 11.10. Detail of figure 11.1.


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soars like a thought balloon over her head furnish a clue? Objection. Can one pinpoint the focus of a depicted glance as if it were an optical fact? A colleague who has studied the Getty picture protests that he does “not see the girl’s attention as riveted by anything.” Then let me answer by resorting to an old-­fashioned ploy, formerly known as Compositional Analysis. Since Steen’s work is not often subjected to such procedure, the comments I am about to make may strike readers as out of place, misdirected. Steen’s narratives seem so theatrically staged that they tend to invite description like tableaux vivants, as if they contained actual persons and objects. One hears occasional tributes to skillful grouping or felicitous coloring, but few commentators backslide to the primitive recognition that a Steen painting, for all its illusionism, maps a flat field. Yet it started out as a blank. “Preparatory to anything else” (opening words of Ulysses, XVI), the painter had to decide on the eye level from which the depicted space would be projected. He chose a particular elevation, and by this choice the slant of every parallel in the picture, from the ascent of the floorboards to the tilt of the wall shelf, would be determined. Now we may read Steen’s decision by observing the windowsill at the left and, at right, the easel’s ledge under the unfinished canvas. Both shelves, accented by incoming light, are seen from slightly above—­and this gives us a first conclusion: the niveau whence this entire scene is projected coincides with the girl’s seeing eye. Such coincidence comes not by fluke. In the painter’s deliberation, that eye was to be the uniquely privileged point. But there is more. Look again at the windowsill and across to the ledge of the easel: we are seeing the terminals of one strong horizontal that transects the field just above its midheight. Between these outer ledges, the level latitude is sustained by a chair back, two pairs of shoulders, and a procession of five upholstery studs. Such steady emphasis on the equatorial span would seem too insistent were it not for the master’s timely arrival; his intervention imposes the perpendicular that helps us not see how the composition bisects. But bisect it does, and with critical impact on the narrative content.24

Now for the target object of the girl’s glance. Had it been the focus of her sight only, with no collusive support from the system, the argument might be moot. But the statuette’s pelvic zone attracts a convergence of three forceful vectors. Not only does that strong horizontal cut the design at this target level, there is also the axis of the hovering Cupid. Project his axis downward, and you are back at the target. And then a third pointer coming up from below—­the canvas in the left foreground leaning against a closed trunk. Its bias is managed with fine precision, as are the streaks of light edging its sides. The near side—­the longest unbroken straight in the picture—­converges again on the crux, while the farther side, similarly projected, strikes the clavis interpretandi, the key hung by the statuette’s elbow. Bravo for this foreground canvas; remove it in your mind’s eye, and the lower left corner blanks out, while the narrative loses momentum. And this gives us three spokes braced to one hub, three homing radials. The girl’s glance is concentered with the tilt of the foreground canvas, with the streak of the windowsill, and with Cupid’s axis. It is not that her eye strayed, or that she’s uncommonly nosey. Her sightline travels within a given phallocentric pictorial structure—­Steen’s way of mapping the ineluctable. More simply put, we know what she’s looking at because all conspires to give her glance its direction. Something objectionable there is in what I’ve just written. Is it possible?—­this sensitive, elegant picture “ph—­ —­centric” in structure? One balks at the very word, and a well-­disposed friend warns me that readers may see nothing but prurience in my conclusion. He does not dispute the accuracy of the observations that led to it. “The two students,” he grants, “are inattentive to their instructor, and their wandering gazes enrich the narrative, indeed pique the observer’s interest.” Yet he insists that Steen’s picture is primarily “a statement about art education, typically using the comic device of the wrongdoer or transgressor to make the message more palatable and memorable. . . . Steen stresses the diligence and practice required of a successful artist with the inattentiveness of the novitiates.”

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Let me suppose he is right; three difficulties arise. Firstly: if Steen had cast his students in transgressive behavior so as to make his preachment “more palatable and memorable,” had he not failed? The inattention of those two young people is rendered so subtly that this century’s scholars have found it neither memorable nor palatable nor even admissible. How Steen’s contemporaries reacted is not recorded. Secondly, if it were the educational aim of the picture to posit the need for student attentiveness, should not the master be presented as meriting such attention? Yet we shall see that the master is gently ridiculed, so that, within the economy of the picture, it becomes fitting to ignore his instruction. But there is a more serious consequence. Suppose Steen’s purpose was to preach the need for attention, doing it by way of comic inversion. Then the specific cause of the girl’s inattention becomes inconsequential. Lacking a positive charge, any distraction whatever would have worked equally well—­a glance up at the Cupid, a furtive look at the hourglass to check the time, curiosity about the averted canvas, or concentration on her chalk-sharpening. On this view, to pinpoint a precise target of  “inattentiveness,” as I have done (and as Steen has done), would be self-­contradictory—­or even prurient since it misses the point, the point of the picture being (so far as the girl is concerned) the cautionary injunction that students should pay attention.25 Interpretation is now faced with two options, or better, two modes of emphasis. As I read it, the picture is about art as a threshold of knowledge and an activator of young emotions—­like the music heard by the girl in The Harpsichord Lesson. My reading gives priority to the psychic tensions generated at center where innocence is suddenly jolted. To this event all the surrounding objects become accessory, ensuring the authenticity of the scene as a place where art is created and housed and experienced. But the moment depicted is the girl’s silent initiation into knowledge inadvertently thrust upon her, and insofar as this is the action, to just this extent the picture is literally phallocentric—­prurience be damned.26 In the alternative reading, Steen’s picture is essen-

tially about art education, presenting its argument as a moment of venial misconduct on the part of two pupils. The charm of these youngsters, the foci of their respective distractions, these become secondary, designed only to ingratiate the stern summons of discipline. The primary topic, then, is personified in the painter and broadcast through his environment, his professional habitat. Accordingly, the surrounding still life grows clamorous. Start by assuming that the picture is not so much about human nature as about the processes, themes, and rewards of art making or art education, and the peripheral objects in all their assignable meanings take over: a portfolio at lower left, probably stuffed with drawings to attest diligent sketching; a timepiece for minding the hour; bottled varnish bleaching on the windowsill (an observation of Peter Sutton’s); emblems of the Five Senses at lower right; a background bozzetto aspiring to high history painting; a shelved ox to allude either to the patron of painters or to a fabled antique model of verisimilitude (Myron’s cow; see Van Mander, ch. 9, 42–­46). Moreover, a wreath of art’s glory and a vanitas skull; and, finally, inward from the circumference, the three living characters as exponents of three phases of learning. I am aware that this educational interpretation appeals to scholars. If the picture were about a young girl’s discovery of male genitality, its subject would be banal and unseemly, perhaps unexhibitable. On the other hand, if we ignore the young woman’s experience and treat the picture as a didactic compendium, it becomes a wholesome museum piece. Steen’s lusty humor converts into probity, with all the environing paraphernalia assisting at the conversion. The picture emerges as an instructional treasure. It could not have gratified more had it been painted with future art historians in mind. For we do want to know how the masters of the Dutch Golden Age plied their business, what materials they used, how they deployed emblems and symbols, and not least, how they taught and were trained. And here, telling it all, is this beautiful thing at the Getty, a picture rich as a treatise, succulent as an isagoge—­irresistible. We recall lines written by the fourteen-­year-­old Wordsworth as a school exercise:


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While thus I mused, methought, before mine eyes, The Power of education seemed to rise. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stern was her forehead, but a smile serene “Softened the terrors of her awful mien.”

The Drawing Lesson depicts a dramatic moment, an interaction of young sensibility with inanimate sculpture. The theme is uncommon, even though Dutch pictures of domestic or studio interiors often include small statues. Some of these serve—­as wall paintings do—­to gloss the proceedings for our benefit, like asides in the

theater. And such is the aerial amorino in Steen’s Drawing Lesson. But this sort of function entails no reciprocal interaction. Where a sculpture is directly regarded, the depicted viewer is most often a learning youth or an artist. Pictures of this sort may be useful in documenting artistic training or practice; they may be psychologically interesting, even haunting. But again, no interaction: the sculpture does not plead, address, or reciprocate. I wonder, however, about a subgroup of the above. What, for instance, is the subject of the small round-­ topped panel by Gerard Dou in Brussels (fig. 11.11)? Its

Figure 11.11. Gerard Dou, Portrait of the Artist Drawing. Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-­Arts de Belgique.

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official title is Portrait of the Artist Drawing, and the likeness is indeed that of the painter. But since the album page under his hand is blank, who knows whether he is drawing or writing?27 A round-­cheeked young man with a blond down on his lip and chin: up after dark, he sits alone, by the flame of a single taper, keeping a vigil more characteristic of scholars than painters. The Cupid before him is lit from below and quirked with inverted shadows—­not how a plaster cast meant for drawing is normally posed. And in the gloom behind statue and hourglass stands a terrestrial globe of the kind that appears routinely in the chambers of scholars, less often in ateliers. Nor are we shown any of the working tools that litter a painter’s space. Why then call him “l’artiste dessinant”? Surely the picture is about something other than the diurnal round of an artist? Lifting his gaze from the paper, the young man eyes a saddened love god, while “the world” recedes in the hush and the hourglass tips. We recognize the conventional Baroque topos of youth wasting and time running out; but realized in this picture as the response of a wakeful soul to the summons, or the reproach, of a statue. Is not this subject akin to Steen’s Drawing Lesson in that it exhibits a psychic response to the provocation of a nude sculpture?28 Meanwhile, in The Drawing Lesson, the prentice boy at the window sends a soulful look to the girl. But he is too young, too much like kid brother. So his glance remains unrequited, much as her own busywork, sharpening chalk or pen, is neglected, and her master’s demonstration ignored.29 The yield is a kind of love triangle involving a hankering boy, a damsel preoccupied, and an insouciant catalyst in white plaster—­while painter and Cupid, respectively down-­to-­earth and airborne, polarize the workmanlike and the heady aspects of art. Further complications abound. Directly above the statue hang two plaster heads (fig. 11.5): the mask of a young woman with demurely vailed lids and an alerted male head that never takes its eyes off the mask. Plaster to plaster; all things after their kind. The male head depends from a wooden shelf which I find improbably poised on a single bracket. On the shelf rest a mortar, a stand of books, and a weeny reclining

ox, its turned head catching the light. I half think it participates, at least to the extent of watching the lady. Is it the ox of St. Luke wondering what she is on to? What scholars have been reluctant to recognize, the ox knows.30 One more item, adangle from this same shelf, must not be missed: a smooth dexter foot with soft rounded instep—­too large for a child’s, so it must be a woman’s. It looms over the head of the boy, again like a thought bubble. And it so happens that the only other life-­size foot in the picture is the girl’s left, which is shod. If indeed some of Steen’s themes are sustained by implicit trajectories, then it may be worth noting that a projective diagonal traced upward from the girl’s lower leg insinuates the pairing of these two feet. And if we are willing to allow Steen this much self-­conscious staging, then that bare foot overhead could be a boyish fantasy. I say “could be” because a plaster foot for anatomical demonstration is common studio equipment, but it is usually male.31 At any rate, if Steen was thinking—­ and he did, after all, think to eliminate the farther shelf bracket to give the plaster foot its undisturbed silhouette—­then his placing of it is likely to be no less artful than the Cupid’s flotation over the head of the girl. Nor can I unsee the rigorous right angle formed by the three participant terms: the head of the boy, his timid fantasy, and her face. So, with the statue alerting the girl, and the girl herself head-­and-­foot on the boy’s mind, I no longer wonder to see the master’s demonstration unheeded. There’s enough here to distract. And much else, for we have yet to consider the welter of inanimate objects that beset the three central actors: still life in sufficient profusion to outfit rival schools of ekphrasis, such as the following. Commonest among descriptive techniques is the comparative method. An exponent of it weighs The Drawing Lesson against other paintings, and describes the perceived excess in opposition to the spare settings of a Metsu or a Terborch. “On the other hand,” he writes: “Steen can barely contain himself, pouring out a litter of objects; . . . the setting gives us the feeling of the artist’s actual studio in its pleasant clutter of casts, canvases, swords, cups and


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bottles for pigments, musical instruments, and typical props like the laurel wreath in the lower right.” Predictably, the appeal of such a painting as this is said to lie in its “utter lack of self-­consciousness, the abandonment of restraint.”32 No need to find rhyme or reason in such clutter. The most loaded description of Steen’s material clutter comes from John Walsh: “To the right is an elaborate still life [fig. 11.12]. . . . It consists of a basket with a fur muff that evidently belongs to the girl, a bowl of embers and a pipe, a flagon of wine, a skull, a laurel wreath, a book, and a cittern. . . . Many of these objects belong to a standard repertoire of Vanitas symbols, reminders of the brevity of human life and warnings against excessive pleasure or pride. . . . The moral is that the arts and literature—­even Fame, symbolized by the wreath—­all perish like the owner of the skull.”33 But is this the moral here? If I understand Walsh correctly, the meaning of objects in the “standard repertoire of Vanitas symbols” is to be regarded as stable, carrying over intact to Steen’s Drawing Lesson, irrespective of context. This I would rather not take for granted. It puzzles me that none of the objects at lower right, forgathered here about a girl’s muff, properly belongs on a floor. All seem displaced. Book and lute, smoker’s pipe, wine flask, and wreath—­not one of them normally scrapes the bottom, unless by inversion, as if to subvert

its original ranking. And just so the skull. A tabled skull in a Vanitas still life spells death; wreathed and set in a place of honor crowning a mantelpiece, it bespeaks the futility of earthly striving. But what if it comes epigean, biting a studio floor in a genre or comic setting? Now its immediate “owner” is not the defunct, but the painter who pays the rent on the place. Painting death’s heads is his living. And his collection of stock standard symbols may tell us something about the sort of painter he is.34 Walsh believes that the oil sketch on the easel identifies him as an artist “who stands like Steen himself on the highest rung of the hierarchy of genres—­the peintre d’histoire.” The stringed instruments in the picture are to be seen as “another stock prop . . . alluding to such values as harmony between nature and art.” Furthermore, since many Dutch seventeenth-­century still lifes play on the theme of the Five Senses, Walsh finds this same theme—­beginning with the fur muff for the sense of touch—­replayed in The Drawing Lesson, giving the picture yet “another dimension.” The still-­life objects become “elements that draw Steen’s picture still further into the realm of the emblematic, even allegorical.” We are a long way from the Steen who could “barely contain himself ” in pouring out a litter of objects; and almost as far from Steen as mixed-­media manipulator. On one point, however, the three foregoing descriptions agree: that all the furnishings of this workplace

Figure 11.12. Detail of figure 11.1.

St e e n ’s F e ma l e G a z e a n d Ot h e r Ironie s

are plausible presences, the normal rig of any professional painter. Yet the host in The Drawing Lesson is not any painter. Steen has endowed him with specific characteristics—­typed him in ways not entirely favorable. The portrayal is gently joshing, but Steen’s contemporaries would have understood, knowing full well that artists liked to poke fun at their colleagues. Just as Samuel Coster, a medical man, had staged a successful comedy to satirize a physician (The Play of the Rich Man, 1615), so painters, especially those of the Leiden School, produced a genre of pictures to disparage the artist whose doings or character they thought reprehensible. Musical instruments in a studio, for instance—­to say nothing of music making—­have been shown to be ambivalent symbols, weighted mostly toward the pejorative pole.35 They could, theoretically, evoke general notions of harmony, or principles of proportionality which music and painting were thought to share. But some instruments, chiefly the lute and the violin, functioned as status symbols, signs of an aristocratic lifestyle. Thus a violin—­hung like the one in Steen’s picture on a studio wall—­could, as Walsh says, allude to “harmony between nature and art”; it could as well be read—­like the sword hung on Steen’s left-­hand wall—­as a mark of vanity and worldly ambition. Then again, the violin could stand for the inspiration to be had from music. But it seems that the majority of contemporary art theorists deprecated the role of inspiration in creativity, stressing rather the ancient triad of talent, training, and practice. So the pictures that show painters seated before untouched or unfinished canvases while fiddling or strumming a lute are to be understood as derisory; they depict what is inappropriate, like fancy clothes worn in the studio. In Steen’s Drawing Lesson, the master is qualified in at least four respects that betray an ironic approach. Firstly, by his failure to hold his pupils’ attention, of whose waywardness he remains studiously unaware—­ somewhat like the music master in The Harpsichord Lesson, or like some of Steen’s comic doctors. Secondly, by the elegance of his costume, robe, and silk hat, of which Walsh remarks: “He is fashionably and expensively déshabillé, wearing a kimono, a Japa-

nese import that was then coming into vogue among the well-­to-­do.” Peter Sutton adds in a personal communication ( July 20, 1990): “The utter unsuitableness of a kimono for the messy business of the studio would have been immediately obvious (and perhaps comical) to seventeenth-­century viewers. . . . A japonsche rock was a preposterously expensive garment in the seventeenth century.” Note also the painter’s dapper mustache with waxed finials. Surely a bit of a fop. Thirdly, we are shown just enough of the kind of picture he paints: an Italianate or Murillo-­type Holy Family, formulaic rather than “from the life”; emphatically not the way Steen preferred his own pictures. For where Steen treats scriptural or historical subjects (about one-­ tenth of his oeuvre), the sublime and the lowly fellow together, lest the former forgo its life-­support system. Of course, Steen did paint some dead-­earnest pictures (such as the Supper at Emmaus in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, or the Prayer before the Meal in the Philadelphia Museum of Art) in which he achieves pure pathos, with not the least trace of levity, irony, or reliance on anecdote. They are intimate pictures of humble folk in humble surroundings, unconcerned with the formal dictates of idealism; theorists of the latter seventeenth century would not have ranked them high style. Yet Steen may have coveted some of that stylishness, and at several moments in his career tried his hand in the exalted line. If the deplorable Rest on the Flight into Egypt in the Musée des Beaux-­Arts, Dunkirk,36 is really his (and it does include all the elements that compose the drawing master’s sketch on the easel), then Steen may have had intermittent qualms about the sufficiency of his rustic manner, aspiring periodically to a grandiose nobility—­in which he could not quite get himself to believe. I imagine him producing that Dunkirk machine with its refulgent mother and child under a topping of lofted cherubs and musing, “How’s this for high?” Thus the irony Steen brings to the painter’s image may be mocking a part of himself. What matters is that the irony not be missed. Steen’s painter, then, is mildly ridiculous—­in his personal vanity, his insensitivity to the waywardness of his pupils, his high professional aspirations, and his


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social ambition (sword, violin, and kimono). Lastly, there is the litter he keeps around. Walsh may be right to claim that book, lute, muff, glowing embers, and flask stand respectively (reading clockwise) for sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. But to what end in this context? Simon Schama reminds us that “the real nature of [Steen’s] intentions remains notoriously elusive.”37 So then these floor-­strewn objects could either emblematize the Life of the Senses or else twit the painter who relies on such hardware as shortcuts to meaning—­while remaining oblivious to the aroused senses of his disciples. Steen himself, when he moralizes, prefers to impute symbolic function to mundane situations, to his characters’  bonding, their openness or sneak gestures—­and to objects of daily or likely use. He likes the immanent symbolism of things out of place—­ hats on the floor, pigs in the living room, intimacies in public, fingers in unwatched purses, etc. As for those ready-­made symbols which one lifts from the emblem books, he leaves it to our drawing master to deck a floor with an abject laurel and a castaway spook; demoted signs in this context. Even the hourglass in the window seems déclassé: if Francis Naumann is right, it serves in the Getty picture to clock the lesson. Not that allegory is ruled out altogether, for The Drawing Lesson, taken in its entirety, is a comic allegory of initiation, a liminal crossing without ritual pomp. The picture observes two very young people at emotional thresholds: a callow apprentice stirred by calf love; primitive wonder in the gaze of the ingenue. She, of course, is the heroine, the precious centerpiece, the debutante coming out. Steen has caught her off guard in a moment of startled innocence. Give her a week or two, and she’ll know never to stare like that again. That Steen’s affectionate irony suffuses the picture I am convinced. His wand touches the ox and the easel, the plaster fragments, and the muff in the basket—­and it teases all points between, including the Lievens print and the statuette and, not least, the painter. It remains to acknowledge a conspicuous absence. As the world knows, Steen liked to see his face reflecting back from his pictures. From a good score of them it

greets us familiarly—­massy and bottom heavy, quick to grin or guffaw, seldom quiescent. The features are unmistakable: a forehead cleft by twin knolls over the eyebrows; a trenchant nose that sorties too soon (skipping the dip at the root) and would seem overscaled were it not for the buttress and prop of big cheeks and jowls. Steen presents himself as a loud, large-­limbed visage on a corpus to match. To him (as she did to Victor McLaglen), Mae West would have said—­“ You ain’t no oil pitcher, but you’re a magnificent brute.” Peter Sutton, writing of  “the artist’s habit of depicting himself in his own pictures,” observes: “Steen cast himself by turns as a laughing jester . . . , an aging libertine swindled by whores, a clown in archaic dress strumming a lute, and a drunk taking unwelcome liberties with the hostess.” In all these appearances, Sutton concludes, Steen exercises “his option to employ a persona.”38 What made him do it? One among likely, complicit motives may derive from the then going notion of realism in genre painting. Its objective was thought to be the correct rendering of affects, and it was to accomplish this end that Steen’s contemporary, the painter-­ theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten, advised colleagues to study the artistry of the comic actor.39 Could it be that Steen’s role-­playing in his genre pictures was, as it were, a display of credentials, demonstrating his command of the comedian’s skill? Rather than impersonate rake, tosspot, or jester, Steen was impersonating the comic actor playing those roles; thereby presenting himself as a consummate connoisseur of the foibles treated in comedy, a master whose authentic portrayal of character and emotional states no comic actor could better. Hence the parade of those costumed personae. And these personae include, I suspect, Steen’s one formal self-­portrait (fig. 11.13), in which he feigns an affluent burgher, a man of substance buoyed by self-­satisfaction. He poses here as the exalted sitter staring us down. We bow to his serene slyness—­and see no reason to regard this ceremonious likeness as less of a mask than those raucous informal ones. But one persona is missing from Steen’s repertory of self-­projections. Never once does he portray himself as a painter. Yet painting is what Steen was doing

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Figure 11.13. Jan Steen, Self-­Portrait, 1660. Amsterdam,


most of his hours. When he died at age fifty-­three, he had behind him three decades of labor, with an average output of more than one painting per month. The scant documentary record proves him to have been a diligent worker who had the respect of his peers, along with nagging financial problems, since his pictures apparently fetched trivial prices. Lucrative public commissions came not his way, and his attempts at running first a brewery, then a tavern, miscarried. Can we know anything of his inner self-­image? Does his art tell? Among Steen’s nearly four hundred surviving paintings, there are three that depict a painter at work: they are The Drawing Lesson at the Getty, A Painter and His Family at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the smaller Drawing Lesson in the Van Otterloo collection (figs. 11.1, 11.3, and 11.4). With respect to his self-­image, these three paintings are remarkable for three shared negative traits. Firstly: in none of them does the painter bear Steen’s familiar features—­even where the setting, as has been suggested, may be his studio and the young charges his children. Secondly: among Dutch seventeenth-­century painters, Steen is the fairly rare case of one who appar-

ently did not teach. He may at times have had an assistant or copyist, and he surely had imitators, but no pupils are documented, and no painter of the next generation acknowledges Steen as his teacher. Yet in each of the three pictures that show a studio in action, Steen’s painter is teaching. Thirdly: Steen belongs with those few Dutch masters (Vermeer is another) who seem not to have drawn, or to have drawn seldom and little. (Only one sheet can be plausibly ascribed to Steen’s hand.) Yet in each of his three presentations of a painter at work, the master is drawing. We are faced with a paradox. Whenever Steen paints roisterous company, he is present in effigy. He withdraws where the subject involves his own scene of action. Thus all comments on the alleged biographical value of these three paintings miss an essential point: Jan Steen, the irrepressible self-­ projector, withholds himself from those very pictures that show a man at the trade which consumed his life. I suppose there is matter here for a psychobiography—­ and a very bad book it will be. I will not write it, for I have grown fond of the man.

Figure 12.1. Velázquez, Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618. Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland; Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and a Treasury Grant 1955.

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hough Velázquez himself has been dead since 1660, his work keeps improving. The best of his paintings, expertly cleaned, now look better than ever. The dismissal of misattributions that formerly boasted Velázquez’s name does wonders for what remains. Most important, the master’s famous precision of sight and touch has been at last reconnected to an intelligence. His skill and unfailing vision are still admired, but we now see them companioned by a formidable erudition, to say nothing of compassion and thought. Consider Old Woman Cooking Eggs, the earliest of the works in the Velázquez show now at the Metropolitan Museum (1989), a picture never before seen in America (fig. 12.1).1 It was painted, believe it or not, by a nineteen-­year-­old; the date on it reads 1618. What exactly is it a picture of? Is anything going on? The older literature, driven by the prestige of positivism to celebrate value-­free objectivity, replied, nothing much; an old woman amidst kitchen paraphernalia fries eggs for a teenage boy, or for passing clients—­who cares. The very banality of the subject tells us to give it no further thought. At least that’s what they used to say, protesting that the artist depicted his sitters in the same impersonal mood he brought to the description of jugs and onions. For the young Velázquez, one was told, human gestures and expressions of sentiment were but elements of still life.  “[He] began by meticulously elaborating portraits of pots and by patiently painting in every line of a model’s grimace. . . . [His] very weakness of imagination is his strength. . . . He never lets us divine . . . any kind of intellectual or sentimental agitation. . . . He seems neither to think nor hear. . . . He sees.”2

Deciphering Velázquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs

These certainties were delivered by a sensitive critic, Auguste Bréal, in the opening years of the twentieth century. But as times change, so does Old Woman Cooking. Few today are likely to see the two characters in the painting reduced to the inanimation of things. More likely that we see the reverse—­objects engaged and arrested in a dramatic pause. Between the boy and the woman the interval is so taut, it is hard to escape the sense of psychological tension, of a domestic, intergenerational situation. You can play TAT with the picture, that is, treat it as a Thematic Apperception Test of the kind psychologists use to plot a patient’s associations. I did once play the game with a mixed batch of undergraduates. Question: What would you say is the subject of Old Woman Cooking? A student from the school of business speaks up. “Seems to me the boy is getting his breakfast. He’s hungry, she sells things to eat. It’s a basic commercial transaction.” As if he agreed, the professor produces a Rembrandt drawing that records just such a deal (fig. 12.2): a bent crone offers pancakes for sale, while her young customer searches his pockets for change. Is that it? No, there’s a vehement shaking of heads. Surely, says a student from the school of communication, these people aren’t strangers, as they are in the Rembrandt drawing. They know one another. He could be a relative or at least a delivery boy. The woman may be scolding or warning, or cornering him with a question. At any rate, she is concerned. Some message seems to be Originally published in Manhattan, Inc. (October 1989), pp. 156–­ 58; minor revisions here following Steinberg’s notes.

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Figure 12.2. Rembrandt, The Pancake Woman, c. 1635. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt.

coming his way, edging him to the wall. And he won’t meet her gaze. A candidate for law school speaks next. She suspects the boy has been stealing and that the old woman is saying something like, “Where did you get that melon, and how come the flask is half empty?” Or is she complaining that he hasn’t brought in enough loot?—­which would make her a grasping receiver of stolen goods. And then a bright premed student mutters something about overdosing the boy on cholesterol, whereupon the professor closes the act. But one other option is still available, though it involves some ancillary matters, such as the literary and artistic culture Velázquez absorbed in his native Seville in the circle of his teacher and father-­in-­law, Francisco Pacheco. Suppose the painter of the Old Woman was not snapping an observed scene but staging it piece by piece in the studio, and suppose he did so in order to render from nature a received image which, he felt, needed to be appropriated. I am proposing that we glance at a print by the Dutchman Jan van de Velde, a Haarlem etcher whose work Rembrandt too would find useful (fig. 12.3). In 1618, the year of Velázquez’s Old Woman, van de Velde began publishing deep-­black

etchings depicting nocturnal moments. In Spain, where no native printmaking industry flourished, such modern experiments in selective visibility were eagerly bought and collected, as was most of the Northern output in prints.3 And that Velázquez followed Pacheco in recycling ideas from Northern prints to his own use is known from parallel instances (see p. 229). The subject of Velázquez’s Old Woman resembles The Pancake Woman by van de Velde. It differs in composition and bill of fare but agrees in the roles of giving and getting. Both pictures show lowly interiors in predawn darkness shot by glaring spotlights, and both monumentalize gammers cooking for hungry youth. Shall the common date of these works be discounted or does it betray direct adaptation? Certainly, van de Velde in Haarlem would have no news of a canvas just painted by a novice in southern Spain. But his own prints, marketed for instant export, would soon have come to Velázquez’s notice. Perusing The Pancake Woman, the young Spaniard must have been struck by its flagrant chiaroscuro and its accompanying Latin quotation: “Arise, already the baker sells the boys breakfast, / and the crested fowl of dawn crow on all sides.—­Martial, lib. xiv.”

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Figure 12.3. Jan van de Velde II, The Pancake Woman. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; D. Franken Bequest, Le Vésinet.

This may not seem arresting to us, but it would have startled Velázquez: a quotation from Martial, the “father of the epigram,” an antique Latin poet who bragged of his Spanish roots, and whom the humanists of Pacheco’s circle relished and translated with gusto. What was this native son doing up north, underwriting a Dutchman’s etching? Now suppose Velázquez recognized a challenging possibility in that combination of image and legend; and that, substituting fried Andalusian eggs for Dutch pancakes, he commandeered van de Velde’s theme to repatriate it in a native Iberian setting. His painting, acknowledging Martial’s evocative reveille, would become something of a restoral, a reawakening of modern Spain to its own dormant antiquity.4 Furthermore, the verse under the van de Velde print was the ancient Spaniard’s valedictory summons, his

farewell to posterity. It is the last of his 1,711 epigrams, which begins with the call “Surgite”—­get up, arise! All of which leads me to believe that Velázquez’s painting was occasioned by more than an optical stimulus. Though eventually every inch of it was painted from nature, I suspect a complex of motives: a Dutch model wanting down-­home translation; an evocative text needing to be reenvisioned; and an implicit content that may be described as an awakening, but an awakening on multiple levels—­of night into morning, of sullen things into luster, and of perplexity into awareness. There are critics who deplore such speculations on principle. In their view, the immediacy of a picture such as the Old Woman must not be misted over by remote Latin texts or imported pictorial models. The incentive must be indigenous, induced by Spain’s own natural-

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istic tradition. To quote again from Bréal: “In the very year of the painter’s birth [1599] had appeared one of the first and best of the picaresque novels, Guzmán de Alfarache, by the Sevillian Mateo Alemán. It was in a kindred vein of popular observation.”5 This was written in 1904, but in the 1970s a prominent American art historian said it again: “No tradition was as firmly dedicated to naturalism as was Spanish literature of the sixteenth century. . . . Is it reasonable to seek foreign inspiration behind Velázquez’s bodegones [still lifes or kitchen scenes] when a principal episode of Guzmán de Alfarache turns on an old woman cooking eggs for a naive youth?”6 Could you ask for a closer match? Surely that’s our picture exactly. So we turn, as directed, to Mateo Alemán’s novel, a tale told in the first person by its roguish antihero Guzmán. His encounter with an old, egg-­serving woman—­the incident that is said to anticipate the naturalistic tenor of Velázquez’s Old Woman—­ summarizes as follows. Guzmán, having left home, arrives faint with hunger at a roadside inn. Its “foul, blear-­eyed hostess,” sizing him up as a simple youth and perceiving an opportunity to unload addled eggs and others ready to hatch, plays up to him condescendingly and chucks his chin. Guzmán reacts: “Good God! How did her stinking breath infect me, with her very touching me! I thought I had drawn old-­age upon me. . . . My stomach then rose up to my mouth, and my guts had almost kissed my lips.” The woman then seats him on a lame bench, spreads a soiled dishclout, and finally slops into the broken crockery serving as tableware her froise of eggs. Falling upon them like a hog upon acorns, the boy gulps them down; but soon, back on the road, “felt the tender bones of those untimely chickens to crackle between my teeth.” Realizing what he had eaten, he falls “a vomiting, till there was not any thing left within me.”7 Is it fair to make this unsavory misadventure the “naturalistic” precedent for Velázquez’s painting because it “turns on an old woman cooking eggs for a naive youth”? Suppose it did suggest the motif of Old Woman Cooking. One would have to marvel how absolutely the painter repudiated his model. Where Guzmán’s hostess

is driven by callous greed to serve her customer refuse, Velázquez’s caterer is plainly honest—­we can see that the fry in her chafing dish will be good to eat. And where Guzmán’s tavern wallows in dilapidation, every article in the picture is trim (please overlook the chips on two pieces of earthenware, we need to be thrifty). Someone might argue that the painter just happened upon an unusually tidy establishment, or that fastidiousness had led him to seek it out. But such pleading is vain, because the differences between story and picture go beyond their respective settings. The novel’s episode reeks of moral corruption. The gist of it is that negation of nurturing which in the picture becomes affirmation. Whether or not we impute consanguinity to Velázquez’s two characters, their communion here bespeaks mothering—­stern perhaps, but forthcoming. If the painter knew Mateo Alemán’s novel, and if the catering episode prompted his theme, then he transfigured that theme to project an ethic of decency which the catchall of  “naturalism” leaves out. But in fact the novel’s own “naturalism” is problematic, for the hatchling eggs have a fictional source—­in idealist Italy as well as Spain, where they had long been served up in a collection of funny stories.8 In other words, Mateo Alemán’s text reworks a folkloric motif sprung from the old peasant obsession with hunger. It deals with desire and its frustration, joking about it the way we joke about sex. Thus the very elements that might connect story and picture—­eggs passing between beldam and boy—­are irrelevant to the question of naturalism, being stock anecdote. The novel’s naturalism resides in the quality of the author’s narration, not in the subject. It is in the nature of anecdotes to traffic in stereotypes. Hence it is no surprise to find the hostess of Alemán’s novel typed as a villainess. The image of the malignant hag, familiar in allegorical figures of greed, discord, and envy, kept a tenacious grip on the Western imagination. Despite the common human experience of kindly grannies, and though some might allow old women to be among their best friends, nevertheless the crone as embodied evil, or as life’s wasted ruin, persisted for

De c iphe rin g V e l á zqu e z ’s Ol d Wo ma n c ooking eggs

centuries in word and image. In traditional painting especially, the treatment—­or the exclusion—­of female senectitude presents an intriguing topic. It seems to have been understood that while aging accrues to a man, it can only subtract from a woman. From all women, without distinction? The masters of fifteenth-­century painting looked closer and came up with a new human resource. In the example of female saints who grew to old age, but most often in the grieving Madonna, they discovered a nobility not previously faced (fig. 4.1). Then, in the sixteenth century, upper-­ class women—­often widows who successfully managed households and business affairs—­insisted on being portrayed, like the bereaved Virgin, without the face-­lift.9 The next phase, the early seventeenth century, brings in a generation of painters whose sympathetic portrayal of aged women extends to all classes.10 Here stands the young Velázquez; and such paintings of his as Old Woman Cooking (or the Madre Jerónima de la Fuente, 1620, Prado) are not sufficiently honored in being called naturalistic. If anything can be civilizing, these pictures are. They restore the birthright of dignity even to old women and boys, irrespective of status. But I seem to have strayed into moral philosophy, as if painting were not enough. What matters in Velázquez’s art is the immanence of his thought in the pigmented surface. His pictures are the inside-­out of meditation, so that the most humdrum housekeeping decisions, such as the positioning of an egg, get invested with meaning. Let me explain. The egg in the woman’s left hand is equidistant from the lateral margins (a pedant would measure it, and I have). Once this is seen, we notice that the picture’s central axis defines itself at the top in the longer tag of

the napkin hung from the basket—­a vertical trued with the egg in the hand. Finally, between these two poles, aligned on the median again, bends the woman’s right arm. The most active hinge in the picture, the crook of her elbow, confirms the perpendicular that bisects the canvas. Though the depicted action drifts smoothly from right to left, the partitioned field straddles a vertical axis, like the pans of a scale. Now look at the picture’s right half alone, screening the other out. Everything in it weighs down and settles: the seated crone, the pendant lamps bottom-heavy behind her back and, on a nether shelf, a sediment of still objects. Isolate next the picture’s left half. Here everything hovers, implying transition. Even the terracotta stove under the chafing dish has its complacent stand overlapped by an upended pot, so that its visible remnant yields a dynamic slant aimed at the boy. The scatter in this half of the picture is comprehensive. It engages the toppled pot, the poised brazier, a spoon and a flask handheld in midair, and the boy’s face and collar looming above a bright melon: a constellation of reflective bodies lofted in unstable pattern, but with ascending impetus—­the reverse of the other side, where gravity reigns. Thus all the inanimate gear in the twofold scheme of the canvas participates in defining the actors as variables of the human condition: the ensconced woman ringed by her wherewithal, active in place, eyes front, addressing and proffering; the swaying youth, brooding and receptive of shadows, about to move on. This is pictorial thinking of a high order. And Velázquez was not twenty yet when he painted Old Woman Cooking. So we pardon the several flaws and weaknesses in the picture, which it would be churlish to itemize.


Figure 13.1. Velázquez, Water Carrier of Seville, c. 1618–­22. London, Wellington Museum, Apsley House.

Figure 13.2. Attic grave stele, Prokles and

Figure 13.3. Attributed to Pedro

Prokleides, c. 330–­325 BC. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. 737.

Berruguete, Federico da Montefeltro and His Son Guidobaldo, 1480–­81. Urbino, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Palazzo Ducale.

Figure 13.4. Willem Paneels after Rubens, Cursus Mundi, 1631. London, British Museum.

T hi rt e e n


elázquez was twenty-­four when he left his native Seville to take up an appointment at the court of Madrid as first painter to Philip IV. He brought with him a thorough professional education, a reputation for wasting his gifts on unworthy subjects, and one picture to present to the king: the Water Carrier of Seville (fig. 13.1). Thenceforth, until his death thirty-­seven years later, Velázquez “served the King with his brush.” There were periodic promotions, a few memorable encounters (Rubens came in 1628), and two journeys to Italy. Rarely have men of genius and prominence managed to keep their lives so uncluttered by incident. The picture is uneventful. A glass of water is changing hands, another is being drained. The old aguador,

Figure 13.5. New York University graduation, 1970, the oldest

professor passing the torch to the youngest graduate.

The Water Carrier of Velázquez

in his felt smock torn at the shoulder, is gravely conscientious. The water he hands to the boy is sweetened by a fresh fig lodged in the glass. One feels that this is a parching dry place and the water a gift of life bestowed like a sacrament. The aguador’s left hand rests on a jug whose bulge swells on this side of the frame. From its lighted belly to the shadowed man in the rear—­his substance barely evolved from the canvas ground—­we can plot the whole scope of painting, from almost tangible to barely visible. The jug works like a fulcrum between here and there. It equivocates, clearing a site for itself on disputable ground. It connects with the viewer’s space, yet serves as a barrier, like the rope placed before an important museum picture to keep people away. But it is friendlier, for whereas the whole painted depth of the scene is somber and dry, what is offered to us on this ridged earthenware surface is the cool shimmer of condensed drops and runnels. It is as though Velázquez had charged the object with both hospitality and reserve. The pictorial threshold does not declare itself until well inside the picture—­behind the jug. It is defined by the near edge of the table and in the flattened bell shape of the aguador’s smock. But the narrow remaining space accommodates remarkable ranges. The three spatial zones—­foreground, middle, and rear—­are distinctly staked out by the three men, and again by a chain of vessels—­jar, goblet, and cup—­whose diminishing size, Originally published in Man and His World: International Fine Arts Exhibition, Expo ’67 (Montreal, 1967); republished with minor revisions in ArtNews, 69 (Summer 1971), pp. 54–­55.

Thirte en [188]

at intervals on a single curve, simulates a profounder perspective. The jar is inactive; the goblet suspended; the cup, raised and tipped. The three men respond, each in his own phase of possession, recalling Shakespeare’s compressed wording: “had, having, in quest to have.” The reflective old man is surrendering, the grown man possessing, the boy about to receive. Their eyes confirm their respective roles: the aguador’s in-­turning gaze; the man’s outright glance, meeting ours; the uncertain look

of the boy. This triple staging determines even the painter’s choices of angle and light. His three faces exhibit the full range of profile, frontality, and three-­quarter view. And they set forth three modes of illumination—­full light on the aguador, full shadow on the grown man, flickering half light on the boy. The picture enacts the ages of man, and its secret grandeur is the totality whose end reaches to the beginning.1

F ourt e e n


uppose you were asked to name “the most astonishing piece of painting that has ever been done.” You might hesitate; Manet did not. In 1865, on his trip to Madrid, after spending time at the Prado, he writes to Baudelaire: “At last I know Velázquez, and I declare that he is the greatest painter that ever existed.” And then—­spellbound by a portrait of Pablo de Valladolid (fig. 14.1), he writes to his painter-­friend Fantin-­Latour: “The most astonishing piece of this whole splendid oeuvre, and perhaps the most astonishing piece of painting that has ever been done, is . . . the portrait of a celebrated actor of the time of Philip IV. The background disappears; air surrounds the man, dressed all in black, and alive.”1 Manet might have added that the floor, too, disappears. The air—­or whatever it is that surrounds the man—­so envelops him that it dissolves every material distraction; even the floor allows no perceptible break between supporting ground and sheer backdrop. And this, when he humbly copied the Velázquez, even Manet could not accept (fig. 14.2). Nor could the famous engraver who took a break from engraving the Bank of Spain’s banknotes to produce an etching of the Velázquez in 1871 (fig. 14.3). He too found that apparent omission intolerable. Yet the topical undefinition in the Velázquez is precisely what had impressed Manet, though he could not quite get himself to obliterate the distinction between wall and floor.2 Back home the following year, he paid tribute to the picture by way of an original imitation: Le fifre, which he sent to the Salon of 1866 (fig. 14.4). Needless to say, the Salon rejected the picture—­that’s

Velázquez’s Pablo de Valladolid

because Clement Greenberg was not on the jury. Clem would have explained to them that the flat poster effect of Manet’s image was exactly where modernist painting had to go, like it or not. But Manet was here doing his own thing, and it’s not the thing Velázquez was after. His actor is not abstracted from his surround; he is immersed in it. His figure has nothing to do with aspiration to flatness; it’s a massy, life-­size, three-­dimensional presence—­a performer in action. What would make a Baroque painter, in a finished theatrical portrait, contrary to all precedent (fig. 14.5), obliterate not only every vestige of a stage set, but the most rudimentary acknowledgment of the spatial coordinates—­except as the man himself embodies horizontal and vertical, from legs dragging their shadow to the sweep of his gestures. Well, I thought, it’s a stage portrait; therefore his character as Actor implies a relation to Audience, and his stance confirms it—­no one strikes such a pose unless before an assembly. And the audience is us, first person plural, because the negation of any hint of perspective helps obviate the particularizing effect of a singular point of view. What Velázquez’s actor lacks is not bulk or ambience, but that specificity of locale which, in locating him, would necessarily station the viewer’s eye at a vantage available to one eye alone—­as invariably happens in earlier or contemporaneous representations of theatrical monologues, where everything, including The text, revised here following Steinberg’s notes, originally opened his lectures on Las Meninas (ch. 15). See p. 276, note 12, for the evolution of this lecture.

Figure 14.1. Velázquez, Pablo

de Valladolid, c. 1635. Madrid, Museo del Prado.

Figure 14.2. Édouard Manet after Velázquez, Portrait of

Pablillos de Valladolid, Jester of Philip IV, 1865. Columbus (OH) Museum of Art; Museum Purchase, Derby Fund.

Figure 14.3. Bartolomé Maura y

Montaner after Velázquez, El cómico, 1871. Madrid, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Biblioteca Universitaria.

Figure 14.4. Édouard Manet, Le fifre,

1866. Paris, Musée d’Orsay.

Figure 14.5. Aniello Soldano as Dottor

Spacca Strummolo, from Fantastiche e ridicolose etimologie (Bologna, 1610).

V e l á zqu e z ’s Pa blo de Va l l a d ol id

the audience, is precisely disposed, and the actor is referred to a setting seen in focused, one-­point perspective (figs. 14.6, 14.7). To say it another way: Velázquez’s Pablo de Valladolid does not polarize a single viewpoint, but rather subtends an arc of spectators. Instead of acknowledging the proscenium and a parallel row of viewers, among whom we take the center position, the Velázquez character seems rather to be facing a concave shell, perhaps somewhat like Daumier’s Le ventre législatif  lithograph (fig. 14.8). The effect is abetted by expansion of belly,

accented by the left hand, and by the throw of the right, suggesting an audience ranged in a hemicycle about him. Valladolid becomes the kernel of an indeterminate hollow, the active focus of surrounding attention. As I understand it, Velázquez eliminated all perspectival clues not because he was seeking flatness and going modern, but because such clues would inevitably refer the image to one observer, as to the lens of a camera. And what he wants is to define the actor, very properly, as a man seen by many. Thus the novelty that so ravished Manet was here determined by a thought


Figure 14.7. Woodcut from the prologue to Orazio Vecchi, L’Amfiparnaso

(1597), as copied in Adriano Banchieri, Festino nella sera del giovedi grasso avanti cena (1608).

Figure 14.6. Jacques Patin, plate from Baltasar de Beaujoyeulx,

Balet comique de la royne (Paris, 1582), 1876 re-­engraving.

Figure 14.8. Honoré Daumier, Le ventre

législatif, 1834. Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art; Gift of Lloyd Cutler and Polly Kraft, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.

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Figure 14.9. Jacques Callot, Pantalone, 1618. Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art; R. L. Baumfeld Collection.

concerning the subject, a subject defined by interaction with the beholder, the joining of distinct systems, the stage and the pit. Depicting a single actor, the picture addresses the multiple viewer whose connected presence is coessential to the character of an actor.3 This is one take on the picture. Unfortunately, there is no way to objectify it. Whoever wishes to disagree need only point out that a change of viewpoint also modifies the man’s silhouette. The change will be relatively minor, but his shape will not look quite the same from your neighbor’s seat. Strictly speaking, our man is still seen from a single vantage.

True, but we still need to account for the wonder of a ponderous presence in surreal flotation. Why would Velázquez around 1635—­unlike Callot nearly twenty years earlier (fig. 14.9)—­emplace his actor as if in no place outside his own act, the way we as audience receive him when we fully attend to his speech? It seems to me that the image assigns me a role; I don’t just watch this man—­as I do Callot’s Pantalone; I surround him in shared attention.

F i ft e e n

Velázquez’s Las Meninas

1. Las Meninas, 1981 Vassar College, 5:27 p.m. on a Tuesday in the autumn of 1965: a promising lecture on Velázquez is thwarted when the slide projector suddenly falters and the screen behind the professor blacks out. The projectionist shrugs and shows guiltless hands; then she and the rest of us subside in obscurity. But this darkness, we soon discover, dims all of Vassar, engulfs all Poughkeepsie, englooms the state of New York and more. It was Con Edison’s darkest hour, for we are speaking of November 9, 1965, and of the Great Northeastern Power Failure which, from my vantage, began with the fading out on the screen of Las Meninas (fig. 15.1). To make up for the lecture lost, I wrote it out and sent each student enrolled in the course her own copy for Christmas. And that’s how these presents came to be written. Then the question arose whether to publish or not. But before I could make a move, Michel Foucault produced “Les Suivantes,” a remarkable meditation whose opening lines confirmed Las Meninas as an epistemological riddle.1 Other essays, book chapters, even entire monographs crowded after. To prolong the procession at its tail end seemed tiresome, like joining a dismally long line at the supermarket; better move on. But, of course, one keeps reading the literature. And the literature on Las Meninas is an epitome of recent thinking about illusionism and the status of art. This picture of 1656, which an eighteenth-­century admirer had dubbed “The Theology of Painting”—­and which the Prado formerly blazoned in huge letters of brass as the obra culminante de la pintura universal—­has become a cherished crux for modern investigators, for geometricians, metaphysicians,

artist-­photographers, semioticians, political and social historians, and even rare lovers of painting.2 Last year brought two more essays in tandem on Las Meninas.3 The first, written by a paradox-­loving philosopher, erred (like Foucault’s) in its initial assumption about the viewer’s implied position. The second, correcting the first, belabored the obvious—­granting that “the obvious” is what one normally overlooks. (The viewer’s position in Las Meninas is self-­evident and should never have been a problem.) Though this latter essay was unusually conscientious, and despite its plea that the picture “be understood as an inexhaustible emblem of the power of painting,” in the end—­to my mind, at least—­the interpretation suffered from misplacement of emphasis.4 What I miss in this—­and in more historically minded recent approaches to Las Meninas—­is the necessary engagement with the whole painting, the sense that every part of it matters. Whether the picture’s essential meaning is discovered in the cross of the Order of Santiago on the proud painter’s doublet, or in the effect of the mirror on the rear wall, a disproportionate acreage of the canvas remains unaccounted for. To say it another way: the ontological or epistemological puzzles now being discerned in Las Meninas are posed in earlier paintings with vastly less apparatus. Parmigianino’s tiny Self-­Portrait in a Convex Mirror in Vienna is quite as

Part I, pp. 195–201, originally published in October, no. 19 (Winter 1981), pp. 45–­54, here with minor revisions. Part II, pp. 201–8, from Steinberg’s 1996 Norton Lecture, “The Impenetrable Clarity of Las Meninas”; see note 12 below.

Figure 15.1. Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Madrid, Museo del Prado.

V e l á zqu e z ’s L as Meninas

paradoxical as some believe Las Meninas to be. (Do you, when you look at it, become Parmigianino?) Or Pontormo’s portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici in Philadelphia (fig. 6.1): the subject looks straight out of the picture while drawing a woman’s face, evidently from life. What does this make of the viewer who is patently the object of the depicted draftsman’s attention?5 Both these works are emblems (though perhaps not “inexhaustible”) of the power of painting. And I would mention one other in this series of pictures whose subject, design, and illusionism place the actual world in a dependent position. I have in mind a large foursquare painting by Frans Floris, created originally (1556) for the clubhouse of the Antwerp Painter’s Guild—­

that is to say, as a professional emblem (fig. 15.2). The picture shows a painter seated before his easel, at work on a panel of which we see only the back.6 Nor would we know what or whom he is painting were it not for the incongruous presence of St. Luke’s symbolic ox at his feet. The placid beast identifies him as St. Luke, patron of painters, so that his hitherward gaze, averted from the panel to study his model, cannot but be directed at the Madonna and Child. The outright glance, from the picture forth into the actual world, defines the artist as one whose eyes are fixed on reality. At the same time, this glance makes known that the Virgin and Christ are with us—­just as the king and queen are “with us” when we confront Las Meninas. Thus


Figure 15.2. Frans Floris, St.

Luke Painting the Virgin, 1556. Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten.

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it appears that what recent interpreters have thought most extraordinary in the Velázquez is demonstrably present in these sixteenth-­century precedents. And still Las Meninas remains incomparable. But a survey of interpretations that have seen the light (or obscured it) in recent years is not my purpose. All I have in hand is a short revision of the paper I wrote sixteen years ago after that famous failure of power. The typescript was dusted off several months ago when the artist-­filmmaker Juan Downey asked me to read parts of it into the sound track of a video he was shooting about mirror images.7 His invitation gives the present retrieval its proximate cause. The remote cause lies in the cheerful acknowledgment that every description of Velázquez’s picture remains, in one way or another, inadequate, as I understand mine also to be. Writing about a work such as Las Meninas is not, after all, like queuing up at the supermarket. Rather, it is somewhat comparable to the performing of a great musical composition of which there are no definitive renderings. The guaranteed inadequacy of each successive performance challenges the interpreter next in line, helping thereby to keep the work in the repertoire. Alternatively, when a work of art ceases to be discussed, it suffers a gradual blackout. What exactly does this famous key monument have to offer a person unaware of its fame and unread in the literature luxuriating about it? What does Las Meninas actually show? At center, downstage, a little girl is being offered a drink of water in which she’s not interested. Near her, coming in at the margin, a boy dwarf teases a drowsy dog, who couldn’t care less. A woman in middle distance talks to a man who seems not to be listening; he’s looking at us instead. Way in the back, a courtier in solid black, seeing nothing much to detain him, prepares to leave; his parting legacy being a backward glance and an attempt (unsuccessful) to let a little sunshine in by the door. What he leaves behind is a room full of pictures that are nearly invisible for lack of illumination, since the windows are shuttered and the lights on the ceiling are out. Most disappointing of all: the great canvas at left—­on which, for all we know, something remarkable is taking shape—­turns its back on us, adding a massive

No to the list of negations. No wonder that the dramatis personae (all but three of them, to be exact) look straight out of the picture—­there just isn’t enough on their side of things to hold anybody’s attention. How is it, then, that this picture maintains such a steadfast grip on one’s consciousness? Being so negligible in subject, and in appearance so loosely improvised, what makes it so confident of regard? It must be a force, an energy issuing from the picture that arrests and invites and ends by drafting us into its orbit. Looking at Las Meninas, one is not excluded; one hardly feels oneself to be looking at it, as one would at a thing over there—­a painted surface, a stage set, or gathering of other people. Rather, we enter upon Las Meninas as if we were part of the family, party to the event. But what is the event? What are we party to? The painter gives it to us to decide. He leaves it an open question whether these courtly characters have just joined us or whether we’ve just walked in to interrupt them.8 Either way, the picture is a disturbance of what a moment before must have been perfect stillness—­ witness the settled pose of the dog.9 A kind of reciprocity, then: as if we on this side of the canvas and the nine characters in it were too closely engaged with each other to be segregated by the divide of the picture plane. Something we bring to the picture—­ the very effectiveness of our presence—­ricochets from the picture, provokes an immediate response, a reflex of mutual fixation evident in the glances exchanged, the glances we receive and return. And what else is he showing us, this royal painter? A dim spacious hall, hung with pictures and alive with intruders, the entourage of a little princess. The event represented hardly deserves the term—­for there is nothing eventful about a spoiled little girl of five being offered a drink of water. But it appears that a picture is being painted—­the big canvas at left is under attack. Standing some distance behind, or rather before, his canvas, the painter seems to be hesitating, considering his next stroke, or perhaps waiting for things to settle. Meanwhile, his sight converges with the general concentration of glances upon his models, the parents of the little Infanta, Philip IV of Spain and Queen Mar-

V e l á zqu e z ’s L as Meninas

iana of Austria. The location of their mirror reflection on the rear wall assures us that the royal couple stands on our left. Consequently, those many looks that dart hitherward out of the picture must be their due rather than ours. But we also are implicated since we see ourselves seen. All of us—­the implied presence of royalty, the persons depicted, and ourselves returning their glances—­together we round out that sphere which the partitioning picture plane cuts in two. It follows that the picture alone, the picture without its complementary hemisphere, is but one half its own system, hence seemingly centerless. Or, to put it more accurately, the picture’s focal center keeps shifting. Ask where the center is, and the answer returned by the picture is not any one point, nor any two, but three and four; it depends on what you are centering. If you address the width of the canvas, taking its measure from side to side, you discover the median in the little Infanta—­at her left eye, precisely. Like a jewel in the dip of a necklace, she pinpoints the lower center. Yet a glance at the perspective construction makes the centric point shift. The given orthogonals—­the horizontals along the right wall and the procession of ceiling lights—­converge upon the man on the stair inside the doorway. Halting to look, so that looking becomes his whole task and function, this man personifies the vanishing point of the central perspective, the point opposite our vantage. No question but that the perspective locates him at center. On the other hand, if you consider the room we are in—­a room whose full width is revealed by the rear wall with its doors, pictures, and mirror—­you discover that the room’s central axis falls to the left of the open door. No mistaking it: the light fixtures overhead clearly trace the midline of the ceiling, and the mirror, charged with the image of royalty, appropriates the midpoint of the wall. And that gives us three middles. Just as the Infanta marks the midline of the canvas; just as the man on the stair looms at the centric point of the perspective; just so does the looking glass define the centerline of the room. Three centers, nicely triangulated: the canvas as a physical object, the perspectival geometry, and the depicted chamber—­each maintains its own middle. Three

kinds of center, which in a simpler painting might have remained coincident to avoid unnecessary confusion, are here deliberately dispersed. The scatter effect is accentuated by the dispersion of the three adult men in the picture: the bodyguard standing with folded hands against the right wall, the queen’s chamberlain in the door, and the painter. All three gaze on the royal pair this side of the picture—­their convergent glances homing like spokes on their hub. We begin to suspect that Velázquez made his composition seem improvised and unstable, not only by deploying within the picture three middles instead of one but, more importantly, by conceiving his whole cast of characters as subordinate to yet another centrality. For he located the picture’s dramatic and psychological focus outside itself, displaced from what the picture actually shows to what it beholds. It is as though the depicted scene were a dependency, caught in reaction to its deferred center. That center, of course, is on our left. It resides in the royal pair aligned with the looking glass in which their reflection appears. But here a problem arises. We have found the perspectival vanishing point well to the right of the mirror, in the man on the stair. Now, in any coherent perspective, such as Velázquez employs, this vanishing point defines itself as the point directly opposite the viewer’s eye. Thus the vanishing point in Las Meninas assures us that the station from which we perceive the scene lies oblique to the mirror—­not perpendicular. Therefore, whatever the mirror may show to the king and queen, what it reveals to us, standing off to the right, can only be a reflection of something off to the left. It follows that what we see in the mirror must necessarily be a part of the painting in progress on the big canvas.10 The result is an elegant ambiguity: a mirror that transmits data from two disparate places, from the king-­and-­ queen’s painted likeness and from where they stand in the flesh. Yet the two are the same. The reflection which the mirror imparts to us at an angle is one with the image we know the king and queen to be getting in direct confrontation. We discover that Velázquez’s summary looking glass conflates two distinct things into one:


Fifteen [200]

what the king and queen view from their station and what we see from ours—­the real thing and the painting of it—­the mirror reveals as identical, as if to grant that the masterpiece on the canvas mirrors the truth beyond any mirror’s capacity to surpass. In this sense, Las Meninas may be taken to celebrate the truthfulness of the painter’s art. But praise of the mimetic powers of painting, though brought off here with staggering originality, is still conventional seventeenth-­century ideology. And Las Meninas is in no sense a conventional picture. It undertakes a lot more, being concerned with nothing less than the role vision plays in human self-­definition. The picture induces a kind of accentuation of consciousness by summoning the observer’s eye to exert itself in responsive action and in intensified multiple acts of perception. And here the whole picture cooperates. That is why, in Las Meninas, the radiant signals are received from all over. An uncanny sensitivity to nuance of illumination differentiates every portion of matter. The background alone contrasts dull surfaces with the luster of a scintillant mirror, the sundazzle of outdoor space with the sparse gleam of a concealed window; while the remembered glow of extinguished lamps irradiates the dark ceiling. Most of the space represented is sheer transparency, literally a per-­spective, a “seeing-­through.” All is diaphane, and whatever residue of opaque matter might interfere is given over to promoting perception: an opened door, windows, lamps, mirror, and pictures. No other appurtenances, no other functions—­not so much as a chair to sit down on. Nothing but what was created for sight. And the light itself rising everywhere to the occasion: lurking in the depth of a mirror; breaching a door; beckoning from a distant unshuttered window; and finally, in full flood up front, dissolving the picture plane, and spreading through the retreating gloom a diffused watchfulness that merely crystallizes in eyes and faces. There is surely no painting in which the emission of sight from human eyes becomes quite so structural, no painting wherein sight lines sustain so much of the hidden armature of the design, no painting whose dramatis personae are grouped and ranked according to what they see.

This last observation is worth spelling out: “grouped and ranked according to what they see.” Begin at the foreground, right of center, where we—­or rather our royal neighbors—­are eyed by three watchers; a threesome composed in strict symmetry by the Infanta, the curtseying lady-­in-­waiting, and the female dwarf dressed in blue—­three attentive young persons in triangular disposition. Notice next that each corner of this inner triangle is precisely backstopped by attendants whose positions stake out a larger, similar triangle: the boy with his foot on the mastiff, the kneeling menina before the Infanta, and, thirdly, behind the curtsey, the talkative chaperone. Finally the remaining three figures—­the shadowy guard, the painter, and the valedictorian on the back stair—­form a third outfielder’s triangle, congruent with the second, similar to the first. Think of their places on the projected floorplan, and our nine dispersed characters describe three equilateral triangles, each group differentiated according to what it perceives. The girls of the inner triad look straight out, open to what they confront. The three backstopping figures see less; caught up in play, in service, or in conversation, they only see what preoccupies them. Lastly again, the three adult outfielders: they are so placed with respect to the painter’s canvas that they alone see a complex of interrelations, or two worlds at a glance—­their own and another; a stage to serve in and a painted equivalent purely visionary. To round out the system, it remains for the viewer to lend an attentive presence—­I mean the individual consciousness that salutes the picture alongside a king and queen. It remains for this self, ennobled by association, not only to complete the last triad that brings the company up to twelve but, above all, to see the magic loop closed. As the royal presence is seen from within the picture to inspire a painting, so the viewer sees the averted painting engender its mirror image, which in turn guarantees the royal pair’s real presence. The painter gives us the real, the reflected, and the depicted as three interdependent states, three modalities of the visible that cause and succeed one another in a perpetual round. Reality, illusion, and replication by art conspire in ceaseless recirculation.

V e l á zqu e z ’s L as Meninas

But none of this works unless one agrees to participate. Accept the summons, and the picture reduces the real world and the symbolic to psychic equivalence, like the two pans of a scale, each acted on by the other. Then, what one faces in Las Meninas is not only a framed object, a beautiful surface, an illusory space, a simulated event—­though the painting is all of these. Rather, the picture conducts itself the way a vital presence behaves. It creates an encounter. And as in any living encounter, any vital exchange, the work of art becomes the alternate pole in a situation of reciprocal self-­recognition.11 If the picture were speaking instead of flashing, it would be saying: I see you seeing me—­I in you see myself seen—­see you seeing yourself being seen—­and so on beyond the reaches of grammar. Confronted mirrors we are, polarized selves, reflecting one another’s consciousness without end; partaking of an infinity that is not spatial, but psychological—­an infinity not cast in the outer world, but in the mind that knows and knows itself known. The mirror within Las Meninas is merely its central emblem, a sign for the whole. Las Meninas in its entirety is a metaphor, a mirror of consciousness.

2. The Impenetrable Clarity of Las Meninas, 199612 I would like now to recall an art-­historical non-­event that was staged at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, April 14, 1984. A non-­event, I call it, because it fizzled—­and that fiasco has troubled me ever since. The affair was an all-­day conference on “Interpreting Las Meninas,” organized by Kirk Varnedoe, who was then on the Institute’s faculty. Varnedoe hoped, he told me, that such daylong concentration might help explain why Las Meninas had become, during the previous quarter century, the most written about of all pictures. Those asked to participate as speakers were, in addition to Varnedoe, the Velázquez scholar Jonathan Brown, Joel Snyder of the University of Chicago and editor of Critical Inquiry, myself, and Richard Sennett, sociologist and friend of the recently deceased Michel Foucault. We were to present our papers to an invited audience of interested scholars and critics, who would

have read the literature circulated beforehand. Of the five invited speakers, three were asked because, like me, they had already written about Las Meninas—­and that’s not necessarily a good idea: if you want a shoot-­ out, don’t line up the guys who’ve just exhausted their ammunition. The program started with Varnedoe reviewing “The Interpretation of Las Meninas Past and Present.” He was followed by Jonathan Brown, whose 1978 essay “On the Meaning of Las Meninas” had been part of our reading. Brown’s talk at the conference concerned only “The Facts about Las Meninas,” but it concluded with one startling remark. “Art historians,” Brown said, “have not paid sufficient attention to the fact that this picture was intended for an audience of one.”13 According to the painter’s trustworthy first biographer, Antonio Palomino, the picture was no sooner finished than it was commanded to hang in the king’s private office in the Alcázar, the royal palace in Madrid. The Alcázar inventory taken at Philip’s death in 1666 locates Las Meninas in the pieza del despacho de verano—­the king’s summer office.14 Two crucial questions related to the picture’s intended audience must be asked before proceeding: whom would you expect to find standing on the room’s central axis—­where would you expect to see the royal couple, shunted aside or off-­center? As I noted in 1981, Las Meninas has effectively three kinds of centers. But if one were to seek out a definitive central axis, who should bestride it? Locate the midline of the floor—­ not all that easy because its course depends on the angle you see it from. Now the room before us is seen somewhat from right of center: the vanishing point directly opposite our vantage falls in the distant doorway. One consequence of such excentricity is to queer the room’s central axis. In view of our excentric viewing position, the floor’s central axis, traced from under the mirror, will swing sharply to left to pass between the secret feet of the painter. So when Martin Kemp, in a sensitive analysis of the picture’s perspective, had the painter “straddling the room’s central axis,” he was absolutely correct.15 Correct, but counterintuitive. Velázquez has so filled the stage


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with affective humanity; he has so subtly suppressed all perspectival clues in the left half of the picture; and he has made it so hard to visualize that occulted midline of the floor that it becomes almost impossible for us to perceive, to actually see, the painter straddling the room’s central axis. What we see is what the king saw as he confronted his distant reflection: an axial sightline straight to the mirror, the room’s regal centerpiece. We are, then, given two systems in partnership, interpenetrant; two systems offered respectively to analysis and to intuition, and this duplicity emerges as the very soul of the picture. The second question that needs to be settled concerns that famous mirror reflection, a matter which I treated too lightly in my 1981 paper. Palomino, our first literary source (1724), sits on the fence. He says that Velázquez used the mirror to show what it was he was painting—­“ lo que pintaba,” which is equally ambiguous in Spanish and English. The phrase could refer either to their Majesties’ persons or to what’s on the canvas. Velázquez shows himself portraying the king and queen. The rear mirror tells what he is painting, “lo que pintaba,” without declaring the source of the reflection. From the nineteenth century onward, opinion divided as to whether the mirror reflected the canvas or the royal couple. It occurs to me that if the mirror, from where we must see it, can reflect only the work on the canvas, or part of it, then the mirror alone gives us no grounds for assuming that King Philip and Queen Mariana are anywhere near at all. If the mirror reflection results entirely from its disposition relative to the big canvas and our vantage, then if the room were emptied of people—­everyone, including their Majesties, gone to lunch—­the mirror would still show exactly what it does now, because the viewing position is fixed. And then, if our actors came straggling back, what difference could they make to the mirror reflection that’s been there all the time, quietly flirting with the big canvas across the room? The alert of the characters in the painting is unmistakable, but it could then be due to any intrusion whatever—­a butler announcing that dinner is served.

And yet, we just don’t believe it. Attention has been aroused—­but it wasn’t the butler who did it. We somehow know, and we know that Velázquez expects us to know, that the depicted attention is due to their Majesties. Thus it is the depicted company, not the mirror, that compels us to recognize the royal presence this side of the picture plane. But we no sooner do that than we recognize the mirror image as confirming their presence by directly reflecting them not from our own, but from their point of view. We are shown, paradoxically, what they alone see, as in Parmigianino’s Self-­Portrait in a Convex Mirror. The picture, then, is seen from more than one point of view—­like the actor Pablo de Valladolid (ch. 14). A moment ago, I proposed that we imagine the room emptied of people. Now imagine the opposite: the company only, gathered in a perspectivally undefined space, with no orthogonals on the foreshortened side wall, no ceiling, and without the big canvas; and nothing else changed—­just the rear wall parallel to the picture plane, with the mirror at center. We now have no focused perspective, no vanishing point; only this scattered group, whose outward attentiveness leaves us in no doubt that the mirror reflects directly what they are staring at—­ ourselves in the preempted place of Mariana and Philip. Thus the painter of Las Meninas operates with two simultaneous, autonomous systems: the inanimate set and the human address overlap, interpenetrate in a two-­ part counterpoint. One system, the perspective, tells us where we stand—­so emplaced that the mirror can show us only what’s on the canvas, because, by the law of optics, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence. The other set, the living characters in the picture, show where their Majesties are and what their Majesties see, including the facing mirror. But this tells us nothing about what’s on the big canvas. Visually, the two systems harmonize, yet remain logically distinct in that they converge from distinct points of view—­ours and that of the monarchs. And both readings are true. As when, in two-­part polyphony, the voices fleetingly meet on a single note, so the mirror sounds the coincidence of two systems. In 1981, I called the outcome “an elegant ambiguity,” a visual

V e l á zqu e z ’s L as Meninas

counterpoint of complementary themes: the reading necessitated by the laws of Euclidean optics has the mirror reflect only the painter’s canvas; the intuitive reading conceives the royal pair on the room’s supposed central axis, engendering their direct mirror reflection. And there is another complication because, seeing the painter’s position somewhere between the canvas he’s working on and the mirror, we balk at the Euclidian insistence that the mirror—­given our point of view—­ reflects the depicted portraits on the big canvas. Isn’t the painter’s bulk in the way? Shouldn’t the mirror show us his back? How do the advocates of the straight canvas-­ to-­mirror trajectory get around the painter as obstacle? They do it with diagrams. Some, following the known plan of the original rooms in the palace, put the viewer at bottom right outside the depicted room, looking in, with the painter correctly at center, “straddling the central axis”—­but alas, blocking the royal couple’s view of the mirror; which, though possibly true, remains unbelievable. Or the diagrams fudge, moving certain variables, such as the royal couple, this or that way. Still others identify the royal couple with the viewer’s position in the anterior room, looking in through that side door.16 As these reconstructions try to obey the laws of perspective and the rediscovered plan of the actual room in the palace, that plan becomes a meddling text, shrinking the painter’s gift. Many such diagrams are now on the books, some more elegant than others. They are what Jonathan Brown called jeux d’esprit, but I find them dispiriting.17 In seeking to rationalize the apparent, they resist the inspired duplicity of the painter’s conception. Who stands on the central axis—­the king or the painter? Answer: both do, depending on whether you see with frank eyes or track the hidden geometry. It is this double dealing that keeps the picture, for all its apparent clarity, impenetrably mysterious. This is why Martin Kemp could write, in 1990, that “no painting . . . ever posed a more complex interpretative challenge” and why Jonathan Brown, in a remarkable intimation, wrote: “There is reason to think that the perspective was deliberately left ambiguous in order to accommodate more than one reading of the com-

position.” “If the king were present in person before the picture, he could see, as it were, his own reflection in the mirror. If absent, the picture would be understood as a portrait of the Infanta and her retinue, while the mirror image would be attributed to the reflection from the easel.”18 Think of it: a picture designed to look different depending on who’s around and who’s looking. The picture compounds disparate systems that assert themselves, each in its way: the cool geometry and the warm human presence—­in Las Meninas both are effectively operational. And they are made to contradict one another at certain points, so as to leave their respective self-­sufficiencies unimpaired. I revert now to that 1984 New York conference on Las Meninas and to its dissatisfied audience. One listener, Max Kozloff, asked: “What about the charm of the picture? There is something joyous, almost celebratory about it.” And this was true—­the speakers seemed not to have noticed it. And then Anne Hollander said reproachfully: “But it’s the portrait of a little girl!” True again; that too had been overlooked. And these are the questions I began to brood on—­ the next day, the weeks following, and ever since. Hollander had reminded us that this great picture is essentially the portrait of a princess five years old—­whom Velázquez had portrayed before she was two, and would paint again in 1659, when she was eight and he within a year of his death (both portraits in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). So the question is: what could have induced the painter to inflate the portrait of a five-­year-­old into the largest work of his oeuvre? Or this question: throughout his work, Velázquez tends to avoid perspectival constructions. Why should this little girl’s portrait become the occasion for an exceptional display of topographical realism, in a perspective with a precisely fixed vanishing point? And why, moreover, should this largest painting of the master’s career be assigned to the privacy of the king’s office? Would the picture have been differently conceived and constructed if it had been intended for normal public display? And how integrate all of these points with my own earlier


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thoughts about “accentuation of consciousness,” or self-­ realization through reciprocity? In short, what does the picture intend, and is it possible to formulate its intention in a way that would reconcile these stray questions and observations, including the reproach of Anne Hollander? I have tried. Here’s what I’ve come up with, though some of it may seem repetitious. To begin with the psychic effect of the perspective and its shunted vanishing point. You can test it. Sidle over to a wall that has pictures on it until they grow so foreshortened that their surfaces became unintelligible. The effect is instantaneous: you feel out of it, marginalized. It’s like being relegated to a church aisle because the nave is occupied by VIPs. Now I ask why Velázquez, since he normally avoids linear perspective, deploys it here on so grand a scale, yet confined to the picture’s right portion, when he could

have put the vanishing point anywhere. The answer appears to be that he needed to lock the viewer off-­center, to the right. Only this construction would leave the privileged viewing position directly before the Infanta untenanted—­or rather, unoccupied by the viewer, or, for that matter, the painter. This effect of displacement would not work if the picture were small, as in the stinging burlesque of the 1920s by Henry Tonks showing John Singer Sargent painting the British royal family (fig. 15.3). To affect us physically, this picture must be room size and bustling with life-­size figures. It should be too large to hang high—­to ensure that the depicted floor will be nearly continuous with our own underfoot, just like the canvas we see the back of. And this requisite scale, combined with our one-­point perspective, and with the fact that the homage issuing from the picture is clearly not aimed at us—­all these factors together cooperate to

Figure 15.3. Henry Tonks, Caricature of

Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” with Sargent as the Painter, c. 1920–­24. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; The John Singer Sargent Archive—­Gift of Richard and Leonee Ormond 2015.2411. Photograph © 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

V e l á zqu e z ’s L as Meninas

dis-­place the viewer from the privileged station at center. To locate the viewer bodily in an ectopic position requires those hithering glances just missing us; and it requires a body-­size, room-­size perspective by which we are marginalized. And so the two lamp hooks defining the ceiling’s axis and the upper right cornice descend precipitously to converge on the V-­shaped elbow of the queen’s chamberlain in the doorway. And that’s all the perspective Velázquez allows: to hold the spectator down where he wants, only two converging orthogonals are needed, needed here and here only. Which explains why the use of perspective in Las Meninas is both rigorous and restricted. The foreshortening of the right-­hand wall, which makes its dim paintings illegible, makes the viewer a bystander who cedes center stage to another. That “other” being the royal couple whose presence here and now is attested not by perspective, but by the response of the living actors, including the painter. The picture welcomes us alongside the king and queen. But it defines our sidelong station as subject to the physical-­optical laws of perspective, while maintaining the monarchs in iconic frontality, independent of material perspective, and in a centrality that is absolute. The royal pair mark the intersection of spatial directives. On the transverse axis, at right, one window jamb appears bleached by the light of an open outdoors of unknown extension, while the picture’s left margin gives us the beginning of a huge canvas, spreading away out of sight. Thus center foreground, where the Infanta faces her royal parents, becomes the midpoint of a system that is felt to reach at once to all four cardinal points. The effect of the royal presence is to center, so that the room converts into metaphor—­and you murder the metaphor when you reconstruct the room as it actually was. Furthermore, the royal pair stand in the fullest concentration of light—­as we know from that right-­hand embrasure and from their lustrous mirror reflection. They stand in a pool of light which they share with their child. So that inmost center, from which we, along with the painter, are politely barred, that luminous hub of the whole system—­is the Family, which the picture plane serves to unite.

The picture, then, is not so much the portrait of a little girl as the encounter of father and mother and child, a meeting ritually reenacted whenever the parents’ gaze falls on this scene. And I say “ritually” because Las Meninas is after all a courtly picture, wherein all the actors, dressed for their public roles, are at their posts, doing their jobs. The maids of honor are serving; the queen’s marshal, Don José Nieto, is at the further door, which he keeps open in preceding the queen; the guardadamas, the queen’s bodyguard, keeps his eyes on her; good Don Diego is there “serving the king with his brush,” as he used to say, and as his chamberlain, with the key to the king’s private chambers at his belt; and so the king and queen are there, and all of them orbiting about this five-­year-­old. The picture may have hung in the king’s office, where it was rarely seen by the queen, but Velázquez conceived the Infanta in her full parentage—­the (as yet) only surviving child of Philip and his Hapsburg wife.19 And if the human situation of Las Meninas continues to work on us, it is because the artist saw the child in the princess—­and in the king and queen a pair of charmed parents. So the little Infanta stands here basking in the glance of a mother and father as the object of an intimate love. What Velázquez envisioned was a precious little girl seen the way a human child prospers; not in geometric perspective, or as the one-­eyed camera sees it, but by two pairs of eyes. To which we, the observers, lend ours—­but marginally, as discreet bystanders, well-­ wishers, servants or friends of the family. Las Meninas, then, is the picture of a small child caressed by light and by doting parental eyes. The painting in this sense is an elaborate love machine. And this is why it is celebratory, happy making, and, as Max Kozloff said, charming. And this is presumably why, as Brown reminds us, the picture was destined for, or moved to, the king’s office, because that’s where the sense it makes makes the most intimate sense. I said at the end of the piece I wrote thirty years ago that the painting seeks to establish itself as a living encounter as of two poles of awareness, which requires mutual recognition on both sides of the interface. I now


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see more clearly that, in Las Meninas, this “accentuation of consciousness” is both universal and special. It is universal in the sense of the passage I took from Baltasar Gracián’s allegorical novel, El Criticón (p. 276, note 11). But the notion of self-­awareness by dint of encounter, Erik Erikson’s “consciousness born from the interplay of recognitions,” then seemed to me too general to honor the specificity of the staging of Las Meninas.20 More relevant, perhaps, is Shakespeare’s third sonnet, urging the well-­beloved Mr. W. H. “to be new made”: Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee Calls back the lovely April of her prime.

The child as the looking glass of her parents: this could be the metaphor enacted at center; generational poles of awareness where parents and child find themselves in each other. A book by the Sicilian author Danilo Dolci contains this passage: “The father and the little boy are driving on the way to school. The little boy turns to him and says, ‘Daddy, when I talk with you, myself goes away. But when you answer me, it comes back again.’ The father pulls over to the side of the road, turns off the motor, and, with tears in his eyes, asks the boy to repeat what he has said. After a moment, the father says, ‘I love you, too.’ ”21 To sum up: Las Meninas, in totality and in detail, for all its freshness, is all necessity. The large room, with its wasteful overhead clearance, its spread of blank ceiling, its centered lamp hooks, and the foreshortened squeeze of the wall—­all these are needed to establish a familiar locale. The stern perspective is needed to dislodge from the center the observer’s fixed vantage point. The observer’s dislocation is needed to reserve the center, this side of the picture plane, for the emplaced presence of majesty—­whose centrality no one may usurp, not even the painter; that’s why he is placed over there. The hithering gaze of six pairs of eyes is needed, so that the area in front of the picture fills with the implied royal presence as the cynosure of the whole system—­a center which Philip IV, whenever he looks

at the picture, knows himself to be occupying by right of parentage, by the divine right of kings, and through the cunning of Art. The rest of the cast are needed to deploy the queen’s household as attendant on her, thereby maintaining her parity here as co-­parent. The darkness pervading the middle distance is needed to set off the brilliant south light that dissolves the picture plane as it falls on that side and this. To confirm this requisite foreground brightness, the luminous background mirror is needed, which serves as well to affirm the royal presence on the room’s central axis—­as intuition ensures. The averted canvas is needed to converge with the king’s real presence upon the mirror. The observer’s ectopic viewpoint is needed both to reserve the center for royalty, and to reveal the image shaped on the canvas. And that over-­life-­size image on the canvas is needed so that its reflection, coincident with that of the king and queen, be perceived as identical, thereby exalting the painter as nature’s rival and the king’s judgment in choosing the most perfect of painters. Last but not least, the mastiff is needed to maintain his unshaken cool amid the surrounding buzz. Here I must disagree with the Spanish cartoonist Mingote who, in February 1961, reconstructed the moment immediately antecedent to Las Meninas (fig. 15.4). The caption reads: “There are days when nothing seems to be happening.” Mingote has the dog leading the pack. But the dog could not, within a few seconds, have sunk into such deep quiescence. I think it maintains its pose not because it is deaf or insensitive to the little dwarf ’s footwork but because the slumbering pet is a traditional index of tranquility. That’s why there is a cat asleep in Barocci’s etching of the Annunciation conceived as a silent moment (fig. 15.5). That’s why a Renaissance author portrait includes a dog couchant with the legend apathes—­Imperturbable (fig. 15.6). Or why a diligent scholar around 1600 has a sleeping dog at his side (fig. 15.7). These creatures are the tokens of what Melanchthon, following Plato, called the “sacred silences” that attend mental labor.

Figure 15.4. Mingote, “Hay días en que no se le ocurre a uno nada”

Figure 15.5. Federico Barocci, Annunciation. Amsterdam,

(“Some days nothing seems to be happening” ), 1961.

Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Figure 15.7. Jan Collaert I after Stradanus,

The Invention of the Compass, c. 1600. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1934.

Figure 15.6. Author portrait from Bernardino

Corio, Historia di Milano (Milan, 1503).

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Figure 15.8. Election day, August 21,

1994, Oxchuc, Chiapas State, Mexico.

I was reminded of the mastiff in Las Meninas when I saw a news photo of an election in the Mexican state of Chiapas several months after a peasant uprising (fig. 15.8).22 Whether by chance or design, the photographer’s foreground includes a dog obviously unconcerned with the election results, which is normal for higher animals. But in this context, the animal’s calm is significant. Had this election been attended by the usual disorders, the creature would have been more alert. But

it was the point of that news story that this election was peaceful; which lends the repose of this other Hispanic beast a symbolic charge. For the mastiff in Las Meninas serves emblematically as a genius of place—­emblematic not so much of an actual spot in the Alcázar palace, but of a place where, whatever the moment’s hubbub, there is work being done. And thoughtful work, says Velázquez, the kind I do, proceeds in silence; witness my dog.

Si xt e e n

1997: Written for the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to usher its Art about Art catalogue, 1978. The show displayed what would soon come to be called appropriation art, a fast-­growing genre which the organizers hoped to ennoble with a prior parade of respectable precedents. One perceptive reviewer called my contribution “a stalking horse.”

1. Rustling The City Fathers who in 1790 commissioned an official portrait of General Washington for New York’s City Hall wanted a true-­to-­life likeness and were confident they would get it (fig. 16.1). No one was better qualified to execute the commission than Colonel John Trumbull, aged thirty-­four, a soldier turned painter, foremost documentary artist of the American Revolution, and a recent guest at Mount Vernon. The portrait promised to be a likeness taken, if not from the life, at least from vivid personal recollection, and City Hall’s icon would be—­like pictures of the Madonna attributed to St. Luke—­a firsthand record of the sitter’s figure and stance. But what about the general’s horse? The question is not entirely frivolous because the answer is interesting. A milk-­white steed may have issued from the president’s stable, but its careful posture—­left knee gently raised toward a velvet mouth—­belongs to the dapple-­gray in Van Dyck’s famous portrait of King Charles I, a work engraved just eight years before (fig. 16.2). The derivation is unmistakable and is confirmed by Trumbull’s bungling of the hindquarters, for which the truncated model offered no guide.1

The Glorious Company

But Trumbull took more than half a horse from his predecessor. He adopted the very ethos of appropriation, for whether he knew it or not, the hunter behind Van Dyck’s dismounted king was already a steal. During his travels in Italy—­looking, as painters do, avidly at other paintings—­the great Fleming had been struck by the careful posture of a certain white horse, the mount of the elder king in Titian’s Adoration of the Magi—­its left knee gently raised toward a velvet mouth (fig. 16.3). Van Dyck recorded the royal horse in his sketchbook and, in due time, quartered it behind his own patron. No dishonor to be lifting from Titian, the less so since Titian was not the horse’s original owner. According to Oskar Fischel (1917), the canny Venetian had found his motif on an ancient gem (fig. 16.4), an oval carnelian bearing the image of a lone courser, its left knee gently raised . . . and so on. Did the anonymous gem cutter use his invention or a purloined design? Given the name of the game, it seems probable that he filched—­perhaps from a vase painting such as figure 16.5. But either he or his precursor devised the mouth-­to-­knee contact as a way of containing the equine profile in its surround.2 Titian’s monumentalization of the motif is a masterstroke. The horse in his Adoration shines in midforeground, destined for the first glance. Yet so far from

Originally published as an introduction to Jean Lipman and Richard Marshall, Art about Art, exh. cat. (New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1978), pp. 8–­31. The present text reflects Steinberg’s unpublished 1997 revision, including the addition of Appendices A and B. The material was also delivered in lecture form in 1978 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Yale University.

Figure 16.1. (top left) John

Trumbull, Portrait of General Washington, 1790. New York, City Hall. Figure 16.2. (top right) Robert Strange after Van Dyck, Charles I of England with the Duke of Hamilton, 1782. Cambridge, Harvard University Art Museums/ Fogg Museum; Gift of William Gray from the collection of Francis Calley Gray, G 3769. Figure 16.3. (bottom) Titian and workshop, Adoration of the Magi, 1559. Cleveland Museum of Art; Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund, 1957, 150.

T he G loriou s Com pa ny [211] Figure 16.4. Antique carnelian.

Formerly Berlin, Antikensammlung.

Figure 16.5. Attic kylix, c. 485–­480

BC. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Catharine Page Perkins Fund.

upstaging the sacred characters, it initiates the theme of solemn reverence. As Titian stages the action, animal nature in its finest manifestation participates in the event. For if the ox and the ass (Isaiah says) know their master—­which accounts for their devout attendance in painted Nativities—­then the noble horse knows for sure. Observe how its piety contrasts with the misconduct of the adjacent cur! And was it not, perhaps, the pathos of the animal neck bowed in the presence of majesty that commended the pose to Van Dyck? In his portrait of the proud Stuart king, the inclination of the horse’s head serves again to diffuse the theme of obeisance into the regal ambience. Bending low, Van Dyck’s horse abdicates its own summit, leaving the king’s head in chief, the monarchical grandeur unchallenged even by the height of a magnificent charger—­a pressing consideration seeing that His Royal Highness was somewhat short. But General Washington had no such problem, and Trumbull’s reasons for assigning the curtsy due to an English king to the father of the republic are unascer-

tainable. He could have had any of several motives, conscious or otherwise. The possibilities, theoretically, run from want of invention or labor saving to an elaborate symbolism of supersession.3 Or else—­my preferred explanation—­the painter, in “borrowing” from Van Dyck, realized a subliminal aspiration to become part of a chain, to join and prolong the historic relay from antiquity, through Renaissance and Baroque, to revolutionary America; suing for membership in that glorious company of horse thieves which is the performing cast of the history of art.4 The case is common enough to suggest some aphoristic conclusions. For instance: whatever else art is good for, its chief effectiveness lies in propagating more art. Or: of all the things art has an impact on, art is the most susceptible and responsive. All art is infested by other art. But these are commonplaces, and their wording is unsatisfactory. What sense is there in investing Art with the momentum of a virulent plague or personification?

Figure 16.6. Attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck, Christ at Emmaus,

c. 1715–­20. Albany (NY) Institute of History & Art; Samuel A. and Miss Mary Ten Broeck Collection, 1908.

Figure 16.7. Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius, Christ at Emmaus, c. 1606. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

T he G loriou s Com pa ny

We tend to be careless in mythifying our subject; as when (following German usage) we speak of  “migrating motifs”—­Wanderungen eines Motivs—­as if the motif itself had the wanderlust and the itch to remove from one work to another. Let me rephrase, this time with emphasis on the doers: in their traffic with art, artists employ preformed images as they employ whatever else feeds into work. Between their experience of nature and their experience of other art they allow no functional difference. Foraging where they live—­that is to say, among precedents—­they exploit their environment and, like all living organisms, avail themselves. Hence the recycling observable in all art fresh or stale, the perennial recirculation of recognizable antecedents and, consequently, at the receiving end, those triumphs of recognition that constitute the emotional life of your art historian.

2. The Stainless Steal Thumbing a catalogue of early American paintings at the Albany Institute of History and Art, the historian stops short at an eighteenth-­century Christ at Emmaus (fig. 16.6).5 According to the catalogue entry,  “the head of Christ looks as if it may have come from an engraving.” And so it did; and not Christ’s head only but the whole system down to the dog and the cat under the table. All but the oblong format and the maladroit window paning is transposed from a Goltzius design engraved by Jacob Matham (fig. 16.7). The modest Colonial limner—­some may feel that his bloated shapes improve on the model—­would probably not have tackled such a complex three-­dimensional set without a model to follow. Stop next at plate 6b in the Morgan Library’s catalogue of Drawings by Benjamin West—­a black-­chalk drawing of a half-­draped female nude (fig. 16.8).6 The figure is posed to recall the antique “modest Venus,” the Venus pudica whom everyone knows. But it surprises us to discover that the drawing is a faithful transcription of bashful Eve in Bronzino’s Descent into Limbo at Santa Croce in Florence (fig. 16.9). West may or may not have intended the sketch for use in some narrative composi-

tion; one suspects that Bronzino’s nude caught his eye as a lesson in adaptability. For Bronzino had lured a freestanding effigy into a painted crowd, and diverted it from a pagan context into a Christian one. And West, in transcribing Bronzino’s pudicity symbol, in arrogating an already reworked convention to his own use, would have felt, no less than his pupil John Trumbull, like one entering upon an inheritance. One more example: the long-­neglected output of religious prints published by Currier & Ives includes a Descent from the Cross (fig. 16.10)—­a composition distilled from Daniele da Volterra’s altarpiece of c. 1545 in Santa Trinità dei Monti, Rome (fig. 16.11).7 The legend given in English, Spanish, and French suggests that the American lithograph was aimed at a Catholic market. And either because that market was held to be somewhat unskilled in the reading of images or because the artist himself was unequal to, or impatient of, the complexity of his model, the Currier & Ives version has become a reader’s digest, reversed and drastically simplified. The press of figures is eased, thinned down from sixteen to seven, the number of ladders reduced to three. The half-­ clad youth reaching over from a right-­hand ladder in the original composition has been suppressed, the new vacancy being barely acknowledged (in the upper left of the lithograph) by one feeble extremity, a leg lamely appended to the figure beetling over the transverse beam of the cross. That this leg falls on the wrong side of the ladder is an absurdity which the artist hoped no one would notice. But more was involved than inept simplification—­ the attitude of our copyist is positively derogatory. He must have asked himself: why such extravagant gesticulation when there’s work being done? Why so many more figures than you can count? Why all those extras in dimming space pockets when the action can be rendered more legibly in silhouette? And why the imbalance? Daniele’s cross is off-­center, and a preponderance of figures weights the composition heavily to one side; better to center the cross and gain equilibrium. And then, finally, the swooning Madonna. Long before Currier & Ives, her pose had incurred disapproval. In Jonathan Richardson’s influential The Theory


Figure 16.8. Benjamin West, Half-­Draped Female Nude. New York, Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Robert H. Charles, 1970.

Figure 16.9. Agnolo Bronzino,

Descent into Limbo, 1552. Florence, Museo del Opera di Santa Croce.

Figure 16.10. Currier & Ives, Descent from the Cross. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

Figure 16.11. (top right) Paolo Toschi after

Daniele da Volterra, Descent from the Cross, 1843. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002. Figure 16.12. (bottom right) Louis Desplaces

after Jean Jouvenet, Descent from the Cross.

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of Painting (1728 and 1792), we read: “That the Blessed Mary should swoon away through excess of grief is very proper to suppose, but to throw her in such a posture as Daniel da Volterra has done in the descent from the cross, is by no means justifiable.”8 What, not even by theological means? In Daniele’s altarpiece she falls backward with parted limbs, recumbent, immense, a giantess supplanting two-­thirds of the ground. Screened by three women attendants, her throes surely allude to the motherhood of Mary-­ Ecclesia, laboring in perpetual parturition at the foot of the cross as she gives birth to the mystic body of Christ which is the Church. The artist painted a metaphor of sempiternal birthing rather than an “unjustifiable” impropriety.9 But with the improvement of manners, the posture of Daniele’s Virgin, whether understood as overpower-

Figure 16.13. Master IDC (probably Jean Court), Faith, late 16th–­early 17th century. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.

ing grief or mystic allusion, came to be seen as indecorous, and our Yankee lithographer would have thought it inappropriate in a picture designed for the home. What was needed, then, was a dignified model to replace the original Madonna group. It was found in an engraving after Jean Jouvenet’s Descent from the Cross of 1697 in the Louvre (fig. 16.12). Accordingly, in the American hybrid, Daniele’s afflicted women give way to two men of a practical turn; the corpse must be washed and the utensils got ready. The Virgin, meanwhile, recedes to a civil distance, permitted to wring her hands as befits a party bereaved, but without the robust physicality so offensive to advanced taste. The Currier & Ives hacker did indeed use the Renaissance composition, but only its upper moiety; of the lower half, he opted for the French style classique.10

Figure 16.14. Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius, Faith.

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

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There is nothing peculiarly American, nor indeed un-­ American, in such scavenging—­così fan tutte. And the spotting of imported ingredients in homemade goods requires little more than easy access to comparative images. As the great Panofsky defined the art-­historical enterprise, “He who has the most photographs wins.” I adduce a few more examples. The 1959 catalogue of the Lehman Collection (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) reproduces a sixteenth-­century enamel plaque showing an allegorical figure of Faith; which the catalogue (on the strength of the initials IDC) attributes to Jean de Court, with a consequent date “about 1550–­1575” (fig. 16.13). But neither date nor attribution can be correct, since the image is precisely translated from a Dutch print (fig. 16.14), an engraving once again by Jacob Matham, who in 1575 was only four. (The enamel may be by Jean de Court’s less illustrious son of the same name.)11 Turn next to an early obstetrical handbook, Johann von Muralt’s Kinder-­Büchlein, published in Zurich in

1689. Its frontispiece, signed “Joh. Meyer fecit,” presents a three-­generation family idyll (fig. 16.15): a young mother hugging a swaddled child, a grandam pointing, and, like a St. Joseph capping a Holy Family, a bearded man, presumably Aesculapius, with a physician’s caduceus at his shoulder. He looks gauche enough to be new; but the women, being drafted from two separate Ancestor lunettes of the Sistine Ceiling (figs. 16.16, 16.17), are old acquaintance. Of course, the designer of this modest frontispiece did not pluck direct from the Vatican ceiling; he used two of Adamo Scultori’s engravings that purveyed Michelangelo’s figures singly or in small parcels. These little prints, playing-­card size, fertilized even the English: in Reynolds’s picture at Dulwich (fig. 16.18), the nurturing mother who has saved her ailing child from the thwarted Grim Reaper (leftward-­departing) derives from the Michelangelo ancestress in figure 16.16. And John Flaxman’s funerary relief for the Shakespearean George Steevens (1800) seats the scholar in emulation


Figure 16.16. (middle) Michelangelo, Salmon-­Booz-­Obed lunette, detail. Sistine Ceiling. Figure 16.17. (right) Michelangelo, Azor-­Sadoch lunette, detail. Sistine Ceiling.

Figure 16.15. Title page of Johann von Muralt, Kinder-­Büchlein (Zurich, 1689).

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of Michelangelo’s Naason, son of Aminadab (figs. 16.19, 16.20). When Nikolaus Pevsner published this relief as “an unaffected composition of great ease,” he was unaware of the ease employed in designing it.12 Lastly, a little sketch of a youth preparing to draw by George Morland (fig. 16.21). Would you doubt that this eighteenth-­century image was drawn straight from life? And after seeing Stefano Della Bella’s etching (fig. 16.22), can you doubt that it was drawn from the print—­or resist admiring the grace of the translation? Morland made use of his model much as Jasper

Johns used the American flag—­because (as Johns put it) he didn’t have to design it, leaving him free to work on other levels. The difference being that the design of the Stars and Stripes in a Johns remains in full evidence, whereas Morland’s somewhat obscurer source is submerged.

3. The Cover-­Up Uncovering Morland’s source in della Bella, we expose its cunning, its claim to being (in Cézanne’s phrase) “a

Figure 16.18. Joshua Reynolds, Recovery from Sickness, 1768–­69. London, Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Figure 16.19. (bottom left) John Flaxman,

Monument to George Steevens, 1800. Poplar, St. Matthias. Figure 16.20. (bottom right) Michelangelo,

Naason lunette, detail. Sistine Ceiling.

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Figure 16.21. (left) George Morland, The Artist in a Landscape. Private collection. Figure 16.22. (right) Stefano della Bella, title plate from Diverses testes & figures, 1650.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bequest of Phyllis Massar, 2011.

piece of nature”—­the direct analogue of an observed appearance; and we put that plein-­air draftsman of his back where he came from. Morland’s drawing becomes again what it was in its genesis, art out of art—­ art quickened by fresh observation (as in the boy’s updated footwear), but art-derived nonetheless. Nor is the disclosure a letdown—­on the contrary, it’s rather fun. We enjoy it, I think, not because one more scrounger has been caught in the act (as if art were a cookie jar in which every practitioner keeps sticky fingers), but because, in locating the artist’s source, we are made privy to a part of the process. No longer outsiders, we become, in some measure, initiates. I do not mean that each esoteric source for each work must be known to permit an insider’s approach; but rather that the operative principle should be assumed and welcomed in each confirmation; the purpose being not merely to inventory the loot, but to isolate the new from the antecedent that’s being modified. For the difference between the outsider’s and the insider’s perception of art comes down to this: that the insider recognizes an image as being first of all, in one way or another, a rethinking, reworking, or renewal of foregone art; whereas outsiders relate art at once to the phenomenal, to what is directly experienced, seeing the image as an immediate response to its

subject—­believing, in other words, that Morland drew his young draftsman from life. But don’t blame those outsiders who merely follow alternative clues. The blame rests with the artists. It is they who traditionally—­before the catastrophic unmasking performed by postmodern appropriation art—­disguised what they were doing. It was their thing to deliver quotations as if improvised, to incorporate borrowed goods with their own, to naturalize every immigrant presence as if it were native, making the most studied rehearsal of previous art pop like a novelty, a first glimpse. They were awfully good at it; and only rarely, like classical actors addressing asides to the audience, would they concede us the role of accomplice, letting us in on the act. A case in point. On my desk lies a seedy paperback called Love’s Picture Book (Veta Publishers, Copenhagen, 1963), subtitled  “The history of pleasure and moral indignation from the days of classic Greece until the French Revolution.” The book sweeps up assorted erotica and teeters toward pornography, captions abetting. One of the pictures, an anonymous seventeenth-­century sepia drawing, represents a spacious interior with nudes of both sexes at play. The legend under it reads: “Life in a bath-­house. . . . A Picture of love-­making in pub-

Figure 16.23. Anonymous, Interior with Nude Figures, 17th century. Whereabouts unknown.

Figure 16.24. Agostino Carracci, Lot and His Daughters, from the Pièces lascives, c. 1590–­95. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

Figure 16.25. Agostino Carracci, Nymph, Putto, and Small Satyr, from the Pièces lascives, c. 1590–­95. Formerly collection of Leo Steinberg.

Figure 16.26. Johann Heinrich Schönfeld, The Academy/Life

Class, c. 1630. Graz, Alte Galerie, Schloss Eggenberg.

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lic so common at that time” (fig. 16.23). Isn’t it thrilling—­in public, and common too! But relax, it’s only art. Comes your spoilsport with his bagful of other art and exposes this alleged documentary as a sham, a patchwork wherein several of Agostino Carracci’s so-­ called “lascivious engravings” on biblical and mythological themes are conglomerated. The embracing pair in left foreground is lifted from Carracci’s Lot and His Daughters (fig. 16.24); the scene in right middle ground is Carracci’s nymph having her toenails pared, while a small satyr underpropping her leg searches her privates (fig. 16.25). I have yet to identify the couple at center—­ they clearly repeat a symplegma of fabulous lovers, such as Venus and Adonis. Even the male nude at right is a standard “anatomy”; compare the early painting by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld (1609–­1684), where exactly this figure, holding on to a rope, poses for a life class (fig. 16.26)—­as my late friend Gert Schiff recognized in one winning flash. Nor was that obscure seventeenth-­century draftsman the first to treat a licentious bathhouse as a medley of graphic motifs. It had been done a century earlier in a large woodcut by the Nuremberg printmaker Hans Sebald Beham (fig. 16.27). Beham’s subject is the old folktale of the Fountain of Youth, shown here with adjacent facilities, including swimming pool and terrace dining. A place intriguing enough to merit a guided tour. We perceive, borne in at left, senior citizens crippled by arthritis, old age, and whatnot. Dipped in the magic pool, they rejuvenate, dancing about a bonfire of discarded crutches. Meanwhile, in the right half of the picture, earlier beneficiaries of the fountain bathe, urinate, couple, or doze, with more of them carousing upstairs. The rendering throughout is, of course, realistic. Yet the mythical tenor of the proceedings is admirably conveyed—­conveyed not so much by the faerie subject, the prodigy of recovered youth, as by a prodigality of quotations designed to inject inauthenticity. Begin with the bearded man behind the stone parapet in the left foreground (frontal, three-­quarter-­length, peering and pointing backward): he is one of Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina characters, a.k.a. the Bathing Soldiers—­here off duty but, true to character, surprised

at the bath. And lest his artful nature be missed, he clones himself inside the pool house (second intercolumniation from left). The clone’s neighbor, a back-­ view nude climbing out of the water (himself refigured next to the fountain), is the so-­called Grimpeur (Climber) from the same battle cartoon—­both doubled bathers being transmitted to Beham by Marcantonio’s three-­figure engraving after the Michelangelo (fig. 16.28), a plate notorious for lifting its landscape background from a print by Lucas van Leyden. But there is more: the nude back view of a stripper just right of center (first intercolumniation) belonged formerly to the Minerva in the Judgment of Paris engraved by Marcantonio after Raphael (fig. 16.29)—­a composition which supplied Beham’s center foreground with yet another excursionist, the damsel with the hithering look, ivy-­crowned, squatting with elbow on knee. (This same charmer Manet brought to his Déjeuner sur l’herbe; did he think he was the first to recruit her, or did this modernist knowingly follow tradition even in raiding that famous print?) And the female sleeper in the right background of Beham’s woodcut is none other than the Vatican Ariadne, as engraved once again by Marcantonio (fig. 16.30). Indeed, all these clients of the magic fountain were lifted from Marcantonio prints, which presumably littered Beham’s workbench as he composed. And the fact that two of his recruits come in self-­duplication suggests that Beham’s make-­ believe was meant tongue in cheek: the fantasy was to be seen as ironic. One suspects that the irony was not lost on the draftsman of our seventeenth-­century public bath. I imagine him musing on Beham’s Fountain (or on the small reversed engraving of it by Jan Theodor de Bry), and remarking how neatly an erotic fantasy is unstrung by delivering itself in quotations. The scene reproduced in Love’s Picture Book is as remote from live scopophilia as was Beham’s woodcut, and as far from recording actual practice as our next illustration, figure 16.31, is from documenting city life in Rome’s Piazza Barberini during the 1640s. Forgive the naïveté of this sorry print and look at it closely.13 In the midst of it rises Bernini’s Tritone, a son


Figure 16.27. Hans Sebald Beham, Fountain of Youth and Bathhouse, 1536. Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Figure 16.28. (bottom left) Marcantonio Raimondi after Michelangelo,

The Climbers, 1510. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917. Figure 16.29. (bottom right) Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael,

Judgment of Paris, c. 1517–­20. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

Figure 16.30. Marcantonio Raimondi after the antique, Ariadne (Cleopatra). Blanton Museum of

Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

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of Neptune about to drink from his shell. All around teem little figures representing, you say, the urban scene. But truth will out. The romping horses, the cavalier, and the mendicant, the promenade amoureuse in the lower left, even the mongrel crapping behind the fountain—­ each of these weeny urbanites has been clipped from one or another of Callot’s Capricci di varie figure (figs. 16.32–­16.36). And just as the draftsman of our public bath had spliced Carracci’s Petites pièces lascives to feign an orgy, so the anonymous etcher of our piazza assembled a sheaf of Callots to simulate an environment; evidently with less success, for he had neither the skill, nor perhaps the intention, to cover his tracks. Think of that improbable bathhouse and that implausible city square as two in a series and add a third—­one more unlikely pleasance—­Saul Steinberg’s personal hortus conclusus (fig. 16.37). In Saul’s luscious garden, all the lovely growing things are typographi-

cal ornaments and vignettes, cut up and pasted down from an old foundry catalogue. Interspersed are some rubber stamps. Only the feline gardener with his watering can, a few pecking birds, and one puzzled rabbit seem to be real inasmuch as Steinberg really drew them. For the rest, this garden of bookish verdure, these tidy rows of sprout and seedling, paraphs and curlicues in planter’s ink, shoots of anthemion and arabesque, beds of meander and Vitruvian scroll, the cursive tree (genus Art nouveau), the semidetached house with environs—­all flourish together, like those bogus bathers and that pseudo-­populace, as tokens of prefabrication. Yet with this difference, that the seventeenth-­century draftsman disguised his readymades by incorporation; whereas Steinberg divulges all, like a conjurer airing his paraphernalia: the birdie is out in the open, the rabbit out of the hat, the cat out of the bag. Where the earlier scene had been ostensibly about the outdoors, Steinberg’s drawing is about art. It gives notice that it is signs we are reading, Flora’s remote mental offshoots prospering in a closed loop. The drawing harks back to the beginnings of ornament in the stylization of plants, notes the progressive fossilization of once-­vegetal forms and their abasement into printers’ clichés, and restores them, by dint of a horticultural setting, to mock-­botany. A reflexive imagery, historiographic and aggressively modern, promoting a kind of self-­consciousness in which everyone is invited to share. There are no outsiders. Saul’s enclosed garden is the open secret of art.

4. Caconomasia

Figure 16.31. Anonymous, Fountain in the Piazza Barberini, Rome, 1640s. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

The impressive title we have awarded this section is a Greek nonce word coined by John Hollander, signifying “the state of being ill-­named.” It is intended to introduce the reflection that we have plenty of bad-­mouthing caconyms for the phenomena under discussion, but no decent name. In present use to describe the recycling of old motifs in new art are terms of two kinds. One set depersonalizes the process, negating intentionality and the variety of motivations artists bring to their tasks. A second set

Figure 16.32. Jacques Callot, horses, from Capricci di varie figure, ed. 1621.

Figure 16.33. Jacques Callot, marketplace in the Piazza Annunziata,

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Florence, from Capricci di varie figure, ed. 1621. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Figure 16.34. Jacques Callot, commander on horseback, from Capricci di

Figure 16.35. Jacques Callot, couple in a landscape, from Capricci di varie figure, ed. 1621. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

varie figure, ed. 1621. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

Figure 16.36. Jacques Callot, shepherd playing a flute, from Capricci di varie figure, ed. 1621. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet.

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Figure 16.37. Saul Steinberg, cover of the New Yorker, May 16, 1964.

allows the process to be volitional, but in a pejorative sense, as though the will involved were delinquent. In the terminology of the first group, the artist who deploys a preformed motif is said to be inspired by the earlier work, or undergoing its influence, or deriving something from it as from a source. Latent in all these metaphors is the notion of reflex, of an involuntary response to a stimulus, as in the linkage of cause and effect. But none of these terms fits the cases discussed—­e.g., Beham’s cunning appropriation of figures from Raphael, or Saul Steinberg’s cannibalizing a pattern book. Neither Beham nor Steinberg was “influenced” by his “source” any more than Picasso, in his initial collage, was inspired or influenced by a patch of oilcloth with

a chair-­caning pattern. Even the innocuous metaphor of the “source” is insidious in that it suppresses freedom of choice. Things that derive from a source—­such as rivers or rumors—­have no power to choose from which source to flow. But artistic decisions are not reactions to irresistible causes; artists find serviceable material and put it to work. The remaining terms used to denote inter-­art traffic have again this in common: not one of them is indigenous, evolved in, or proper to, the experience of art; all are fetched from elsewhere. As the notion of  “wandering motifs” was imported from zoology or ethnology (the model, I suppose, being the group behavior of migrating animals or nomadic tribes), so the common

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terms “quotation” and  “plagiarism” come to us by literary analogy; while “stealing” and “borrowing,” which are even commoner, pertain to the sanctum of private property and the odium of economic malpractice. “Minor poets borrow, major poets steal,” said T. S. Eliot, shuffling the old misnomers. Suppose we describe a painter who lifts a motif from another picture as “quoting” from it. At once aroused is a prejudice appropriate to literary quotation. To begin with, a quoter who fails to acknowledge his author is branded a kind of thief. As Synesius of Cyrene wrote sixteen centuries ago: “It is a greater offense to steal dead men’s labors than their clothes.” Accordingly, when Robert Burton (1577–­1640) set out to defend the nimiety of quotations in his quote-­ridden Anatomy of Melancholy, he invoked the simple criterion whether the source were concealed or confessed. “I have wronged no author,” says he, “but have given every man his own. . . .

Figure 16.38. Bacchiacca, Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel, c. 1516–­18. Philadelphia Museum of Art; John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, cat. 80.

I cite and quote mine authors, I have borrowed, not stolen.”14 By this test, all pictorial “quotation” stands condemned as rank plagiary, which stern Burton calls “felony,” courtly Goethe  “ legitimate larceny.” For one is hard put to think of a painting in which a quoted item credits its source. Take, for instance, the Renaissance painter Bacchiacca’s picture of the first human family (fig. 16.38): you observe that the infant clinging to Eve is not homegrown; it was inducted, or kidnapped, from a different household—­from the arms of Noah’s wife as designed by Raphael in the Vatican Stanze (fig. 16.39). Bacchiacca adopted the Raphael child, as it were, into his family; and must have done so to show off his skill in assimilating a foreign growth.15 Yet one searches the baby in vain for the ID tag of its parentage. The changeling’s origin in other art is not confessable, because Renaissance pictures—­whether

Figure 16.39. Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael, God Appearing to Noah, c. 1513–­15. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, by exchange, 1932.


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Figure 16.40. (top left) Francisco Pacheco, St. Sebastian Nursed

by St. Irene, 1616. Destroyed 1936. Figure 16.41. (top right) Detail of figure 16.40.

Figure 16.42. Jan Muller after Hans von

Aachen, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, c. 1600. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

they “quote” from the moderns or from the ancients, as they habitually do—­waive footnotes, credits, quotation marks. The quotes, if that’s what they are, go unacknowledged. Therefore, if we admitted the term “quotation” for the Renaissance habit of sporting old

hats, we would automatically scathe a good deal of what the Renaissance was about. We should have to fault Velázquez’s teacher Francisco Pacheco all the more harshly, for he did have occasion

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to confess a pictorial  “quotation,” yet let it pass. His Arte de la pintura, published in 1638, offers a detailed account of his St. Sebastian Nursed by St. Irene (fig. 16.40), a prim picture of 1616, whose most interesting feature Pacheco describes as “a window through which the saint is seen in the open, tied to a tree and shot full of arrows” (fig. 16.41).16 And that’s all he says. No admission that the window view beyond the hinged panel—­a flashback in the narration, either as an affect of memory or as “background” to the saint’s story—­is secondhand. Never a hint that this revealing ventana reproduces in précis a once popular composition by Hans von Aachen, best known in Jan Muller’s engraving (fig. 16.42).17 In Pacheco’s Sebastian, the style of the recessed mental picture is aptly remote from the prosy present. It conveys an ulterior reality, a gusty vision that spites stylistic coherence, pitting one system against another —­on purpose, of course. The imaginativeness of this juxtaposition hardly jibes with the rest of Pacheco’s dull output. But it is typical of young Diego Velázquez. I therefore suspect Pacheco’s seventeen-­year-­old apprentice of being responsible for this story-­within-­a-­story, this frank importation of otherness, which Diego’s old mentor subsequently could not bring himself to admit. Entirely inadmissible would have been the inscription of von Aachen’s or Jan Muller’s name on a wall or windowsill in the painting. Such credit lines have no place in devotional pictures; and if  “quotation” by common law requires acknowledgment, then the word had best stay out of art. The word “borrowing” fits even less. As if you could borrow without a lender’s consent, without temporarily dispossessing the owner, or promising restitution. In fact, nothing that defines this economic transaction qualifies borrowing as a model for what passes between artists and art. The anomaly is apparent in the criterion used for distinguishing between thieving and borrowing, whether in painting or poetry. Thus Sir Joshua Reynolds:  “ He who borrows an idea . . . and so accommodates it to his own work that it makes a part of it, with no seam or joining appearing, can hardly be charged with plagiarism.”18 But in the name of the

law!—­why not? If there has been a transfer of goods with suspicion of illegality, how is that transfer legitimized through seamless intussusception in the borrower’s house? On the other hand, if the taker be guilty of letting “seam or joining appear,” then let him be slammed for incompetent joining, whether the parts were his or another’s. In other words, if the principle holds, the model does not. And just so in Milton (Iconoclastes, ch. 23): “If it [a lifted passage] be not bettered by the borrower, among good authors [it] is accounted plagiary.” A curious twist: suppose you borrow an item, handle with care, preserve it without alteration; are you on that account culpable? Does borrowing become thieving if one refrains from tampering with the loan? What if a museum that borrows for a loan show adopted that rule? Of course, Milton and Reynolds are right, and we know what they mean; but their wording is trapped in the misfit of an inappropriate model. And there’s harm in it, for the application of malaprop terms to artistic practice has toxic effects. It activates feelings that fit the original terms, but not their new referents. No wonder that Rembrandt Peale, exhibiting The Roman Daughter in Philadelphia, 1812, found himself nearly ostracized when someone fancied he recognized similarities to an earlier rendering of the subject; and that the painter was stung into self-­ defense, offering to donate the maligned picture to the Pennsylvania Hospital “if any person could prove (by comparison) that I had copied it in whole, or in part, from any painting, print, or drawing whatsoever.”19 No wonder it was held against Manet that his Déjeuner sur l’herbe restaged a compositional grouping from the Marcantonio-­Raphael Judgment of Paris (“only too true, alas!” sighed the discover); and that even John Rewald, foremost authority on Impressionism, discerns “lack of imagination” in Manet’s “borrowing.” The fact that the picnickers’ limbs were not rearranged was taken for evidence of internal poverty (though Manet’s cross-­ dressing of Renaissance deities into modernity was surely a feat of imagination).20 In all these instances, which could be endlessly multiplied (they include taunts of Picasso for revamping Old Masters), the operative model is that of the bor-


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rower, and a borrower is one who takes. But the record reveals that alternative concepts—­such as giving, lending, imparting—­may be equally suitable metaphors for the sort of transaction we are considering. There are instances by the score where the artist invests the work used with renewed relevance, bestowing on it a viability hitherto unsuspected. Its potentialities are actualized—­ like a Brahms reviving themes from Handel or Haydn, or Bizet from Lully. The artist can sweep dust away and bestow freshness on things that were moldering in neglect or, what is worse, had grown banal through false familiarity. By altering their environment, a latter-­ day “borrower” can lend moribund images a new lease on life. In the meantime, received jargon continues to muddle the issue by arousing our tenderest feelings about possessions. Terms such as “borrowing” and “stealing” empoison our judgment, and they reduce the abundant spiritual intercourse between artists and art to a uniform pattern; as if an artist’s recourse to precedent necessarily betrayed a deficiency; as if this aspect of creativity could be covered by a couple of syllables. Is there, then, no satisfactory designation for this trucking out of and into art? I doubt if there even should be, for we are not dealing with any one thing. When Reynolds discussed  “ Imitation” in the sixth of his Discourses, he tossed out, as his context kept changing, the following terms: borrowing; gathering; depredation; appropriating; assimilating; submitting to infection (or contagion); being impressed—­as wax or molten metal is—­by a die; being fertilized like a soil; being impregnated. A single term that would comprehend such miscellanea as impregnation, contracting infection, and depredation is hardly worth having. And the reality is bigger still. The varieties of artistic crossover, trespass, or repercussion (or whatever you call it) are inexhaustible because there is as much unpredictable originality in quoting, imitating, transposing, and echoing as there is in inventing. The ways in which artists relate their works to their antecedents—­and their reasons for doing so—­are as open to innovation as art itself, and so much for that.

Let me cite three more instances from the many that come to mind to recall the range of incentives, the hospitableness, or the wit by which artists join other art to their own. Michelangelo. His Medici Madonna sits with legs crossed as no Madonna had done in thirteen centuries of Christian art (fig. 16.43).21 I have shown elsewhere that the sculptor’s point of departure was a Hellenistic marble—­perhaps the one now in Oxford representing a muse (fig. 16.44).22 Between the two figures the similarities are too close to be lightly dismissed. Monumental draped female figures, seated cross-­legged and designed for a frontal view, were not common in Michelangelo’s day, and he followed the rare antique prototype in the torque of the upper body and the retraction of the supporting arm no less than in disposing the lower limbs. But he added the child; added it not as an addendum but as the material, efficient, formal, and final cause, as if whatever was willed by this child stirred and necessitated the mother’s response. Though the adult figure was given and the other invented, Michelangelo’s group is interactive, every maternal motion counterpointing the restiveness of the child. The mother leans forward meeting the boy’s backward thrust. To the possessive grasp of his left hand she lowers a yielding shoulder, bows down as he seems to rise. As his legs spread and his arms cross, her arms open and her legs close. And, most mysteriously, if we rethink the sculptor’s initial thought as it projects the two bodies into the unhewn block—­conceive them in plan as well as in outline and elevation—­then the boy in the core of the stone turns and swerves on his axis while the Madonna’s slow counter-­rotation, from her back hand to the hovering tip of her foot, forms a matrix, an encompassing orbit. The two figures enact a perpetual reaffirmation of complementarity; their every motion is impulsive-­responsive, reciprocal. Michelangelo did indeed find his Madonna in ancient precedent; but rather than imitate the given action, he reconceived that action as a consequence, rehearsing the antique pose only to cause it anew. And what about Rembrandt? His Angel Leaving Tobias of 1637 (fig. 16.45) lifts the departing guardian from a

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Figure 16.43. (left) Michelangelo, Medici Madonna, 1521–­34. Florence, San Lorenzo, Medici Chapel. Figure 16.44. (right) Clio. Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture, 1st–­2nd century AD. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.

woodcut of the same subject made some seventy years earlier by Maarten van Heemskerck (fig. 16.46). What made him do it? Why not put forth a new one—­was Rembrandt too laid back to prod his invention? I gather from the rapidity of his sketches that foreshortened figures, airborne or grounded, fall from him at the flick of a wrist; it would have been easy to launch a new angel. And it must have taken meticulous care to reproduce Heemskerck’s figure—­altering one of its arms, but the rest intact even to the shadow cast at the back of a knee. What accounts for such exact piracy? Pose that kind of question and you are driven to speculate. Rembrandt, the connoisseur, art collector, and teacher, obviously admired the old Haarlem master, though woefully out of fashion. By 1637 nobody looked at Heemskerck anymore. But Rembrandt’s gaze habitually cut through the strangeness of period style—­in Heemskerck’s case, a jerky, harsh figuration—­to discern boldness and strength. I imagine him snapping at

some of his students, the callow novelty seekers among them, activists for the modernism now called Baroque, who fancied that art began at the turn of their century and thought the likes of Heemskerck passé. To whom Rembrandt (I am warming up to my fiction) responds like Hans Sachs in the Meistersinger: “Verachtet mir die Meister nicht”—­“ Despise not the old masters!” And proceeds to climax his own latest enterprise with a feature pried from a brittle old woodcut, so that Heemskerck’s seraphic glider becomes once more operational; proving the old master’s continuing viability. Great teaching, this, and a blow struck for intergenerational fellowship.23 But why, someone asks, why commit such a baseless figment to print in the absence of documentation? Because, as Baudelaire observed, “le possible est une des provinces du vrai.” My fantasy will gladly surrender to a better explanation of why Rembrandt transcribed Heemskerck’s figure. As I see it, he did not filch

Figure 16.45. (top left) Rembrandt,

Angel Leaving Tobias, 1637. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Figure 16.46. (top right) Maarten van Heemskerck, Angel Leaving Tobias, 1563. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet. Figure 16.47. (bottom) Formerly

attributed to William Hogarth, The Beggar’s Opera, 1728. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1932.

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or borrow from need; he adopted in magnanimity. He did not copy to supply want of skill, nor in a spirit of parody—­you can see that the transcription is made with affection—­but rather to give a forgotten old-­timer what he stood most in need of, a place up front, a ride into the modern world, reviving him, as it were, by a change of stylistic environment. Which is also, I think, what Michelangelo did for that battered antique, Picasso for Lucas Cranach.24 And they surely succeeded. Ask yourself whether that Hellenistic muse does not become more seeworthy when seen via the Michelangelo; the Marcantonio engraving when seen in the light of Manet; Heemskerck’s woodcut with the Rembrandt in mind. Dissenting from the above, Svetlana Alpers has argued that Rembrandt cribbed Heemskerck’s angel because he would have had trouble composing his own—­a conjecture perhaps better suited to an eighteenth-­ century tongue-­in-­cheek British satirist (fig. 16.47, upper right).25 Alpers writes: “I am less certain than Steinberg that for Rembrandt ‘it would have been easy to launch a new angel.’ Rembrandt looked to Heemskerck in order to solve this problem, and, in my view, Rembrandt wanted his solution to look like life, not art.” And again: “Rembrandt uses [the Heemskerck] like a crutch, absorbing it to serve him as a scaffolding. His intention was not that it be recognized as such.”26 As we speculate about motivation (like driving a nail into smoke, to use a phrase from Picasso), Alpers and I may both be befogged. Suppose we set the artist’s intentions aside and consider instead the effect of a “borrowing” on its source. When, from whatever self-­ serving reason, Hemingway in 1940 entitled a Spanish Civil War novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, he was quoting a handful of donnish words, thereby giving an obscure John Donne “Devotion” a new generation of readers.27 And so Nabokov in 1962, when he entitled a novel Pale Fire. He lifted the phrase from a rarely heard speech that incriminates all give-­and-­take, all mutuality, all interaction whatever. It is Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens urging a pack of bandits to persist in their calling, seeing that Nature herself . . . well, here’s Timon’s rant, which I have read and often reread, thanks to Nabokov.

I’ll example you with thievery: The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction Robs the vast seas: the moon’s an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun: The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge resolves The moon into salt tears: the earth’s a thief, That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen From general excrement: each thing’s a thief: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . All that you meet are thieves: . . .  . . . nothing can you steal, But thieves do lose it: . . .  (Timon of Athens, IV, iii, 438–­51)

And who exactly was robbed when Charles Addams took Mona Lisa to the movies (fig. 16.48)? Here now is a radical change of venue. And not for the lady only. What is altered is the miasma of stale opinion that sours our image of her. At sight of the Addams cartoon we

Figure 16.48. Charles Addams, originally published in the New Yorker,

June 10, 1950.


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address Leonardo’s creation at last with a fresh question. Instead of asking why Mona Lisa smiles, we wonder what keeps her from laughing.

Appendix A: Trumbull's Horse and Van Dyck Trumbull’s City Hall picture was an enlarged replica of a smaller portrait, now at Winterthur, which he had painted in his New York studio from drawings done at Mount Vernon. Three early references to the Winterthur version are known. First, an entry in Washington’s diary for July 1790: “Tuesday 8th—­Sat from 9 o’clock till after 10 for Mr. Jno. Trumbull, who was drawing a portrait of me at full length, which he intended to present to Mrs. Washington.” Second, a letter of November 10, 1825, addressed by the aged painter to Lloyd Rogers, Esq., who then owned the picture: “The small whole-­length portrait of General Washington . . . was painted by me in this city [New York] in the year 1790. . . . Painted con amore in my best days, [it] was intended as an offering of grateful respect.” Four years later, Trumbull again: “In the Summer of 1790, I painted a small whole length Portrait of General Washington, standing by a White Horse, leaning the right arm on the Saddle, & holding the bridle reins: in this picture not only the Head & Person of the General, but every part of the Dress, the Horse, & horse furniture were carefully painted from the real objects.” Finally, from the memoirs of Mrs. Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis: “In the execution of this fine work of art, the painter had standings as well as sittings—­the white charger, fully caparisoned, having been led out and held by a groom, while the chief was placed by the artist by the side of the horse, the right arm resting on the saddle. In this novel mode the relative positions of the man and horse were sketched out and afterwards transferred to the canvas.”28 Custis’s “novel mode” comment was well intentioned, but the positioning of man and horse, which he mistook for a novelty, had long been commonplace in genteel English portraiture. Reynolds, Gainsborough, Raeburn, Stubbs, Wilkie—­they all portrayed dismounted officers

or civilians with one arm on their mount’s saddle, while the horse’s neck dips to leave the man’s head supreme. Trumbull was following common practice. And, despite Custis’s claim that “the relative positions” of both man and horse had been directly observed, it is unlikely that the horse held its unstable pose during that hour’s “standings.” Whatever image Trumbull took from the general’s horse, the depicted pose was fixed in the studio, whose furnishings would have included Robert Strange’s engraving after Van Dyck’s Charles I. Matching Trumbull’s horse to Van Dyck’s, I consider only the profile image of the forequarters, foreleg delicately extended, as if in a gesture. Excluded, for purposes of comparison, are pictures that show the despectant horse from in front (such as Reynolds’s Captain Orme, London, National Gallery); likewise excluded are all horses whose raised foreleg curls sharply inward, a pose of which Northern art offers numerous instances from Van Eyck to Rubens. One staunch Americanist deplored my notice of Trumbull’s debt to Van Dyck as a slur upon the most “stiff-­necked and independent character in the history of art.” I had, he thought, failed to consider that each of the artists I cited “might have seen a horse bending in that fashion to lick its front knee so that the resemblance is purely accidental.”29 Yet that excellent critic must have known that Trumbull’s lifelong habit of copying paintings and prints in whole or in part is documented throughout his autobiography.30 In Paris, June 1780, Trumbull visited the engraver Robert Strange (whose Blind Belisarius, after Salvator Rosa, Trumbull had previously copied in oils). What Strange and Trumbull talked about that midsummer day is not recorded; but by 1782 Strange published his soon-­famous print after Van Dyck’s Charles I—­for which George III gave him a knighthood; and on August 12, 1786, visiting Versailles, Trumbull recorded: “Saw here the whole length portrait of King Charles I, engraved by Strange—­the most perfect and loveliest of Van Dyck’s portraits that has come to my view.”31 Trumbull must have been glad to have at hand a good reproduction of that admired Van Dyck. The pose of its royal mount, transferred to the horse in his

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own 1790 Washington portrait, improves on the leaf-­ munching horse in Trumbull’s earlier Washington portrait of 1780, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and engraved the following year by Valentine Green.

Appendix B: Concerning Manet's reliance on others and model fingernails “A curious lack of imagination repeatedly led Manet to ‘borrow’ subjects from other artists,” Rewald wrote in The History of Impressionism (rev. ed., New York, 1961, p. 86). Later editions of this fundamental work interpolate a supporting quote from Degas: “Manet drew inspiration from everywhere, from Monet, Pissarro, even from me. But with what marvelous handling of the brush did he not make something new of it! He had no initiative . . . and did not do anything without thinking of Velázquez and Hals. When he painted a fingernail, he would remember that Hals never let the nails extend beyond the fingers themselves, and proceeded likewise.” Degas must have recalled the blunt fingertips of Manet’s Olympia; elsewhere in Manet, fingernails grow plenty long. And the same applies to Frans Hals, some of whose models clip their nails short while some

don’t. Degas was a decent enough painter, but in his ungualogy (science of nails) sadly deficient. He failed to notice that all antique art and all Renaissance painting and sculpture represent fingernails cut close and square, “never letting the nails extend beyond the fingers themselves.” Such is the classical fingernail, which only slovenly rustics neglect. And the cropped nail remains normative until the age of El Greco, when everything elongates. To argue Manet’s want of initiative, Rewald’s witness, Degas, could not have picked a worse case. As regards Manet’s appropriation of a Raphael group (itself derived from a Roman sarcophagus) for his Déjeuner sur l’herbe: the disclosure first appears in a reproachful footnote in Ernest Chesneau’s L’art et les artistes modernes (1864): “Il est à peine croyable que M. Manet ait emprunté à Raphaël une de ses compositions. Cela n’est, hélas! que trop vrai cependant. Que l’on compare son Déjeuner sur l’herbe à certain groupe du Jugement de Paris.” But as footnotes tend to be overlooked, Manet’s borrowing had to be rediscovered almost half a century later, by Gustav Pauli. First condemned, then condoned, Manet’s “nuanced transformation” was soon after extolled in an imaginative cross-­cultural meditation by Aby Warburg.32


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Preface and Acknowledgments 1.  A full list of Steinberg’s publications appears on pp. 285–90. The list includes those essays on Renaissance and Baroque art that could not be accommodated in this volume. 2.  See “The Gestural Trace,” Steinberg’s interview with Richard Cándida Smith for the Getty Research Institute’s Art History Oral Documentation, 2001, p. 21. Available online at https:// altraceleo00stei.pdf. Most of Steinberg’s papers are now on deposit at the Getty Research Institute. Temporarily held back were those needed for these volumes. 3.  “The Gestural Trace,” p. 19. 4.  Ibid., p. 21. 5.  Ibid., p. 27. Steinberg’s several editions of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, all heavily annotated, are now in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library. 6.  Richard Shiff, “Our Cézanne,” Source, 31–­32 (Summer–­Fall 2012), special issue in memory of Leo Steinberg, pp. 27–­28. See also Shiff ’s review of Steinberg’s Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper, Artforum (May 2001), esp. p. 24; and Yve-­Alain Bois’s introduction to Steinberg’s second Norton Lecture at Harvard, October 18, 1995: “his writings reintroduce a dimension of pleasure in the dry and often polemical field of art history—­the sheer sensory pleasure of language; as if to compensate, through exquisite linguistic elegance and precise stylistic economy, for the unbridgeable gap between images and words.” 7.  “The Gestural Trace,” p. 5. 8. A selection of about seventy drawings, dating from the 1930s to the 1990s, was exhibited at the New York Studio School, January 31–­March 9, 2013: The Eye Is a Part of the Mind: Drawings from Life and Art by Leo Steinberg, catalogue with essays by David Cohen and Jack Flam. The drawings were sold to benefit the school’s scholarship fund. Steinberg had long supported the Studio School for its emphasis on primary drawing skills, donating lectures from the 1960s on. 9.  “The Gestural Trace,” p. 89, among other places. 10.  The quotations are from the revised version of “The Flo-

rentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After,” Art Bulletin, 71 (September 1989), in Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018), pp. 154, 137. 11.  Ibid., p. 154. 12.  These characteristic passages are from Steinberg’s “A Corner of the Last Judgment,” Daedalus, 109 (Spring 1980), in Michelangelo’s Painting: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2019), pp. 164, 162. 13.  Steinberg was here speaking of Michelangelo, but the principle abides in all his studies. The quotation is from the preface to Steinberg’s Michelangelo’s Last Paintings: The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace (1975), in Michelangelo’s Painting, p. 237. 14.  “The Gestural Trace,” p. 1. 15.  Ibid. for Steinberg on Merce Cunningham, who never allowed his dancers to improvise on stage, lest they fall back on clichés. 16.  Daniele Di Cola, “L’arte come unità del molteplice: I fondamenti critici di Leo Steinberg (1920–­2011)” (PhD diss., Sapienza, University of Rome, 2017). Daniele was also the motivating force behind the May 2017 symposium in Rome, “Leo Steinberg Now,” organized under the auspices of the Sapienza, the Centre André Chastel, Paris, the Université Grenoble Alpes, the Académie de France à Rome, and the University of Notre Dame Rome. For the program, see gramma.pdf (accessed June 2019). The proceedings of the symposium will be published by Campisano Editore, Rome, 2020.

Introduction 1. In Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-­Century Art (Oxford, 1972), pp. 64–­66, Steinberg had first taken aim at the “preventative aesthetics” of influential writers on art like Roger Fry and Clement Greenberg, whose critical formulations occluded their own visual judgement and that of others. 2.  On the betrayal of art by language as both a real complaint and an intellectual game in Steinberg’s writing, see Richard Shiff, “Our Cézanne,” Source, 31–­32 (Summer–­Fall 2012), special issue in memory of Leo Steinberg, pp. 27–­31, 28. 3.  For instance, Louis Marin, Opacité de la peinture: Essais sur la représentation au Quattrocento (Paris, 1989); Georges Didi-­

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Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance et figuration (Paris, 1990); Daniel Arasse, L’annonciation italienne: Une histoire de perspective (Paris, 1999). 4.  Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983; 2nd, revised and expanded ed., Chicago, 1996). 5.  Caroline Walker Bynum, “The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo Steinberg,” Renaissance Quarterly, 39 (1986), pp. 399–­439. 6. Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art, p. 388. 7.  Vida J. Hull, “The Sex of the Saviour in Renaissance Art: The Revelations of Saint Birgitta and the Nude Christ Child in Renaissance Art,” Studies in Iconography, 15 (1993), pp. 77–­112, 78. 8. Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art, p. 356. 9.  See the essays on Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà included in Leo Steinberg, Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018). 10. See, for instance, Norman Bryson, Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime (Cambridge, UK, 1983); W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago, 1986), and Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago, 1994); Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, 1988). 11.  Reported in Hermann Liebaers, Mostly in the Line of Duty: Thirty Years with Books (The Hague, 1980), p. 83. 12. Steinberg, Michelangelo’s Sculpture, p. 178. 13.  John Shearman, Only Connect . . . : Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance (Princeton, 1992), p. 91.

One [The five other Norton Lectures have either been published in different form or appear in this or other volumes of the University of Chicago Press series. “Mantegna: Did He Paint by the Book?,” ch. 2 below; “Leonardo da Vinci: The Untold Subjects of the Last Supper,” developed from Steinberg’s 1973 essay in the Art Quarterly, was incorporated into his book on the mural, Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper (New York, 2001); “Michelangelo: Why He Huddled Those Ancestors under That Ceiling,” ch. 6 in Michelangelo’s Painting: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2019); “Velázquez: The Impenetrable Clarity of Las Meninas,” ch. 15 below; the material in “Picasso’s Collages: Where Image and Word Regain Common Ground” will be included in a later volume on Picasso. Revised versions of the present lecture were delivered as “How I Look,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 14, 1995; “Words That Prevent Perception,” Reed College, November 12, 2002, and the New York Studio School, March 5, 2003; “Beware of the Text,” Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, May 5, 2006; and “O! Say Can You See,” Swarthmore College, October 23, 2007, New York Studio School, March 12, 2008, and the Clark Art Institute, April 23, 2008. In the lectures beginning in 2006, Steinberg added examples, some of them from previously published works on Leonardo, Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1972,

1988), Max Ernst’s The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Child Jesus before Three Witnesses (1993), and Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed (Encounters with Rauschenberg, 2000). See the list of publications at the end of this volume for full references. —­Ed.] 1.  For Goebbels’s letter, see Roger Sessions, “Music and Nationalism: Some Notes of Dr. Goebbels’s Letter to Furtwängler,” Modern Music, 11, no. 1 (1933), p. 5. The Goebbels-­Furtwängler affair activates a childhood memory. On May 10, 1933—­two weeks before my immigrant Russian family emigrated again, this time from Berlin to London—­my Uncle Aron took me and my older sister to the Opernplatz to watch a public ceremony staged by Germany’s new Nazi regime: the Burning of the Books. There was a light rain, lasting only a few minutes, too thin to send the crowd home or to spoil the proceedings. Truck after truck pulling up, piled high with books, and brownshirt storm troopers on deck. They would scoop up an armful and toss it into the flames while calling out the names of the authors—­whom they had not read. A woman near us said, “Of course, of course, but that they’re burning Jakob Wassermann does seem a pity” (“aber daβ sie den Wassermann verbrennen, das tut mir leid”). For the rest, the crowd, as I remember it, seemed to be watching in silence; no jubilation, such as the Nazi press reported, such as there is among the angels in Counter-­ Reformation pictures of the burning of heretical books. More trucks, more fuel coming up, more execrated names. Uncle must have thought that we had seen the worst of German Nazism. “I want you to remember this,” he said. I was then almost thirteen. 2.  For the role of the history of taste, political and otherwise, in the continuous replacement of sculptures in the Cour Napoléon and Tuileries, see James Fenton, “The Secret Maillol,” New York Review of Books, May 9, 1996. For further on the historical impulse to destroy or correct works of art, see Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983; 2nd, revised and expanded ed., Chicago, 1996), Excursus XXX, “Bowdlerism,” pp. 184–­93. 3. Letter from Timothy Anglin Burgard, associate curator, Fogg Art Museum, to the Valery Taylor Gallery, New York, March 21, 1994, copy in the author’s files. 4.  For a recent biography and references, see Ilene Susan Fort, The Figure in American Sculpture: A Question of Modernity, exh. cat. (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1995), pp. 185–­86; The King’s Temptress is reproduced on p. 131, there compared with a relief of a ninth-­to thirteenth-­century Cambodian dancer. The works inspired by Clark’s Asian experiences were exhibited at the Fogg Art Museum in 1927, the museum’s first solo exhibition of a living artist. 5.  [Fig. 1.2 comes from a 1995 Metropolitan Museum gifts catalogue. The sculpture is in the Cleveland Museum of Art, inv. 1982.49, now dated to the eleventh century; the museum apparently licensed the reproduction to other institutions. According to sources at the Metropolitan, the sculpture was sold in the gift shop as late as 2006. —­Ed.] 6.  I once read a film proposal (now lost) that compared the

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relentless regularity of Greek colonnades, as at the Parthenon, to goose-­stepping Prussian soldiers. But I find that same mechanical regularity in the arrangement of letters on the printed page, of teeth in the mouth, in the rhythm of walking, in our very heartbeats. The analogy you enlist has the power to demean or ennoble, indict or endear. 7.  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766), trans. E. C. Beasley (London, 1853), esp. ch. 5, pp. 36–­37. 8.  Harmony of the Gospels, I, 10, 15–­16. St. Augustine must have had in mind the fourth-­century Traditio legis iconography, where Christ hands the symbols of authority to Peter and Paul. Thus in the original apse of St. Peter’s; also in Rome, the apses of Santa Pudenziana and Santa Costanza; in Milan, the apse of Sant’ Aquilino, now a chapel in San Lorenzo Maggiore. 9.  “On the Lord’s Resurrection according to John,” in St. Augustine, Sermons (230–­272B) on the Liturgical Season, trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY, 1994), Sermon 243, 6, p. 92. Cf. City of God, XXII, 24, where nipples are described as being “solely for beauty,” having no useful purpose. See also Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 2), p. 135, for the “new beauty” to which, St. Augustine proposes (City of God, XXII, 17), the female organ shall be adapted at the Resurrection—­a vision of eschatological beauty possibly derived from the conventional obliteration of the rima in Classical sculpture. 10.  St. Bridget, Revelations, VII, 21: “Cum essem ad presepe Domini in Bethleem, vidi quandam virginem pregnantem pulcherrimam valde, indutam albo mantello et subtili tunica, per quam abextra eius carnes virgineas clare cernebam”; translation by John Cunnally. 11.  See Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 2), pp. 154–­57. In Anatole France’s fictionalization of the Renaissance painter Margaritone d’Arezzo (Penguin Island, “Margaritone’s Vision”), the aging artist sees a Madonna by a young painter of Arezzo and “perceives with horror what the future of painting would be. . . . What things of shame does not this figure show forth! I discern in it the end of that Christian art which paints the soul and inspires the beholder with an ardent desire for heaven. . . . Future painters . . . will clothe their figures with dangerous appearances of flesh, and these figures will seem like real persons. Their bodies will be seen; their forms will appear through their clothing.” At least one humanist had a different view. For Leonello d’Este, “the best [ancient] statues are either wholly or partly nude. Thus figures of the goddesses Minerva, Diana and Venus, and of the Nymphs, are naked, sometimes partly draped, but only with drapery so transparent that one may often distinguish through it the swell of breasts, buttocks and belly.” Sculpture was best judged in “a state of nakedness”; see Michael Baxandall, “A Dialogue on Art from the Court of Leonello d’Este,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 26, nos. 3/4 (1963), pp. 312, 314. 12. The passage did more than astonish an anonymous nineteenth-­century translator, who felt it necessary to expurgate

the transparency of the Virgin’s garments, leaving only “a white mantle and tunic”; Revelations of St. Bridget on the Life and Passion of Our Lord (New York, 1862), p. 37. Even later, more enlightened English translators saw fit to add grammatical distance between the reader and the original text. John Cunnally (private communication) points out that they render eius carnes virgineas clare cernebam as “could clearly perceive,” suggesting possibility rather than direct experience. [The source of the translation Steinberg used in the lecture is lost: “from without I could clearly discern her virginal flesh.” See also “a robe so thin that her virginal body could clearly be seen”; Johannes Jørgensen, Saint Bridget of Sweden, trans. Ingeborg Lund (London, 1954), vol. 2, p. 259. —­Ed.] 13.  On St. Bridget and Trecento art, see also Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 2), p. 249, n. 24, and p. 355. 14.  Mechthild of Magdeburg, Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit, III, 9; see Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art, p. 249. 15.  For the adult Christ sans genitals, see also Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art, Excursus XII, “Baptism and Required Dress,” pp. 139–­42, esp. p. 140. 16.  For references and further discussion, ibid., pp. 346–­47. 17.  Ibid., p. 30, and figs. 30–­31, pp. 147–­48, Excursus XVI, “Of the Nudity of the Christ Child.” Among other Bohemian examples of the period, see the Nativity page in the Missal of Johann of Neumarkt, c. 1365, Prague, Library of the Metropolitan Chapter; and the Adoration of the Magi in the diptych of c. 1360 at the Morgan Library & Museum, inv. AZ022.1–­2. 18.  For Alberti, see ch. 2. On the inadequacy of period texts, see also Bocchi’s comments on the Santo Spirito copy of Michelangelo’s Roman Pietà, in Le bellezze della città di Fiorenza (Florence, 1591), p. 76, discussed in Steinberg, “The Roman Pietà: Michelangelo at Twenty-­Three,” in Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018), p. 63. Michael Baxandall discusses the shortcomings of humanist art talk; see p. 56 above. 19.  Charles Hope, reviewing Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 2), in the London Review of Books, November 15, 1984, p. 20. 20.  Luca Landucci, Diario fiorentino dal 1450 al 1516, ed. Iodoco del Badia (Florence, 1883), p. 3: “maestro Domenico di Vinegia, pittore, veniva su.” The tale of the crucifix appears on p. 13. 21.  The translation is that of Creighton Gilbert in Poets Seeing Artists’ Work: Instances in the Italian Renaissance (Florence, 1991), p. 191. For a variant translation and commentary, see Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy (Oxford, 1972), pp. 118 and 139–­47. 22.  The manuscripts of the so-­called “Libro di Antonio Billi” and the “Anonimo Gaddiano (or Magliabecchiano)” are useful in recording the locations of Castagno works in Florence. But when it comes to saying something about them, the authors merely repeat what Landino had written forty years earlier: that Castagno was a great draftsman, gave full modeling to his figures, and was a “lover of the difficulties of art.” See Karl Frey, Il Codice Magli-


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abecchiano, Cl. XVII, 17 (Florence, 1892), pp. 97–­98. The “Libro di Antonio Billi”: Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, Cod. Magliabecchiano, Cl. XXV, 636, fol. 79, and Cod. Magliabecchiano, Cl. XIII, 89, fol. 48v, both in Cornelius de Fabriczy, “Il Libro di Antonio Billi: Le sue copie nella Biblioteca nazionale di Firenze,” Archivio Storico Italiano, 7 (1891), pp. 362 and 327, respectively. 23.  Millard Meiss was convinced that Castagno added the seraphim at Christ’s lower body because he was “dissatisfied” with the “drastic . . . and quite awkward foreshortening”; The Great Age of Fresco: Giotto to Pontormo, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968), p. 160. 24. For the circumstances of the commission, see John R. Spencer, Andrea del Castagno and His Patrons (Durham, NC, 1991), p. 61. 25.  Paula and Eustochium were first identified by Meiss, The Great Age of Fresco (above, note 23), p. 160. 26.  Epistle 22, 7. Translation in Eugene Rice, St. Jerome in the Renaissance (Baltimore, 1985), p. 7. Rice notes, p. 92, that Epistle 22 was the most frequently copied of all Jerome’s letters. 27.  Translation, Latin text, and references in Eugene Rice, “St. Jerome’s ‘Vision of the Trinity’: An Iconographical Note,” Burlington Magazine, 125 (March 1983), p. 152; Rice, St. Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 128–­29. 28.  For Erasmus’s exposure of the impostor, see Rice, St. Jerome in the Renaissance, pp. 128–­29. 29.  Two alleged renderings of St. Jerome’s vision of the Trinity have been proposed, but neither seems to qualify. Eugene Rice, “St. Jerome’s ‘Vision of the Trinity’ ” (above, note 27), p. 151 and fig. 27, cites Francesco d’Antonio’s tiny predella panel from the Rinieri Altarpiece (c. 1430, Avignon, Musée du Petit Palais)—­ Jerome with two fellow monks standing in a landscape and a conventional Trinity tilting their way from the sky above. Not an impressive visualization of one hermit’s rapture. And the middle figure turns to engage with the third instead of gaping at the miraculous apparition. Is this Trinity meant to be visible? It makes more sense as a representation of men debating a sacred mystery, as in Andrea del Sarto’s later Disputation on the Trinity (1517, Pitti Palace). Rice, St. Jerome in the Renaissance (above, note 26), p. 21, also proposed the upper half of Filippo Lippi’s Death of St. Jerome (c. 1450–­55, Prato, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). Probably painted by an assistant, this section stacks the Trinity in three superposed tiers, surrounded by angels. In a strip just below are three miniature scenes: left, the Holy Family at the Nativity; right, the legend of St. Jerome appearing to St. Augustine; and center, Jerome in prayer, outside his cave. But what would he see if he looked up? Only the clouds overhead. He surely can’t see the Trinity. 30. Spencer, Andrea del Castagno (above, note 24), pp. 60–­61, would have Castagno following St. Antoninus’s passage on the penitent St. Jerome in his contemporary Chronicon, which in turn draws on St. Jerome’s letter to Eustochium: “the visual description is in great part a paraphrase of the verbal description.” But St. Antoninus merely quotes St. Jerome, offering no further de-

scription. And if one favors the image over the period text, further problems arise: Jerome says he was “sitting alone,” whereas Castagno has him stand and flanked by two women; where Jerome speaks of bruising his bones on the bare earth, Castagno has him upright, beating his chest, etc. 31. Ursula Schlegel, “Observations on Masaccio’s Trinity Fresco in Santa Maria Novella,” Art Bulletin, 45 (March 1963), p. 30, briefly anticipated my observation. Masaccio’s fresco “for the first time, depicts a vision that is experienced by the beholder,” whereas Castagno’s Trinity “is less immediately keyed to the beholder, since it is characterized as a vision appearing to the saints in the lower part of the picture.” 32.  Vasari’s value to us lies in the addition he made to the second, 1568 edition of the Vite, three years after the new owner of the chapel covered the fresco with Alessandro Allori’s Last Judgment. The picture, he said, “could no longer be seen” (non si può più vedere). It was this comment that led Heinrich Brockhaus in 1899 to organize a search behind the Allori and find the Castagno; Forschungen über florentiner Kunstwerke (Leipzig, 1902), pp. 71–­81, esp. pp. 79–­81 for the rediscovery on June 3, 1899. So we owe the reemergence of this picture after centuries of secretion to Vasari—­and that’s where he’s invaluable. But for the meaning? 33. For sources and other examples of outstretched and cupped hands as a form of eucharistic reception, see Steinberg, Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper (New York, 2001), p. 82, n. 17, p. 85, n. 19, and figs. 42 and 44. The written formulations go back to the fourth century (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril of Jerusalem). 34. In Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper, p. 86, I refer to the gestures of eucharistic reception in the Castagno. Reviewing the book, Andrew Butterfield claims to see no resemblance between the receiving hands in the Byzantine work reproduced and the hands of St. Paula—­then adds as a clincher that, anyway, Castagno’s fresco does not represent the sacrament of communion (“Leo’s Last Supper,” New York Review of Books, July 18, 2002). But it is over an altar and takes the iconographic form of the Throne of Grace—­God the Father accepting the sacrifice of the Son, perpetually offered in the rite of the mass, perpetually bestowed in the sacrament of communion. In Castagno’s fresco, the receptiveness of the two women completes the cycle. 35.  The manifestation of the foreshortened godhead as a personal vision can be tracked for three centuries after Castagno. Begin with Signorelli’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (fig. 1.11), whose archers owe much to Pollaiuolo’s painting of 1475, originally in an oratory attached to the Annunziata (now London, National Gallery). But Signorelli surely knew Castagno’s fresco as well. His saint looks on a vision of the godhead granted only to him—­ acutely foreshortened to us, but not to Sebastian. No one else sees this divinity. The event at the summit remains his interior experience. The idea—­visionary experience rendered distinct from the general spectacle by foreshortening the apparition to all but the visionary—­traveled. In Titian’s 1518 Assunta, God—­not fore-

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shortened to the Virgin—­is what she alone sees. In the Cappella Paolina, Michelangelo’s St. Paul on the road to Damascus sees with inward sight what none of his troop can see: a Christ overhead grotesquely foreshortened to us who are nonparticipants in the event, but at full spread, face-­to-­face, to St. Paul. The Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, 1564: a competition for an oval ceiling fresco depicting St. Roch’s reception in heaven. Federico Zuccaro, one of the losers, submitted a drawing (British Museum, inv. 1946,0713.80) showing St. Roch kneeling on an angel-­infested cloud, gazing up at a well-­foreshortened figure of the Almighty. But what he sees is no scorcio. It is still the subjectivizing pattern invented more than a century earlier by Castagno. The winning entry, Tintoretto’s St. Roch in Glory (fig. 1.12), again follows the pattern, as does his 1577 Temptation of St. Anthony (Venice, San Trovaso). And so again at the end of the century in a Death of the Virgin by Otto van Veen (fig. 1.13), wherein she, in her last earthly moments, sees the welcoming Christ overhead—­ severely foreshortened, but not to her. By the seventeenth century, the conceit becomes common, as in the eponymous saint in Mattia Preti’s Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria (1657–­59; fig. 1.14). Castagno’s fresco has been cited as an influence on Andrea del Sarto’s Disputation on the Trinity (1517, Pitti Palace). The connection is self-­evident, but note that Sarto corrects his source by disforeshortening the Christ. 36.  For another Renaissance map, see Pietro del Massaio’s illumination in Ptolemy’s Geography (1469; Vatican, ms. vat. lat. 5699, fol. 127r). 37.  Tennyson, “St. Simon Stylites,” line 2. Cf. Spenser’s “from top to toe,” “Fairie Queen,” I, canto 7. On these verbal “blazons,” see Steinberg, Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper (above, note 33), pp. 27–­28. 38.  Petronius Arbiter, The Satyricon, section 126, trans. Michael Heseltine (London, 1913), p. 279. 39. Jean Paul Richter, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1883; ed. New York, 1970), nos. 27 and 25. The translations are those of Wylie Sypher, Art History: An Anthology of Modern Criticism (New York, 1963), p. 164. 40.  Of Ariosto’s description of the beautiful Alcina (Orlando Furioso, canto 7), Lessing concludes that “what is most readily expressed by the painter through lines and colors, is most difficult to be expressed by words”; Lessing, Laocoön (above, note 7), ch. 20, p. 142. 41.  Quoted in Goethe: Italian Journey (1786–­1788), trans. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (New York, 1968), introduction, p. xv; the quotation from Auden that follows is from the same source. 42.  [Picasso will reclaim discontinuity for visual representaton, a point Steinberg discusses in “The Intelligence of Picasso,” an essay to appear in another volume of Steinberg’s selected essays. —­Ed.] 43.  David Alan Brown, Leonardo’s “Last Supper”: The Restoration, a booklet accompanying the exhibition “Leonardo’s Last

Supper: Before and After,” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1983, n.p. 44. See Steinberg, Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper (above, note 33), pp. 79–­80. 45. Ludovico Dolce, Dialogo della pittura intitolato l’Aretino (1557), in Paola Barocchi, Trattati d’arte del Cinquecento (Bari, 1960), vol. 1, p. 179. 46. Richter, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (above, note 39), no. 17. 47.  For the copies, see Robert Fleischer, Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien (Leiden, 1973); Fleischer, “Artemis Ephesia,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 2 (Zurich, 1984), pp. 756–­63. 48.  Minucius Felix, Octavius, 21, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 3, col. 304; St. Jerome, preface to the Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 26, col. 441. The Latin texts of both are cited in Fleischer, Artemis von Ephesos, p. 75, n. 6. 49. Macrobius, Saturnalia, trans. Robert A. Kaster (Cambridge, MA, 2011), vol. 1, pp. 276–­77. 50.  See, for example, the references to the Macrobius text in Vincenzo Cartari, Le imagini . . . de i dei de gli antichi (Venice, 1556), p. 26, and (Venice, 1647), p. 65; and Guillaume Marcel, Histoire de l’origine et des progrez de la monarchie françoise (Paris, 1686), vol. 1, p. 41. 51.  For a nippleless Artemis, see the Dal Pozzo-­Albani drawing at Windsor, no. 8815, reprod. in Cornelius C. Vermeule, “The Dal Pozzo-­ Albani Drawings of Classical Antiquities in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 56, pt. 2 (1966), p. 160, fig. 239; Guillaume de Choul, Discours de la religion des anciens Romains (Lyon, 1556; Wesel, 1672), p. 78, for engravings of coins of Antoninus Pius and Commodus with a nippled Diana of Ephesus. 52.  Thus Adolf Furtwängler, Die antiken Gemmen (Leipzig, 1900), vol. 2, p. 211, notes for plate XLIV, 2. Among the modern objections: the breasts never have nipples; unlike normal breasts in antique sculpture, they always hang; and they are clearly attached to the outer garment. 53.  For bull’s testicles, Gérard Seiterle, “Artemis: Die groβe Göttin von Ephesos,” Zeitschrift für Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte, 10, no. 3 (1979), pp. 3–­16; for the amber pendants and Hittite kurša, Sarah P. Morris, “The Prehistoric Background of Artemis Ephesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Her ‘Breasts,’ ” in Ulrike Muss, ed., Der Kosmos der Artemis von Ephesos (Vienna, 2001), pp. 137–­50. [For a summary of proposals, with further references, see Guy MacLean Rogers, The Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos: Cult, Polis, and Change in the Graeco-­Roman World (New Haven, 2012), pp. 181–­82. —­Ed.] 54.  Frederick Hartt, Michelangelo (New York, 1964), p. 146. For further discussion of the trumpeters, see Steinberg, “A Corner of the Last Judgment,” Daedalus, 109 (Spring 1980), in Michelangelo’s Painting: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2019), p. 164. 55.  For references here and to the texts cited below, see Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 2),


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Excursus XII, “The Eighth Day,” pp. 163–­65, in the context of Christ’s circumcision. 56.  Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York, 1964), p. 13. For Braque, Salmon, and other commentators, see Steinberg, “The Algerian Women and Picasso at Large,” in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-­Century Art (1972; 2nd ed., Chicago, 2007), pp. 156–­57, 172–­73.

Two 1.  Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860; ed. New York, 1958), vol. 1, p. 149. 2.  See Ricardo Fubini and Anna Menci Gallorini, “L’Autobiografia di Leon Battista Alberti: Studio e edizione,” Rinascimento: Rivista dell’Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento, 12 (1972), pp. 21–­78. 3.  [Stephen Campbell, email to the editor, August 1, 2019, has pointed out that Burckhardt also mischaracterized Alberti’s text. What Alberti sought in walking, riding, and speaking was not perfection but dissimulation—­the concealment of these skills with art, so as to avoid jealous scrutiny. For the original text, see Alberti, Opere volgari, vol. 1, ed. Anicio Bonucci (Florence, 1843), pp. xcvi, xcviii; modern English translation in The Portable Renaissance Reader, ed. J. B. Ross and M. M. McLaughlin (New York, 1953), p. 484. —­Ed.] 4. See Leon Battista Alberti, exh. cat. (Mantua, Palazzo del Te, 1994), cat. 29 and p. 91, fig. 9, for the portrait; p. 21, fig. 4, for the emblem. 5.  Leon Battista Alberti, Della famiglia, prologue, in The Family in Renaissance Florence, trans. Renée Neu Watkins (Columbia, SC, 1969), p. 31. 6.  Lawrence Gowing, “Mantegna,” in Andrea Mantegna, exh. cat., ed. Jane Martineau (London, Royal Academy of Arts, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), p. 3. 7.  Leo Steinberg, “Mantegna’s Judith in Washington,” ArtNews (November 1971), p. 42. Hercules and Antaeus: for the various renderings of Mantegna’s design in prints and drawings, see Andrea Mantegna (above, note 6), cats. 86–­89, esp. cat. 87. Samson and Delilah: the grisaille in the National Gallery, London, ibid., p. 396, fig. 104. David and Goliath: Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, ibid., cat. 131, p. 409. Judith and Holofernes: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, ibid., cat. 133, p. 413. 8. All of Mantegna’s Descent into Limbo compositions—­ engraved, drawn, and painted—­present Christ in rear view, no face visible. See Andrea Mantegna, cats. 65–­71. 9.  Peter Schjeldahl, “Andrea Mantegna,” Village Voice, May 26, 1992; reprinted in Schjeldahl, Columns & Catalogues (Great Barrington, MA, 1994), pp. 67–­69. 10. Quoted in Erica Tietze-­ Conrat, Mantegna: Paintings, Drawings, Engravings (London, 1955), p. 18. 11.  For the litigation process, see Keith Christiansen in Andrea Mantegna (above, note 6), p. 108. 12.  Jack M. Greenstein, Mantegna and Painting as Historical Narrative (Chicago, 1992), pp. 71–­85, esp. 76–­79.

13.  The first quotation is from John R. Spencer’s introduction to his translation of Leon Battista Alberti: On Painting (New Haven, 1956), p. 11; the second is from John Pope-­Hennessy, “Masterly Transformations,” Times Literary Supplement, November 21, 1986, p. 1315. 14.  Michelangelo Muraro, “Mantegna e Alberti,” Arte, pensiero e cultura a Mantova nel primo Rinascimento in rapporto con la Toscana e con il Veneto (Florence, 1965), pp. 103–­31. 15.  Keith Christiansen, “Rapporti presunti, probabili e (forse anche) effettivi tra Alberti e Mantegna,” in Leon Battista Alberti (above, note 4), pp. 344, 346. 16.  Leon Battista Alberti: On Painting and on Sculpture, trans. Cecil Grayson (London, 1972), Della pittura, par. 31, pp. 67, 69. Unless otherwise indicated, all citations and quotations from Della pittura refer to this edition. For the Dürer, see his woodcut of a draftsman drawing a recumbent woman through a frame with a network of squares in his Underweysung der messung (ed. Nuremberg, 1538), fol. 92v. 17. Alberti, Della pittura, I, 23. He has outlined “only the first rudiments of the art of painting . . . rudiments, because they lay the first foundations of the art for unlearned painters.” 18.  See also Lorenzo Monaco’s Nativity and Last Judgment in an initial C, both at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, inv. 1975.1.66 and 1975.1.2485. 19. Alberti, Della pittura, II, 44: “There are many other things of this kind which the diligent artist will notice, and perhaps those I have mentioned so far as so obvious as to seem superfluous. But I did not leave them out, because I have known many to make serious mistakes in this respect.” 20.  Pope-­Hennessy, “Masterly Transformations” (above, note 13), p. 1315. 21.  Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, 4th ed. (Princeton, 1955), p. 258. 22.  For fig. 2.23, see Samuel Y. Edgerton, Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance (New York, 1985), fig. 38, and pp. 152–­53, esp. n. 40, for the history of the device and other images. Marcanova believed that the mannaia was classical in origin, hence its appearance in the drawing on the Capitoline hill. Edgerton tracks its origins to medieval Rome with continued use into the Renaissance. 23. I’m reminded of Leopold Bloom’s musings on pigeon droppings released from the sky in the Lestrygonians episode of Ulysses: “Before the huge high door of the Irish house of parliament a flock of pigeons flew. Their little frolic after meals. Who will we do it on? I pick the fellow in black. Here goes. Here’s good luck. Must be thrilling from the air.” 24.  I refer to Titian’s two paintings of Christ Carrying the Cross in the Prado. Mantegna’s painting has sometimes been demoted to shopwork based on the master’s design, more recently as a late work by Mantegna’s hand. See the summary of attributions in Giovanni Agosti and Dominique Thiébaut, eds., Mantegna: 1431–­ 1506, exh. cat. (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2008), cat. 188, pp. 424–­25. 25.  Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Ob-

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servers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition, 1350–­1450 (Oxford, 1971). 26.  See especially the humanist descriptions of Pisanello paintings quoted by Baxandall, ibid., pp. 92–­94, and his conclusion that the ekphrasis form “depends for its existence on pictorial variety, it cannot operate without a fair number and diversity of items to list.” On the general inadequacy of period texts, see p. 7 above. 27.  Ibid., p. 133, for all quotations in this paragraph. 28.  Ibid., pp. 133–­34, for Baxandall’s discussion of the engraving, and Alberti, Della pittura, II, 19–­20 and 34. 29.  Christiansen, “The Art of Andrea Mantegna,” p. 35, in Andrea Mantegna (above, note 6). 30.  For Roman sarcophagi with the death of Meleager, see Phyllis Pray Bober and Ruth Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources (London, 1986), esp. nos. 117 and 118ii, for the hanging dead arm; similarly, see Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-­Reliefs, vol. 3 (Berlin, 1904), pls. XCVI, 287, and XCVII, 293 and 295. Other instances of the hanging arm of a corpse can be found in Hector sarcophagi, such as that in the Louvre, inv. Ma 353/MR 793. 31.  [For Michelangelo’s “failure” to abide by Alberti’s precept in the Roman Pietà, see Steinberg, “The Roman Pietà: Michelangelo at Twenty-­Three,” in Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018), pp. 72–­73. The Christ both dead and living in Italian Renaissance art is discussed in Steinberg, “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After” (1989) as revised in Michelangelo’s Sculpture, pp. 137, 143–­44. —­Ed.] 32.  David Chambers, Jane Martineau, and Rodolfo Signorini, “Mantegna and the Men of Letters,” in Andrea Mantegna (above, note 6), p. 18. 33.  Francesco Gonzaga to Lodovico Gonzaga, July 18, 1472, in Creighton E. Gilbert, Italian Art 1400–­1500, Sources & Documents in the History of Art (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1980), p. 129. 34. Lodovico Gonzaga to the Duchess of Milan, June 20, 1480; in ibid., p. 132. 35.  Ronald Lightbown’s attempt to reinterpret the kneeling figure as the scribe Josias spoken of in the Golden Legend is unconvincing; Ronald Lightbown, Mantegna (Berkeley, 1986), p. 397. The mirage of a quill case at the belt is not sufficient reason to revise the traditional reading. Mantegna omits every phase of Josias’s story—­his conversion following the cure of the paralytic and his joint martyrdom with the Apostle. On the other hand, the healing of the paralytic, which sets all these events into motion, is an essential part of St. James iconography. 36.  Other examples of the paradox of the vertical horizontal in works of the period: the right edge of the Virgin’s prie-­dieu in Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation in the Barberini; the left cornice of the building in Piero’s Proof of the True Cross at Arezzo. In Mantegna’s mature work, the vertical horizontal is most elegantly controlled, as in the Prado Dormition. At bottom, the midline between the flagstones of the pavement runs up and up in a ruled vertical, until it meets the sheer drop of drapery falling from the arm of the active Apostle—­a meeting of suddenly congruent per-

pendiculars more mysterious to me than Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk. 37.  “In a definite place in respect to the observer” is John Spencer’s translation of in aere e ne’ suoi luoghi altrove (Latin: cominus in aere suis locis constitutis); Spencer, Leon Battista Alberti (above, note 13), p. 51. It is a difficult passage, which Grayson renders as “established at appropriate points nearby in space.” Although the word “observer” appears neither in the Latin nor the Italian, it can be inferred, hence Spencer’s translation. My thanks to John Cunnally for his erudite analysis of this obscure phrase. 38. Coincident opposites remind me of Nicolas of Cusa, or Cusanus, a mystic and mathematician, who defined God as the coincidence of opposites in a book titled (in deliberate self-­ contradiction) Of Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia, 1440). Attacking perverted scholasticism, he offered a brilliant definition of a straight line: not Euclid’s—­the shortest distance between two points—­but a circle with an infinite radius whose curved circumference coincides with a straight line. The straight line and the circle collapse under one definition, just as the horizontal and vertical collapse into one in the fresco. Self-­contradiction made visible in perfect truth. I see Mantegna surpassing Alberti’s rationalism to make common cause with Cusanus, who had studied at Padua and, living until 1464, might even have seen the Mantegna chapel. 39.  The medallion bears a carved legend copied from Verona’s Arch of the Gavi: it signs the structure’s noble design with the name of one L. Vitruvius Cerdo, inviting confusion with the Augustan Pollio Vitruvius, the hallowed canonist of ancient architecture. To him or his kin Mantegna attributes the grandeur of the front elevation. 40. Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr., The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective (New York, 1975), p. 30. 41. Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators (above, note 25), pp. 132–­ 33. The more likely explanation is that Alberti deleted the passage from the later edition because the advice conflicted with successful multifigured compositions, such as those in Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise; see Greenstein, Mantegna and Painting as Historical Narrative (above, note 12), p. 241, n. 51, citing Richard Krautheimer’s implied suggestion in Lorenzo Ghiberti, 2nd ed. (Princeton, 1970), p. 325. 42. A related passage from Pliny was probably too absurd even for Alberti. In book XXXV, 69, Pliny describes Parrhasios’s statue of the Demos, the personified people of Athens, naming a dozen different contradictory emotions displayed by the figure, from fickle and choleric to lofty and humble, fierce and timid—­ “and all these at the same time.” 43.  The translation here, as elsewhere, is that of Grayson. But for Grayson’s translation of ob socium as “colleague” I have substituted “companion,” as used in Spencer’s translation in Leon Battista Alberti (above, note 13), p. 78, “companion” in modern English being less restricted to fellow professionals or coworkers. John Cunnally, to whom I owe this clarification, has pointed out that “Alberti in the 1430s is striving to write Latin the way an an-


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cient classical author would, like Cicero or Caesar, avoiding the postclassical Latinisms of a medieval Christian. That’s why, for example, he uses the term templum instead of ecclesia when describing a church. So he refers to Christ as the companion of the Apostles instead of as dominus, their Lord, which in pure classical Latin meant the master of a house. Socius was also the term used by the Romans for an ally or partner in a contract or alliance, hence the term Social War for the period when the allied cities of Italy revolted against Rome” (private communication). 44.  My tally discounts the small-­scale, nonparticipating observers who fall outside the intruder’s visual field: those standing far inward under the arch, a few civilians at right, keeping their distance, and the housebound witnesses at their windows.

Three 1.  Edgerton referred to footnote 15 in his article “Mensurare temporalia facit Geometria spiritualis: The Fifteenth-­Century Italian Notions about When and Where the Annunciation Happened,” in Irving Lavin and John Plummer, eds., Studies in Late Medieval and Renaissance Painting in Honor of Millard Meiss (New York, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 115–­30. 2.  Disbelief on Mary’s part, the first of the above alternatives, falls outside Christian tradition. As summarized by Yrjö Hirn, Mary’s question “gave rise to long and ingenious explanations,” none of which “imagined that Mary faithlessly doubted”; Hirn, The Sacred Shrine: A Study of the Poetry and Art of the Catholic Church (1909; ed. Boston, 1957), p. 287. Such doubt is suggested in the Koran’s two accounts of the Annunciation (3:41, 19:20). In the latter passage, the Spirit of God, who “took for her the semblance of a well-­made man,” declares: “I am the messenger of your God to give you a pure son.” To whom Mary: “How can I have a son when no man has touched me, and when I am no harlot?” For St. Augustine, and explicitly for St. Bernard, Mary’s response to the angel expresses concern for her virginity. Bernard has her say: “If it behooves me to break my vow in order to bear such a son, I both rejoice in the son and grieve at the disposition. His will be done. But if I may conceive virginally and virginally give birth, which, if it please Him shall not be impossible, then shall I know that He has truly regarded the low estate of His handmaid”; Super missus est, homily 4, 3, Patrologiae  .  .  . latina, vol. 183, col. 80. The third alternative is the canonic. Thus, St. Ambrose: “She doubted not of the effect, but only inquired as to the mode of that effect”; De spirito sancto, III, 11; trans. Thomas Livius, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries (London, 1893), p. 131. 3. Visualizations of Mary literally overshadowed by an arriving cloud occur in rare works by later artists, e.g., Karel van Mander’s Annunciation roundel (1595) in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, inv. os I-­253. 4.  Super missus est, homily 2, 7 (above, note 2), col. 64; trans. Samuel J. Eales, Life and Works of St. Bernard (London, 1896), vol. 3, p. 303. The dew metaphor may originate in Isaiah 45:8; see note 5.

5.  One rare instance of the metaphor of falling dew is the Annunciation in the Vyšši Brod Altar, c. 1350, Prague, Národní Galerie. An inscription surrounding God the Father quotes Isaiah 45:8: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above . . . and bud forth a savior,” while a sparse rain falls from stylized clouds. See Milena Bartlová, “ ‘ Rorate celi desuper et nubes pluant iustum’: New Additions to the Iconography of the Annunciation from the Altarpiece from Vyšši Brod,” Source, 13 (Winter 1994), pp. 9–­14. 6. Origen, Contra Celsum, VI, 73; trans. Henry Chadwick (rev. ed., Cambridge, UK, 1965), p. 386. 7.  Further examples of Annunciation scenes with rays issuing from God’s mouth: Bernardo Daddi’s panel, c. 1335, Louvre; Master of the Parement de Narbonne, Très Belles Heures de Notre-­ Dame, 1390–­1410, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 3093, fol. 2; a popular North German woodcut, known in several variants, c. 1440–­50, for which see Emil Major and Paul Heitz, eds., Einblattdrucke des fünfzehnten Jahrhunderts, vol. 23 of Schreiber (Strasbourg, 1911), no. 1, with references to Schreiber nos. 26–­28; Nicholá Francés, 1445–­60, Prado; Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio, c. 1455, Camerino, Pinacoteca Civica. The motif of the dove exhaled from God’s mouth occurs in Lorenzo Veneziano’s Annunciation, 1357, Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia; and in the Virgin and Child fresco fragment by Domenico Veneziano, c. 1440–­44, London, National Gallery. Remarkable instances of the dove proceeding, by exhalation, from both Father and Son (filioque) are the Avignon School Retable de Boulbon, 1450–­60, in the Louvre, and, probably, the 1454 Coronation by Enguerrand Quarton, Villeneuve-­les-­Avignon. 8.  Rays issuing from the beak of the dove appear in Annunciations by the Master of the Barberini Panels, c. 1445–­50, and Filippo Lippi, c. 1435–­40, both in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Sebastiano Mainardi, 1482, San Gimignano, Collegiata, Oratorio di San Giovanni; and Filippino Lippi, 1488–­ 93, Rome, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Carafa Chapel. 9.  [At the time of the original publication, the Gentile (fig. 3.6) had recently been discovered. Keith Christiansen alerted Steinberg to the painting, and he studied it during restoration by Mario Modestini. Sold by Thos. Agnew & Sons to Barbara Piasecka Johnson, it then twice passed through the Matthiesen Gallery and is now in a European private collection. The composition had long been known from a copy in the Vatican Pinacoteca, where the detail of God the Father at upper left is clearer. —­Ed.] 10.  For the Gaude Virgo hymn and its popularity, see Hirn, The Sacred Shrine (above, note 2), pp. 297–­98. 11.  The early reception of Yeats’s poem betrays the collective amnesia that had overtaken the aural myth, and the poet’s own gloss indicates unawareness of its ample sources, and some confusion. Yeats commented in 1932: “In ‘The Mother of God’ the words ‘A fallen flare through the hollow of an ear’ are, I am told, obscure. I had in my memory Byzantine mosaic pictures of the Annunciation, which show a line drawn from a star to the ear of the Virgin. She received the word [sic] through the ear, a star fell, and a star was born”; quoted in A. Norman Jeffares, A Commen-

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tary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (Stanford, 1968), p. 359. I have found no Byzantine mosaic Annunciations of the type Yeats thought he remembered. Standard Byzantine Annunciation iconography shows not a star but God’s hand issuant from a token heaven. Yeats may have conflated this imagery with the Byzantine type of Nativity (e.g., the mosaic at the Martorana, Palermo), where a ray from a star falls upon the newborn. 12. A direct derivation of the per aurem theme from pre-­ Christian myths is wrongly assumed in Ernest Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear: A Contribution to the Relation between Aesthetics and Religion” (1914), reprinted in Jones, Essays in Applied Psychoanalysis, vol. 2 (London, 1951), p. 269. 13.  Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone Judaeo, 100, Patrologiae . . . graeca, vol. 6, cols. 709–­12. The Eve-­Mary antithesis in the context of the Annunciation is discussed—­without special attention to the per aurem motif—­in Ernst Guldan, Eva und Maria: Eine Antithesis als Bildmotiv (Graz, 1966), pp. 26–­29; and in Hans von Campenhausen, The Virgin Birth in the Theology of the Early Church (London, 1964), pp. 38–­41. 14. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, V, 19, 1; Patrologiae . . . graeca, vol. 7, col. 1175. For commentary on the text, see Campenhausen, The Virgin Birth, p. 38 and n. 2. 15. Tertullian, De carne Christi, 17, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 2, cols. 781–­82. 16.  The correspondences between Eve and Mary were imaginative Patristic inventions. That both were virgins was Scholastic conjecture: nothing in Scripture asserts that Adam and Eve abstained from fulfilling God’s first commandment before the serpent’s advent. On the other hand, St. Augustine argued in The City of God (XIV, 26) that blameless Edenic coitus must have been calm and without injury to the hymen, so that Eve would have remained virgo intacta even in pregnancy and parturition. For the exegetical tradition concerning prelapsarian sex, see Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983; 2nd, revised and expanded ed., Chicago, 1996), pp. 19 and 230–­33; Steinberg, “Who’s Who in the Creation of Adam” (1992), in Michelangelo’s Painting: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2019), p. 320, n. 38. The other antitheses—­ disobedience/obedience, gullibility/ faith, perdition/salvation—­were entirely abstract, except insofar as both virgins listened. Hence the necessity of their respective ears to the working of the typology. 17.  “In the New Testament,” writes John Weightman, reviewing Michel Tournier’s The Wind Spirit (Le vent Paraclet; New York Review of Books, December 8, 1988, p. 43), “the Paraclete or Holy Ghost is presented sometimes as a dove descending, sometimes as the wind which bloweth where it listeth. It is the divine, aerial phenomenon that first impregnated the Virgin Mary like a pollen-­carrying breeze.” For a select list of unnatural/wonderful pregnancies, see chapter 14 of Joyce’s Ulysses (lines 242–­47), where Stephen Dedalus, in a drunken exorbitance of erudition, speaks of  “bigness wrought by wind of seeds of brightness or by potency of vampires mouth

to mouth or, as Virgilius saith, by the influence of the occident or by the reek of moonflower or an she lie with a woman which her man has but lain with, effectu secuto, or peradventure in her bath according to the opinions of Averroes and Moses Maimonides.” Stephen’s “reek of moonflower” recalls this remarkable paragraph in Hirn’s The Sacred Shrine (above, note 2), pp. 299–­300: “The notion that the wind, the air, and the breath can bring about fertilization [both in humans and animals] is a frequently recurring ‘Völkerdanke’ [folk belief ].  .  .  . According to another idea, likewise universal, the Incarnation was brought about by the angel giving Mary the palm branch and a sweet-­smelling fruit. Flowers and fruits have, in legends, often made virgins into mothers. Therefore it even seems probable that the green and blossoming branch which artists placed in Gabriel’s hand has often been regarded—­in accordance with the popular point of view—­ not as a symbol of virginity, but as a means of procuring a pure motherhood.” 18.  Zeno of Verona, Tractatus, XIII, 10, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 11, col. 352: “And because the devil, creeping in through the ear by temptation, had wounded and given death to Eve, Christ, entering by the ear to Mary, dried up all the vices of the heart, and cured the woman’s wound by being born of the Virgin”; trans. Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear” (above, note 12), p. 269. 19.  Ephraim Syrus, De diversis sermones, sermon 3, “De laudibus Dei genetricis Mariae,” in Sancti Patris Nostri Ephraem Syri: Opera Omnia, ed. Giuseppe Simone Assemani (Rome, 1743), vol. 3, p. 607: “Initio Serpens Evae auribus occupatis, inde virus in totum corpus dilatavit; hodie Maria ex auribus perpetuae felicitatis affertorem excepit”; trans. Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear,” p. 289. 20.  The citation of this oft-­quoted passage varies from scholar to scholar, edition to edition. Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear,” p. 264, finds it in Sermo de tempore, 22; Rudolph Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen (Leipzig, 1851), p. 77, as from Sermo 121, 3, citing an appendix in the eighteenth-­ century Maurist edition; Arthur Martin, “Mémoire des deux chapiteaux . . . ,” Mémoires de la Société Impériale des Antiquaires de France, 3rd ser., 3 (1857), p. 295, as Sermo de tempore, 15. It may be one of the many sermons that later scholarship deemed inauthentic and relegated to the Pseudo-­Augustine. [See José María Salvador González, “Per aurem intrat Christus in Mariam: An Iconographic Approach to the conceptio per aurem in Italian Trecento Painting from Patristic and Theological Sources,” De Medio Aevo, 9, no. 1 (2016), pp. 83–­119, esp. pp. 85–­ 87, 105–­ 15 ( aurem_intrat_Christus_in_Mariam._An_iconographic_ap proach_to_the_conceptio_per_aurem_in_Italian_Trecento_ painting_from_patristic_and_theological_sources?auto=down load). Not having found the passage through the Jones reference, González declares it spurious, even if the concept abided in medieval thought. On pp. 95–­104, he analyzes nine Trecento paintings as a reflection of this theological tradition.


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González takes Steinberg (and other scholars) to task for using secondary sources, apparently not having noticed that most such citations are for English translations, followed by references to Migne’s corpus. —­Ed.] 21. Livius, The Blessed Virgin (above, note 2), for the translation of the passage from St. Gaudentius, De diversis Capitulis, Tertius, sermon XIII, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 20, col. 934: “quia non alius ex Maria natus est, quam qui per materuas illapsus aures, uterum Virginis opplevit.” St. Eleutherius, Sermo in Annuntiationis Festum, Livius, p. 140, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 65, col. 98: “O Virgo benedicta . . . mater effecta absque alicujus viri copulatione. Ibi enim auricula uxor fuit, angelus autem sermo maritus exstitit.” The text of the antiphonary appears in St. Agobard’s ninth-­century refutation, De correctione antiphonarii, 8, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 104, col. 332: “Descendit de coelis missus ab arce Patris, introivit per aurem Virginis in regionem nostram indulus stola purpurea et exivit per auream portam lux et decus universae fabricae mundi.” Lost in translation is the punning assonance between aurem and auream, ear and gold. [ Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear” (above, note 12), p. 269, erroneously credits the passage from the antiphonary to St. Agobard, followed by later scholars, including Steinberg in the original publication of this essay. See González, “Per aurem intrat Christus” (above, note 20), pp. 86–­88. —­Ed.] For the translation of ab arce patris as “from the breast,” see C. Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis (Paris, 1740), vol. 1, p. 363, def. 7—­a medieval usage reflected in several iconographies, as when in Adorations of the Child the divine rays descend upon the Infant from the breast of the Father; see, for example, the Cologne School panel of c. 1415–­20, reprod. in Vor Stefan Lochner: Die Kölner Maler von 1300 bis 1430, exh. cat. (Cologne, Wallraf-­Richartz-­Museum, 1974), no. 28 and p. 168. 22. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, VIII, 3, 33; trans. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, MA, 1920); see also II, 14, 1–­4. For more on this subject, see James J. Sheridan’s edition of Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus (Toronto, 1973). In book I, line 140, the poet praises Cicero, who “makes up for the limitations of a language by the splendor of his style.” The editor (p. 50, n. 22) cites similar deprecations of Latin (“not equal to the task of expressing Greek philosophical ideas”) from Boethius and Lucretius; Cicero disagrees. 23.  The same impoverishment occurs in the Latin translation of a passage in St. John Chrysostom, referring to the Eve-­Mary typology: “Eve, having been deceived, brought forth the word [rhema] which brought us death; Mary, receiving the happy tidings, bore the Word [logos] in the flesh”; In salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi nativitatem oratorio, Patrologiae . . . graeca, vol. 56, col. 392. The Latin translation in Migne’s Patrologiae writes verbum in both instances. For a naively literal representation of verbum in medieval imagery of the Latin West, see the thirteenth-­century stone relief at Bamberg Cathedral, where the beak of the descending dove clamps down on one end of Gabriel’s Spruchband, or banderole, bearer of words; reprod. in Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art (Greenwich, CT, 1971), fig. 89.

24.  John Chrysostom, In Matt., hom. 4, 5–­6; trans. in The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom . . . on Matthew (Oxford, 1843), p. 48. Cf. the Dordrecht Confession, 1632, of the Anabaptists: “But how, or in what manner, this worthy body was prepared, or how the Word became flesh, and He Himself man, we content ourselves with the declaration which the worthy evangelists have given and left in their description thereof ”; trans. B. A. Gerrish, ed., The Faith of Christendom (Cleveland, 1963), p. 221. 25. Hesychius, De sanct. Maria deip., IV, Patrologiae . . . graeca, vol. 93, col. 1453; trans. Livius, The Blessed Virgin (above, note 2), p. 141. 26.  Cyril Mango, trans., The Homilies of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople (Cambridge, MA, 1958), homily 5, pp. 118–­20. 27.  St. Bernard, Sermo II in festo Pentecostes, Patrologiae  .  .  . latina, vol. 183, col. 327: “missus est interim Gabriel angelus a Deo, ut verbum patris per aurem virginis in ventrem et mentem ipsius eructaret, ut eadem via intraret antidotum, qua venenum intraverat.” As translated in the English version of Hirn, The Sacred Shrine (above, note 2), p. 298: “The angel Gabriel was sent by God to vomit [eructo] the Father’s word through the Virgin’s ear into her womb and mind, so that the antidote [to Eve’s temptation] enters by the same passage as had the poison.” In this respect, Bernard recalls St. Zeno’s commentary, quoted above, note 18. For these connections, see Hirn, p. 298. The lines from Walter von der Vogelweide read “Dur ir ôre empfinc si den vil süezen” (“through her ear she conceived the most sweet”), quoted in Karl Künstle, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, vol. 1 (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1928), p. 339. For the Gaude Virgo hymn, see Hirn, The Sacred Shrine (above, note 2), pp. 297–­98. 28.  “Diu botschaft gie zeîr oran in / der hailig gaist flos damit in / der worht in ir libe daz / das cristus got und mensche waz”; quoted in Hirn, The Sacred Shrine, p. 298. 29.  Quoted in Jones, “The Madonna’s Conception through the Ear” (above, note 12), p. 269. In a sermon preached on March 13, 1661, Bossuet speaks of “her who first conceived the Son of God through the ear”; see Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais, trans. Beatrice Gottlieb (1942; Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 162, n. 20. 30. Schiller’s Iconography of Christian Art (above, note 23) reproduces a selection of medieval examples that show more or less direct approaches to the ear; see especially her figs. 85 (from the Klosterneuburg Altar) and 105 (our fig. 3.4), the absurdly telephonic Würzburg Cathedral tympanum, where God blows down through a tube that presumably attaches to Mary’s right ear. Martin, “Mémoire des deux chapiteaux” (above, note 20), pl. following p. 290, illustrates a Romanesque capital in Notre-­Dame du Cunault-­sur-­Loire where Gabriel’s pointing finger touches Mary’s ear. 31. Quattrocento Annunciations, displaying as usual the Madonna’s left side, often direct the divine ray to the presumed location of the unseen right ear. To the especially graphic examples reproduced in figs. 3.7–­3.10 can be added Giovanni Angelo d’Antonio’s panel of c. 1455 in the Pinacoteca Civica, Came-

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rino, and Crivelli’s Annunciation in the National Gallery, London. Jacob Matham’s engraved Annunciation (fig. 3.10), after Giuseppe Valeriano’s altarpiece in the Gesù, Rome, is a striking late sixteenth-­century example (to which Robert Dance kindly drew my attention). 32. Rabelais, Gargantua, I, 6, describes Gargantua’s birth: “the cotyledons of the matrix were loosened at the top, and the child leapt up through them to enter the hollow vein. Then, climbing through the diaphragm to a point above the shoulders where this vein divides in two, he took the left fork and came out by the left ear”; trans. J. M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, 1955), p. 52. Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief (above, note 29), p. 162, protests that this Rabelaisian spoof has no bearing on the Marian mystery, seeing that Rabelais is not describing a conception but a miraculous birthing, whereas the course of Mary’s confinement was normal. It seems to me that in this rare instance the great savant, bent on proving that Rabelais was not anti-­ Christian (agreed), misdirected his zeal. The Gargantuan satire ridicules a pious superstition, not at an article of Christian faith. It argues that if a womb’s impregnation had once been effected through an eary canal, why, then that route in reverse could serve Gargantua. 33.  A further miracle involving the generation of Christ was produced by a Scholastic syllogism. Major premise: souls are infused into the fetus only after the body is fully formed. Minor premise: it was Christ’s soul that entered the Virgin’s womb at his conception. Conclusion: Christ did not pass through the normal stages of embryonic development but was, from the instant of his conception, soul joined to perfect body, complete in all the parts of a man. This reasoning, however, leaves unchanged the physique of the Virgin, which experienced the single sufficient miracle of the unbroken hymen. For the completeness of Christ’s body at this moment, see, for example, St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, IV, 3, 5, and the Pseudo-­ Bonaventura’s Meditations, ch. 4: “At that very point the spirit was created and placed into the sanctified womb as a human being complete in all parts of His body”; Meditations on the Life of Christ: An Illustrated Manuscript of the Fourteenth Century, trans. and ed. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green (Princeton, 1961), p. 19. The subject is discussed further in Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art (above, note 16), Excursus X, “Complete in all the parts of a man,” pp. 133–­35. 34.  The term “under her heart” is a late medieval euphemism for the siting of pregnancy. It appears as early as the fourteenth century in Adam und Eva, a four-­thousand-­line poem attributed to Lutwin, an Austrian cleric: “And then came the hour in which the pains began to oppress her, which she received from the child that lay under her heart [das under irem herzen lag],” lines 1645–­ 47 in the mid-­fifteenth-­century manuscript in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2980; see Mary-­Bess Halford, Lutwin’s Eva und Adam: Study, Text, Translation (Göppingen, 1984), pp. 157–­58 and 265. “Maria durch ein’ Dornwald ging,” a sixteenth-­century Christmas carol, still known today, ends “Was trug Maria unter ihrem Herzen? / Kyrie eleison! / Ein kleines

Kindlein ohne Schmerzen, / Das trug Maria unter ihrem Herzen!” Martin Luther bequeathed to his wife his goods and chattels for the “improvement of the children who are her flesh and blood and she carried them under her heart [unter yhrem hertzen getragen hat]”; Martin Luther’s Last Will and Testament, trans. Rudolf Fischer (Dublin, 1982), pp. 30, 33. The phrase lives on in many languages, from Tolstoy (War and Peace) to Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, delivered on November 22, 1981, speaking of a man’s duty to “the life conceived under the heart of the mother [sotto il cuore della madre]”; and elsewhere, referring to Jesus in the womb of Mary—­sotto il suo cuore. 35.  The Metropolitan Museum panel was acquired in 1943 as from the workshop of Filippo Lippi, an earlier attribution to Pesellino being generally discarded. (Berenson ascribed the work to “an artist between Fra Filippo Lippi and Pesellino.”) In 1963 and again in 1971, Federico Zeri upgraded the attribution, calling the panel “typical of Fra Filippo Lippi’s work in the middle of the 1440s.” Shapely concurred; see Zeri, Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 1, Florentine School (New York, 1971), p. 63, with full bibliography. Nevertheless, the panel was consigned to storage. Jeffrey Ruda’s Lippi monograph describes it as dependent on Lippi in composition, but not from the master’s hand; see Ruda, Fra Filippo Lippi: Life and Work with a Complete Catalogue (London, 1993), p. 486, no. U4. Summer 1986, the panel emerged from long occultation to be hung in the museum’s Study Collection, the accompanying wall label calling its composition “weak and ill-­conceived.” It does not seem so to me: the design is not simply “symmetrical” but maintains bilateral symmetry against a strong rightward drift. Ruda rightly observes that Lippi’s compositions “are more asymmetrical than most by his contemporaries.” An animating principle of Renaissance composition may, in fact, be Lippi’s invention: the ostensible maintenance of right-­left equilibrium about an erect central axis, combined with left-­to-­right motion, so that apparent stability is mysteriously energized. The effect is observable in Lippi’s Madonna Enthroned (1437–­ 38, Metropolitan Museum), in his Barbadori Altarpiece (1437, Louvre), and in the San Lorenzo Annunciation (apparent also in Domenico Veneziano’s Annunciation predella at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). Grandly dramatized, this principle of driven fixity operates still in Leonardo’s Last Supper—­even in the Sistine Last Judgment. In this respect alone, and for all its apparent modesty, Lippi’s Metropolitan panel reveals good pictorial thinking. It is subtle, too, in harmonizing perspectival illusionism with surface shape (the chiastic disposal of Gabriel’s wings is as inventive as the step-­up flow of the Madonna’s robe). And it is boldest in its incarnational symbolism—­the unprecedented motif of the dove snug against Mary’s womb. Should such a thought be credited to an anonymous follower? Unfortunately, museum practice tends to leave iconographic considerations to the department of education, irrelevant to the hard science of attribution. 36.  One earlier image may be relevant here. Nuremberg’s Germanisches Nationalmuseum preserves a life-­size stone-­carved


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Annunciation group of c. 1360, acquired in 1927 from the Nuremberg Frauenkirche (fig. 3.13); see Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg 1300–­1550, exh. cat. (New York, 1986), no. 5, with bibliography—­to which should be added Gregor Martin Lechner, Maria Gravida: Zum Schwangerschaftsmotiv der bildenden Kunst (Zurich, 1981), p. 17 and no. 10. The statue of the Annunciate shows her, proleptically, in advanced pregnancy—­the type of the Madonna gravida. In its present, reworked condition, the Virgin’s belly supports her left hand. But the hand is modern: it is due to an alteration ordered by the local clergy in 1879–­80; see Kurt Martin, Die Nürnberger Steinplastik im XIV. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1927), no. 55. The original state had the dove of the Holy Ghost perch on the belly. Unfortunately, this information is not well attested. Martin heard it from a mason, one Baumeister Göschel, recounting a recollection then nearly half a century old. How reliable was Göschel’s recall? No other Annunciation casts the Holy Ghost as a brooding bird, fructifying by direct contact. One thinks, anachronistically, of Milton’s apostrophe to the Paraclete (Paradise Lost, I, 18–­21): thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread, Dove-­like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss, And mad’st it pregnant . . . Or of the closing words of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur”: the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. The phrase “imparted warmth” as a euphemism for fecundation is adapted from Dryden’s “Absalom and Architophel,” line 8. 37.  St. Fulgentius, sermon 36, De laudibus Mariae ex partu Salvatoris, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 65, col. 899, as translated in Livius, The Blessed Virgin (above, note 2), p. 138. 38.  Milton’s Samson laments that “inward light, alas! / Puts forth no visual beam”; “Samson Agonistes,” lines 163–­64. “He hides himself, about to become man,” wrote St. Zeno; Tractatus, II, 8, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 11, col. 413, as translated in Livius, The Blessed Virgin, p. 126. 39.  See David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-­Kindi to Kepler (Chicago, 1976). Alberti, it should be noted, bowed out of the debate. Acknowledging the dispute about “whether these rays come from the eye or the plane,” he concluded that it was “very difficult and quite useless for us” (Della pittura, I, 16; Lindberg, p. 149). The extramission theory may once have relied on naive observations, e.g., that cats’ eyes shine in the dark; Alexander Pope still speaks of “the lynx’s beam” (Essays on Man, Epistle 1, vii). More important for its tenacious hold on the imagination is the subjective sense that visual attention, the act of focusing, fixating, or staring down, is an outgoing energy. We can hardly avoid feeling that a sharp look, the more so when reciprocated, is active out there, like one’s blown breath, one’s arm’s reach or heard voice.

In the Agamemnon (Parados, lines 239–­40), Iphegenia, brutally gagged, “smote each sacrificer with piteous arrow from her eye.” The arrow metaphor endured as a sign of piercing love. On p. 151 of Otto van Veen’s Amorum emblemata (Antwerp, 1608), arrows fly from the eyes of Love to wound the beloved. Other physical analogies of extramission abound. As Donne’s ecstatic lovers in “The Ecstasy” gaze upon one another, “our eye-­beams twisted, and did thred / our eyes, upon one double string.” In sonnet 20, Shakespeare writes of  “An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, / Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth.” The sadistic Count Cenci, cursing his daughter in Shelley’s tragedy (IV, 1, 134–­36): “All-­beholding sun, / Strike in thine envy those life-­ darting eyes / With thine own blinding beams.” A darting glance, or one that “sweeps” the horizon, goes forth like a searchlight. We “clap eyes” on things, and whether a look caresses or pierces, it is felt to impinge, alight on its object. So in Dumas’s Three Musketeers (ch. IV): “The gentleman by the fireside raised his eyes from the script and plunged them, dagger-­like, through Bonacieux’s heart.” Even the photographic camera is said to “shoot.” Whereas blind Milton’s “light is spent.” Within just four days in March 1997, the New York Times reported the following items from the complementary poles of science and art. The winner of the annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search contest, seventeen-­year-­old Adam Ezra Cohen of Manhattan, had previously created “a device that allows a computer operator to move a cursor across the screen with only his eyes” (March 11, 1997, p. B1). On March 14 (p. C28), we hear of a piece by the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles which implies “that the attentive glance of the viewer has the power to change the material world”; the piece is titled To Be Bent with the Eyes. 40. Lindberg, Theories of Vision (above, note 39), p. 115.

Four 1. Art for art’s sake: see, for example, Henry Thode, Andrea Mantegna (Leipzig, 1897), pp. 114–­15; Charles Yriarte, Andrea Mantegna (Paris, 1901), pp. 240–­41; Maud Crutwell, Andrea Mantegna (London, 1901), pp. 98–­99; Paul Kristeller, Andrea Mantegna (Leipzig, 1902), pp. 242–­44. It was Hubert Schrade, “Über Mantegnas Cristo in scurto und verwandte Darstellungen,” Neue Heidelberger Jahrbücher (1930), pp. 75–­111, who saw pathos iconography in the picture. Ronald Lightbown, Mantegna: With a Complete Catalogue of Paintings, Drawings and Prints (Berkeley, 1986), p. 137, recognized the foreshortening as a means of heightening the viewer’s response to the wounds. 2.  Henry Suso (d. 1366), Büchlein der weigen Weisheit, I, 19, “Von der Ablösunge”; Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (1418–­27), II, 1. The passage continues: “For if you devoutly seek the wounds of Jesus and the precious marks of his Passion, you will find great strength in all troubles”; trans. Leo Sherely-­Price (London, 1952), p. 68. 3.  See Rudolf Berliner, “Arma Christi,” Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 6 (1955), pp. 35–­152.

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4.  Ibid., p. 49 and figs. 3 and 9. 5. St. Bridget, Opera omnia I. Regula Salvatoris, ch. 13, in the Rome, 1628, edition of the Revelationes, vol. 2, p. 360: “Here Christ fixes the number of the priests, deacons and attendants serving the said monastery of nuns, and the habit they ought to wear. . . . The lay brothers, moreover, are to wear on their mantles a white cross for innocence, and in this cross there be as it were five small pieces of red cloth for reverence of my five wounds” (“Fratres autem laici, in mantellis suis crucem albam portabunt innocentiam, in qua cruce sint quasi quinque particulae rubeae, ob reverentiam quinque vulnerum meorum”). 6. The arms of Portugal: arent, five escutcheons in cross azure, on each as many plates in saltire, all within a bordure gules, thereon seven castles or. For a critical evaluation of the legendary material surrounding its origin, see Armando de Mattos, Evolucão historica das Armas Nacionais Portuguesas (Porto, 1939), pp. 33–­34 and 39. In the legend, Christ crucified appears to Don Afonso Henriques before the battle of Ourique against the Moors in 1139. He promises victory if Don Afonso, as future king of Portugal, will place Christ’s wounds and Judas’s thirty pieces of silver in the coat of arms of the new kingdom. But De Mattos shows that the legend is not mentioned before 1380. Nor do the bezants on the escutcheons appear in the fixed number of five before 1387. The first royal coat of arms to show exactly five plates is that of Queen Filippa in 1387; see Joze Barbosa, Catalogo chronologico, historico, genealogico, e critico das rainhas de Portugal . . . (Lisbon, 1727), p. 343. 7.  Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”: “Five! The find and sake / And cipher of suffering Christ.” 8.  Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, vol. 10 (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1938), col. 710; Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, vol. 4 (Rome, 1972), cols. 540–­42; both sources with further references. 9.  The Christ Child seated within a pierced heart and with shouldered cross, as in fig. 4.3, may be a literal illustration of a line such as this from Ubertino da Casale’s Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu (1305), IV, 19: “he had received the cross from this mother’s womb and had carried it ever in his heart”; quoted in J. V. Bainvel, Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (New York, 1924), p. 151. 10.  See also the woodcut from the Nürnberger Speerbildchen, c. 1500, reprod. in Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art (Greenwich, CT, 1972), vol. 2, fig. 671; the keystone in the nave of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, c. 1500, reprod. in Berliner, “Arma Christi” (above, note 3), fig. 36; and fol. 335v in Simon Bening’s Prayer Book of Albrecht of Brandenburg (1525–­30), J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XI 19. 11.  Other examples: the apse fresco in Santa Maria Maggiore, Tuscania, c. 1300; the Last Judgment in Giovanni da Rimini’s six-­ scene panel in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, c. 1305, inv. 1441; the Last Judgment crowning a panel with the Nativity, Crucifixion, et al. in the Metropolitan Museum, Lehman Collection, c. 1325, inv. 1975.1.99. The wounds presented both on the body and as a pattern characterize the judging Christ in the work of Francesco del Cossa,

whom Mantegna probably knew. See his St. Vincent Ferrer (1473–­ 75), in the National Gallery, London. 12.  Such dual readings are characteristic of all good illusionist painting, which “not only anchors depth to the plane; it is almost never without built-­in devices designed to suspend the illusion, and the potency of these devices depends—­like the appreciation of counterpoint or of puns—­on the spectator’s ability to register two things in concert”; Steinberg, “Other Criteria,” in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-­Century Art (1972; 2nd ed., Chicago, 2007), p. 74. 13.  Marco Vigerio, Decachordum christianum (Fano, 1507), fol. 246r; Castiglione, Il Cortegiano, IV, 72. 14.  For an exhaustive presentation of Renaissance Egyptomania, see Brian A. Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt in Early Modern Italy (Chicago, 2007), esp. ch. 3, “Humanists and Hieroglyphics,” and ch. 5, “Sacred Writings: From Hermes Trismegistus to Hieroglyphic Epigraphy.” A still fundamental source is Karl Giehlow’s “Die Hieroglyphenkunde des Humanismus in der Allegorie der Renaissance,” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlung des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, 33, no. 1 (1915), pp. 1–­222. Perceptive overviews can be found in Anthony Grafton’s foreword and George Boas’s introduction to The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo, trans. George Boas (Princeton, 1993). For artists involved with hieroglyphics, see Curran, p. 147 and n. 71, with further references; ancient friezes with images of sacrificial and naval objects, visible in several Roman sites (among them San Paolo fuori le mura), were often copied and interpreted as hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphics inspired a chapter of Alberti’s De re aedificatoria (VIII, 4), and his emblem of the winged eye is a hieroglyph; see Curran’s discussion, pp. 69–­76. For Filarete and hieroglyphs in the Trattato di architettura and his buildings, see pp. 68–­69, 84–­87. 15.  Scholars have long believed the frieze on the triumphal arch in the canvas depicting Caesar in his chariot was intended to represent hieroglyphs, specifically letters of Sesostris; see Giehlow, “Die Hieroglyphenkunde des Humanismus” (above, note 14), pp. 92–­93, and Phyllis Pray Bober and Ruth Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture (London, 1986), no. 193 and p. 226, with further citations. Charles Hope argued that Mantegna was more likely following Alberti’s instructions for a Corinthian frieze with carved vases, sacrificial instruments, and bull’s heads; see Jane Martineau, ed., Andrea Mantegna, exh. cat. (London, 1992), cat. 115, p. 371. 16.  The manuscript is preserved in the Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, ms. Plut. 69, 27. Two years earlier, Poggio Bracciolini had discovered a Carolingian manuscript of Ammianus Marcellinus’s Res Gestae, a fourth-­century history of the Roman Empire published in 1474. Book XVII, 4, 7–­11, deciphers the hieroglyphs on the Egyptian obelisk in the Circus Maximus; see Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance (above, note 14), p. 56. 17.  For Ciriaco, Filelfo, and Ferrarini, see Curran, esp. pp. 58–­ 59 and 99–­103, with further references. Ferrarini was a Carmelite


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scholar who spent his life in the major centers of northern Italy. Mantegna and Ciriaco: see Keith Christiansen, “Early Works: Padua,” in Martineau, Andrea Mantegna (above, note 15), p. 106. 18. Ficino, De vita coelitus comparanda, quoted in Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance, p. 88. See also pp. 90–­92 on Egyptian wisdom as a precursor to Christianity, including Ficino’s translation of the Corpus Hermetica of Hermes Trismegistus, whose dialogues Ficino regarded as prophetic anticipations of Christian revelation. 19.  Ficino’s translation and commentary on the Enneads was published in 1492. The quoted passage is a gloss on the fifth Ennead, 8, 6; Ficino, Opera omnia (Basel, 1576), p. 1768. The translation here is adapted from Boas, The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo (above, note 14), p. 14. 20.  Boas, p. 52. Book II, 1, possibly the work of a different author, amplifies the meaning of the star: “What does a star signify? When a star is painted by the Egyptians, they mean a god, twilight, night, and time, as well as a man’s soul”; Boas, p. 73. For Ferrarini’s transcription of book I, 13, see Giehlow, “Die Hieroglyphenkunde des Humanismus” (above, note 14), p. 162. 21.  The first printed illustrated edition of Horapollo may be the French translation of 1543 (Paris, Jacques Keruer). Strangely, the coarse woodcut accompanying book I, 13, shows the sun and moon amid a sky of six-­pointed stars, probably a generic image, since it also appears in the chapter on the months at the end of book I. Reused in subsequent Paris editions (1551, 1553, 1574, French and Latin), the woodcut seems to have influenced the illustrator of the edition published in Rome, 1599, by Giulio Franceschini: the sun and moon are omitted, but the sky is replete with six-­pointed stars. Only in the woodcut to book II, 1, do all illustrated sixteenth-­century editions show a single five-­pointed star radiating above a landscape. Willibald Pirckheimer translated Horapollo for Emperor Maximilian with drawings by, or copies after, Dürer (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 3255). The drawing for book I, 13 (Giehlow, “Die Hieroglyphenkunde des Humanismus” [above, note 14], p. 182) shows a single six-­pointed star; there is no illustration for book II, 1. The disconnect between text and image in these sixteenth-­century works remains puzzling. 22.  Johann Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica libri tres (Hagenau, Thomas Anselm, 1517), dedicated to Pope Leo X. The English translations used here are from Johann Reuchlin, On the Art of the Kabbalah, trans. Martin and Sarah Goodman with introductions by G. Lloyd Jones and Moshe Idel (Lincoln, NE, 1993). 23.  Quoted in Jones’s introduction to Reuchlin, p. 16, with reference to Johannes Picus Mirandulanus: Opera Omnia, ed. E. Garin (Turin, 1971), p. 105. 24. Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica (above, note 22), III, p. 78v, Goodman trans. p. 353. Concerning the “silver coins of Antiochus”: no such coin of Antiochus’s reign has turned up, so we must assume that Reuchlin associated one of the many ancient coins displaying the pentagram with Lucian’s story. Most of these coins seem to point to

Mysia in Asia Minor and range from the fourth century BC to the time of Domitian. See Warwick Wroth, A Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum—­Mysia (London, 1892), nos. 973 and 974; L. Anson, Numismata Graeca: Greek Coin-­Types (London, 1916), nos. 968–­972. The only Seleucid Syrian coin known to me with the pentalpha (over a lion passant) is a tetradrachm struck by Seleucus I; G. F. Hill, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Greek Coins of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia (London, 1922), no. 39. [ John Cunnally, email to the editor, April 16, 2018, suggested that the purported Antiochan coins were probably Renaissance forgeries inspired by the Lucian passage. —­Ed.] 25.  The next speaker in the conversation is Marranus, who recounts the story of Constantine’s victory in the battle of the Milvian Bridge under the banner of the cross. Below the marginal drawing of the pentagram is the Chi-­Rho christogram. 26.  Modern Italian distinguishes between the pentacolo (pentacle or five-­pointed star) and the pentagono. But the 1700 edition of the Vocabularia della Crusca still defines the pentagon under the single entry pentacolo. The commentator to Valeriano’s Hieroglyphica (see p. 95 above), Celio Curione, whose additions accompanied the main work from the 1575 edition onward, discusses Valeriano’s pentalpha and Antiochus story under the title “Pentagonum. Salus” (ed. Basel, 1575, LX, p. 438). “The pentagon,” he declares, illustrating the remark with a pentagram, “was the symbol of salus” (“pentagonum salutis symbolum fuisse”). Similarly, Vincenzo Cartari’s Le imagini . . . de i dei de gli antichi (Venice, 1571), the first illustrated edition, p. 91, and all subsequent editions, speaks of the “Segno della Salute in forma di Pentagono,” again using the image of a pentagram. 27.  Idel, introduction to Reuchlin, On the Art of the Kabbalah, pp. xi, xii, and Jones, introduction to Reuchlin, pp. 19–­21 (both above, note 22). In his dedication to Leo X, Reuchlin describes himself as a pythagoras redivivus. 28.  “A Slip of the Tongue in Greeting,” 5; Lucian, vol. 6, Loeb Classical Library, trans. K. Kilburn (Cambridge, MA, 1959), pp. 177, 179. 29.  Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, De occulta philosophia (Cologne, 1533), book II, ch. 27, “Of the Proportions and Measurements of the Human Body,” pp. 160–­62 and, for the illustration and its text, p. 163: “But if on the same center a circle be made by the crown of the head, the arms being let fall so far till the end of the fingers touch the circumference of that circle, and the feet spread abroad in the same circumference, as much as the fingers’ ends are distant from the top of the head; then they divide that circle, which was drawn from the center of the lower belly, into five equale parts, and do constitute a perfect pentagon [pentagonum]; and the heels of the feet, having reference to the navile [navel], make a triangle of equal sides”; trans. John French, Three Books of Occult Philosophy Written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa (London, 1651). Equally interesting is book II, ch. 7 (pp. 111–­12), concerning the number five. Agrippa’s recitation of its virtues constitutes one of his rare excursions into Christianity. “This number also

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has great force in expiation, for in sacred things it repels evil spirits. In natural things it repels poisons. It is said also to be the number of felicity and grace, and it is the seal of the Holy Spirit, and the nexus linking all things; and it is the number of the cross, even of Christ, because of his principal wounds, the marks of which were deemed worthy to preserve even in his glorified body.” The chapter concludes: “In the time of nature, the name of God was invoked by a trigrammaton, the Hebrew word Shadai, written in three letters. In the time of law, the name of God was invoked by a tetragrammaton, ineffable. In the time of grace, the name of God is the utterable pentagrammaton Ihesu.” Agrippa here follows Pico and Reuchlin: the pentagrammaton was created by adding the Hebrew letter sh (shin) in the middle of the tetragrammaton so as to form the miraculous name YHSVH; see Idel, introduction to Reuchlin, On the Art of the Kabbalah (above, note 22), p. xix, with further references. 30. Agrippa, De occulta philosophia, III, ch. 31, p. 276 and p. 277, for the illustration of an encircled pentagram with the letters ҮГЕІА dispersed in an outer circle. See also the facsimile edition, including the initial 1510 manuscript, edited by Karl Nowotny (Graz, 1967). Agrippa’s chapters involving the pentagram were written during his Italian sojourn, 1511–­17; Nowotny, p. 396. 31.  Reuchlin’s Marranus had made the same connection. See note 25 above. 32.  Pierio Valeriano, Hieroglyphica sive de sacris Aegyptiorium literis commentarii (Basel, 1556), XLVII (in later editions, as ch. 31 within the book), fols. 351r–­352r. Valeriano gives no direct credit to Reuchlin for the image or other textual material, but Reuchlin’s name appears at the beginning of the book (along with Horapollo, though not Agrippa) in the list of ancient and modern authors consulted. Note that Agrippa’s pentagram woodcut sets the letters ҮГЕІА in an outer margin, whereas Reuchlin and Valeriano insert them in the interstices of the star. 33.  “Cuius dicti hieroglyphicum . . . pentagrammoque huiusmodi tum in vexillis inposito . . . admirabilem mox est a Galatis victoriam consecutus.” Thanks to John Cunnally for his explication of Lucian’s Greek. 34.  The first illustrated edition of Vincenzo Cartari’s Le imagini . . . de i dei de gli antichi (above, note 26), p. 91, combines the Latin and Greek, with ҮГЕІА written within each triangle of the five-­pointed star and SALUS in the interstices. The pentagram with ҮГЕІА became an enduring symbol. A broadsheet printed in Nuremberg, c. 1647–­55 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, inv. HB6760), is headlined: “A golden jewel which the true Christians of the early Church wore around their necks and on their hearts in commemoration of the Holy Trinity.” The jewel illustrated is the trifons with a triangle. Floating above, left, is a six-­pointed star with ADONAI spelled out at the points; at right, a pentagram with ҮГЕІА in the same arrangement. 35.  “Possum . . . nos in verae salutis significatum accipere quinque Christi vulnera . . . patefactis enim manibus, quae deorsum a lateribus porrigantur, pedibusque ipsis modicum divaricatis,

puncta aequidistantia quatuor assignantur, quintum vero in ipso pectore costas inter: a quibus punctis lineae quinque numero aequales omnes, quae altera in alterius punctis se contingant, pentagrammos faciunt.” 36.  For the symbolism of the wounds on altars, see, for example, William Durandus’s thirteenth-­century treatise Rationale divinorum officiorum, I, 7, 31; IV, 43, 6; VI, 80, 9. On the Stone of Unction, see Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983; 2nd, revised and expanded ed., Chicago, 1996), pp. 162–­63. [On the Gonzagas’s interest in obtaining a piece of the stone and other relics in the 1480s, see Sandrina Bandera, “Lettura del Cristo morto de Andrea Mantegna,” in Andrea Mantegna: Cristo morto (Milan, 2013), p. 56, with reference to Stefano L’Occaso, “Mantova, i Gonzaga, le reliquie di Gerusalemme,” Rendiconti: Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 19 (2008), pp. 695–­726. —­Ed.] 37.  “Quid est altare nisi forma corporis Christi?” in De sacramentis, V, 2, 7, formerly attributed to St. Ambrose, Patrologiae . . . latina, vol. 16, col. 447.

Five My thanks go to two friends for their timely assistance: to Professor Virginia Bush, who listened to the initial idea as it emerged and helped it grow; and to my colleague at Hunter College, the Pontormo scholar Professor Janet Cox-­Rearick, who read an early draft, made welcome suggestions, and handed over to me a wealth of photographic material. [Much literature on Pontormo’s Santa Felicita altarpiece and the decoration of the Capponi Chapel followed the publication of Steinberg’s 1974 essay, some texts offering variant interpretations. Though Steinberg occasionally found some details in this literature to be of interest, he maintained his original interpretation. —­Ed.] 1. For attributional issues of the Evangelist tondi, see Jack Wasserman, “The ‘St. Matthew’ Tondo of the Capponi Chapel in S. Felicita, Florence,” Burlington Magazine, 152 ( January 2010), pp. 12–­17. 2.  Deposizione is the traditional designation (Vasari, Richa, Becherucci, Cox-­Rearick, Freedberg, and others). [The original note below takes the literature through the early 1970s. It is still called a Deposizione in the recent catalogue of an exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, The Cinquecento in Florence: “Modern Manner” and Counter-­Reformation (Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, 2017), cat. I.5. —­Ed.] Fontana explicitly calls it a Kreuzabnahme; Hauser, a Descent from the Cross. In Clapp’s Pontormo monograph (1916), it appears both as a Deposition, which is a narrative moment, and as a Pietà, which is an ahistorical devotional image. Berenson’s “Pietà” of the Florentine Drawings (1903) becomes “Deposition” in his Lists of 1932. Voss (1920), p. 168, calls it a Grabtragung. Forster (1966) credits Doris Wild (Strzygowski Festschrift, 1932, pp. 184–­85) with first recognizing that the picture does not represent a Deposition but a Grabtragung with compositional roots in Meleager sarcophagi. Paatz and Paatz (1941), p. 67, call it Grable-


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gung, the distinction between Tragung and Legung being blurred in the English “Entombment.” Hartt (1969), p. 507, and Shearman (1971), p. 10, see it as an Entombment, the latter complaining that Pontormo scholars “with peculiar tenacity . . . continue to call [it] a Deposition.” But confusion in scholarship usually indicates some real enigma within the work. In the present case, it points to a conception that escapes conventional categories. References: Paolo Fontana, “Die Cappella Barbadori in S. Felicita zu Florenz,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 3, no. 7 (1931), pp. 365–­72; Arnold Hauser, Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art (London, 1965), p. 182; Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo: His Life and Work (New Haven, 1916); Hermann Voss, Die Malerei der Spätrenaissance in Rome und Florenz (Berlin, 1920); Kurt W. Forster, Pontormo (Munich, 1966); Walter and Elisabeth Paatz, Die Kirchen von Florenz, vol. 2 (Frankfurt, 1941); Frederick Hartt, Italian Renaissance Art (New York, 1969); John Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece in S. Felicita (Newcastle-­upon-­ Tyne, 1971). 3. Clapp, Les dessins de Pontormo (Paris, 1914), p. 186. 4. Cox-­ Rearick, “Pontormo’s Drawings for the Destroyed Vault of the Capponi Chapel,” Burlington Magazine, 98 ( January 1956), pp. 17–­18, and, more fully, her Drawings of Pontormo (Cambridge, MA, 1964), nos. 259–­66. For the seventh drawing, see p. 254, note 31, below. 5. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), pp. 3, 10, 11, 17, and 20. 6.  Ibid., p. 14. 7.  Cajetan, “De spasmo gloriosissime Virginis Mariae matris Dei,” in Opuscula: Quaestiones et Quolibeta (Modena, 1529), pp. 52–­54. Cajetan is cited with approval by Molanus in 1570, with further reinforcement from Sts. Ambrose and Anselm; Johannes Molanus, De picturis et imaginibus sacris, IV, 8. Father Benedict M. Ashley, OP, of the Institute of Religion, Houston, Texas, kindly drew my attention to Cajetan’s text and provided the English translation. See also Arnoul Gréban’s Mystère de la Passion (c. 1450), where the Virgin pleads to Christ that “ma triste âme perde toute connaissance durant le temps de votre souffrance.” Christ responds: “Ce ne serait pas à votre honneur . . . en souffrant vous mériterez le laurier du martyre”; Henri Clouard and Robert Leggewie, Anthologie de la littérature française, vol. 1 (New York, 1960), p. 34. Further references to the Virgin’s swoon can be found in Otto von Simson, “Compassio and Co-­Redemptio in Roger van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross,” Art Bulletin, 35 (March 1953), p. 13, nn. 24–­25. 8. Clapp’s description of the Virgin—­“His young mother seated by the roadside, reaches out her hand, uncomprehending”—­ offends Cinquecento theology and belies Pontormo’s rendering; Clapp, Pontormo (above, note 2), p. 48. 9. Forster, Pontormo (above, note 2), p. 59. See his analysis of the composition as a “um ein leeres Zentrum angeordnete Gruppe.” And again (p. 65, quoting from Goethe’s Farbenlehre): “Die leere Mitte schlägt in ein kühles, verschattes Blau um, das

als Farbe ‘auf der negativen Seite der Farbpolarität’ steht, dort ‘wo Beraubung, Schatten, Dunkel, Schwäche, Kälte, Ferne . . . zu finden ist.’ ” 10.  See Giuseppe Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentini, vol. 9 (Florence, 1761), p. 312, for the commemorative inscription citing the change of dedication; also Forster, Pontormo, p. 58, and Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece, p. 8 (both above, note 2). 11.  Cox-­Rearick, Drawings of Pontormo (above, note 4), p. 62, observes that in the Santa Felicita drawings, a “new richness of surface often suggests precedents in sculpture,” and she cites a “relation to Michelangelo’s early Pietà.” Cf. Linda Murray: “The forms of the dead Christ depend ultimately on Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s, but this work was now so well known that it is no evidence for Pontormo’s having visited Rome”; The Late Renaissance and Mannerism (New York, 1967), p. 47. 12.  Pontormo’s debt to Michelangelo tends to be seen too exclusively in stylistic terms. S. J. Freedberg, Painting of the High Renaissance in Rome and Florence (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 535, discussing Pontormo’s maturity in the Felicita period, notes “a profoundly meaningful relation of Jacopo’s art to that of Michelangelo. Then, the component in Pontormo’s Mannerism that depends on Michelangelo serves mostly as a classicizing counterweight to its component of unclassical innovation.” 13. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), p. 11, believes that the work owes its “principal inspiration” to Raphael’s Entombment of 1507—­“a fissured composition that still bothers some of [Raphael’s] admirers.” But, he continues, Raphael’s figure group “falls apart in a way that directly expresses the action. The bearers with the body of Christ move to the left, while the group around the Virgin, who sinks back to the right, is separated by a diagonal caesura. . . . This idea is essentially repeated by Pontormo. In his picture too the two groups around Christ and the Virgin fall apart.” It should be pointed out that the source of this “caesura” motif, known both to Raphael and Pontormo, was Mantegna’s Entombment engraving (fig. 2.31). Its ultimate development, where the very landscape is “fissured,” is Carracci’s Landscape with the Entombment in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. 14.  Pontormo’s conception lingers on in a so-­called Deposition completed in 1565 by his pupil Bronzino (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, inv. 5461). The picture restages the three-­phase motif. Against a Descent from the Cross in the background sits the Madonna, attended by two pious women. She is the Virgin of the Pietà in the moment of separation. At her feet Christ’s dead body appears for a second time—­released both by her own relaxing hold and by the Magdalen at the right letting go of his hand. The half-­nude figure at left who takes up the body—­his fingers touching Christ’s wound—­is clearly an angel, as must be the two lowermost figures at left and right. The “separation” motif probably signifies the birth of Christ’s mystical body. But whatever the theological argument, the sequence visualized, here as in Pontormo’s design, encompasses Deposition, Pietà, and Separation. 15. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), p. 11; the

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window is reproduced in his fig. 4, center. For bibliography on Guillaume de Marcillat, the designer of the window, see Shearman’s n. 11. 16. Hartt, Italian Renaissance Art (above, note 2), p. 507. 17.  See note 14 above for the Bronzino Deposition. For the Jean Mignon after Penni, see Henri Zerner, The School of Fontainebleau: Etchings and Engravings (New York, 1969), no. 30. In the Meditations on the Life of Christ by the Pseudo-­Bonaventura, the Pietà is woven into the historical narrative; ed. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie Green (Princeton, 1961), p. 344. But even here, despite the abundant detail, the actual transition from Mary’s lap to the bearing away of the body remains impressionistic. In the narrative sequence that follows the “My Son, I hold you in my lap dead,” Mary resigns herself to the inevitable, stays her lament and, lastly, makes ready the body. This final preparation for actual burial occurs presumably when the body is laid out on the ground, so that it is from the ground, not directly from Mary’s knees, that the body is lifted to be conveyed to the tomb. The idea of a “severed Pietà” recurs in Luca Penni’s Entombment drawing at Windsor, inv. RCIN 990407, where again an antecedent Pietà is visually implied, even as the corpse is being lowered into the sarcophagus; reprod. in L’École de Fontainebleau, exh. cat. (Paris, Grand Palais, 1972), no. 136. Cf. further no. 81 in the same catalogue—­a Deposition panel in Sainte-­Marguerite, Paris, now attributed to the Rosso follower Charles Dorigny: the seated Madonna has just relinquished the corpse, which is being readied for burial. In these instances the aim is to integrate the Pietà with the historical narrative, to lengthen the temporal sequence, and to heighten the poignancy of the event by implying the separation. 18. Forster, Pontormo (above, note 2), p. 60: “Schwer beginnt die linke Gruppe zu sinken.” And again, p. 63: “Pontormos Grabtragung lastet und sinkt nach unten.” 19. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), p. 22. Shearman later amended his initial idea to suggest that the body was possibly being lowered into Capponi’s burial tomb at the foot of the altar; Shearman, Only Connect: Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance (Princeton, 1992), p. 93. 20. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), believes that Christ’s body is being given an orthogonal axis “not only to bring the body forward to the Father’s benediction from the cupola, but also to bring it forward and down to the altar-­tomb where it will be present in the Eucharist at every Mass.” This seems to conflict with his other notion that the picture shows two “women who will go with the body to the tomb” (p. 14). If the tomb to which the body is being lowered is the slab of the altar, where would these women be going? Shearman also cites Rosso’s Dead Christ Surrounded by Angels (Boston) as a parallel instance of the tomb-­altar equation. But Rosso’s picture, as Shearman observes elsewhere, depicts the moment before Resurrection—­not an Entombment. Pontormo’s altarpiece, then, seems to offer no appropriate context for the tomb-­altar interpretation. 21.  That Pontormo labored over the precise action of the Father’s extended hand is apparent from fig. 5.5 and from its studied

repetitions in fig. 5.6. For authentic gestures of divine benediction in Pontormo’s work, see the vault fresco of God the Father blessing in the Cappella dei Papi, Santa Maria Novella, c. 1515; the resurrected Christ in the Certosa del Galluzzo; the Christ Child in the Madonna and Child with St. John in the Galleria Corsini, Florence; and the figures of God the Father and Christ in the drawings for the choir decoration of San Lorenzo, Cox-­Rearick, Drawings of Pontormo (above, note 4), pls. 345 and 347. 22.  In Leonardo’s instructions for the arrangement of limbs when a figure has to turn, he recommends a counterpoint of body parts, a serpentine pose, wherein the chest changes direction from the head, followed by the remaining joint articulations. Though Leonardo lists these from the bottom up, his artist-­students would, of necessity, have to work in reverse. “When you would represent a man who, for some reason, has to turn backward or to the side, you should not make him move his feet and all the parts of his body on that side on which he moves his head, but you will work by dividing that turning among four articulations, that is, those of the feet, the knees, the hips, and the neck”; A. Philip McMahon, Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting (Princeton, 1956), vol. 1, no. 383; vol. 2, fol. 114r–­v, for the Italian text. Also Edward MacCurdy, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. 2 (ed. New York, 1939), “Precepts of the Painter: Of the Arrangement of the Limbs,” p. 249. 23. Pontormo’s figure recalls—­and was probably meant to recall—­Michelangelo’s God the Father in the Sistine fresco of the Creation of Sun and Moon. In its double appearance, that figure, too, suggests a body moving in clockwise rotation. 24.  For the history of the Allori Trinity, see Umberto Baldini in The Great Age of Fresco: Giotto to Pontormo, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968), p. 228. 25. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), p. 20. An earlier attempt by Pontormo to integrate dome and altarpiece occurred in his chapel decoration at San Ruffillo, painted before 1515. Its famous Madonna and Saints was transferred in 1823 to the Cappella di San Luca of the Santissima Annunziata. But before the destruction of San Ruffillo, the altarpiece was surmounted by a lunette figure of God the Father surrounded by seraphim, and it is surely to this theophany that the ecstatic gaze of the kneeling saint nearest the child is directed: “the saint . . . peers upward, in the direction of God the Father who originally appeared in a lunette above the fresco”; Millard Meiss, The Great Age of Fresco: Discoveries, Recoveries, and Survivals (New York, 1970), p. 200. Only with the divine focus removed, or left unconsidered, does the saint become “consumed by violent and unbeautiful ecstasy, lost in private rapture . . . without concern for measure or decorum in her relation with her fellows or with us”; Freedberg, Painting of the High Renaissance (above, note 12), p. 247. For further examples of cross-­relations between dome and altarpiece during the second and third decades of the Cinquecento, see Juergen Schulz, “Pordenone’s Cupolas,” in Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Art Presented to Anthony Blunt (London, 1967), pp. 44–­50.


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26.  lvdovicvs de capponibvs adhvc in hvmanis / agens et fvtvrae mortis havd immemor sibi / posterisqve posvit. All the inscriptions in the chapel are transcribed by Richa, Notizie istoriche (above, note 10), pp. 312–­13. 27.  On the Throne of Grace, see Otto von Simson, “Über die Bedeutung von Masaccios Trinitätsfresko in S. Maria Novella,” Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 8 (1966), esp. pp. 125ff.; and Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, vol. 2 (Greenwich, CT, 1972), pp. 122–­24. 28.  In the later sixteenth century, the Italian type of the Trinity image is deliberately assimilated to the Pietà—­the dead Christ between the knees of the Father, his yoked arms hung over the Father’s thighs. In such works as Cigoli’s Trinity of 1584 (Santa Croce refectory), or Federico Zuccaro’s Trinity at the Trinità dei Monti, completed 1589, God the Father becomes the visual equivalent of the more familiar Madonna of the Pietà. The interchangeability of the parent figures is strikingly demonstrated in two reliefs by Hans Morinck, a Pietà and a Trinity, both of c. 1600, Karlsruhe, Badisches Landesmuseum; reprod. in Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art (above, note 27), fig. 639, and Le triomphe du maniérisme éuropéen, exh. cat. (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1955), fig. 77. A conceptually related motif of the later sixteenth century shows the dead Christ (that is, not the resurrected Christ) conveyed into the heavens by angels—­for example, El Greco’s Trinity of 1577 in the Prado, or Federico Zuccaro’s drawing, Dead Christ with Angels, Yale University Art Gallery. Pontormo’s image, in our interpretation, represents the opening stage of the journey. 29.  It is not within our competence to decide whether a personal trauma underlies the artist’s conception: Pontormo became fatherless at five; he lost his mother when he was ten. 30. Cf. the awesome study for the croucher’s head, Cox-­ Rearick, Drawings of Pontormo (above, note 4), pl. 262. Earlier Pontormo scholars read such physiognomic expressions not as appropriate to the subject but as evidence of Mannerist style and psychological stress. Luisa Becherucci, for example, speaks of “la torbida ansia acutizzata nel suo spirito.  .  .  . Essa vibra ancora, nell’allucinato sguardo della figura inginocchiata”; Manieristi toscani (Bergamo, 1944), p. 19. 31.  Cox-­Rearick, Drawings of Pontormo (above, note 4), p. 253. In addition to the six drawings here reproduced, Cox-­Rearick cites the fragmentary, unreproducible verso of Uffizi 6686F, which she identifies as a study for God the Father. In her 1956 article she reproduces a drawing in the Victor Bloch Collection, London, identified as a copy, possibly by Jacopo da Empoli, after a lost Pontormo drawing for one of the Patriarchs; “Pontormo’s Drawings” (above, note 4), fig. 16, cf. her 1964 catalogue, no. A217. I suggest that the copyist reversed an original study for the “southeast” Patriarch discussed below, our fig. 5.15. One final drawing, Cox-­Rearick, no. 266, pl. 252, seems more problematic: a nude study for a male figure, seated on the same low-­step support as the other dome figures. The drawing is carefully finished and the sheet squared up; yet it is difficult to place since its sover-

eign posture is appropriate only for God the Father, for which it may have been an early, rejected thought. 32. Shearman, Pontormo’s Altarpiece (above, note 2), pp. 17–­18. 33.  For the liturgy and theology of the Supplices in the Canon of the Roman Mass, see Joseph Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite (New York, 1955), vol. 2, pp. 231ff. 34.  One or both arms yoked over the parent’s thigh is a characteristic posture of the dead Christ in sixteenth-­century Lamentations and Gnadenstuhl representations. Among the earliest instances known to me are Bramantino’s Pietà from San Sepolcro, Milan, in the Ambrosiana, and Dürer’s pen drawing of 1509–­10 in Berlin, catalogued by Winkler as “Christ and the Magdalen”; but a pair of knees, which must be the Virgin’s, appears under the armpits of the dead Christ; Friedrich Winkler, Die Zeichnungen Albrecht Dürers, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1937), no. 474. A striking instance of the single “yoked arm” is the Pietà over Michelangelo’s tomb at Santa Croce, painted by Pontormo’s pupil Naldini. It is surely in prophetic anticipation of the body’s tragic return to the parent that the sleeping Christ Child hangs his arm over the mother’s thigh in a Venetian relief of about 1500 from the workshop of Giovanni Antonio Lascaris (Pyrgoteles); Leo Planiscig, Venezianische Bildhauer der Renaissance (Vienna, 1921), fig. 197. In the seventeenth century, the “yoked arm” can serve typologically for the child Isaac at Abraham’s thigh: thus in the several versions of Abraham and Isaac attributed to Leonhard Kern, c. 1620–­40, and possibly in Rembrandt’s etching of c. 1637, Abraham Caressing Isaac (Hind 148). For the Kern sculptures, see Christian Theuerkauff, “Some Works of Leonhard Kern,” Burlington Magazine, 110 (March 1968), p. 147, figs. 43, 45, 46. 35.  For the child alone, cf. the drawing at the Ashmolean, inv. 521; Paul Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael: With a Complete Catalogue (London, 1983), no. 122r: “The pose of the Child is a deliberate quotation from Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, inserted at a late stage in the development of the composition.” Of the same drawing, Pope-­Hennessy remarked: “Probably the lower part was made from the marble group”; Raphael (London, 1971), p. 200. Raphael evidently saw the Bruges Madonna in Florence shortly before August 1506, when it was shipped to Flanders. I suspect that Raphael’s earliest surviving drawing for the child, and the one most likely to have been drawn directly from the original marble, is the fragmentary sheet in the Vatican (fig. 5.17) in which the head is turned as in the original. But a significant change occurs even in this rapid sketch: the “yoked arm” straightens out as the weight of the child’s body comes down on the right foot. As a result, the bending left leg, instead of hanging back, initiates a new action—­back toward Mary. In the Ashmolean drawing this return is fulfilled by redirecting the head as well. The concept of the child figure—­leaning back between Mary’s knees, arm crossing the chest, left knee bent, right leg extended toward the ground—­still echoes in the Windsor drawing for a Virgin and Child with St. Elizabeth and the infant St. John (inv. RCIN 912738), and in Marcantonio’s engraving, Virgin and

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Child Seated on Clouds (Bartsch 47). The Bruges child appears, unexpectedly, in a Fontainebleau School engraving by the Master I.Q.V. after Primaticcio: Apelles Painting Alexander and Campaspe (Bartsch 2) and another version by Léon Davent; Zerner, The School of Fontainebleau (above, note 17), no. 51. 36.  For a full study of the Crouching Venus, an inventory of its many replicas, and the arguments for its original two-­figure state, see Reinhard Lullies, Die kauernde Aphrodite (Munich, 1954). 37.  While earlier scholars believed that the Venus accroupi was crouching to receive a shower of water, or that the Cupid behind her was soaping her down, and while Lullies has more convincingly argued that the Cupid was holding up a mirror for her, I do not believe that Renaissance artists and humanists entertained such practical interpretations. Their Crouching Venus is rather a woman folded in on herself, ready to bud, about to be awakened by love and to love—­as in Rubens’s Shivering Venus in Antwerp. Marcantonio’s Cupid is surely meant to perform a gesture of rousing or waking. Cf. Botticelli’s London Nativity, where an angel, with a similar gesture, awakens the sleeping Joseph. An interesting parallel is offered by a Holbein design for a medallion on the subject of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert: the mother, posed unmistakably like the Crouching Venus, is being roused from despair by an angel descending upon her from behind; see Michael Jaffé, Renaissance and Baroque Drawings from Chatsworth: A Great Heritage, exh. cat. (Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, 1995), cat. 73d.

Six 1.  Baldassare Castiglione, Il libro del Cortegiano (Venice, 1527), I, 49. For this and the quotation following, see The Book of the Courtier, trans. Charles S. Singleton (New York, 1959), pp. 77–­78. 2. Pliny, Natural History, XXXV, 19, 20, and 77. The passages are quoted in Petrarch’s De remediis utriusque fortunae (1354–­66), englished by Thomas Twyne in 1579 as Phisicke against Fortune; the relevant passage now conveniently published in Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition, 1350–­1450 (Oxford, 1971), p. 55. In the dialogue between Joy and Reason, the latter deplores the madness of princes who paid unreasonable prices for famous paintings: “Neyther was this sufficient, but that they must also apply their owne right handes, which of duety ought to have been busied about greater affayres, unto the exercise of this art, which the most noble Philosophers of all Greece had doone before: Whereby it came to passe, that among you the art of paintyng was esteemed above all handie craftes, as a thyng more neere to the woorke of nature: And among the Grecians, yf ye wyll beleeve Plinie, it was accompted [a first step in] the Liberal Artes. But I let passe these thinges, for that they are in a maner contrary to mine entended brevitie.” 3.  Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke Named the Governour (London, 1531), I, 8, ed. S. E. Lehmberg (London, 1962), pp. 23–­24. 4.  “Since that time, however, the profession of painter has re-

ceived no honor at the hands of men of good birth”; Pliny, Natural History, XXXV, 20. 5.  Hans Rupprich, Dürer, Schriftlicher Nachlass (Berlin, 1956), vol. 1, pp. 325, 327. 6. For a searching discussion of Leonardo’s and Dürer’s thoughts on the nature of artistic creation, see Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, 3rd ed. (Princeton, 1948), vol. 1, pp. 280–­81. 7.  Col. G. F. Young, The Medici (London, 1909), pp. 497, 496. See also, with further sources, Carl Brandon Strehlke, “Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici, and the Palazzo Pazzi,” Bulletin of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 81 (Fall 1985), p. 12 and n. 40; Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence, exh. cat. (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004), cat. 26, esp. p. 114. 8.  Fig. 6.2, presently catalogued as autograph by the Rijksmuseum, is probably a contemporary copy after a lost Pontormo study for the Philadelphia picture. See Janet Cox-­Rearick, The Drawings of Pontormo (Cambridge, MA, 1964), p. 359; Strehlke, “Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici” (above, note 7), p. 5, who proposes that Pontormo, during the sitting, “got the duke to occupy himself by sketching.” Kurt W. Forster, “Probleme um Pontormos Porträtmalerei (I),” Pantheon, 22 (1964), p. 378, seems to accept it as autograph. See also Le dessin italien dans les collections hollandaises, exh. cat. (Paris, Institut Neerlandais, 1962), p. 74. 9.  The loaded iconography of the portrait is set forth in Vasari’s own letter of 1534 to Ottaviano de’ Medici, published in Carl Frey, Il carteggio di Giorgio Vasari (Munich, 1923), pp. 27–­28, and in Paola Barocchi, Vasari Pittore (Milan, 1964), pp. 113–­14. The political ideology behind Medici-­sponsored art is discussed in Kurt W. Forster, “Metaphors of Rule,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 15 (1971), pp. 65–­104. 10.  Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori, ed. G. Milanesi (Florence, 1906), vol. 6, p. 276. 11.  The small portrait had long been presumed lost. It was identified as the painting Vasari described by Christopher Lloyd in Italian Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, 1993), pp. 197–­202. See also Strehlke, Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici (above, note 7), cat. 25. 12.  He was also probably dallying with Taddea’s sister, Ricciarda, according to the historian Francesco Segni; see Strehlke, “Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici,” p. 10 and n. 25, and Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici, p. 114 (both above, note 7). 13.  The light shaft, or possibly an exterior window, originally contained a profile figure that Pontormo covered over; traces of it are now visible. See Strehlke, “Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici,” p. 7 and his fig. 7; and Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici, pp. 40, 43, fig. 39, and n. 22. 14.  The picture conceived as a dependent pole in a vital encounter with the spectator is the theme of other Pontormo portraits—­e.g., the double portrait, Two Men with a Passage from Cicero’s “On Friendship,” 1524, in the Galleria di Palazzo Cini, Venice. The picture as an incomplete situation, interacting with


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real space, is a conception deeply characteristic of Pontormo’s work during these years—­most notably in his masterpiece of the late 1520s, the altarpiece of the Capponi Chapel; see ch. 5. 15. Vasari, Le vite (above, note 10), vol. 6, p. 276. 16.  The murder of Alessandro became a paradigm of the fate of lustful, hypocritical rulers. Thus Robert Burton: they are “often ruined, banished, or murdered by conspiracy of their subjects, as Sardanapalus was, Dionysius, junior, Heliogabalus, Periander, Pisistratus, Tarquinius, Timocrates, Childericus, Appius Claudius, Andronicus, Galeacius Sforsia, Alexander Medices, & c”; The Anatomy of Melancholy, “Democritus to the Reader.” 17.  The letter was first published in relation to the Pontormo portrait by Carlo Carnesecchi, “Sul ritratto d’Alessandro de’ Medici dipinto dal Pontormo,” Rivista d’Arte, 6 (1909), pp. 34–­37; further discussed and republished in Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo: His Life and Work (New Haven, 1916), pp. 170–­71, 280–­82. 18.  Correspondence in the files of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Joseph Rishel of the museum and Irene Konefal of the Johnson Collection kindly made this and other material available to me. 19.  Clapp, “Un ritratto di Alessandro de’ Medici nella raccolta Johnson a Filadelfi,” Rassegna d’Arte, 13 (1913), pp. 63–­66. 20.  Bernard Berenson, Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects, vol. 1, Italian Paintings (Philadelphia, 1913), p. 45, no. 83. 21.  For a detailed technical report, see Mark S. Tucker, Irma Passeri, Ken Sutherland, and Beth A. Price, “Technique and Pontormo’s Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici,” in Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici (above, note 7), pp. 34–­54, p. 48 for the Lisbon copy.

Seven 1.  Grippi’s observation was made in 1958 during a seminar at the Institute of Fine Arts. Although once attributed to Piero Ligoria, the design of the fresco, if not the execution, is now accepted as the work of Salviati. See Luisa Mortari, Francesco Salviati (Rome, 1992), no. 86, p. 139, for a chronology of the attributions and further references. [Steinberg was not convinced by David Summers’s claim that the torso in the Salviati represented the Discobolos rather than the Torso Belvedere; Summers, “Contrapposto: Style and Meaning in Renaissance Art,” Art Bulletin, 59 (September 1977), p. 337. —­Ed.] 2.  Cf. Iris H. Cheney, “Francesco Salviati” (PhD diss., New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, 1963), p. 391: “The executioner, incidentally, is borrowed from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.” 3. Salviati had already adapted a Last Judgment figure for his fresco of the Resurrection in Santa Maria dell’Anima, Rome, 1549–­50, where the soldier at lower left copies, in reverse, Michelangelo’s angel at the bottom of the column in the Flagellation lunette; Mortari, Francesco Salviati (above, note 1), no. 27, p. 118.

In Salviati’s Jason and the Ram drawing in the British Museum, Jason is quoted from the Last Judgment St. Catherine; Mortari, no. 272.

Eight 1.  For artists’ appropriations of other artists’ inventions, see ch. 16. 2.  The first version of the Entombment to come to the attention of El Greco scholars is now known only from a photograph made in 1928 at the request of the Spanish art critic Antonio Méndez Casal (fig. 8.1); the panel, 35 × 28 cm, was then housed in an office of the Madrid Royal Palace, whence it disappeared in 1936, at the start of the Civil War. Fiocco claimed (1951) that Casal had given notice of this work both to him and to Pallucchini as early as 1932. Camón Aznar, who knew of another version in a Seville collection, published the Madrid picture in 1950, believing, as Fiocco did, that it was identical with an Entombment panel then passing through various hands in Switzerland, Germany, and France (see below). As for the photograph of the Madrid panel, both Martin Soria (1954) and Halldor Soehner (1958) accepted it as the record of an authentic El Greco. [Harold Wethey corrected Steinberg’s statement, following earlier scholars, that the Madrid panel had been in a chapel of the Royal Palace; Wethey, “El Greco’s ‘Entombment,’ ” Burlington Magazine, 116 (December 1974), p. 760. The office was that of Manuel Asúa. Fernando Marías, El Greco of Toledo: Painter of the Visible and the Invisible (Toledo, 2014), p. 149, n. 37, suggests that the office was that of his brother, Luis de Asúa Campos, inspector general of the Royal Palace. —­Ed.] Another version of the picture (fig. 8.2), then in a Geneva collection, was published by André Winkler (1949). According to Winkler, the picture had long been known to August L. Mayer, who had intended to publish it. Mayer was interned in Auschwitz, but his letter, written before the war and traveling with the picture, survives: “Se trata de una verdadera joya de la mayor belleza, de esplendidos colores, . . . luminosos como una obra bizantina. . . . El cuadro (0.355 × 0.28), pintado en madera de abeto, debio ejecutarse hacia 1576, es decir, al principio de la estancia del Greco en España.” In 1950, the picture, then in a “Paris, Private Collection,” was reproduced in Pallucchini’s La giovinezza del Tintoretto. The work, of which the author had owned a photograph for ten years, was discussed at length in his article for the Gazette des Beaux-­Arts (submitted in 1950, published in 1952). Pallucchini added that the panel had been studied and authenticated by Mayer. Shortly thereafter, Martin Soria catalogued it among the eighty-­seven paintings assignable to Greco’s Italian and early Toledan periods. Noting that the Paris picture was not identical with the lost Madrid panel, Soria distinguished three separate, apparently autograph, versions. [The Paris panel was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, January 29, 2013, lot 7, from the estate of Giancarlo Baroni. For the intervening owners, see Marías, El Greco of Toledo, p. 137. —­Ed.] Soria’s third version was that slightly smaller panel in the col-

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lection of Count de Ibarra, Seville (28 × 20 cm), which Camón Aznar had previously cited in a one-­line reference (fig. 8.3). “Although of superb quality,” Soria wrote, “it has never been reproduced and I have not been able to obtain a photo of it.” A small reproduction was finally published in Soehner’s essay, where it appears as a “Replik der verlorenen Urfassung?,” collection of the dowager countess of Ybarra. [This panel, now in The Alana Collection, Newark, DE, was sold at Christie’s, New York, April 14, 2016, lot 131; see Guillaume Kientz, Greco, exh. cat. (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2019), cat. 14, pp. 101–3, there dated c. 1570–75, and p. 230 for the earlier provenance; additional provenance discussion in Marías, El Greco of Toledo, p. 137. —­Ed.] The fourth version (Christie’s, London, March 19, 1965, lot 44, 45 × 27.4 cm, from the Anstruther collection, sold to Mr. and Mrs. Fielding Lewis Marshall) has not so far attracted attention (fig. 8.4). According to the Christie’s catalogue entry, “this version, although framed to give an arched top, is, like the others, rectangular: a strip of panel has been added at the top, and the corners painted over.” [See Marías, El Greco of Toledo, pp. 137 and 149, n. 38. The panel was cut down and resold in rectangular format, Bonham’s, March 28, 1974, from Marshall collection; present whereabouts unknown. —­Ed.] References: Giuseppe Fiocco, “Del ‘Greco’ veneziano e di un suo ritratto di Ottavio Farnese,” Arte Veneta, 5 (1951), pp. 117–­18; José Camón Aznar, Dominico Greco (Madrid, 1950), nos. 201, 202, p. 213, and fig. 117 (cf. the 2nd, rev. ed., 1970, nos. 212–­14, p. 235, and fig. 136); André Winkler, “Hallazgo de un Greco,” Insula, no. 44 (August 15, 1949), p. 8; Rodolfo Pallucchini, La giovinezza del Tintoretto (Milan, 1950), fig. 58, and “New Light upon El Greco’s Early Career,” Gazette des Beaux-­Arts, 40 (1952), pp. 47–­56; Martin S. Soria, “Greco’s Italian Period,” Arte Veneta, 8 (1954), p. 221; Halldor Soehner, “Greco in Spanien,” part 1, Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 8 (1957), pp. 126, 132, and fig. 2; part 3, Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 9–­10 (1958–­59), p. 176, nos. 3 and 4; Harold E. Wethey, El Greco and His School (Princeton, 1962), vol. 2, cat. nos. X-­79 to X-­81. The entries for the painting in Karl Ipser, El Greco: Der Maler des christlichen Weltbildes (Berlin, 1960), p. 366, and Tiziana Frati, L’Opera completa del Greco (Milan, 1969), nos. 18a–­b, are both incomplete. Pallucchini’s comments on the Paris version (fig. 8.2) are reiterated in his “Il Greco e Venezia,” in Venezia e l’Oriente, ed. Agostino Pertusi (Venice, 1966), p. 369. 3. [Marías, El Greco of Toledo (above, note 2), cat. 10, p. 138, dates our fig. 8.3, c. 1571–­72, during El Greco’s first years in Rome. Steinberg, as explained later, found reason to date the composition to El Greco’s late Roman years. Referring to the different versions, Marías remarks: “El Greco probably painted more than one version, but we are a long way from solving the problems raised by a sequence of photographs and data from the last ninety years.” —­Ed.] 4.  Soehner, 1957, p. 124: “Die Grablegung entrollt das Thema in bewegter Massenszene, so dass im Kontrast des hingeschleppten Leichnams und der wuchtenden Figuren, wie in den Pathosbe-

wegungen der trauernden Frauen, das furchtbare Drama des Todes Christi aufbricht.” The preceding quotations in the paragraph are from Camón Aznar, 1950, pp. 213 and 1367; Fiocco, p. 118; and Pallucchini, 1952, p. 53. See note 2 above for all references. 5.  Pallucchini, 1952, p. 52, and 1966, p. 369, thought it “derived from Tintoretto.” Soehner, 1957, p. 126, saw a formal device—­“in der Fläche ausgebreitet”—­designed to check recession in depth. Camón Aznar, 1950, p. 213, wrote: “La figura de Cristo se dobla con blandura en un escorzo que permite exhibir una trabajada anatomía, con perfil semita.” See note 2 above for all references. 6.  Cf. the great Prado Trinity, documented 1577: the Christ’s upper body harks back to the Christ of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà, while the lower limbs suggest Michelangelo’s Pietà for Vittoria Colonna. For an El Greco borrowing from the Last Judgment, see Allan Braham, “Two Notes on El Greco and Michelangelo,” Burlington Magazine, 108 ( June 1966), pp. 307–­8. The small Pietàs in Philadelphia and the Hispanic Society, New York, are traditionally related to Michelangelo’s Florentine group. See E. K. Waterhouse, “El Greco’s Italian Period,” Art Studies, 8 (1930), p. 68; Elizabeth Trapier, “El Greco in the Farnese Palace, Rome,” Gazette des Beaux-­Arts, 51 (1958), p. 81; Wethey, 1962 (above, note 2), and “Michelangelo e El Greco,” Palatino, 8 (1964), p. 144. But Earl Rosenthal, in his review of Wethey’s corpus, correctly observes that the relationship is indirect; Rosenthal, Art Bulletin, 45 (December 1963), p. 387. El Greco’s Madonna and Christ seated against a rocky landscape are more immediately taken from another mid-­ sixteenth-­ century composition, often preserved in plaquettes; see Ulrich Middeldorf and Oswald Goetz, Medals and Plaquettes from the Morgenroth Collection (Chicago, 1944), no. 186, and E. W. Braun, Die deutschen Renaissanceplaketten der Sammlung Alfred Walcher  .  .  . in Wien (Vienna, 1918), no. 194. The Morgenroth example is in the AD&A Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, inv. 1964.379, as anonymous, 1550–­1600. 7.  [Both the 2019 Louvre Greco catalogue (above, note 2) and John Marciari, Drawing in Tintoretto's Venice, exh. cat. (New York, Morgan Library & Museum, 2018), p. 175, accept Steinberg's identification of the reoriented El Greco Christ with Michelangelo's Roman Pietà, but without citing the source. —Ed.] 8.  Titian may have returned to raid the Cascina cartoon as late as the 1550s. An unpublished paper, written by my former student Marie Tanner, suggests that the male figure in Titian’s Venus and the Lute Player (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) repeats the nude back view with crowbar or pole at the upper center of the cartoon. Here again, the Michelangelo figure is markedly disconnected; and Titian’s point would have been to convert it, without change of contour or posture, into a model of psychic and formal engagement. 9.  Lorenzo Sabbatini’s altarpiece of the Deposition (fig. 8.9) was placed in the sacristy of St. Peter’s before 1576; Cherubino Alberti’s engraving after the Florentine Pietà, Bartsch 23, dates to the pontificate of Gregory XIII, 1572–­85. Two derivative Pietàs, formerly ascribed to Daniele da Volterra and Taddeo Zuccaro,


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have been tentatively attributed to Scipione Pulzone by Federico Zeri, who dates them in the late 1580s; Zeri, Pittura e Controriforma (Turin, 1957), figs. 80, 81, present whereabouts of both pictures unknown. Taddeo Zuccaro’s study for the Raising of Eutychus (Frangipani Chapel, San Marcello al Corso, Rome, Art Institute of Chicago, inv. 28.196 verso, c. 1558) is one of the earliest known adaptations of the Michelangelo Christ. Imaginative later adaptations occur in the work of Cigoli, Goltzius, Rubens, and others. 10. Giulio Mancini, Considerazioni sulla pittura (1614–­21), ed. Adriana Marucchi and Luigi Salerno (Rome, 1956), vol. 1, pp. 230–­31. Trapier, 1958, and Wethey, 1964 (both above, note 6) would dismiss the Mancini anecdote on the grounds that El Greco’s work clearly reveals him as an admirer of Michelangelo, that he is unlikely to have objected to the nudities in the Last Judgment, and that, being no fresco painter, he could never have offered to repaint the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. It seems to me that El Greco’s boast, if the record of it is authentic, should not be taken in a literal sense but as a high-­spirited provocation. 11.  Pallucchini, 1952 (above, note 2), p. 53. 12.  Since the head in the Entombment appears at the same angle and with the same illumination as the Titian head in the earlier picture, the later likeness was certainly not done from life, hence it does not require us to assume that El Greco made a final return trip to Venice before leaving for Spain.

Nine 1.  The postscript is excerpted from “False Starts, Loose Ends,” a talk delivered at the College Art Association Conference, Philadelphia, February 21, 2002, at the session honoring the author as Distinguished Scholar. The talk was published in the Brooklyn Rail ( June 2006). 2.  For the contemporary documents concerning the chapel, see Walter Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (Princeton, 1955), pp. 183–­86, 310–­13. 3.  This apparently arbitrary constriction seems to have made little sense to Letarouilly. His plan of Santa Maria del Popolo is inaccurate in giving the same width to both parts of the chapel; Letarouilly, Édifices de Rome moderne (Paris, 1874), vol. 3, pl. 233(1). 4.  Leo Bruhns, “Das Motiv der ewigen Anbetung in der römischen Grabplastik des 16., 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts,” Römisches Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, 4 (1940), p. 287. 5.  Ibid. “. . . die Wand in der er haftet gleichsam nach vorne ziehend, den breiten Vorderraum der Kapelle verengend, die statische Raumform in eine dynamische verwandelnd.” 6.  For Tacconi, see Alessandro Brogi, “Innocenzo Tacconi e l’officina classicista: Un’ eredità dilapidata,” Paragone, 46 ( January 1995), pp. 27–­57, and pp. 29–­30 on his work in the Cerasi Chapel. 7.  Giovanni Baglione, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti (Rome, 1642), p. 312: “s. Paolo . . . fu rapito al terzo Cielo.” 8.  Jacob Hess, “The Chronology of the Contarelli Chapel,” Burlington Magazine, 93 ( June 1951), p. 201. See also Arthur von

Schneider, “Zur Stilbildung Caravaggios,” Pantheon, 18 (1936), p. 351. 9. Wolfgang Schöne, Über das Licht in der Malerei (Berlin, 1954), pp. 88ff.; Cennino Cennini, Il libro dell’arte, ch. 9; Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scultura et architettura (Milan, 1584), book 4, ch. 21, p. 238. 10.  The lunette window is partly hidden by the broken gable of the aedicula, as if little light were expected from it in any case. In fact, though the spiral staircase immediately behind the east wall of the chapel is modern, the window always gave on a high-­walled, narrow, and tenebrous court. Cf. Giovanni Maggi’s engraving of Santa Maria del Popolo, published in 1600, which shows the monastery constructions hugging the east end of the church; reprod. in Mariano Armellini, Le chiese di Roma (Rome, 1942), vol. 1, p. 389. 11.  Thus von Schneider, “Zur Stilbildung Caravaggios” (above, note 8), p. 354, sees the Conversion lighted by “das abstrakte Kellerlicht Caravaggios”; or Lionello Venturi: “Qui la luce ha il suo linguaggio spirituale”; Il Caravaggio (Novara, 1951), p. 23. Schöne, Über das Licht in der Malerei (above, note 9), p. 140, n. 294, makes the desperate suggestion that the position of the paintings may have been reversed at some time: “Die heutige Aufstellung der Bekehrung und Kreuzigung Pauli [sic] in der Cerasi-­Kapelle scheint die beiden Bilder vertauscht zu haben”—­for which there is no positive evidence and is definitively refuted by the relation of the paintings to the vault frescoes above. 12. Roger Hinks, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (New York, 1953), p. 44. 13.  Robert Oertel pointed to a similar treatment in Masolino’s frescoes at Castiglione Olona; “Die Frühwerke des Masaccio,” Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft, 7 (1933), pp. 250–­51. In the small baptistry the false ribs and the scenes in the chancel do not receive light from the direction of the windows, but from the God the Father figure in the vaulting above. Again, in the Collegiata (reprod. in Dedalo, 8 [1927/28], p. 231), the six frescoes draw their light not from the choir windows but from the Assunta in the vault of the crossing. “Die Madonna in der Glorie . . . wird als die Quelle alles Lichtes dargestellt.” Strangely enough, this “echt spätgotische Prinzip,” as Oertel called it, turns up again in Rome around 1500. The Pinturicchio (?) frescoes that fill the half-­dome apse of Sant’ Onofrio also receive their light from the God the Father figure in the crown of the vault. Here one could almost be tempted to posit an alternative tradition in Italian fresco decoration. But the Masolino-­Pinturicchio-­Caravaggio succession does not make a convincing series, and the light effects both in Castiglione Olona and at Sant’ Onofrio are so little dramatized that only an art historian, alert to exceptions, would register them. 14.  It follows that what is here advocated cannot be fully substantiated by the monocular image received through the camera lens. Through distortion, loss of apparent size, and absence of color, the obliquely seen paintings in our photographs (figs. 9.8, 9.9) forfeit much of the compelling presence they assert in the autoptic experience.

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15.  [At this point, the 1959 Art Bulletin article reproduced photographs then available from the Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale, taken from above eye level. In 1974, Steinberg had a friend take figs. 9.8 and 9.9 from ground level. —­Ed.] 16. In the oblique view, even certain apparent roughnesses in composition fall away; e.g., the great hole in the center of the Conversion is suddenly filled in a most satisfactory manner by the raised hoof of the horse. 17.  See Maurice E. Cope, “The Venetian Chapel of the Sacrament in the Sixteenth Century” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1965), pp. 132–­33, published in 1979 in the Garland series Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. Of the Last Supper canvas Cope writes: “The full significance of the placement of the table, however, cannot be understood without seeing it in its original location. The painting is on the right wall of the sanctuary of the church, and we are intended to see it from an angle as we approach the altar, not straight on. If we look at it in this way, we discover that the table of the Last Supper, instead of being set at a diagonal, seems to be about perpendicular to our line of sight, and to move far out into the illusionary space opened in the side wall by the painting. In effect, then, we seem to be facing Christ and the disciples rather than looking at them from the side, and, more important, the table seems to be coherent with the architecture of the church—­it parallels the position of the high altar near it.” Cope expanded on the subject in an unpublished talk delivered January 25, 1973, at the College Art Association Conference, New York, “Tintoretto’s Paintings in San Giorgio Maggiore.” [Although Steinberg was here concerned with the late sixteenth century, in the years following the publication of this essay his intuition about the collocation of a painting with its architectural surround led him to Titian’s large canvas of the Presentation of the Virgin, still in situ on the Scuola Grande della Carità (Gallerie dell’Accademia), Venice, and other Titian works. In a lecture on the Presentation delivered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 21, 1965, he discussed the relationship of the painting’s architectural perspective to that of the room and the ideal position Titian conceived for the spectator. The lecture was never published. The transcript and all Steinberg’s research notes are presently at the Getty Research Institute. Giorgio Tagliaferro has studied this material in conjunction with the literature on Titian, Steinberg’s later work, and David Rosand’s 1976 Art Bulletin publication; see his “The Eternal Mystery of the Picture Plane: Leo Steinberg’s Unfinished Study on Titian,” Getty Research Journal, no. 12 (2020), pp. 151–93. —­Ed.] 18.  Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Anamorphoses, où perspectives curieuses (Paris, 1955). 19. Daniele Barbaro, La practica della perspettiva (Venice, 1568), p. 159: “Spesse volite con non meno diletto, che meraviglia si sogliono vedere alcune tavole, o carte di Perspettiva: nelle quali se non è posto l’occhio di chi le mira nel punto determinato, ci appare ogni altra cosa, che quella, che è dipinta, che poi dal suo punto veduta dimostra quello, che è veramente fatto secondo la

intentione del pittore.” Quoted in French translation in Baltrusaitis, Anamorphoses (above, note 18), p. 18. 20. Lomazzo, Trattato dell’arte (above, note 9), book 6, ch. 21. 21. Baltrusaitis, Anamorphoses (above, note 18), pp. 18–­19; pp. 22 and 26 for the seventeenth-­century studies on perspective by Salomon de Caus and Jean-­François Niceron. For Leonardo, see Federico S. Bassoli, “Leonardo da Vinci e l’invenzione delle anamorfosi,” Atti della Società dei naturalisti e matematici di Modena, 69 (1938), pp. 61–­66. Shakespeare too makes an ominous reference to anamorphic images. It occurs in Richard II, act II, scene 2, lines 18–­27, where Bushy tries to assure the queen that her anxiety over “some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb” is groundless: Like perspectives, which, rightly gazed upon, Show nothing but confusion, eyed awry, Distinguish form: so your sweet majesty, Looking awry upon your lord’s departure, Find shapes of grief, more than himself, to wail; Which, look’d on as it is, is nought but shadows Of what it is not. Then, thrice-­gracious queen, More than your lord’s departure weep not: more’s not seen; Or if it be, ’tis with false sorrow’s eye, Which for things true weeps things imaginary. But note that these “perspectives” show true precisely when, and only when, they are “eyed awry.” Thus Bushy’s comparison unwittingly turns against his purpose to justify the queen’s foreboding. 22.  Mary Ann Graeve arrived at a similar conclusion about another of Caravaggio’s works, executed immediately after the completion of the Cerasi commission; “The Stone of Unction in Caravaggio’s Painting for the Chiesa Nuova,” Art Bulletin, 40 (September 1958), p. 225. Of the Vatican Entombment, she writes: “The Virgin, somber and mantled, is very much the key to a mood of requiem. The spectator can best appreciate this if at first he slightly readjusts his point of view. The six figures . . . are turned away from the spectator at a five to ten degree angle, facing the diagonalized edge of their base. Their sculptural three-­ dimensionality makes it easy to imagine oneself walking a step or two to confront them straight-­on. From this standpoint it is evident that the composition would assume the familiar pyramidal shape of a traditional type of Pietà, the Virgin, as always, forming the central axis, her head marking the apex. . . . When considered frontally, the specific relationship of mother and son strikingly resembles the Pietà by Michelangelo in Saint Peter’s, or, reversing the procedure, Michelangelo’s Pietà, photographed from a three-­ quarter view, recalls Caravaggio’s two figures.” 23.  Pietro Bellori, Vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni (Rome, 1672), p. 207, transcription in Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (above, note 2), p. 241. 24.  Bernard Berenson, Caravaggio: His Incongruity and His Fame (London, 1953), p. 65. 25.  Walter Friedlaender, “The Crucifixion of St. Peter: Cara-


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vaggio and Reni,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 8 (1945), pp. 158–­60. 26. Bellori, Vite de’ pittori (above, note 23), p. 213, translation in Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (above, note 2), p. 195. Ludwig Schudt still called the Virgin in the Louvre canvas “die allerdings recht abstossende Hauptfigur”; Caravaggio (Vienna, 1942), p. 25. 27. Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (above, note 2), p. 196. Friedlaender here speaks of the Italian tradition. It is not uncommon in Northern representations to find the bier placed at an oblique angle, e.g., the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (Morgan Library, New York, Ms. M. 917/945, fol. 42r) or the Hugo van der Goes panel in the Groeningemuseum, Bruges. There are, however, precedents closer to Caravaggio: a Death of the Virgin by Taddeo Zuccaro (or Federico or both) in the Pucci Chapel in Santa Trinità dei Monti (left wall of the left transept) also shows the dead Virgin on an obliquely placed bier, as does a sixteenth-­ century Milanese drawing at Windsor, inv. RCIN 905049; A. E. Popham and Johannes Wilde, Italian Drawings at Windsor Castle (London, 1949), fig. 211, p. 363, there with a possible attribution to Cerano. The great Barocci Lamentation in the Bologna Pinacoteca dates from about 1600 and, in the use of the slant and the forward figure, shows similarities to Caravaggio’s Dormition. 28.  Here a further comparison suggests itself with the work of Federico Barocci, like Caravaggio a member of the Oratorian circle and thus subject to the same spiritual influence. To the principle of oblique composition, Barocci adds a high eye level while omitting to justify the raised vantage point by any eminence in the foreground. Hence the spectator looks down into a scene near at hand with no supporting props separating real and fictive space. The effect is again a sense of imminent intrusion, here achieved by stirring the spectator’s sense of gravitation. 29.  In 1597, the relics of the three saints were restored to the church, upon which occasion its new titolare, “il Cardinal Baronio, l’abbelli dentro e fuori con varie pitture”; Ottavio Panciroli, I tesori nascosti nell’alma città di Roma (Rome, 1600), p. 839; ed. 1625, pp. 678–­79. See also Philip Pouncey, “Two Drawings of Cristofano Roncalli,” Burlington Magazine, 94 (December 1952), p. 356. 30.  Pouncey speaks of  “the violent contrasts of light and shade with which Roncalli not very successfully tries to enliven the painting.” It seems to me that these contrasts become somewhat less arbitrary and less violent when the picture is seen in the extended context. 31. Schöne, Über das Licht in der Malerei (above, note 9), p. 142. Prototypes for this treatment must probably be sought in perishable stage designs. 32. A treatment at first sight somewhat similar occurs in Filippo Lippi’s frescoes at Prato. Here the narrow strips of fresco flanking the altar form continuous narratives with the lower scenes on the lateral walls. At the end of the left-­hand wall a figure raises a stone to hurl at St. Stephen, who is shown kneeling around the corner on the altar-­wall fresco; opposite, at the end of the right-­hand wall, a girl holds a charger upon which a heads-

man, painted again on the altar wall, is about to place the head of the Baptist. However, the resultant impression is not that of our own space being traversed, but rather that of a painting bent at an angle, wrapped around an inner corner—­somewhat like the oversize tapestry behind the feasting duc de Berry in the January page of the Très Riches Heures in Chantilly. 33. In their study of Raphael’s tapestries, John White and John Shearman demonstrate subtle shifts in perspective orientation within Raphael’s tapestry cycle; but though individual tapestries address themselves to different points of sight in the chapel, these points of sight are themselves fixed; “Raphael’s Tapestries and Their Cartoons, I and II,” Art Bulletin, 40 (September and December 1958), esp. p. 207. 34. Cf. Rinaldo Mantovano’s Saint Sebastian chapel in Sant’ Andrea, Mantua. Mantovano engaged “the two lateral walls in a single confrontational set. As visitors enter, they see the pincushion saint on the right, bound to a tree. On the left-­hand wall are the archers, aiming, as it were, across the space of the chapel. And the beholder has stumbled into the firing zone. . . . [Mantovano] may have meant to imply, symbolically, that every Christian lives in the line of fire, either siding with, or exposed to, the barbs of Christ’s enemies”; Steinberg, “Some of Hans Haacke’s Works Considered as Fine Art,” in Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, exh. cat., ed. Brian Wallis (New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986), p. 13. 35.  “Quella parola valenthuomo appresso di me vuol dire che sappi far bene dell’arte sua, così un pittore valenthuomo che sappi depingere bene et imitar bene le cose naturali”; from the transcript of the interrogation of Caravaggio, September 13, 1603, in Friedlaender, Caravaggio Studies (above, note 2), p. 276. 36. See the interpretation of the spaces behind the Cornaro family groups in Rudolph Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (London, 1955), p. 29. 37.  It is characteristic that only a late Baroque painter has attempted a comprehensive representation of the chapel; see the eighteenth-­ century painting in the Staatliches Museum Schwerin, reprod. in Wittkower, Bernini, pl. VI, opp. p. 28. 38.  It is beyond the scope of this paper to trace the steps by which sixteenth-­century decorative painting anticipates the Baroque invasion of the spectator’s motor space. Relevant would be those works which dissolve the picture plane and seem to project their forms in front, instead of behind it; crucial would be those which, beginning with Giulio Romano’s inventions in the Palazzo del Te, affect to enclose the spectator’s physical space in illusionistic parentheses. And supremely important would be the remarkable decoration (commissioned before 1553) which Daniele da Volterra designed for the della Rovere chapel in Santa Trinità dei Monti. Here the chapel is crowned by a painted oculus in the vault. The frescoes on the three walls reach down to floor level, and those at the sides, a Massacre of the Innocents at the left and a Presentation of the Virgin opposite, clearly ask beholders to interpret the spaces as continuous with theirs: across a painted

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balustrade—­not unlike that which actually separates chapel from nave—­we are invited to ascend painted stairs which constitute the scenes of action. On the altar wall is a strange version of the Assumption: its witnesses include several contemporaries, notably Michelangelo; while the Apostles, whose feet originally touched the floor of the chapel, are grouped not about a painted sarcophagus but the actual altar. (See Graeve, “The Stone of Unction” [above, note 22], p. 231, for the symbolic equation of altar and tomb.) “E perchè,” says Vasari in his life of Daniele, “il luogo non era capace di tante figure ed egli desiderava di fare in ciò nuova invenzione, finse che l’altare di quella cappella fusse il sepolcro, ed intorno misse gli apostoli, facendo loro posare i piedi in sul piano della cappella, dove comincia l’altare: il quale modo di fare ad alcuni è piaciuto, e ad altri, che sono la maggior e miglior parte non punto”; Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori, ed. G. Milanesi (Florence, 1906), vol. 7, pp. 60–­61. The “novelty” here is surely the precipitation of painted figures into our motor space, for as we join the Apostles in surrounding the altar, our ambit and their elbowroom become one and the same.

Ten 1. Introduction to J. W. Goethe, Italian Journey, 1786–­1788, trans. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (New York, 1968), p. xvi. 2. The St. Petronilla altarpiece, oil on canvas, measures 7.20 × 4.23 m. It is signed, lower right, grego xv pont max / io: franc barberivs centens / faciebat / mdcxxiii. Commissioned for one of the major altars in St. Peter’s in December 1621, the work was probably completed by the spring of 1623. Most of the records of payment are published in Oskar Pollak, Die Kunsttätigkeit unter Urban VIII (Vienna, 1931), vol. 2, pp. 564ff. In 1730, to preserve it from damp, the painting was moved to the Quirinal Palace. Its place over the altar was taken by a fine mosaic copy (fig. 10.8, p. 160) executed by Pietro Paolo Cristofari (1685–­1743). Guercino’s original was among the works of art shipped to Paris in 1797. It was returned to Rome in 1815, and, after a brief stay in the Vatican, deposited in the Galleria Capitolina. Three engravings after the St. Petronilla are known. The earliest is by Nicolas Dorigny (1657–­1746), dedicated to Jules Hardouin Mansart and dated 1700 (fig. 10.9, p. 262). The second—­a classicizing attempt to play down Guercino’s abrupt tonal contrasts—­is by the Swiss Johann Jakob Frey (1681–­1752), dated 1731 (fig. 10.10, p. 263). The third, signed by W. Brown after a drawing by Charles-­Edward Perugini (1839–­1918), is reproduced in Charles Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: Ecole Bolonaise (Paris, 1874), p. 7. 3.  Citations for the above paragraph: Goethe, Italian Journey (above, note 1), p. 118; the eighteenth-­century Windsor inventory is quoted in Denis Mahon, Il Guercino: Catalogo critico dei disegni (Bologna, 1968), p. 94; Blanc, Histoire des peintres (above, note 2), p. 4; Max Semrau, Die Kunst der Barockzeit und des Rokoko

(Esslingen, 1913), p. 163; Hermann Voss in U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, vol. 15 (Leipzig, 1922), p. 217; Karl Künstle, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1926), vol. 1, p. 493; Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, San Pietro in Vaticano (Rome, 1963), vol. 1, p. 107. See also the brief description of the painting in Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. Engelbert Kirschbaum, vol. 8 (Rome, 1976), col. 157. To my knowledge, only Louis Réau has observed the confusion over the subject of Guercino’s altarpiece—­a confusion which he tries, fortunately without success, to settle by fiat. The painting, he writes, “représente non l’Exhumation de la sainte, mais sa Inhumation”; Iconographie de l’art chrétien: Iconographie des saints, vol. 3, 3 (Paris, 1959), p. 1065. One modern scholar entitles the picture, for no apparent reason, “The Martyrdom of St. Petronilla”; Ellis Waterhouse, Italian Baroque Painting (London, 1962), fig. 97. 4. Giovanni Battista Passeri, Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti . . . in Roma (Rome, 1772), p. 377, and Die Künstlerbiographien von Giovanni Battista Passeri, ed. Jacob Hess (Leipzig, 1934), p. 351, “gloria nella quale deve apparire la dolcezza e soavità degli splendori”; Goethe, Italian Journey (above, note 1), p. 118. “dass die himmlische Gruppe Jacob Burckhardt’s objection—­ ausser Verbindung mit der irdischen bleibt und doch zu nahe auf dieselbe drückt”—­is made in Der Cicerone (1855; ed. Leipzig, 1884), p. 839. The later critic is E. J. Richmond, “St. William of Aquitaine by Guercino,” Bulletin of the Rhode Island School of Design, 20 ( July 1932), p. 37. 5.  Cesare Gnudi, introduction to Denis Mahon, Il Guercino: Catalogo critico dei dipinti (Bologna, 1968), p. xxxvii: “Nel gruppo dei due uomini che calano la Santa martire sorretta dalle mani nodose del terzo invisibile becchino calato nella tomba, vi è qualcosa di nuovo, che non si era prima incontrato nell’arte del Guercino . . . vi è qualcosa che, più che altrove, risente dello spirito di Michelangelo da Caravaggio. Né viene sostanzialmente intaccata l’unità stilistica dell’opera, se dalla imminenza grandiosa della realtà, dalla immediatezza umana della parte inferiore si passa alla più atteggiata, idealizzata naturalezza della parte alta, e specie della figura della Santa, di impronta già domenichiana.” 6.  Jacopo Alessandro Calvi, Notizie della vita e delle opere del  . . . Guercino da Cento (Bologna, 1808), p. 19: “io non sò vedere che nobiltà si potesse esigere in un soggetto vulgare, come è quello della sepoltura d’una figlia di un povero Apostolo, anzi parmi che tutto egregiamente corrisponda al soggetto medesimo; il Salvatore poi, e l’Anima della santa hanno gentilezza e nobiltà quanto a quello stile può convenire.” Strangely enough, Mahon recognizes as probably deliberate a similar, if regrettable, change of style in a later Guercino altarpiece. He is discussing the Vision of St. Bruno (1647) in the Bologna Pinacoteca: “La differenza fra la metà superiore del quadro e quella inferiore è, sospettiamo, voluta, e certo contrasta direttamente con le abitudini del giovane Guercino quale vediamo esemplificato da un’ opera come il San Guglielmo. Può darsi che la resa guercinesca di apparizioni celesti in uno stile quasi classico rimanga, per alcuni di noi, difficile da accettare; ma


Figure 10.9. Nicolas Dorigny after Guercino, St. Petronilla, 1700. (See note 2.)

Figure 10.10. Johann Jakob Frey after Guercino, St. Petronilla, 1731. (See note 2.)

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speriamo che a pochi sembri gravoso convenire che è magistrale l’organizzazione armoniosa di forme e colori in tutta la metà inferiore del dipinto”; Mahon, Catalogo critico dei dipinti (above, note 5), pp. 183–­84. 7.  See, for example, Denys Sutton, “Editorial: The Individuality of Guercino,” Apollo, 88 (1968), pp. 323, 325, and 329, describing Guercino as “instinctive,” “unsophisticated,” “a little provincial.” To Donald Posner, the artist was “the provincial from Cento,” and he posits “a critical intelligence that Guercino appears not to have had,” compensating for the deficiency by “a certitude of intuition and practice [that] often rose above intellectual difficulties”; Posner, “The Guercino Exhibition at Bologna,” Burlington Magazine, 110 (November 1968), p. 603, n. 6. In discussing Guercino’s creative process, writers of the past fifty years have been at pains to stress his lack of sophistication. Mahon refers to him as “un giovane niente affatto sofisticato”; Catalogo critico dei dipinti (above, note 5), p. 115. And he speaks of Guercino’s “natural instincts,” or his “instinctive ideas for [a] composition”; Mahon, Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (London, 1947), pp. 107, 101. Cesare Gnudi (in Mahon, Catalogo critico dei dipinti, p. xxxii) calls Guercino “alieno dalla speculazione intellettuale.” 8. Mahon, Catalogo critico dei disegni (above, note 3), cat. 91; Denis Mahon and Nicholas Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle (Cambridge, UK, 1989), cat. 23; and Nicholas Turner, Guercino: Drawings from Windsor Castle, exh. cat. (Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, 1992), cat. 19. Our fig. 10.3 appears in the above works as, respectively, cats. 88, 25, and 21. 9. Cf. the observation made by Donald Posner, referring to two Guercino compositions of 1621, the Taking of Christ (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), and the Incredulity of St. Thomas (London, National Gallery): “Guercino knew what he was about in these two paintings. They are not the spontaneous products of a ‘mostro di natura,’ as Guercino was called by Ludovico Carracci in 1617; they are the creations of a thoughtful mind, inventing different compositional patterns that are expressive of their different subjects”; Posner, “The Guercino Exhibition” (above, note 7), p. 603. Nevertheless, elsewhere in the article, Posner takes a different view of the artist’s intellectual capabilities; see note 7. 10. Passeri, Vite de’ pittori (above, note 4), p. 377. “È dipinto in quel suo stile di tinte, e di costume, che mai non si accomodò ad un certo decoro, e convenienza di nobiltà, ne di forme leggiadre d’attitudini, e di panneggiamenti artificiosi; ma si posò sempre in quella schiettezza del naturale; e spesso più vile.” 11.  Passeri, ibid. Giulio Mancini, Considerazioni sulla pittura, ed. Adriana Marucchi (Rome, 1956), vol. 1, pp. 111 and 245—­ the St. Petronilla altarpiece is mentioned in a marginal comment made after 1621 when the text of the Considerazioni had been completed: “Nel colorito, nell’inventione e nella facilità dell’operare con buon sapere non so chi adesso li passi avanti”; “non è da dubitare che si sia per acquistar durabil gloria.” Luigi Lanzi, Storia pittorica della Italia (1795–­96; 4th ed., Florence, 1822), vol. 5,

p. 107: “alcuni oltramontani lo han chiamato il mago della pittura italiana”; “Quanto poi fosse egregio coloritore ne’ vestiti sul gusto de’ miglior veneti, nel paese, negli accessori, basta vedere la sua S. Petronilla.” Calvi, Notizie (above, note 6), p. 19: “Maraviglioso fu l’incontro ch’ebbe una tale opera, e tutti anche pittori si sentirono rapiti della robustezza incantatrice del colorito guercinesco, talchè si racconta che il Cavalier Giovanni Lanfranco ebbe a dire che quel solo quadro bastava ad atterrire qualunque pittore, nè d’altro si parlava allora per Roma.” 12.  Gaetano Atti, Intorno alla vita e alle opere di Gianfrancesco Barbieri detto Il Guercino da Cento (Rome, 1861), p. 55. Atti’s account of the St. Petronilla, apart from an occasional phrase such as that cited here, is lifted almost verbatim from Calvi. 13. Goethe, Italian Journey (above, note 1), p. 93, writing from Cento, October 17, 1786. 14.  Quoted in Jean Seznec, “Stendhal et les peintres bolonais,” Gazette des Beaux-­Arts, 6th ser., 53 (May–­June 1959), pp. 173–­74. 15.  Francesco Scannelli, Il microcosmo della pittura (1657), ed. G. Giubbini (Milan, 1966), p. 115; Lanzi, Storia pittorica della Italia (above, note 11), p. 107; Calvi, Notizie (above, note 6), p. 18: “E studiasse di rendere ancor più pregevole, e sorprendente il proprio stile, dacchè, oltre il giudizioso ritrovamento, e la grandiosità delle parti ottimamente disposte, oltre l’aggiustato disegno, ed il contrasto delle ombre, e de’ lumi, espresse con maggior precisione le teste, e l’estremità, le colori con vivo e morbido impasto di vera carne, e diede tanta armonia, e tanta altezza alle tinte, che per la forza, e per lo rilievo pare non potersi andare più oltre; e questa è quella che alcuni chiamano sua seconda maniera.” 16.  Matteo Marangoni, “Il ‘vero’ Guercino: Grandezza e decadenza di un artista,” Dedalo, 1 (1920), pp. 17–­40 and 133–­42; reprinted in Marangoni, Arte Barocca (1927; ed. Florence, 1953), p. 76: “Il Guercino ha perduto qui il suo buon gusto misurato. Roma gli ha dato alla testa ed egli ci fa un po’ la figura del bourgeois épaté.” Mahon, Studies (above, note 7), pp. 83–­92: “La Santa Petronilla resta il testo base  .  .  . per leggere i primi sintomi e i primi effetti della crisi.” The author’s conclusions are restated in Mahon, Catalogo critico dei dipinti (above, note 5), pp. 113–­18. For Gnudi, see the introduction to the latter volume, p. xxxii. Against the above, Donald Posner argues (in his review of the Guercino exhibition, cited above, note 7) that the St. Petronilla “does not represent a change in stylistic direction; it continues, farther along now, the path Guercino had already begun to travel in Bologna.” 17. De Rossi’s excavation reports were published in his La Roma sotterranea cristiana, vol. 1 (Rome, 1864), pp. 180, 266–­67, and in “Scoperta della Basilica di S. Petronilla col sepolcro dei martiri Nereo ed Achilleo nel cimitero di Domitilla,” Bollettino di archeologia cristiana, 2nd ser., 5, nos. 1 and 4 (1874), pp. 5–­35, 122–­ 25; 2nd ser., 6, no. 1 (1875), pp. 5–­43; 3rd ser., 3, no. 4 (1878), pp. 125–­46; and 3rd ser., 5, nos. 1 and 4 (1879), pp. 5–­20, 139–­60. The historical Petronilla is further discussed in the following works: J. P. Kirsch, The Catholic Encyclopedia (London, 1911), vol. 11, p. 781, s.v. “Petronilla”; Emile Mâle, “Les chapelles de Sainte Pétronille,” Revue des deux mondes, 43 (1938), pp. 345–­58, reprinted in Mâle,

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Rome et ces vieilles églises (Paris, 1942) and The Early Churches of Rome (Chicago, 1960); C. M. Carpano, Biblioteca Sanctorum (Rome, 1968), vol. 10, cols. 513–­21, s.v. “Petronilla.” The fourth-­ century fresco in the catacomb of Domitilla is reproduced in Mâle’s Early Churches, fig. 23, and in Kirschbaum, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie (above, note 3), col. 158. 18.  The text of the Acts of Peter is published in Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, ed. William Schneemelcher (Philadelphia, 1965), pp. 270 and 276ff. 19.  For the Acts of Nereus and Achilleus, see Richard A. Lipsius, Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden: Ein Beitrag zur altchristlichen Literaturgeschichte (Braunschweig, 1887), pp. 200–­206. In Jacopo da Voragine’s redaction, the story is gently cosmeticized. Petronilla is spared the disfiguring paralysis. The infirmity which God visited upon the girl at her father’s entreaty—­because he judged her too comely of aspect—­is only a fever. To show his disciples that he has it in his power to heal Petronilla, Peter orders his daughter to rise and wait upon them at table. Which service performed, the Apostle orders her back to bed, “and again the fever seized her.” These last two moments are depicted in a panel by Sano di Pietro, p. 158 above. For a retelling of the story in the original form of Marcellus’s letter to Nereus and Achilleus, see Boninus Mombritius, Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum (c. 1479), ed. A. Brunet (Paris, 1910), pp. 366–­67. Mombritius’s version departs from the older sources only in attributing Petronilla’s paralysis not to her father alone, but jointly to “the will of Peter and Paul”—­“ Petronillam bene nostis voluntate Petri et Pauli clinicam factam.” 20.  For the later history of the sarcophagus, and the corrected reading of its inscription, see note 23, below. The original Latin of the Liber Pontificalis is published in Le Liber Pontificalis, ed. L’Abbé L. Duchesne (Paris, 1886), vol. 1, p. 464, no. XCV, the pontificate of Paul I, 757–­67. The passages relating to St. Petronilla read in translation: For this most blessed pontiff, continually carrying out the most salutary precepts of the most holy Pope Stephen, his elder brother and predecessor in the pontificate after his death, joining the priests and all the clergy and all the people of this city of Rome, and officiating in the cemetery where formerly the blessed Petronilla rested, outside the Appian gate, near the second milestone from the city of Rome, whence he moved her venerable and holy body, with the marble sarcophagus in which it had been placed, and which was carved with words reading golden petronilla, daughter most sweet. Wherefore there is no doubt, since those words carved by the very hand of blessed Peter the Apostle were intended to designate his most beloved daughter because of his love for her. And that same sacred body with the aforementioned sarcophagus, his Holiness placed on a new carriage and transported to the church of blessed Peter the Apostle, with hymns and spiritual chants, and he laid that sacred

body in the mausoleum close by the church of blessed Andrew the Apostle, which the aforementioned most blessed Pope Stephen, his brother, while still living, had decreed should become a church in honor of that same holy martyr of Christ, Petronilla. There also he bestowed much adornment in gold and silver and sufficient vestments; and in restoring this same church in honor of Saint Petronilla he adorned it with paintings of rare beauty. 21.  See the text from Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis in the foregoing note. Modern accounts of the events described are contained in the sources cited above, note 17. The exhumation of St. Petronilla appears to be one of the earliest instances of what was to become a major enterprise of the Roman pontiffs. “As the dangers of this lawless period grew, Christians placed their hopes of safety in the intercession of the saints and the power of their relics to avert evil. In 765, Pope Paul I had a large number of catacomb tombs opened and the bodies distributed among the churches of Rome. Shortly afterward began the exodus of these relics, both secretly and with special permits, towards the rest of Europe, chiefly Gaul”; Jean Hubert in Hubert, Jean Porcher, and W. F. Volbach, The Carolingian Renaissance (New York, 1970), p. 54. See also Richard Krautheimer, “The Carolingian Revival of Early Christian Architecture” (1942), in Studies in Early Christian, Medieval, and Renaissance Art (New York, 1969), p. 215: “Beginning with the middle of the eighth century and continuing through the first half of the ninth, Roman relics were brought in increasing numbers from the catacombs into the city.” The author’s note 109 lists a number of translations, commencing “in 752 (or 770) with the transfer of St. Sinforosa and her sons to Sant’ Angelo in Pescheria”; that of St. Petronilla is not mentioned. 22.  Mâle, “Les chapelles de Sainte Pétronille” (above, note 17), p. 351. Mâle’s notion of the translation of St. Petronilla as a kind of family reunion involves one further step. The saint’s sarcophagus was placed in one of two similar fourth-­century mausolea. “L’autre mausolée était devenu lui aussi une chapelle et avait été consacré à saint André. Le rapprochement de ces deux noms, saint André et saint Pétronille, nous fait deviner la pensée des papes. Saint André était le frère de saint Pierre et l’on croyait que saint Pétronille était sa fille. Ainsi, un sentiment délicat avait réuni auprès de l’apôtre ceux qui lui avaient été chers pendant sa vie”; p. 352. 23. Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis (above, note 20), p. 466, n. 5, describes the rediscovery of the sarcophagus: “Le sarcophage de sainte Pétronille fut retrouvé en 1474, à l’occasion d’une restauration de son autel, exécutée aux frais du roi Louis XI. Une lettre adressée à ce prince par le pape Sixte IV mentionne cette découverte. Sixte IV dit que c’était une arche de marbre (arca marmorea) aux quatre angles supérieurs de laquelle étaient sculptés des dauphins. L’inscription fut relevée alors par plusieurs personnes; nous en avons encore une copie exécutée avec soin par l’archéologue P. Sabino. C’est celle que donne le Liber Pontificalis, sauf le nom Aureae que est écrit AVR. (Aureliae).” Duchesne further reports the later dismemberment of Petronilla’s sarcopha-


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gus: “Juste un siècle après, en 1574, les reliques de la sainte furent extraites de son sarcophage et renfermées dans une petite urne de marbre. Quant au sarcophage, il fut débité et employé dans le pavé de l’une des chapelles de la basilique.” See also Kirsch, Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 781, and Carpano, Biblioteca Sanctorum, cols. 516–­17 (both above, note 17). Mâle, “Les chapelles de Sainte Pétronille” (above, note 17), p. 354, discusses the sequel to the fifteenth-­century rediscovery, involving the visit of Charles VIII to the chapel in 1495. 24. The vicissitudes of St. Petronilla’s remains, from the eighth century through the sixteenth century, are documented by Giacomo Grimaldi in Descrizione della basilica antica di S. Pietro in Vaticana, Codex Barberini latino 2733 (Vatican City, 1972). See cap. 57, fols. 54v–­56r, pp. 89–­91, and cap. 61, fol. 59v, p. 93. Cap. 64, fol. 61v, p. 95, includes a drawing of the altar of the Holy Crucifix in Old St. Peter’s bearing the legend: “Exemplum altaris sanctissimi crucifixi unde sacrum corpus sanctae Petronillae virginis in novum templum translatum fuit.” 25.  St. Francis de Sales, preface to the first edition of his Introduction to the Devout Life (1609), trans. J. K. Ryan (New York, 1955), p. 32. The work of Antonio Gallonio (d. 1605) to which St. Francis refers is the Historia delle sante Vergini Romane (Rome, 1591). Gallonio’s brief account of the Petronilla story introduces the heroine polemically as follows (pp. 98–­101): “Petronilla figliuola di San Pietro Apostolo, essendo che figliuole non solamente si chiamano quelle, che secondo la carne sono generate, ma quelle ancora, e molto più, che secondo lo spirito.” The saint’s legend is followed by a lengthy “Avvertimento al Lettore” (pp. 101–­5), wherein Gallonio argues against Petronilla’s natural filiation with the Apostle, evolving the arguments upon which Baronio (see following note) largely relied. E.g., any natural daughter of Peter would have been begotten before his apostolate and, being martyred under Domitian, must then have been at least fifty-­three years old, and more probably sixty-­three. “Come è possible,” asks Gallonio, “che Flacco d’una donna di 53. anni potesse così fortemente innamorarsi?” And again: “Anzi pare, che implichi (perservirmi de’ termini delle schole) contradittione, l’esser fanciulla, straordinariamente bella, & esser di età di 63. anni.” Gallonio justifies his inclusion of St. Petronilla among Roman Virgins on the grounds that she must have belonged to the well-­known house of the Petronii: “Si conferma l’istesso, cioè che Petronilla fosse nobile Romana, e non Hebrea, perchè nella sua historia si racconta, come habbiamo veduto, che Flacco comite la desiderò, & instantemente la domandò per congiungerla seco in matrimonio. Hor come si può credere, ch’un gentil’huomo Romano nobile, e Palatino, che per essere comite havea luogo appresso l’Imperatore in Palazzo, ricercasse con tanta instanza una Hebrea figliuola di vn povero pescatore di niuna stima appresso il mondo, e non più presto una Vergine Romana, nobile, e riccha, conforme allo stato suo?” Art historians may find it of interest that Gallonio, p. 104, makes a physiological observation which Michelangelo had used forty years earlier to explain the youthful appearance of the

Virgin Mother in the St. Peter’s Pietà: “essendo commune alle Vergini il dimostrare assai minor tempo di quello che elle s’habbino.” [Michelangelo’s explanation is discussed in Steinberg, “The Roman Pietà: Michelangelo at Twenty-­Three,” in Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018), pp. 83–­87 and esp. n. 35. —­Ed.] For the rest, Gallonio argues that Petronilla must have died, not before but well after St. Peter, and that the report of St. Peter’s autograph inscription on her sarcophagus is mere fable: “Altro si potrebbe dire, e massime intorno a quell’ epitafio, ma mi son risoluto quivi finire.” 26.  Cesare Baronio, Annales Ecclesiastici (1588–­1607; ed. Venice, 1738), vol. 1, col. 800. 27.  St. Petronilla’s career in the martyrologies is uneven. The most popular of medieval martyrologies, that of Usuard (ninth century), makes no mention of the saint’s relationship to St. Peter: “(31 May) Romae, sanctae Petronillae, quae post multa miracula sanitatum, cum eam quidam comes suo vellet coniugio sociare, tridui inducias postulans, ieiuniis atque orationibus vacans, tertio die mox ut Christi sacramentum accepit emisi spiritum”; Le Martyrologie d’Usuard, ed. Jacques Dubois (Brussels, 1965), pp. 237–­38 and 112. In Mombritius’s Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum text of Marcellus’s epistle (above, note 19), Petronilla’s precise relationship to St. Peter is again left undefined. In the Roman Martyrology compiled for Gregory XIII in 1584 under the editorship of Baronio, the entry is scholarly and carefully referenced—­an account rather of the literary tradition than of purported facts. Even Baronio’s dubitationes are mentioned, and Petronilla’s parentage (“of the holy seed of Peter”) is cited only in a verse received from older authors. There is no reference to Count Flaccus, to his offer of marriage, or the manner of St. Petronilla’s death—­the rediscovery of her body being the one significant datum. The text reads: “Petronillae. a) De eadem Beda, Vsuar. Ado, & Vuandelbert. his versibus: ‘Iampridie Petronilla Petri de germine sancto / Fulgida virgo micat Christi trabeata decore.’ De eius obitu agitur in actis sanctorū Nerei & Achillei. De eius corporis invētione vide in lib. de Rom. Pōt. in Paulo Primo. Cuius autē fidei sit eius historia, consule S. August. lib. contra Adimantū, c. 17. Nonnullas de ea dubitationes disseruimus in Annal. Eccles. Erat olim Romae nomine S. Petronilla coemiterium nobile, in quo Greg. III. Papa anniuersariam statuit stationē, vt constar ex eodē lib. de Rō. Pont. in Greg. III”; Martyrologium Romanum . . . Gregorii XIII Pont. Max. iussu editum . . . Auctore Caesare Baronio Sorano (1584; ed. Rome, 1603), p. 345. Baronio’s philological caution was abandoned in the Martyrologium Romanum revised under Urban VIII and Clement X. The new standard entry reads: “At Rome, St. Petronilla, Virgin, daughter of the blessed Apostle Peter, who refused to wed Flaccus, a nobleman, and accepting three days’ delay for deliberation, spent them in fasting and prayer, and on the third day, after receiving the sacrament of Christ, gave up the ghost”; Martyrologium Romanum Gregorii XIII. Jussu editum Urbani VIII et Clementis X (ed. Rome, 1846), p. 100; englished in Butler’s Lives of the Saints (ed. New York, 1956), p. 434.

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28.  The phrase describing St. Peter’s throne as “nearest to that of heaven” occurs in a letter written by Gregory XV; Ludwig Pastor, The History of the Popes, trans. E. Graf, vol. 27 (London, 1938), p. 244. For minute descriptions of the deconsecration of the altar of the Holy Crucifix ( January 10, 1606), as well as the ceremonial of translation to the present altar in the new basilica, and the text of the indulgence granted to those attending the ceremony, see Grimaldi, Descrizione della basilica (above, note 24), fols. 36r, 37r, 38v, 54v, 57v, 59v–­61v. 29. Words addressed by Pope Paul I to Pepin the Short, quoted in Duchesne, Liber Pontificalis (above, note 20), p. 466, n. 5. 30.  Posner, “The Guercino Exhibition” (above, note 7), p. 603. 31. Mahon, Studies (above, note 7), p. 92. 32.  Cf. Mrs. Jameson: “This great picture exhibits, in a surpassing degree, the merits and defects of Guercino; it is effective, dramatic, deeply and forcibly colored, and arrests attention; on the other hand, it is coarse, crowded, vulgar in sentiment, and repugnant to our better taste”; Sacred and Legendary Art (1848; 3rd ed., Boston, 1857), vol. 1, p. 216. 33.  See Steinberg, “Michelangelo’s Last Judgment as Merciful Heresy,” Art in America, 63 (November–­December 1975), in Michelangelo’s Painting: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2019), pp. 133–­ 34: “Vasari tells us that Christ is seated.  .  .  . seventeenth-­and eighteenth-­century writers  .  .  . saw this same Christ as on his feet. . . . And so Delacroix, too, had him stand. . . . But . . . equally keen-­eyed observers began to see Michelangelo’s Christ moving to rise—­‘rising from his throne with the gesture of an angry Hercules’ (Symonds), or leaping up from it.  .  .  . Finally, those who conceive the moment as an Advent, a Coming, see a Christ ‘advancing with a powerful stride.’ Such differences of opinion proceed less from carelessness in the viewer than from a given ambiguity which the viewer resists.” 34. Again, it is Michelangelo who offers the outstanding model of a dual proportionate system—­through “undercover enlargement”—­within one figure. In the Madonna of the St. Peter’s Pietà, “augmentation begins at her head, a small head enveloped in many layers of drapery. And this superfluity of cloth, rather than the head itself, scales the next phase. Turbulent draperies mask a continuous escalation”; Steinberg, “The Metaphors of Love and Birth in Michelangelo’s Pietàs” (1970), in Michelangelo’s Sculpture (above, note 25), p. 7, and, more extensively, in “The Roman Pietà: Michelangelo at Twenty-­Three” (above, note 25), pp. 80–­81. Guercino may well have studied Michelangelo’s marble group created for the original chapel of St. Petronilla. And that he could paint a head conspicuously underscaled was observed by at least one later painter. Charles-­Nicolas Cochin, speaking of Guercino’s Angel Appearing to Hagar (1652), which he saw and admired in Siena in 1750, notes that “la tête de la femme est trop petite”; Voyage d’Italie (Paris, 1758), vol. 1, p. 229, quoted in Mahon, Catalogo critico dei dipinti (above, note 5), p. 201. Note also that the underscaled head of Guercino’s glorified Petronilla is significantly enlarged (in relation to the rest of her body or to the Ionic volutes at her back) in the Frey engraving of 1731 (fig. 10.10, p. 263).

35. Cf. the seventeenth-­century drawing (fig. 10.11, p. 268) and the mosaic copy by Cristofari (fig. 10.8, p. 160). In the latter, though it is in general remarkably accurate, the trail of the saint’s brocaded mantle, by which her left calf is defined, extends only halfway across the width of the pilaster behind it; in Guercino’s painting, it reaches three-­quarters across. For citations of other copies, see Guercino e le collezioni Capitoline, exh. cat. (Rome, Pinacoteca Capitolina, 1991), pp. 20–­21, and Claudio Strinati and Rossella Vodret, Emilian Classicist Painting from the Collections of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Barberini (Rome, 1999), p. 52. 36. Passeri, Vite de’ pittori (above, note 4), p. 377. 37.  The “tears of St. Peter” refer, of course, to the remorse the Apostle felt over his denial of Christ, not to sorrow over the loss of a child. But the image of the weeping St. Peter was sufficiently well established to be recognizable under alternative circumstances. It had been popularized by the Lagrime di S. Pietro, Luigi Tansillo’s vastly successful 910-­stanza poem, published in its final version in 1585, and followed by numberless paintings. Baronio took the ancient report of St. Peter’s chronically bloodshot eyes to mean “that he had wept much”; Annales Ecclesiastici (above, note 26), col. 800. The “taske of tears” is quoted from Robert Southwell’s “St. Peter’s Complaint.” For the physical type and dress of the mourner in Guercino’s drawing at Copenhagen, cf., for example, Lodovico Carracci’s drawing of St. Peter at Windsor, inv. 2206. 38.  “Behind stands Flaccus with a handkerchief in his hand,” asserts Mrs. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art (above, note 32), p. 216. The figure retained its traditional designation—­“un jeune homme élégant, c’est le fiancé de la morte”—­even for Charles Blanc, Histoire des peintres (above, note 2), p. 4, who describes the scene as an “exhumation.” Blanc failed to reflect that his Flaccus would have had to haunt the cemetery for seven hundred years to be on hand for the disinterment. 39.  The Stendhal passage is quoted above, p. 150. Emile Mâle’s curt description of this “oeuvre romantique,” as he calls our altarpiece—­“ Les chapelles de Sainte Pétronille” (above, note 17), p. 357—­follows Stendhal’s bad example: “La jeune morte, soutenue par des mains sortant de la nuit du tombeau, montre une dernière fois au comte Flaccus son pâle visage.” Yet it is not to the so-­called Flaccus that the saint “shows her face.” What, indeed, would he get to see if he looked straight ahead? Nothing but intervening hindquarters. For a full novelette on the subject of the Flaccus-­Petronilla amour (“Il parla d’abord de sa passion à ses amis,” etc.), see Paul Guérin, Les Petits Bollandistes: Vie des Saints, 7th ed. (Paris, 1888), vol. 6, p. 322. 40. Passeri, Vite de’ pittori (above, note 4), p. 377. Calvi, Notizie (above, note 6), p. 18, and Atti, Intorno alla vita (above, note 12): “Un giovane armigero che sembra guardare il luogo, e tenere addietro la affollata gente curiosa.” 41. Mahon, Catalogo critico dei disegni (above, note 3), p. 95. 42. A paradigm of Guercino’s method is the Copenhagen


Figure 10.11. Anonymous 17th-­century drawing after the St. Petronilla altarpiece. Formerly New York, Seiferheld Gallery,

1960. (See note 35.)

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drawing (fig. 10.7), where crucial features, such as heads and faces, receive massive washes of shadow after having been finely delineated in pen and ink (see especially the second figure at upper left). The progress from precision to adumbration in the working out of the altarpiece thus emerges as a mode of thought characteristic of Guercino’s approach to form and content alike. 43. Pollak, Die Kunsttätigkeit (above, note 2). 44. No uncertainty of destination troubles our reading of moving bodies whose structure is pre-­directed—­an arrow, a bird, or a fish in motion, or a man or horse on the run. But how would a still picture render a crab or an automobile reversing; or indicate the direction of an object that is not moving under its own power, e.g., a pendulum oscillating? Or consider the following questionnaire: In Giotto’s Presentation at Padua, is the child being passed to Simeon or reverting to the Madonna? In Poussin’s Deluge (Louvre), is the infant in the scene at right being handed up to the safety of higher ground, or down to the safety of the boat? Is Minerva in the Marcantonio-­Raphael Judgment of Paris stripping down, or hastening to get dressed after missing the prize? In Pontormo’s Santa Felicita Annunciation, is the Madonna turning toward the angel or back to her lectern? In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco, is the right hand of Christ descending in fulmination, or rising to stay execution? In Picasso’s Minotauromachy etching, is the man at left climbing the ladder or stepping down? And so forth. 45. Pomponius Gauricus, De sculptura (1504), ed. André Chastel and Robert Klein (Geneva, 1969), pp. 198–­99. Pomponius refers to Pliny, Natural History, XXXV, 59. 46. “Le balai, parce qu’elle s’occupait des soins de ménage, quand sa santé le lui permettait”; Guérin, Les Petits Bollandistes (above, note 39), p. 322. 47.  Rudolph Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 1600–­ 1750 (Harmondsworth, 1958), p. 54. 48.  Donald Posner in Julius S. Held and Posner, 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (New York, n.d.), p. 102. The passage continues: “Thus, for the communicant at the altar, the divine vision was united with the mystery of the Mass through the sacrifice of the saint, and belonged at once to the world of painted illusion and miraculous reality.” The conclusion may have seemed too beguiling to admit contradictory data. 49.  Posner’s argument may be salvageable if we try to divert it to metaphor. Taking the event literally, in terms of the mechanics depicted, the saint’s body, whether lowered or raised, lies askew to the plane of the altar. But seen from a distance within the basilica, her supine attitude, extending from head to arm, could be claiming the altar allusively, or symbolically, as her couch. But this notion, that the dead body is to be understood as lying both oblique and parallel to the altar, would be an extreme case of double functioning; it would credit Guercino with a management of ambiguity beyond anything claimed in this paper. 50.  See Pastor, History of the Popes (above, note 28), pp. 223–­ 27, 236–­37, 206–­9.

51. The St. Petronilla altarpiece may be regarded as an initial test case; for I suspect that Guercino’s mental powers have been generally underrated, and that much of the naive late work now passing under his name will be disattributed when our conception of the artist is readjusted. The current conception underlies two lengthy efforts to refute the present paper’s claim that the Petronilla altarpiece is intentionally ambiguous as to the moment depicted, an ambiguity that accords with the saint’s history, papal concerns, and the intended site in St. Peter’s. Denis Mahon and Nicholas Turner, The Drawings of Guercino (above, note 8), pp. 14–­15, allege that the painting can be understood solely on aesthetic grounds: “The explanation attempted here of the development of Guercino’s composition for the Saint Petronilla, in which primary weight is given to artistic and, by extension, to art-­theoretical considerations, contrasts with the hypothesis recently advanced by Leo Steinberg to the effect that other factors, predominantly iconographic and historic, may have been involved.” The rebuff that follows proceeds from an aversion to other criteria. (Some of Mahon and Turner’s arguments had recently appeared in Luigi Salerno, with Denis Mahon, I dipinti del Guercino [Rome, 1988], pp. 174–­76.) Two examples: “The primary purpose” of our fig. 10.3, read above as representing the opening of the tomb, “seems . . . to have been to experiment with the striking idea of figures bending downwards with only the tops of their heads seen by the spectator. . . . Accordingly, what precise action they might be engaged upon . . . would never have been of the first relevance . . . and in fact remains unclear. . . . The evidence . . . seems inconclusive (and not, it must be added, ambiguous in any intentional way).” Deliberate ambiguity is thus reduced to indecision; or, in another instance, strained literalism. The painting cannot depict an exhumation, the authors argue, because of  “the unequivocal emphasis in it of what must be interpreted as Christ’s reception of the saint into heaven, an event which would have occurred long before the translation of her corpse.” But the celestial reception can also be seen as symbolic rather than synchronous, with Petronilla presented in her celestial role as intercessor, an influential saint at court. Mahon and Turner’s sequencing of the drawings for the altarpiece assumes a development toward  “a compositional clarity that was not previously characteristic of Guercino’s work.” That the artist sought such clarity also sways Louise Rice’s extended repudiation in The Altars and Altarpieces of New St. Peter’s: Outfitting the Basilica, 1621–­1666 (Cambridge, UK, 1997), pp. 47–­57 and, contra Steinberg, esp. pp. 176–­77: “[Steinberg’s] reasoning here is labyrinthine and counter to the elegant simplicity of Guercino’s narrative”; and “Guercino’s goal was to convey a simple story simply, and as unambiguously as possible: each of the modifications he introduced can be understood as contributing to the narrative clarity of the whole.” No visual evidence can persuade scholars who prioritize simplicity and formalism that an artist might be otherwise engaged.


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Eleven Peter C. Sutton and Otto Naumann read earlier drafts of this paper and gave liberal criticism, without which the end result would have been far, far worse. For their wise cautions and abundant goodwill I am deeply grateful. And I warmly thank John Walsh of the J. Paul Getty Museum for causing me to rethink a too-­hasty first version.

[Steinberg’s correspondence with John Walsh dates from February to September 1990, after the publication of Walsh’s 1989 article (see note 1). Walsh was then preparing a longer study on the Getty painting, later issued under the title Jan Steen: The Drawing Lesson (see note 2). The two remained in friendly disagreement on several points. —­Ed.]

Figure 11.14. Jan Steen, Scholar in His Study, c. 1658–­60. Prague, Národní Galerie. (See note 2.)

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1.  John Walsh, “Jan Steen’s Drawing Lesson and the Training of Artists,” Source, 8/9 (Summer/Fall 1989), pp. 80–­86. See note 2 for Walsh’s 1996 publication on the painting. 2.  The Prague picture (fig. 11.14) shows a scholar at his desk, oblivious to the presences that attend him. At his right, a grave, ivy-­wreathed boy with an hourglass, backed by a mother of uncertain gender; in a recessed open doorway, a figure of Death about to make off with a weeping child. At the time of the original publication of this essay, only three authors had dealt with what was a little-­known cabinet picture; one, noncommittally; another to claim that the image is closely copied from a Holbein woodcut (which it is not); a third to contrive a literal biographical explanation. For the rest, the Prague Scholar has so far been spared. But the picture is one of the best in Steen’s oeuvre, his most meditative and perhaps most confessional. It is briefly mentioned in John Walsh, Jan Steen: The Drawing Lesson (Los Angeles, 1996), p. 76. [See also Anja J. Sevcík et al., Dutch Paintings of the 17th and 18th Centuries: Illustrated Summary Catalogue (Prague, National Gallery, 2012), no. 410, pp. 419–­20. —­Ed.] 3.  For Steen’s treatment of the “medical” subject, see Peter C. Sutton’s entry on The Doctor’s Visit in “Jan Steen: Comedy and Admonition,” special issue, Bulletin of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 78 (Winter 1982/Spring 1983), pp. 21–­24; Sutton, Masters of Seventeenth-­Century Dutch Genre Painting, exh. cat. (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984), no. 105. See also the pioneering work of S. J. Gudlaugsson, The Comedians in the Work of Jan Steen and His Contemporaries (1945), trans. James Brockway (Soest, 1975), esp. pp. 12–­19. I quote one short paragraph (pp. 15–­16): “It is as though time had stood still for the doctor, since in the stage comedies he was always depicted as a man of yesterday or the day before. Descending from the clouds of his learning, he has difficulty in finding his way to the present. . . . It is usually love, above all other things, which proves to be his Achilles heel.” 4. Lyckle de Vries, Jan Steen: De schilderende Uilenspiegel (Weert, 1976), pp. 13–­14. 5.  Jan Steen: Forty Reproductions  .  .  . of the Artist’s Principal Works, notes on the illustrations by H. E. Van Gelder, trans. G. J. Renier (London, 1927), p. 67. Please overlook the closing inaccuracy—­the Cupid referred to sleeps in a landscape with no corner to peep around. 6.  I quote Hofstede de Groot from the English version of 1908, where the German of the previous year is accurately translated with all errors intact: C. Hofstede de Groot, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. Edward G. Hawke (London, 1908), vol. 1, no. 247. 7.  Jan Steen Tentoonstelling in het Stedelijk Museum “De Lakenhal” te Leiden, exh. cat. (Leiden, 1926), no. 61. 8.  Van Gelder, Jan Steen (above, note 5), p. 61. 9.  The young man with the “pointed features” appears in The Music Master and The Oyster Feast (both National Gallery, London); in Card Players in an Interior, now in the Rose-­Marie and Eijk Van Otterloo collection; and probably in The Cheerful Party

(Mauritshuis, The Hague)—­I refer to the man at the top pouring wine for the artist’s wife. 10.  Abraham Bredius, Jan Steen (Amsterdam, 1927), p. 67. 11.  C. H. de Jonge, Jan Steen (Amsterdam, 1939), pp. 20–­21. The two-­figure Drawing Lesson (fig. 11.4) was formerly in the Nienhuys collection, Bloemendaal and Aerdenhout; on the art market in the late 1980s, it is now in the Van Otterloo collection. See Karel Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen (Rotterdam, 1980), no. 255; more recently, Frederik J. Duparc, Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-­Marie and Eijk Van Otterloo Collection (New Haven, 2011), no. 58, with full bibliography and provenance. 12.  W. R. Valentiner, “Alessandro Vittoria and Michelangelo,” Art Quarterly, 5 (Spring 1942), p. 149. The article, published in Detroit during World War II, remained unknown in Holland for many years: the 1958 Hague exhibition catalogue (see note 13, below) still calls the plaster after Vittoria’s St. Sebastian an Apollo. 13.  P. N. H. Domela Nieuwenhuis, Jan Steen, exh. cat. (The Hague, Mauritshuis, 1958), no. 27. 14.  A happy event occurred in 1964. The Nijmegen museum had mounted an exhibition on “The Artist’s Studio in the Netherlands, 1500–­1800,” and a brief reference to The Drawing Lesson in one of the catalogue essays discovered the Cupid hung from the ceiling; the figure had not previously attracted notice. See G. Th. M. Lemmens, “De schilder in zijn atelier,” in Het Schildersatelier in de Nederlanden 1500–­1800, exh. cat. (Nijmegen, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 1964), p. 17. See also Frank Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (1629–­1667): A Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age (New York, 1974), p. 48, which includes a brief account of Steen’s Drawing Lesson (partly quoted here, pp. 175– 76). We read again that the master is correcting “his eager young student’s work.” Did ever a distracted pupil, profiting from the distraction of scholars, earn so many good marks for attention? 15.  A. A. Moerman, et al., De schilder in zijn wereld, van Jan van Eyck tot van Gogh en Ensor, exh. cat. (Delft, Stedelijk Museum “Het Prinsenhof,” and Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten), 1965, no. 105. 16. Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen (above, note 11), no. 182. 17. For the sake of completeness I cite a one-­sentence reference to The Drawing Lesson (by now in the Getty Museum) from an essay of 1987 by Hessel Miedema: “a charming picture wherein a painter, with a dashing gesture, the palette still in his hand, corrects the drawing of a lovable and evidently well-­to-­do girl, while a younger boy, seated behind a desk, looks on”; Miedema, “Kunstschilders, gilde en academie: Over het problem van de emancipatie van de kunstschilders in de Nordelijke Nederlanden van de 16de en 17de eeuw,” Oud Holland, 101, no. 1 (1987), p. 21. 18.  Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (New York, 1987), ch. 6, esp. p. 403. 19. Walsh’s argument runs in full: “Since there were a few women who worked as professional artists, there were, there-


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fore, women apprentices, but they would not have been dressed like this. She cannot be an apprentice in the usual sense, but instead one of those girls from well-­to-­do families who were sent to painters’ studios to learn to draw and paint as amateurs.” A note at this point refers to the London National Gallery’s Metsu, Young Lady Drawing (but drawing at home!), and to Miedema’s study of guilds and academies (above, note 17). Miedema uses the Getty picture as evidence that professional painters did take on well-­ to-­do amateur pupils. Such young persons, he tells us, would take lessons in drawing “as well as dancing, lute playing, and fencing.” “Fencing,” of course, implies boys, and Miedema does not stop to wonder at the amateur’s sex in the Getty painting. Walsh then argues that “by her willingness to learn the art of painting, this patrician figure serves the purpose of elevating the status of painting itself.” This, to me, seems unconvincing. By ancient and modern custom, the conferral of status was the prerogative of holders of rank and wealth—­of persons who had grace to dispense. So Alexander the Great dignifies art by watching Apelles paint; so the emperor Maximilian visits Dürer; Pope Paul III, “bringing with him eight or ten cardinals” (Vasari), comes down to the old meat market near Trajan’s Forum to admire Michelangelo’s Moses; Emperor Rudolph II makes daily trips to Spranger’s studio in Prague; and the Grand Duke of Tuscany (according to Houbraken) calls on van Mieris in his Leiden studio. Such accolades from the august were indeed felt to ennoble the art of painting. But if in mid-­ seventeenth-­century Holland the ennobling power could be exercised by a nameless girl, would not this prove the rising status of girlhood rather than the elevation of art? Could one argue analogously that the “patrician figure” of a young girl allowing her pulse to be taken by one of Steen’s doctors thereby elevates the status of medicine? If Steen thought of vesting the prerogative of preferment in a slip of a girl, we would still have to ask, why a girl? 20. Valentiner, “Alessandro Vittoria and Michelangelo” (above, note 12), p. 150. The article performed various other services. Having recognized the Sebastian figure in Veronese, Steen, and elsewhere (see note 21, below), Valentiner went on to identify the two long-­lost bronze replicas spoken of in Vittoria’s diary and last will; of which the earlier (1566) had been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1940 (fig. 11.6). The later variant (1575) eventually passed from the New York art market to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A word more on W. R. Valentiner—­renowned museum curator, director, and Rembrandt specialist—­through an anecdote illustrative of his immense reputation, not perhaps wholly compatible with the sobriety of the present paper, yet a deserving piece of art historical lore. I had it in the 1960s from Hyatt Mayor as he reminisced about William M. Ivins Jr., his mentor in the Metropolitan Museum’s department of prints. At a New York party of museum types, it was proposed that each guest compose a verse on the subject of museal activities. Ivins’s entry, not hitherto published so far as I know, went as follows: As the picture got cleaner and cleaner, The expression got meaner and meaner.

Until Rembrandt van Rijn said, “I don’t think it’s mine, But you’d better ask Valentiner.” (I have always believed that Ivins had a particular picture in mind—­The Feast of Esther at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, which Valentiner, the museum’s director in 1956, had catalogued as a Rembrandt. By the 1960s, it was being reassigned to Jan Lievens, where it now remains.) 21.  I learned as a student that you are not a proper scholar until you have published a sentence beginning, “It has not been previously observed that . . .” A few years ago, visiting the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, I thought my moment had come: one of the musical still lifes of Evaristo Baschenis (fig. 11.7; another is in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv. 2688) included a tabled bronze statuette—­the very figure that preens in Steen’s Drawing Lesson. Imagine my consternation when, reading the Valentiner article, I found the author making the same observation in 1942. However, it has not been previously observed that Vittoria’s St. Sebastian also figures in a Veronese drawing (fig. 11.15) and in Gabriel Metsu’s Young Painter Playing the Flute, reprod. in H.-­J. Raupp, “Musik im Atelier: Darstellungen musizierender Künstler in der niederländischen Malerei . . . ,” Oud Holland, 92, no. 2 (1978), fig. 8; see also Palma Giovane’s Portrait of a Collector (City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK). 22.  Careful scrutiny of the drawing viewed upside down reveals a male nude, standing with right knee flexed—­evidently intended to represent the statuette on the table. But who drew it? Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (above, note 14), p. 48, and Miedema, “Kunstschilders” (above, note 17), p. 21, assume that the drawing is the girl’s work. Walsh, “Jan Steen’s Drawing Lesson” (above, note 1), p. 82, believes that it was done by the boy. 23.  Steen is good at conveying the psychological state of attention. A poignant example is the watchfulness of the old couple, Tobit and Anna, as their eyes follow the notary’s quill drafting their son’s marriage contract in The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah, c. 1667–­68, Herzog Anton-­Ulrich-­Museum, Braunschweig. In another picture, Twelfth-­Night Feast, 1662, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the sharp little voyeur in the lower left corner (apparently the same child as the apprentice in The Drawing Lesson, but younger by some four years) leaves little doubt as to his focus. 24.  Awareness of compositional vectors as guidelines to narrative meaning distinguishes Robert Keyszelitz’s “Der ‘clavis interpretandi’ in der holländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts” (PhD diss., Munich, Ludwig-­ Maximilians-­ Universität, 1956), pp. 57, 60. But the work was written before formalism fell into disrepute. 25.  Inattention without special focus might have been effectively dramatized in yet other ways: suppose Steen had introduced a puppy into the picture and made the girl stroke it. Such a motif, so far from inviting a prurient analysis, would have enabled an astute modern scholar to argue that Steen, under cover

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of genre, was alluding to the most trenchant instantiation of culpable inattention—­Judas at the Last Supper feeding a cur under the table. Just so, in The Drawing Lesson, at the very moment when the sacrament of instruction is being administered, the girl would be betraying her master’s trust by caressing the pet. Unfortunately, Steen failed to include this motif, so that a promising feat of Panofskian exegesis is thwarted. 26.  For a later representation of jolted innocence, see Hogarth’s engraving The Enraged Musician (Paulson 158): a cacophonous street scene outside a despairing violinist’s window, and under it a small girl stunned by the sight of a little boy in proud micturition. A similar drama, enacted by good-­humored adults, is staged in a Steen drawing in the Albertina, inv. 10140, Cheerful Company in the Arbor of an Inn; Walter Bernt, Die niederländischen Zeichner des 17. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1958), no. 548. The sight of animal copulation as disturber of young female innocence is the subject of a painting by Steen’s contemporary Jan Baptist Weenix, in 1990 with Haboldt & Co., Paris, Tableaux anciens des Écoles du nord,

françaises et italiennes, reprod. as cat. 16; also Frederick Duparc and Linda Graif, Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age, exh. cat. (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1990), fig. 67. The picture, brought to my attention by Otto Naumann, formerly bore the title “Innocence Alarmed.” 27.  The black stylus in the young man’s right hand could indicate that he draws; but then the Dou picture in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, inv. 1704, has a like-­looking model holding a quill, yet this work too is entitled The Painter in His Studio. Here again the furnishings do not suggest an artist’s place, and I doubt that either picture intends to specify the painter’s métier. 28.  As another instance of interaction with sculpture, I cite a later Dutch picture by Johannes Voorhout (1647–­1723). It is exhibited at the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts—­with apologies for its defective condition, especially in the woman’s face, which is broadly and badly repainted (fig. 11.16). The museum’s title is Still Life and a Woman at an Easel. But I suspect a plot and a sexist slur aimed at the female painter. Unfortunately,

Figure 11.15. Paolo Veronese, sheet of studies

Figure 11.16. Johannes Voorhout, Still Life and a Woman at an Easel, 1690s. Worcester

with Charity and St. Sebastian, detail. Sotheby’s, London, June 26, 1969. (See note 21.)

(MA) Art Museum; Museum purchase. (See note 28.)


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the spatial relations among the component elements are so awkwardly stated that we are hard put to judge the size of the Hercules statue or its location with respect to the painter and her canvas or panel. What does come through is the locus (“in chief,” as they say in heraldry) of Hercules’ genitals; and the comic effect of his sidelong leer, ogling his watcher. How she responded we no longer know—­the repainting took care of that. But I sense a cheap shot, a man’s comment on the supposed incongruity of a woman artist studious of blatant virility. 29.  Concerning her drawing tool: “sharpening her pencil (Bleistift),” said Hofstede de Groot, Catalogue Raisonné (above, note 6), no. 247; “her charcoal,” wrote Van Gelder, Jan Steen (above, note 5), p. 61; “a chalk,” says Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (above, note 14), p. 82, n. 84; “cutting a pen,” says Walsh, “Jan Steen’s Drawing Lesson” (above, note 1), p. 84. 30.  Walsh, p. 83, sees the ox in Steen’s picture as a homely allusion to the heraldic beast of St. Luke and points to the similar creature in the background of Guercino’s St. Luke (1652, Nelson-­Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City). In his Jan Steen (above, note 2), he also suggests an “unknown variant of the famous terra-­cotta cow by Adriaen van de Velde” (his fig. 58, Louvre, inv. R.F. 1161). The association of Steen’s ox with a van de Velde cow had appeared in the literature in 1958 (Nieuwenhuis, Jan Steen, above, note 13) and was thereafter repeated, down to Sjraar van Heugten in Meesterlikj Vee: Nederlandse veeschilders 1600–­1900, exh. cat. (Dordrechts Museum, 1990), p. 27, fig. 22, reproducing the 5-­inch-­high Louvre terracotta. The Louvre, however, now attributes the work to an anonymous Northern Netherlandish artist, mid-­seventeenth century. The base bears the inscription “Adriaan Van den Velde fecit 1659,” but this may have been added later. The sculpture is first mentioned in an 1814 Paris sale as having been modeled by Van de Velde. [See now http:// tice=2761&langue=en. —­Ed.] 31.  The ideal type form of the human foot as used for demonstration in artists’ studios is male—­broad soled, lean, and bony, exhibiting surface veins, muscles, and tendons—­see the foot resting on a high shelf in Pier Francesco Alberti’s etching Academia d’ Pitori (1600–­38, Bartsch 1). The type of the female foot in seventeenth-­century painting and sculpture is narrower and characterized by an adipose layer that softens the instep’s contour to produce a continuous smooth swell—­exactly as in Steen’s picture. As an academy item, the female foot differs from the male counterpart no less than the female hand does, a point on which Van Mander insists. The penultimate section of chapter 3 of his Schilder-­Const (1604) states it as follows: “In women there must be no hardness in the rendering of muscles; they must merge gradually. . . . Women have soft flesh with little folds and puckers, and dimples on their hands like children.” This last assertion comes not from observation of real women. It restates a formal convention, and a glance at the hands of Madonnas in paintings by Roger, Memling, or Massys gives us Van Mander’s source: though exquisitely thin, these hands show dimples instead of

knuckles at the proximal finger joints. Among the Mannerists of Van Mander’s own generation, dimples on women’s hands are de rigueur. Nor are they uncommon as a mark of femininity in other art or, later, as a literary device. In Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Ichabod Crane is riding to the Van Tassel farm seeking the hand of Katrina van Tassel. “And anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the bee-­hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.” I propose a test question: name the late seventeenth-­and eighteenth-­century sculptors who carved dimples at the springing of ladies’ toes. 32. Robinson, Gabriel Metsu (above, note 14), p. 49. 33.  Walsh, “Jan Steen’s Drawing Lesson” (above, note 1), p. 83. 34.  Cf. André Chastel on the clutter of objects in David Bailly’s Vanitas with Self-­Portrait, 1651, Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden: “La tension ‘morale’ a disparu; le répertoire des vanités n’est qu’une modalité de la peinture”; Chastel, “Glorieuses ‘vanités,’ ” in Les Vanités dans la peinture au XVIIe siècle, exh. cat. (Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, 1990), p. 15, reprod. p. 219. 35.  For the matter summarized in this paragraph I am wholly indebted to Raupp’s amply illustrated article “Musik im Atelier” (above, note 21), pp. 106–­28. 36.  Reprod. in Baruch D. Kirschenbaum, The Religious and Historical Paintings of Jan Steen (London, 1977), fig. 79 and pp. 128–­29 for attribution issues. 37. Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches (above, note 18), p. 391. 38.  Sutton, “The Life and Art of Jan Steen,” in “Jan Steen: Comedy and Admonition” (above, note 3), p. 3. Unlike Sutton, who itemizes precisely the personae Steen adopts in his pictures, Kirschenbaum—­mistakenly, I believe—­thinks of Steen’s self-­ projection as indiscriminate: “Of all the stock figures that Steen uses, there is none more ubiquitous than himself. . . . Under thin disguise the artist participates in his own narrative. . . . it is as if Steen could not leave himself out of the flow of human life he depicted”; Kirschenbaum, The Religious and Historical Paintings (above, note 36), p. 84. 39.  Samuel van Hoogstraten, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (1641; ed. Rotterdam, 1678), pp. 109–­10; quoted in H.-­J. Raupp, “Ansätze zu einer Theorie der Genremalerei in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 46, no. 4 (1983), p. 404 and n. 12. Anguier, Falconet, Clodion


Twelve 1.  See Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, and Julián Gállego, Velázquez, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989), cat. 1. 2.  Auguste Bréal, Velázquez (1904; English translation, London, 1905), pp. 33, 28, 186. 3.  [For the absence of a skilled, flourishing Spanish printmak-

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ing industry, we have only to look at El Greco's efforts to disseminate his paintings through prints. Beginning in 1605, from his base in Toledo, he hired locals to engrave his compositions. Compared to Northern prints, the results are well-intentioned but graphically naive. See the two engravings by Diego de Astor in Guillaume Kientz, Greco, exh. cat. (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2019), cats. 67 and 68. —Ed.] 4.  The relationship of Velázquez’s painting to van de Velde’s etching as well as the relevance of Martial was first adduced in Steinberg, review of Velázquez, by López-­Rey, Art Bulletin, 47 ( June 1965), pp. 279–­80. 5. Bréal, Velázquez (above, note 2), pp. 28, 31. 6. Richard Spear, Caravaggio and His Followers, exh. cat. (Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971), p. 19; reprinted in Spear, From Caravaggio to Artemisia: Essays on Painting in Seventeenth-­Century Italy and France (London, 2002), p. 39. 7.  Mateo Alemán, Guzmán de Alfarache (1599); translated as The Spanish Rogue, or The Life of Guzmán de Alfarache (London, 1685), part 1, pp. 16, 17. 8.  Lodovico Domenichi, Detti e fatti di diversi signore . . . chiamo Facetie, Motti & Burle (1562 and several later editions); modern edition, Domenichi, Facezie, ed. Giovanni Fabris (Rome, 1923), p. 129, no. 297. In Domenichi’s tale, a young man eats a hatchling egg in a tavern and is urged by his companion to remain silent, lest the host charge extra. For a variant, see Juan de Timoneda, Buen aviso y portacuentos: El sobremesa y alivio de caminantes (1564), II, no. 38. 9.  See, for example, Bronzino, Portrait of an Elderly Woman, c. 1540, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Heemskerck’s portraits of Sophia van Amerongen, c. 1550, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, inv. 0120; Giovanni Battista Moroni, Lucrezia Agliardi Vertova, 1557, who founded a convent and became its abbess upon her husband’s death, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Clouet’s Catherine de’ Medici, 1559, among many versions, Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, and Paris, Musée Carnavalet; Bartolomeo Passarotti, Portrait of an Elderly Woman, c. 1582, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. For elderly women in conjunction with prescriptive texts on the stages of female life, the sanctification of female old age, and as exemplars of wise and virtuous behavior, see Erin J. Campbell, “Prophets, Saints, and Matriarchs: Portraits of Old Women in Early Modern Italy,” Renaissance Quarterly, 63 (Fall 2010), pp. 807–­49. 10.  Among many other examples, Guido Reni’s portrait of an elderly woman, thought to be his mother, c. 1610–­12, in the Bologna Pinacoteca, inv. 338. The proliferation of such portraits may in part be due to post-­Tridentine prescriptions for honesty in portraiture. In book 2, ch. 20, of Discorso intorno alle imagini sacre e profane (1582), Gabriele Paleotti, cardinal and archbishop of Bologna, offers guidelines for portraitists: “And since they are called portraits from nature, care must be taken that neither the face nor any other part of the body is made more handsome or more

grave or different in any other way from what nature allowed at that age. Indeed, even if there were natural or accidental defects that marred appearance, not even these should be left out.” [trans. William McCuaig, Discourse on Sacred and Profane Images: Gabriele Paleotti (Los Angeles, 2012), p. 206. —­Ed.]

Thirteen 1.  Several years after the first publication of this text, Julián Gállego also suggested that the painting represents the Three Ages of Man; Gállego, Velázquez en Sevilla (Seville, 1974), p. 132. See also Jonathan Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier (New Haven, 1986), p. 285, n. 32.

Fourteen 1.  Letter to Baudelaire, September 14, 1865, quoted in Gary Tinterow and Henri Loyette, Origins of Impressionism, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994), p. 313. Letter to Fantin-­Latour, English translation in Artists on Art from the XIV to the XX Century, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves (New York, 1945), p. 303. Manet was in Spain late August–­early September 1865. 2.  Nor could Manet accept such a distinction in the Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet) of 1865–­66 at the National Gallery of Art. The floor is still differentiated from the rising background, and the point of the sword as well as the cast shadow don’t connect; flatness and illusion remain unreconciled. For the generally accepted view that the painting was begun after Manet’s return from Spain, see Theodore Reff, Manet and Modern Paris, exh. cat. (Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, 1982), cat. 27; Charles S. Moffet in Françoise Cochin, Moffett, and Juliet Bareau, Manet, 1832–­1883, exh. cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983), cat. 89. 3. There is a suggestion of the multiple viewer in Manet’s Dead Toreador in Washington, where the distinction between wall and floor seems nearly obliterated, though there is a slight shift in color from light to dark at lower right. The painting, however, is a salvaged fragment from a larger bullfight composition, exhibited (and panned) at the 1864 Salon. Manet probably cut up the painting after his return from Spain and then reworked the Dead Toreador, among other things, changing the background color from yellow tan to olive green. There is here, as there was not in Le fifre or the Valladolid copy, a sense of all-­space which, when combined with the drastic foreshortening, negates an address to a single vantage point. One sees the toreador with the eyes of an audience. For the literature on the Manet, see Reff, Manet and Modern Paris, cat. 77, and Moffett in Cochin, Moffett, and Bareau, Manet, 1832–­1883, cat. 73, esp. p. 196 (both above, note 2).

Fifteen 1.  Foucault’s “Les Suivantes” is the first chapter of his Les mots et les choses (Paris, 1966; translated as The Order of Things, New York, 1973). Along with a letter dated November 15, 1966, An-


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nette Michelson sent me the book—­“not solely for what it may propose in its non-­art-­historical way concerning Velázquez, but simply because it is the work of one of the most interesting people now thinking and writing.” That I never acknowledged her gift is one of my shabbier misdemeanors—­for which I take this occasion to offer apology. 2.  See Kenneth Clark, Looking at Pictures (New York, 1960), pp. 31ff. 3.  John R. Searle, “Las Meninas and the Paradoxes of Pictorial Representation,” Critical Inquiry, 6 (Spring 1980), pp. 477–­ 88; Joel Snyder and Ted Cohen, “Critical Response: Reflexions on Las Meninas: Paradox Lost,” Critical Inquiry, 7 (Winter 1980), pp. 429–­47. 4.  Having established the absolute geometric certainty of the perspectival viewpoint (which makes it impossible for the mirror to reflect the royal couple directly), Snyder and Cohen concede, in their envoi, that the picture allows, even encourages, precisely this “mistaken opinion.” They suggest that the viewer is meant to realize the mistake in a “further realization.” But this is not how a picture works. If two readings are allowed, then both are effectively present and ambiguously meant. I suspect that Snyder and Cohen would not disagree. 5.  See Steinberg, “Pontormo’s Alessandro de’ Medici; or, I Only Have Eyes for You,” ch. 6 above. 6.  The painter depicted is not Floris but his colleague in the Antwerp Guild, Rijkaert Aertsz, as Van Mander noted. [The reasons for Floris’s portrayal of Aertsz in the guise of St. Luke, as well as the iconographic tradition of representing the sacred model, are ably elucidated in Bram de Klerck, “Short-­Sighted? Rijkaert Aertsz Portraying the Virgin in a Painting by Frans Floris,” Oud Holland, 124, no. 2/3 (2011), pp. 65–­80. —­Ed.] 7.  Juan Downey, The Looking Glass (1981), VHS. 8.  The former alternative was espoused in 1961 by the Madrid cartoonist Mingote (fig. 15.4). Some serious art historians remain similarly convinced that the “narrative” of Las Meninas can be rationally reconstructed; see the quotation adduced in Snyder and Cohen, “Critical Response” (above, note 3), pp. 432–­33. 9.  For the slumbering pet as a traditional index of tranquility, see p. 206 above. 10.  The question has been asked whether double portraits figure in the Spanish tradition of royal portraiture. The answer is positive. Apart from Titian’s half-­length Charles V with the late Isabella of Portugal (Rubens copy, Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba), we have record that Alonso Cano’s first royal commission, after his appointment at court in 1638, was for a double portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella; see Harold E. Wethey, Alonso Cano (Princeton, 1955), p. 18. Further, beyond Spain: Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria (1632), now in the Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens, Kromeríž, Czech Republic. Early Burgundian portraits of dukes and duchesses are discussed in Wolfgang Stechow, “Some Thoughts on Rubens as a Copyist of Portraits, 1610–­1620,” in Rubens before 1620, ed. John Rupert Martin (Princeton, 1972), pp. 23–­44.

11.  Several passages in Baltasar Gracián’s El Criticón (1651–­57) indicate that self-­recognition by way of encounter would have been in Velázquez’s world a familiar notion. In the opening chapter of this sagacious allegorical novel, Gracián’s hero Andrenio, who has grown up on a desert island and has never before seen a fellow man, speaks thus to the shipwrecked Critilo: “You, Critilo, ask who I am, yet this is what I desire to learn of you; you are the first man I have seen till this day, and in you I find myself more vividly imaged than in the mute crystal springs which my curiosity often besought and my ignorance recommended.” (Gracián knew Velázquez and regarded him as the foremost of modern painters.) 12.  [The title of Steinberg’s fifth Norton Lecture, delivered at Harvard, April 3, 1996, the series entitled “The Mute Image and the Meddling Text.” The lecture evolved from a spring 1985 course on Velázquez at the University of Pennsylvania, a colloquium there on November 16, 1990, and a lecture at the New York Studio School, “Me and Velázquez,” December 1, 1993. In 2004, Steinberg decided not to consider any publication of the entire Norton Lecture, some of it having been published in 1981, the rest overlong and himself disinclined to enter the controversies in the subsequent literature. The parts published here represent the core of Steinberg’s interpretation, with later references added, following his notes. —­Ed.] 13.  Later published in Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier (New Haven, 1986), p. 259. 14.  Ibid. The location of Las Meninas in the king’s private office conflicts with the oft-­repeated claim that the picture was painted as a manifesto for the nobility of painting and of the painter, part of Velázquez’s longtime efforts to be admitted to the noble Order of Santiago; Jonathan Brown, “On the Meaning of Las Meninas,” in Images and Ideas in Seventeenth-­Century Spanish Painting (Princeton, 1978), pp. 87–­110, a claim downplayed in Brown’s 1986 monograph, but still held by others. If this was the reason the picture was painted—­as a dazzling showpiece designed to persuade—­then why would it be intended for the one man who didn’t need persuasion? Philip knew that painting was an art fit for kings; he loved and admired his painter, even as Alexander had loved Apelles; and it was he who was urging his painter’s advancement. 15.  Martin Kemp, The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (New Haven, 1990), p. 108. 16.  Among the diagrams: Bartolomé Mestre Fiol, Los tres personajes invisibles de “Las Meninas” (Palma de Mallorca, 1972), p. 8; Bo Vahlne, “Velázquez’ Las Meninas: Remarks on the Staging of a Royal Portrait,” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift, 51 (1982), pp. 24–­ 25; John F. Moffitt, “Velázquez in the Alcázar Palace in 1656: The Meaning of the Mise-­en-­Scène of Las Meninas,” Art History, 6 (September 1983), p. 283; Joel Snyder, “Las Meninas and the Mirror of the Prince,” Critical Inquiry, 11 ( June 1985), p. 459; Kemp, The Science of Art (above, note 15), p. 107. 17.  Brown, “On the Meaning of Las Meninas” (above, note 14), p. 90.

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18. Kemp, The Science of Art (above, note 15), p. 105; Brown, Velázquez (above, note 13), pp. 259, 260. 19. When Las Meninas was painted, Margarita’s eighteen-­ year-­old half sister Maria Teresa—­child of Philip’s first, Bourbon wife, Elisabeth of France—­was still considered the heiress presumptive, having become “a pawn in the diplomatic game in which Philip was playing off Vienna against Paris”; Jonathan Brown, with John Elliott and Carmen Garrido, “Las Meninas as a Masterpiece,” in Brown, Collected Writings on Velázquez (New Haven, 2008), pp. 176–­77 (originally published in Spanish in 1999). The future of little Margarita, though also a presumed heiress to the throne, seems to have played no part in these dynastic intrigues. The birth of Felipe Próspero, the long-­awaited male heir, in November 1657, ended both daughters’ role in the succession. 20.  Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (New York, 1958), p. 113. 21. Quoted in Jerre Mangione, A Passion for Sicilians: The World around Danilo Dolci (1968; ed. Piscataway, NJ, 1985), p. 373. 22.  Published in Alma Guillermoprieto, “The Shadow War,” New York Review of Books, March 2, 1995, p. 38.

Sixteen 1.  See appendix A (pp. 234–35) for the documents relating to Trumbull’s picture and for evidence of his acquaintance with the Van Dyck. 2.  For the four known versions of Titian’s Adoration of the Magi, see Harold E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, I: The Religious Paintings (London, 1969), pp. 63ff. In the 1620s, when Van Dyck traveled in Italy, the Cleveland version here reproduced as fig. 16.3 was in Genoa. For Rubens’s role as mediator between Titian and Van Dyck, see Julius S. Held’s exemplary essay “Le roi à la ciasse,” Art Bulletin, 40 ( June 1958), pp. 139–­49. Oskar Fischel’s observation was first published in “Wanderungen eines antiken Motivs,” Amtliche Berichte aus den Königlichen Sammlungen [Berlin], 39 (December 1917), pp. 59–­64 and fig. 14, then in the Antiquarium of the Berlin museums, from the von Stosch collection. The Boston vase, fig. 16.5, was kindly brought to my attention by Dr. Elfriede Knauer, who later turned up another example in an Egyptian limestone relief, 18th dynasty, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 1985.328.18, from the Norbert Schimmel collection. 3. Supersession? The background in Trumbull’s New York City Hall portrait depicts the British evacuation of Manhattan (November 1783). Prominent between the horse’s forelegs stands the empty pedestal from which a statue of George III had just been pulled down, and for which a statue of Washington was intended. For this observation and other courtesies, I thank Mr. Donald J. Gormley, executive secretary of the Art Commission of the City of New York. 4. Cf. Montaigne in the essay “Of Physiognomy” (1588): “when so many things are borrowed, I am glad to be able to filch a thing now and then, disguising and altering it for some new

purpose. . . . Like a horsethief I paint the mane and tail, and sometimes blind them in one eye; if the first owner used it as an ambler I make a trotting horse of it; and if it was a saddle-­horse I turn it into a pack-­horse.” 5.  Janet R. MacFarlane, Hudson Valley Paintings 1700–­1750 in the Albany Institute of History and Art (Albany, NY, 1959), p. 44, as anonymous. The painting has now been attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck, working in New York City or Albany. 6.  Ruth S. Kraemer, Drawings by Benjamin West and His Son, Raphael Lamar West (New York, 1975), no. 19, regards the drawing as a study for the central maiden in West’s William de Albanac Presenting His Three Daughters to Alfred III, King of Mercia, a painting exhibited in 1778, destroyed by fire in 1816, recorded in an engraving of 1782 by J.-­B. Michel. 7. Daniele’s masterpiece was long celebrated in copies and some dozen engravings. Established as a paradigm of high art, it had been recommended for imitation since the late sixteenth century, as in G. B. Armenini’s De’ veri precetti della pittura (Ravenna, 1587), p. 15. How its very fame became the cause of its ruination is told in Ernst Steinmann, “Das Schicksal der Kreuzlegende des Daniello da Volterra,” Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft, 12 (1919), pp. 193–­212—­the most poignantly tragic art-­historical investigation ever written. 8.  Jonathan Richardson, Père & Fils, Traité de la peinture et de la sculpture (Amsterdam, 1728), vol. 3, p. 528; English in The Works of Jonathan Richardson (London, 1792), pp. 41–­42. 9.  The Virgin in labor on Calvary is a theological concept. Its classic formulation comes from Rupert of Deutz (c. 1100): “The Virgin brought forth without sorrow the author of the salvation of all of us, when the Word was made flesh in her womb; now, standing at the foot of the cross, she brings forth again, but in sorrow. . . . Hence she is the mother of all of us.” The doctrine of Mary as Mater omnium did not die with the Middle Ages. It was alluded to by Savonarola, was preached in a great sermon by Bossuet (1660), and, in the Quamquam pluries encyclical of Pope Leo XII (1889), received its definitive wording: “The Virgin . . . is the mother of all Christians since she . . . gave birth to them on the Mount of Calvary amid the unspeakable sufferings of the Redeemer.” Bossuet writes: “Elle devient mère des chrétiens, parmi l’effort d’une affliction sans mesure. On tire de ses entrailles ces nouveaux enfants  .  .  .  , et on entr’ouvre son coeur avec une violence incroyable, pour y entrer cet amour de mère qu’elle doit avoir pour tous les fidèles”; Sermons de Bossuet (Paris, 1889), vol. 2, p. 644, “Sur la Compassion de la Sainte Vierge.” Further supporting texts are at hand, but here superfluous. The doctrine was surely familiar to the artist who designed the Descent altarpiece with help from his friend Michelangelo. 1998: When the above was written in 1978, I added that the influence of the doctrine on art remained to be studied. It has since received ample treatment in Amy Neff, “The Pain of Compassio: Mary’s Labor at the Foot of the Cross,” Art Bulletin, 80 ( June 1998), pp. 254–­73. Neff ’s article was followed by a letter from Anthony Apesos, Art Bulletin, 81 ( June 1999), p. 326.


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10.  For the engraving after Jouvenet and its relevance to the Currier & Ives lithograph (first observed by William J. Chiego), see Leo Steinberg, letter, Art Bulletin, 73 (September 1991), p. 505. I have since seen a similar crossbreed in the sacristy of Santa Cruz at Coimbra, Portugal. The altarpiece, attributed to André Gonçalves (1685–­1754), is listed as a copy of Daniele’s Descent, but only its top is. The parentage of the lower half, apparently eighteenth century, remains unidentified. 11.  [The recent catalogue of decorative arts in the Lehman Collection redates the plaque to shortly after 1590 at the earliest, having independently found the source in the engraving. Master IDC is there identified as probably Jean Court the Younger or another Jean Court. See Clare Le Corbeiller’s entry in The Robert Lehman Collection, XV, Decorative Arts (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), cat. 4 and p. 28. —­Ed.] 12.  Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London (London, 1952), p. 316 and pl. 44. The Sistine Ancestors keep cropping up here and there. The grandam in fig. 16.17 sits alone in a drawing by Annibale Carracci, intended perhaps for later use; see Donald Posner, Annibale Carracci (London, 1971), vol. 1, fig. 83. Another of the Sistine lunette figures appears as Caroline, Duchess of Marlborough, in her portrait by Reynolds at Blenheim. For this and further Reynolds borrowings from the Scultori engravings after the Sistine figures, see John Newman, in Nicholas Penny, ed., Reynolds, exh. cat. (London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1986), pp. 347–­48. 13.  The etching, apparently unrecorded, may be a posthumous plate added to Giovanni Maggi’s Fontane diverse . . . di Roma, first published in 1618, or for a similar project. 14.  Robert Burton in “Democritus to the Reader,” introducing The Anatomy of Melancholy (1651), ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-­Smith (New York, 1927), p. 19. For a return of these old problems in modern dress, see Roger Copeland, “When Films ‘Quote’ Films,” New York Times, September 25, 1977, sec. 2, p. 1. Other important contributions to the subject include John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley, 1981), and Louis Menand, “How Eliot Became Eliot,” New York Review of Books, May 15, 1997. 15.  [The Bacchiacca source in Raphael was originally observed in 1961 by Howard S. Merritt. See Steinberg, letter (above, note 10), p. 505. —­Ed.] 16.  “Una ventana, por donde se ve el Santo en el campo, atado a un árbol, donde le están asaeteando”; Francisco Pacheco, Arte de la pintura (1638; published 1649); modern ed. by F. J. Sanchez Cantón (Madrid, 1956), vol. 2, p. 328. Pacheco’s picture perished in 1936. 17.  Reproductive engravings are not so much a branch of art as the medium through which, for nearly four hundred years, all branches of art interacted. Hence the emphasis given them in these pages. A print such as Muller’s after von Aachen would once have been a standard item in an artist’s tool kit. I have seen the image on a Netherlandish plaquette (misdated by a half century because mistaken for an original composition in an auction cat-

alogue: Weinmüller, Munich, December 6, 1961, lot 894). More surprisingly, von Aachen’s nude saint, constrained by wrist and ankle, turns up as a youth undressing in Abraham Bloemaert’s Baptism of Christ (Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada), signed and dated 1602. Bloemaert in Utrecht, the anonymous plaquette sculptor, Pacheco in his Seville studio—­each put the same print to use. Yet the Muller engraving remained unknown to the Pacheco literature until well after 1978, when a first reference to it hid in this article; see Steinberg, letter (above, note 10), pp. 503–­4. [For prints as the lifeblood of artistic interaction, see now Steinberg, “What I Like about Prints,” Art in Print, 7 ( January–­ February 2018), pp. 3–­28. —­Ed.] 18.  The passage occurs in Reynolds’s Discourses on Art, Discourse VI, December 10, 1774. For the literature on Reynolds’s theory of imitation, see note 68 in Rudolph Wittkower’s comprehensive essay “Imitation, Eclecticism, and Genius,” in Earl R. Wasserman, ed., Aspects of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1965). Wittkower (p. 156) quotes the following from Horace Walpole: “Sir J. Reynolds has been accused of plagiarism for having borrowed attitudes from ancient masters. Not only candor but criticism must deny the force of the charge. When a single posture is imitated from an historical picture and applied to a portrait in a different dress and with new attributes, this is not plagiarism, but quotation: and a quotation from a great author, with a novel application of the sense, has always been allowed to be an instance of parts and taste; and may have more merit than the original.” Cf. Fuseli in his Third Lecture (1801): “We stamp the plagiary on the borrower, who, without fit materials or adequate conceptions of his own, seeks to shelter impotence under purloined vigor; we leave him with the full praise of invention, who by the harmony of a whole proves that what he adopted might have been his own offspring though anticipated by another. If he take now, he soon may give”; John Knowles, The Life and Writings of Henry Fuseli (London, 1831), vol. 2, p. 181. As Emerson put it: “Only an inventor knows how to borrow.” 19. “For,” Peale continued, “although historical painters from Raphael to West have always been permitted to borrow ideas, and even figures—­no such advantage was taken. . . . Every lover of the arts, and every gentleman who knows the value of character, [ought to] interest himself in discountenancing a groundless aspersion against an artist, who would value no acquirement nor fame that were purchased at the expense of his integrity”; see William Dunlap, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834; reprint, New York, 1969), vol. 2, part 1, p. 53. 20.  For notes on Manet’s recourse to imitation—­and the depiction of fingernails—­see appendix B. 21. Rare exceptions appear on Early Christian sarcophagi. The specimen in the Cathedral of Mantua shows a Madonna seated cross-­legged, profile to left, receiving the Magi. Style and conception follow a lingering pagan model that would be soon rejected. For another example, at San Vitale, Ravenna, see Wolfgang F. Volbach, Early Christian Art (New York, 1961), pl. 179.

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22.  See Leo Steinberg, “Michelangelo’s Madonna Medici and Related Works,” Burlington Magazine, 113 (March 1971), pp. 145–­ 49, in Michelangelo’s Sculpture: Selected Essays (Chicago, 2018), pp. 90–­95. In the same volume, “Body and Symbol in the Medici Madonna,” pp. 96–­128. 23. “A blow struck for intergenerational friendship [sic]” was the single supporting quote used in Vivien Raynor’s review of Art about Art to summarize my “jolly view of plagiarism”; Raynor, “Art People,” New York Times, July 14, 1978, p. C22. 24.  The word “did” following “Michelangelo” in the foregoing sentence now replaces “intended.” Cautioned by Svetlana Alpers (see note 26, below), I understand my original wording to have been ill advised. One should think twice before crediting an artist with a generous impulse. 25.  The engraving, here reproduced in the sixth state of six, was formerly attributed to Hogarth; see Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works (New Haven, 1970), vol. 1, cat. 276. Paulson notes (p. 299) that the flying angel “parodies” the Rembrandt figure, but points out, following Antal, that the immediate source was Bernard Picart’s Mississippi Bubble print, A Monument dedicated to Posterity in commemoration of ye incredible Folly transacted in the Year 1720. 26.  Svetlana Alpers, Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market (Chicago, 1988), p. 74 and n. 47.

27.  Devotion XVII, in John Donne, Complete Poetry and Selected Prose (London, 1942), p. 538. The preacher is speaking of the funeral bell tolling for some unknown departed. But, says he, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” 28.  For the quotations in this and the preceding paragraph, see Edgar P. Richardson, “A Penetrating Characterization of Washington by John Trumbull,” Winterthur Portfolio, 3 (1967), pp. 22, 21, and 10. 29. Alfred Frankenstein, “An Artist’s Work: Private or Fair Game?,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, October 15, 1978, p. 46. 30.  On Trumbull’s practice of borrowing, see, for example, Patricia Mullan Burnham, “Trumbull’s Religious Paintings: Themes and Variations,” in Helen A. Cooper, John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter, exh. cat. (New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), esp. pp. 186–­87. 31.  The Autobiography of John Trumbull, Patriot-­Artist, 1756–­ 1843, ed. Theodore Sizer (New Haven, 1953), p. 112. 32.  Ernest Chesneau, L’art et les artistes modernes (Paris, 1864), p. 190; Gustav Pauli, “Raffael und Manet,” Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft, 1 (1908), pp. 53–­55; for Warburg, see E. H. Gombrich, Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (London, 1970), pp. 273–­77.


L eo Stei n berg : Ch ronolo g y


summary of biographical events, personal and professional, with emphasis on the lesser-­known formative years through the early 1960s. The rest of Steinberg’s career encompassed prolific publications and hundreds of public lectures, complemented by various appointments and awards, briefly encapsulated here. A complete list of publications appears on pages 285–90. 1920


Born July 9, Moscow, USSR, to Isaac Nachman (1888–­1957) and Anyuta Esselson Steinberg (1890–­ 1954); given name, Schneur Zalman Ariyeh Lev Steinberg. Older sister, Ada (1917–­1956). His father, a member of the Left Social Revolutionary (LSR) party, had been People’s Commissar of Justice in Lenin’s first, coalition cabinet, but resigned after four months (December 1917–­March 1918). The Soviet government refuses to allow his father to return from an LSR conference in Germany. The family flees to Berlin, where his younger sister, Shulamit (1923–­2000) is born. With them is his maternal aunt, Esther Esselson (1892–­1947), who always lived with the family.


May, while his father is in London, the Gestapo searches their house for evidence of Communist affiliation. The family flees to London. Steinberg had already been thrown off his school’s track team as the Nazis gained power.

USSR refuses to renew the family’s passports. The British government issues him a Certificate of Identity as a Russian national, though “Russia” no longer exists.

1933–­36 Attends King Alfred School, an independent progressive school. Initially speaks little English; reads English classics in German translation for school assignments. 1935

Studies philosophy with his uncle, Aron Steinberg (1891–­1975). Isaac Steinberg cofounds the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization, an organization that

seeks a secure, culturally autonomous home for Jews outside of Palestine. 1936–­40 Attends the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London; wins prizes in drawing and sculpture. Receives diploma in Fine Art, 1940. 1940–­41 Lacking British citizenship, is ineligible for military service. During the Blitz, serves as a warden for the ARP (Air Raid Precaution, later Civil Defence Service).

Works for the British Council as part of cultural propaganda campaigns; publishes articles on music, art, and political history.

1942–44 1942, for the Ministry of Information, delivers fifteen talks for BBC Empire on the history and geography of Russia. Publishes a series of three articles for the Ministry in Persian Quarterly: “Art and War: The Past, Present, and Future of British Art,” in conjunction with the War Artists Advisory Committee.

Four months on the staff of the Associated Press of Great Britain, in charge of the photographic library while working at the night news desk of the British Press Association.

Fall 1942, hired by the weekly News Review; spends eighteen months in the foreign news department, specializing in France and the French Empire; also writes feature articles on art, film, and books.

1944, joins Picture Post as staff writer and layout artist.

Most of these wartime publications are written under the pseudonyms John Avon and Vladimir Baranov.

L e o Ste in berg : Ch ron olo gy [282]

During these years, maintains a small studio where he continues to draw and sculpt. At the request of his father, who is stranded in Australia during the war, speaks about the Freeland League at meetings of British Zionists.


January, emigrates to New York with his mother, aunt, and younger sister. His father and older sister are already in New York.

Becomes contributor to and managing editor of This Month, a pocket journal founded by his sister Ada, devoted to politics, current events, and culture, until it folds in 1947.


Translates Jacob Pat’s Ashes and Fire, an early report on surviving Jews in postwar Poland, from Yiddish (New York: International Universities Press).


Begins teaching life drawing at Parsons School of Design, New York (until 1960).


Translates Sholem Asch’s novel Mary, from Yiddish (New York: G. P. Putnam’s).


Naturalized as a US citizen under the name Leo Zalman Lev Steinberg.

Audits classes at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (through 1953).


Begins to teach art history at Parsons along with life drawing (through 1960).

Gives lecture courses for the cultural programs of the 92nd Street Y (Young Men’s Hebrew Association, New York) on art and aesthetics (through 1955).


Publishes his first extended critical essay, “The Twin Prongs of Art Criticism,” in the Sewanee Review.

Writes to his father in May: “I find that I delivered 37 lectures in 6 months [at Parsons and the 92nd Street Y]. . . . Chronologically I ranged from 30,000 BC to current exhibitions. Geographically, I ranged from Japan to the Congo to New York. My subjects included Oriental philosophy, medieval scholasticism, classical and modern physics, the history of photography, the physiology of the eye, the evolution of archaeology, esthetics, art history, and the formal analysis of art works.”


Teaches course at Cooper-­Union, “Theory of Modern Art.”

Publishes “The Eye Is a Part of the Mind,” a now classic essay, in Partisan Review.


Receives BS in Education, New York University.

Thinking of studying philosophy, takes summer course with philosopher Paul Henle at Columbia University on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Enrolls in the graduate program of the Institute of Fine Arts.

1955–­56 Writes “Month in Review,” a column on contemporary art, in Arts Magazine. The columns win him the College Art Association’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism. 1957

Delivers first of several lecture courses in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Grace Rainey Rogers auditorium (into the 1960s); subjects range from Egyptian to Baroque art.


February, delivers “Three Lectures on Contemporary Art and the Plight of Its Public” at the Museum of Modern Art; published in 1962 and revised and reprinted in Other Criteria.

Receives PhD, Institute of Fine Arts, with dissertation on “Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane: A Study in Multiple Form and Architectural Symbolism.”


Begins collecting Old Master prints, discovering a pictorial world then generally unstudied by art historians. Realizes that prints played an essential role in the transmission of images.

1961–­75 Appointed associate professor, then professor of art history, Hunter College, City University of New York. Teaches half-­time to give himself freedom to write. 1962

Marries Dorothy Seiberling, art editor at LIFE magazine (later divorced).

1962–­65 Art history lecturer, Sarah Lawrence College summer sessions in Paris. 1968–­72 Serves on the Board of Directors, College Art Association. 1970–­75 While still teaching at Hunter College, begins giving courses on modern art and criticism at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, art history program, which he had created with Milton Brown. 1972

Publication of Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-­Century Art.


Delivers convocation address at the College Art Association conference, “The Baldness of God and Other Ills.”

Appointed Benjamin Franklin Professor of Art History and University Professor, University of Pennsylvania.

L e o St e in be rg : C h ronolo gy


Art historian-­in-­residence, American Academy, Rome.


Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Elected Fellow, University College, London.


Receives Honorary Doctorate in the Fine Arts, Philadelphia College of Art. The first of six such awards, the last from Harvard, 2006.


Scholar-­in-­Residence, J. Paul Getty Study Center.

Honored as Literary Lion, the New York Public Library.


Retires from the University of Pennsylvania; teaches one semester in the Meyer Schapiro Chair, Columbia University.


Delivers Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Harvard University, “The Mute Image and the Meddling Text.”


Delivers A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, “The Burden of Michelangelo’s Painting.”


Publication of the second, enlarged edition of The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.


Publication of The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.


Named Samuel H. Kress Foundation Distinguished Scholar, College Art Association.

Receives Award in Literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the first art historian to be so honored.

His collection of more than three thousand prints is transferred to the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin.


Receives College Art Association’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism.


March 13, dies at home, after years of being “afflicted

1986–­91 Receives MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

with longevity.”


Leo Ste i nberg : Publ i c ati on s ( 1 9 47–­2010)

books Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper. New York: Zone Books, 2001. Encounters with Rauschenberg (A Lavishly Illustrated Lecture). Houston: The Menil Foundation; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Trois Études sur Picasso. Translated by Jean-­Louis Houdebine. Paris: Éditions Carré, 1996. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Originally published in October, no. 25 (Summer 1983), pp. 1–­222. 2nd, revised and expanded ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Italian translation: La sessualità di Cristo nell’arte rinascimentale e il suo oblio nell’epoca moderna. Translated by Francesco Saba Sardi. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1986. French translation: La sexualité du Christ dans l’art de la Renaissance et son refoulement moderne. Translated by Jean-­Louis Houdebine, preface by André Chastel. Paris: Gallimard, 1987. Spanish translation: La sexualidad de Cristo en el arte del Renacimiento y en el olvido moderno. Translated by Jesus Valiente Malla. Madrid: Hermann Blume, 1989. Polish translation: Seksualność Chrystusa. Zapomniany temat sztuki renesansowej. Translated by Mateusz Salwa. Krakow: Universitas, 2013. Excerpt: In Religion, Art, and Visual Culture: A Cross-­Cultural Reader, edited by S. Brent Plate, pp. 73–­80. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane: A Study in Multiple Form and Architectural Symbolism. New York: Garland Publishing, 1977. Revised and expanded from 1960 dissertation. Michelangelo’s Last Paintings: The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace. London: Phaidon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1975. Excerpt: “Michelangelo’s Last Painting.” Smithsonian Magazine (December 1975), pp. 74–­85. Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-­Century Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. 2nd ed., with new preface. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Portuguese translation: Outros Critérias. Translated by Celia Evualdo. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2008.

Chinese translation: Translated by Shen Yubing, Fan Liu, and Gu Guangshu. Edited by Shen Yubing. Nanjing: Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House, 2011. Jasper Johns. New York: George Wittenborn, 1963. Revised and expanded from the essay in Metro, nos. 4–­5 (1962). Later revised as “Jasper Johns: The First Seven Years of His Art,” for Other Criteria. French translation: “Jasper Johns: Les sept premières années de son art.” In Regards sur l’art américain des années soixante, edited by Claude Gintz, pp. 21–­32. Paris: Éditions Territoires, 1979. Reprint: Jasper Johns. 35 Years: Leo Castelli. Edited by Susan Brundage. New York: Leo Castelli, 1993.

Articles “What I Like about Prints.” Art in Print, 7 ( January–February 2018), pp. 3–28. Based on a 2003 lecture. “Christo’s Over the River: An Act of Homage.” NYR Daily, December 3, 2010. dec/03/christos-over-river-act-homage/. “L’Autoportrait de Prague et l’intelligence de Picasso” / “The Prague Self-­Portrait and Picasso’s Intelligence.” In Picasso Cubiste / Cubist Picasso, exhibition catalogue, pp. 101–­17. Paris: Musée National Picasso, 2007. “Un tour dans le collage de Stockholm” / “Touring the Stockholm Collage.” In Picasso Cubiste / Cubist Picasso, exhibition catalogue, pp. 165–­75. Paris: Musée National Picasso, 2007. Statement in The Ironic Icon: A Retrospective Exhibition of the Work of William Anthony, p. 6. Copenhagen: Stalke Gallery, 2004. “With Perrig in Mind.” In Re-­Visionen: Zur Aktualität von Kunst­ geschichte, edited by Barbara Hüttel, Richard Hüttel, and Jeanette Kohl, pp. 1–­2. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002. Comment in Harvey Quaytman, exhibition catalogue. New York: David McKee Gallery, 2000. “An Incomparable Bathsheba.” In Rembrandt’s Bathsheba Reading King David’s Letter, edited by Ann Jensen Adams, pp. 100–­118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. “In the Algerian Room.” In A Life of Collecting: Victor and Sally Ganz, edited by Michael Fitzgerald, pp. 64–­67. New York: Christie’s, 1997.

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“The Michelangelo Next Door.” ARTnews, 95 (April 1996), p. 106. “Picasso’s Endgame.” October, no. 74 (Fall 1995), pp. 105–­22. Revision, 2007, in French and English for the website (no longer available). “Adams Verbrechen.” In Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Tod, exhibition catalogue, pp. 166–­74. Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, 1995. “Leon Battista Alberti e Andrea Mantegna.” In Leon Battista Alberti, exhibition catalogue, edited by Joseph Rykwert and Anne Engel, pp. 330–­35. Mantua: Palazzo del Te, 1994. “This Is a Test” (concerning a scandalous picture by Max Ernst). New York Review of Books, May 13, 1993, p. 24. Italian translation: “Max Ernst blasfemo.” La Rivista del libri, September 9, 1993, p. 21. Follow-­up letter to the editor: “Max Ernst’s Blasphemy.” New York Review of Books, September 22, 2005, p. 85. “Back Talk from Leo Steinberg” (appendix to “Jasper Johns” essay in Other Criteria). In Jasper Johns. 35 Years: Leo Castelli, edited by Susan Brundage, n.p. New York: Leo Castelli, 1993. “Who’s Who in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam: A Chronology of the Picture’s Reluctant Self-­Revelation.” Art Bulletin, 74 (December 1992), pp. 552–­66. “All About Eve” (response to a letter concerning the above essay). Art Bulletin, 75 ( June 1993), pp. 340–­44. “Steen’s Female Gaze and Other Ironies.” Artibus et Historiae, no. 22 (1990), pp. 107–­28. “Deciphering Velázquez’s Old Woman.” Manhattan Inc. (October 1989), pp. 156–­59. “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After.” Art Bulletin, 71 (September 1989), pp. 480–­505. “Addendum to Julius Held’s Paper” (on a Rubens picture in Pasadena). Source, nos. 8–­9 (Summer–­Fall 1989), pp. 77–­79. “La fin de partie de Picasso.” Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, no. 27 (Spring 1989), pp. 10–­38. German translation: “Picassos Endspiel.” In Picasso: Letzte Bilder. Werke 1966–­1972, exhibition catalogue, edited by Ulrich Weisner. Bielefeld: Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 1993. Revised English version: “Picasso’s Endgame.” October, no. 74 (Fall 1995), pp. 105–­22. French translation of 1995 version: In Steinberg, Trois Études sur Picasso. Translated by Jean-­Louis Houdebine. Paris: Éditions Carré, 1996. Italian translation of 1995 version: “Il finale di partita di Picasso.” In “Pablo Picasso,” edited by Elio Grazioli, special issue, Riga, no. 12 (1996), pp. 285–­318. Portuguese translation of 1995 version: “O fim de partida de Picasso.” Ars (Universidade de São Paulo), 5, no. 9 (2007), pp. 24–­ 35. arttext&pid=S1678-53202007000100002&lng=pt& nrm=iso&tlng=pt. “The Philosophical Brothel” (revision of 1972 ARTnews essay, with “Retrospect”). October, no. 44 (Spring 1988), pp. 7–­74.

Excerpt: “Las señoritas de Avignon.” Revuelta: Revista latinoamericana de pensamiento, no. 7 (2007), pp. 44–­45. “Le Bordel Philosophique” (French translation and revision of 1972 ARTnews essay, with “Post-­Scriptum”). In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, exhibition catalogue, pp. 319–­66. Paris: Musée Picasso, 1988. “‘How Shall This Be?’ Reflections on Fra Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation in London.” Artibus et Historiae, 7, no. 116 (1987), pp. 25–­44. “Art and Science: Do They Need to Be Yoked?” Daedalus, 115 (Fall 1986), pp. 1–­16. Reprint: In Art and Science, edited by Stephen Grabaud. Boston: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Daedalus Library, 1988. “Some of Hans Haacke’s Pieces Considered as Fine Art.” In Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, exhibition catalogue, edited by Brian Wallis, pp. 8–­19. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986. Reprint: In Hans Haacke, edited by Rachel Churner. October Files 18. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015. “The Case of the Wayward Shroud.” In Tribute to Lotte Brand Philip: Art Historian and Detective, edited by William W. Clark, Colin Eisler, William S. Heckscher, and Barbara Lane, pp. 185–­ 92. New York: Abaris Books, 1985. “A New Michelangelo.” Art & Antiques (October 1985), pp. 49–­53. “The Seven Functions of the Hands of Christ: Aspects of Leonardo’s Last Supper.” In Art, Creativity, and the Sacred, edited by D. Apostolos-­Cappadona, pp. 37–­63. New York: Crossroads/ Continuum, 1983. “Essay: On Signs.” Send: Video and Communications Arts, no. 8 (Fall 1983). “Michelangelo and the Doctors.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 56 (Winter 1982), pp. 543–­53. “Velázquez’s Las Meninas.” October, no. 19 (Winter 1981), pp. 45–­54. Spanish translation: “Las Meninas de Velázquez.” Kalías, 3 (October 1991), pp. 10–­15. Also in Otras Meninas, edited by Fernando Marías, pp. 93–­102. Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 1995. Italian translation: “Las Meninas di Velázquez.” In Las Meninas: Velázquez, Foucault e l’enigma della rappresentazione, edited by Alessandro Nova, pp. 75–­88. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1997. German translation: “Velázquez’ Las Meninas.” In Las Meninas im Spiegel der Deutungen: Eine Einführung in die Methoden der Kunstgeschichte, edited by Thierry Greub, pp. 183–­93. Berlin: Reimer, 2001. Polish translation: “Las Meninas Velazqueza.” In Tajemnica La Meninas, edited by Andrzej Witko, pp. 151–­61. Krakow: Wydawnietwo, 2006. “A Picture by One Jacob Pynas.” Print Collector’s Newsletter, 11 (November–­December 1980), pp. 171–­74. “A Corner of the Last Judgment.” Daedalus, 109 (Spring 1980), pp. 207–­73. “The Line of Fate in Michelangelo’s Painting.” Critical Inquiry, 6 (Spring 1980), pp. 411–­54. Reprint: In The Language of Images, edited by W. J. T. Mitchell, pp. 85–­128. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

L e o St e in be rg : P u bl ic at ion s ( 1 9 4 7 – 2 0 1 0 )

“Remarks on Graduate Education.” Arts Magazine, 54 (February 1980), pp. 132–­33. “Guercino’s Saint Petronilla.” In Studies in Italian Art and Architectural History, 15th through 18th Centuries, edited by Henry Millon, pp. 207–­34. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980. “Resisting Cézanne: Picasso’s Three Women” (part I). Art in America (November–­December 1978), pp. 114–­33. Japanese translation: Tokio 1920s, vol. 32, no. 467 ( July 1980). German translation (partial): “Cézannismus und Frühkubismus.” Translated by Reinhold Hohl. In Kubismus: Künstler, Themen, Werke, 1907–­1920, exhibition catalogue, pp. 59–­70. Cologne: Josef-­Haubrich-­Kunsthalle, 1982. French translation, with revisions:“La résistance à Cézanne: les Trois Femmes de Picasso” /“Resisting Cézanne: Picasso’s Three Women.” In Picasso Cubiste / Cubist Picasso, exhibition catalogue, pp. 71–­101. Paris: Musée National Picasso, 2007. Due to a publisher’s error, the revised version appears only in the French edition. “The Polemical Part” (part II of “Resisting Cézanne”). Art in America (March–­April 1979), pp. 114–­27. “The Glorious Company.” Introduction to Jean Lipman and Richard Marshall, Art about Art, exhibition catalogue, pp. 8–­31. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1978. “Picasso’s Revealer” (with Diane Karp). Print Collector’s Newsletter, 8 (November–­December 1977), pp. 140–­41. “Eve’s Idle Hand.” Art Journal, 35 (Winter 1975–­76), pp. 130–­35. “Michelangelo’s Last Judgment as Merciful Heresy.” Art in America (November–­December 1975), pp. 48–­63. “Remarks on Certain Prints Relative to a Leningrad Rubens on the Occasion of the First Visit of the Original to the United States.” Print Collector’s Newsletter, 6 (September–­October 1975), pp. 97–­102. “Pontormo’s Alessandro de’ Medici.” Art in America ( January–­ February 1975), pp. 62–­65. “Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo.” Vogue (December 1974), p. 130. “Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel,” Art Bulletin, 56 (September 1974), pp. 385–­99. “An El Greco Entombment Eyed Awry.” Burlington Magazine, 116 (August 1974), pp. 474–­77. “Leonardo’s Last Supper.” Art Quarterly, 36 (Winter 1973), pp. 297–­410. “A Working Equation or—­Picasso in the Homestretch.” Print Collector’s Newsletter, 3 (November–­December 1972), pp. 102–­5. “The Philosophical Brothel” (Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon). ARTnews, 71 (September 1972), pp. 20–­29 (part I); (October 1972), pp. 38–­47 (part II). See above, 1988. “Other Criteria.” Written for Other Criteria, 1972, pp. 55–­91. Spanish translation: “Outros Critérios.” In Clement Greenberg e o debate crítico, edited by Glória Ferreira and Cecilia Cotrim de Mello, pp. 175–­210. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1997. Italian translation: “Altri criteri.” In Alle origini dell’opera d’arte contemporanea, edited by Claudia Zambianchi and Giuseppe Di Giacomo, pp. 95–­138. Bari: Laterza, 2008. Excerpt: “The Flatbed Picture Plane.” In Art in Theory, 1900–­

1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, pp. 948–­53. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. Reprint of excerpt: In Poetics of Space: A Critical Photographic Anthology, edited by Steve Yates, pp. 197–­206. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995. German translation of excerpt: “Andere Kriterien.” In Kunst/ Theorie im 20. Jahrhundert, vol. 2, pp. 1169–­74. Berlin: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1998. “The Algerian Women and Picasso at Large.” Written for Other Criteria, 1972, pp. 125–­234. Excerpts: “What about Cubism” and “Who Knows the Meaning of Ugliness.” In Picasso in Perspective, edited by Gert Schiff, pp. 63–­67 and 137–­39. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-­Hall, 1976. Swedish translation: “Kvinnorna i Alger och Picasso i stort.” In Pablo Picasso, exhibition catalogue, pp. 121–­205. Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1985. “Reflections on the State of Criticism.” Artforum, 10 (March 1972), pp. 37–­49. Reprint: In Robert Rauschenberg, October Files 4, edited by Branden W. Joseph, pp. 6–­37. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. “Art/Work.” ARTnews, 70 (February 1972). “Rubens’ Ceres in Leningrad.” ARTnews, 70 (December 1971), pp. 42–­43. “Mantegna’s Judith in Washington.” ARTnews, 70 (November 1971), pp. 42–­43. “The Skulls of Picasso.” ARTnews, 70 (October 1971). Included in Other Criteria. German translation: “Die Totenschädel Picassos.” In Picassos Todesthemen, exhibition catalogue, pp. 89–­94. Bielefeld: Kunst­ halle Bielefeld, 1984. French translation: In Steinberg, Trois Études sur Picasso. Translated by Jean-­Louis Houdebine. Paris: Éditions Carré, 1996. “Picasso: Drawing as If to Possess.” Artforum, 10 (October 1971), pp. 44–­53. Reprint, with revisions: In Major European Art Movements, 1900–­1945, edited by Patricia Kaplan and Susan Manso, pp. 193–­221. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977. “Salviati’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist.” ARTnews, 70 (September 1971), pp. 46–­47. “The Water-­Carrier of Velázquez.” ARTnews, 69 (Summer 1971), pp. 54–­55. “Michelangelo’s Madonna Medici and Related Works.” Burlington Magazine, 113 (March 1971), pp. 145–­49. “The Metaphors of Love and Birth in Michelangelo’s Pietàs.” In Studies in Erotic Art, edited by Theodore Bowie and Cornelia V. Christenson, pp. 231–­335. New York: Basic Books, 1970. “Objectivity and the Shrinking Self.” Daedalus, 98 (Spring 1969), pp. 824–­36. Included in Other Criteria. Reprint: In Critical Reading and Writing across the Disciplines, edited by Cyndia S. Clegg, pp. 564–­73. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988. “Picasso’s Sleepwatchers.” LIFE, December 27, 1968. Included in Other Criteria.


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French translation: In Steinberg, Trois Études sur Picasso. Translated by Jean-­Louis Houdebine. Paris: Éditions Carré, 1996. Revision, 2007, in French and English for the website (no longer available). “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg.” Art Bulletin, 50 (December 1968), pp. 343–­53. On Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà and Madonna Medici (response to a letter concerning the above essay). Art Bulletin, 51 (December 1969), pp. 410–­12. “The Water-­Carrier of Seville (by Velázquez).” In Man and His World, International Fine Arts Exhibition, Expo ’67, Montreal, 1967. “Paul Brach’s Pictures.” In Paul Brach: New Paintings, exhibition brochure. New York: Cordier & Ekstrom, 1963. Included in Other Criteria. Reprint: In Toward a New Abstraction, exhibition catalogue. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1963; Art International, 8 (April 1964). Reprint of excerpt: In Art in Process, exhibition catalogue. New York: Finch College Museum of Art, 1965. “Pop Art Symposium at The Museum of Modern Art, December 13, 1962.” Arts Magazine, 37 (April 1963), pp. 36–­44. Publication of participants’ remarks at the symposium; Steinberg’s remarks are on pp. 39–­41. “Rodin.” Introductory essay to Rodin: An Exhibition of Sculptures and Drawings, exhibition catalogue. New York: Charles E. Slatkin, 1963. Revised for inclusion in Other Criteria. French translation: Le retour de Rodin. Paris: Éditions Macula, 1992. “Contemporary Art and the Plight of Its Public.” Harper’s Magazine, 224 (March 1962). Included in Other Criteria. Swedish translation: “Samtidens Konst och publiikens dilemma.” Bonniers Litterara Magasin, no. 6 (Summer 1962). Translated into several Eastern European languages in Ameryka and Pregled, US State Department publications, 1960s. Spanish translation: “El arte contemporáneo y la incomodidad del público.” Otra Parte [Buenos Aires], Autumn 2004. Reprint: In The New Art: A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1966, 1973. Reprint: In The Sociology of Art and Literature: A Reader, edited by Milton Albrecht, James Barnett, and Mason Griff. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970, 1976. “Observations in the Cerasi Chapel.” Art Bulletin, 41 ( June 1959), pp. 183–­93. Introduction to The New York School: Second Generation, exhibition catalogue, pp. 4–­8. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1957. “The Eye Is a Part of the Mind.” Partisan Review, 20 (March–­April 1953), pp. 194–­212. Included in Other Criteria. Reprint: In Reflections on Art: A Sourcebook of Writings by Artists, Critics, and Philosophers, edited by Susanne K. Langer. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1958, 1961. Reprint, with revisions: In Modern Essays in English, edited by Joseph Frank. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

“The Twin Prongs of Art Criticism.” Sewanee Review, 60 (Summer 1952), pp. 418–­44.

Book Reviews “Shrinking Michelangelo.” Review of Michelangelo: A Psychoanalytic Study of His Life and Images, by Robert Liebert. New York Review of Books, June 28, 1984, pp. 41–­45. “Leonardo by Carlo Pedretti.” Renaissance Quarterly, 28 (Spring 1975), pp. 86–­89. “Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre by José Lopez-­Rey.” Art Bulletin, 47 ( June 1965), pp. 274–­94. “The Berenson Collection.” Harper’s Magazine, 230 (March 1965), pp. 154–­55. “Art Books, 1961–­62.” Harper’s Magazine, 225 (December 1962), pp. 103–­10. “Art Books, 1960–­61.” Harper’s Magazine, 223 (December 1961), pp. 87–­91. “Four about Rembrandt.” Art in America, no. 4 (1961), pp. 88–­91. “Art Books of 1960.” Harper’s Magazine, 221 (December 1960), pp. 106, 110, 112, 114, 116–­20. “Professor Janson’s Donatello.” Arts Magazine, 32 ( June 1958), pp. 41–­43. “Monuments of Romanesque Art by Hanns Swarzenski.” Arts Magazine, 30 (May 1956), pp. 43–­45. “Caravaggio Studies by Walter Friedlaender.” Arts Magazine, 30 (October 1955), pp. 46–­48. “Le musée imaginaire, c’est moi!” Review of André Malraux. Art Digest, 29 (April 15, 1955), p. 16. “The Alphabet of Creation by Ben Shahn.” Commentary, 20 (March 1955), pp. 310–­12. “Modernity from Tombs and Temples” (recent books on Egyptology). Art Digest, 29 (December 1, 1954), pp. 20–­21. “The Synagogue’s New Look: An American Synagogue for Today and Tomorrow.” Commentary, 17 (August 1954), pp. 170–­72. “Undying Antiquity.” Review of The Survival of the Pagan Gods, by Jean Seznec. ARTnews, 52 ( January 1954), pp. 53, 73–­74. “Marino Marini by Umbro Apollonio.” Art Digest, 28 (October 1, 1953), pp. 22–­23. “Egypt in New York: The Scepter of Egypt by William C. Hayes.” Art Digest, 27 (September 15, 1953), p. 23. “Sculpture Since Rodin: Sculpture in the 20th Century by Andrew Carnduff Ritchie.” Art Digest, 27 (August 1953), pp. 22–­23. “Isaac Kloomok’s Marc Chagall.” Judaism, 1 (April 1952), pp. 190–­91. “Perspective Drawing” (animated short). Film News (April 1952), p. 6.

Exhibition Reviews “Deliberate Speed.” ARTnews, 66 (April 1967), pp. 42–­59. “Month in Review,” a column on contemporary art in Arts Magazine, 1955–­56: Twelve Americans. Arts Magazine, 30 ( July 1956), pp. 25–­28. Raoul Hague included in Other Criteria.

L e o St e in be rg : P u bl ic at ion s ( 1 9 4 7 – 2 0 1 0 )

Fritz Glarner and Philip Guston. Arts Magazine, 30 ( June 1956). Included in Other Criteria. Recent Drawings USA. Arts Magazine, 30 (May 1956), p. 66. Included in Other Criteria. Franz Kline et al. Arts Magazine, 30 (April 1956), pp. 42–­45. Included in Other Criteria. Julio Gonzalez. Arts Magazine, 30 (March 1956). Included in Other Criteria. Spanish translation: In Kalías (October 1990), pp. 97–­101. Monet’s Water Lilies, Metropolitan Museum Fountain. Arts Magazine, 30 (February 1956), pp. 46–­48. Monet included in Other Criteria. Goldberg, Mitchell, Rivers, Rauschenberg. Arts Magazine, 30 ( January 1956), pp. 46–­48. Revision of comment on Rauschenberg as letter to the editor: “Footnote.” Arts Magazine, 32 (May 1958), p. 9. Pollock’s first retrospective, Jules Pascin, Picasso’s Suite Vollard. Arts Magazine, 30 (December 1955), pp. 43–­46. Pollock and Pascin included in Other Criteria. Reprint of Pollock: In Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles, Reviews, edited by Pepe Karmel, pp. 81–­83. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1999. De Kooning, Modern Sculpture, Morris Graves. Arts Magazine, 30 (November 1955), pp. 46–­48. De Kooning included in Other Criteria. “Bible-­Age Relics and Jewish Art.” Commentary, 15 (August 1953), pp. 164–­66. “Metropolitan Offers Modern Americans.” New Leader, February 5, 1951, p. 26.

Letters to the Editor “The King’s Cross.” New York Review of Books, February 15, 2007, p. 62. “Max Ernst’s Blasphemy.” New York Review of Books, September 22, 2005, p. 85. “Your Teeth Are Showing.” New York Review of Books, March 29, 2001, p. 53. On Pacheco and Velázquez. Art Bulletin, 73 (September 1991), pp. 503–­5. Letter re: response to Carol Duncan on the Demoiselles d’Avignon. Art Journal, 49 (Summer 1990), p. 207. “What Did Cato Mean?” New York Review of Books, July 19, 1990, p. 53. “Saving the Last Supper.” New York Times Magazine, November 24, 1985, p. 162. “A Close Shave” (re: beardless angels). ARTnews, 80 (April 1981). Reprint: In ARTnews, 91 (November 1992), p. 97. In support of Christo’s Gates project for Central Park, New York. New York Times, October 24, 1980, sect. A, p. 32. “Gerontophilia.” Art Journal, no. 3 (Spring 1973), p. 370. “Read Kolnik for Kollwitz.” Print Collector’s Newsletter, 3 (September–­October 1972), pp. 81–­82.

“Debate with George Steiner.” Daedalus, 98 (Summer 1969), pp. 726–­29, 791–­93. “Footnote” (re: Rauschenberg). Arts Magazine, 32 (May 1958), p. 9. “Apropros Huntington Hartford.” Art Digest, 29 ( July 1, 1955), p. 4.

Other Interview for Jasper Johns audio guide, for “Jasper Johns: Gray” exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, 2007–­8. “False Starts, Loose Ends” (publication of talk given at the CAA Distinguished Scholar Award, 2002). Brooklyn Rail ( June 2006), pp. 16–­20. “The Burden of Michelangelo’s Painting” (synopsis of 1982 A. W. Mellon Lectures). In A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: Fifty Years, pp. 135–­40. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art/CASVA, 2002. “Jacob Kainen” (obituary). Art on Paper, 4 (November–­December 1999), pp. 29–­30. “Meyer Schapiro” (obituary). CAA Newsletter, May–­June 1996, pp. 3–­4. “Albert Elsen” (obituary). CAA Newsletter, November–­December 1995. Response to “What Is the Meaning of Making a Painting Today with No Recognizable Image?” Tema Celeste, nos. 32–­33 (Autumn 1991), p. 65. Statement re: “The Power of Art.” Art Newspaper (October 1990), n.p. Reply to Paul Gardner, “What Would You Ask Michelangelo?” ARTnews, 85 (November 1986), p. 102. Double dactyl published in the second edition of Jiggery-­pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls, ed. Anthony Hecht and John Hollander, p. 119. New York: Atheneum, 1983. “Acknowledgments for a Book Not Yet Begun.” October, no. 13 (Summer 1980), pp. 101–­2. Reply to John Gruen’s questionnaire, “Far-­from-­Last Judgments, or Who’s Overrated and Underrated.” Art News, 76 (November 1977), p. 120. “Ten Irreverent Rimes” (limericks on Old Master prints). Print Collector’s Newsletter, 5 (October–­November 1974), p. 85. “The Symbolic Process: A Colloquium.” Proceedings of the American Psychoanalytic Association colloquium, December 11, 1969. In American Imago, 28 (Fall 1971), pp. 206–­7. Transcript of 1968 New York Studio School panel with Milton Resnick, Mercedes Matter, et al. In Out of the Picture: Milton Resnick and the New York School, pp. 213–­32. New York: Middlemarch Arts Press, 2003. Tribute, in Leo Castelli: Ten Years, n.p. New York: Leo Castelli Gallery, 1967. “The Cappella Paolina.” One-­hour TV program on Michelangelo’s last frescoes, filmed in the Sistine and Pauline Chapels. Broadcast on CBS-TV, Lamp unto My Feet, June 26, 1966, and February 26, 1967. “The Year Gone By: Part 1.” CBS-­TV panel discussion, moderated by Ilka Chase. Broadcast December 20, 1959.


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Translations Mary, by Sholem Asch. Translated from Yiddish. New York: G. P. Putnam’s, 1949. Ashes and Fire, by Jacob Pat. Translated from Yiddish. New York: International Universities Press, 1947.

Ph oto gr a phy Cr e d i ts

Fig. 1.1. Photo: Mark Ostrander, courtesy of Conner–­Rosenkranz, New York. Fig. 1.3. Minneapolis Museum of Art; The John R. Van Derlip Fund and Gift of funds from Bruce B. Dayton, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. W. John Driscoll, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Harrison, Mr. and Mrs. John Andrus, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Keating, Mr. and Mrs. Pierce McNally, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne MacFarlane, and many other generous friends of the Institute. Figs. 1.4, 1.5, 1.9. Scala/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 1.6. © Jozef Sedmak/ Fig. 1.13. Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Fig. 1.15. National Gallery, London, UK/De Agostini Picture Library/ Bridgeman Images. Fig. 1.18. Paris, Musée Jacquemart-­André—­Institut de France, MJAP-­P 2246, © Studio Sébert Photographes. Fig. 1.19. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 1.25. Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence, Tuscany, Italy/Bridgeman Images. Fig. 1.28. © Carole Raddato/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-­SA 2.0: Fig. 1.31. © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY. Figs. 1.34, 1.35. © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Figs. 2.1, 2.13, 2.31. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Fig. 2.9. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria/Ali Meyer/ Bridgeman Images. Figs. 2.16, 2.17. © RMN-­Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 2.18. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Figs. 2.21, 2.25. Scala/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 2.24. Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, cat. 174. Fig. 2.26. © DeA Picture Library/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 2.28. Image-­Bar. Fig. 2.35. © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 3.2. Tramont_ana/

Fig. 3.6. Courtesy the Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1986–­88, 1996–­97. Fig. 3.8. Museo Nacional Thyssen-­Bornemisza/Scala/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 3.9. The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 3.11. Copyright The Frick Collection. Fig. 4.6. Alinari/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 5.2. Photo by Arnold Newman, from Robert Coughlan, The World of Michelangelo, Time-­Life Books, © 1966 by Time, Inc. Fig. 5.9. Scala/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 6.5. Photo José Pessoa © Direção-­Geral do Património Cultural/ Arquivo de Documentação Fotográfica (DGPC/ADF). Fig. 8.6. © Marie-­Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.5 (Unported): legalcode. Fig. 9.2. © Carlos Goulão/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY SA 2.0: Fig. 9.3. Scala/Art Resource, NY. Figs. 9.4, 9.5. Per gentile concessione del Polo Museale del Lazio—­ Archivio Fotografico. Fig. 9.11. ICCD—­Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale—­GFN n. inv. E060035. Su autorizzazione dell’lstituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione—­MiBAC. Figs. 10.3, 10.4. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020. Fig. 10.5. © Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Foto: Wolfgang FuhrmannekInv.-­Nr. HLMD-­AE-­2110. Figs. 11.1, 11.5, 11.9, 11.10, 11.12. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Fig. 11.2. Wallace Collection, London, UK/Bridgeman Images. Fig. 11.8. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Fig. 11.11. © Musées royaux des Beaux-­Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ photo: J. Geleyns—­Art Photography. Fig. 11.14. Photograph © National Gallery in Prague 2020. Fig. 11.16. Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA, museum purchase/Bridgeman Images. Fig. 13.2. Marie Mauzy/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 13.3. Scala/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 13.4. © The Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 14.5. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Photo g ra phy Cr edi ts [292]

Fig. 14.6. Re-­engraving from Paul Lacroix, Manners, Customs, and Dress . . . (London, 1876), p. 506, fig. 398. Figs. 14.8, 14.9. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Fig. 15.2. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium © Lukas—­Art in Flanders VZW/Bridgeman Images. Fig. 15.4. Originally published in ABC; published here from Mundo Hispanico, no. 155 (February 1961), p. 75. Fig. 15.8. Published in the New York Review of Books, March 2, 1995, p. 38. Fig. 16.1. Photograph by Glenn Castellano, Collection of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York. Fig. 16.2. Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Fig. 16.3. © The Cleveland Museum of Art. Fig. 16.27. bpk Bildagentur/Berlin SMPK/Joerg P. Anders/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 16.37. © The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Fig. 16.44. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Fig. 16.45. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY. Fig. 16.48. © 1950 Charles Addams, Renewed 1976. With permission Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

I n de x

Boldface page numbers refer to images of artworks. Achilleus, St., 141, 142, 150 Addams, Charles, 233–34, 233 Aertsz, Rijkaert, 276n6 Aeschylus, 8, 248n39 ages of man, 29, 188 Agobard, St., 246n21 Agrippa of Nettesheim, Cornelius, De occulta philosophia, 95, 95, 250–­51nn29–­30, 251n32 Agucchi, Giovanni Battista, 153–­54 Alan of Lille, 246n22 Alberti, Cherubino, Pietà (after Michelangelo), 257n9 Alberti, Leon Battista, xiii, 7, 34–­35, 86, 242n3, 248n39; Della famiglia, 35; Della pittura (De pictura), 34–­69 (ch. 2), 242n17, 242n19, 243n41; De re aedificatoria, 249n14; Mantegna and, 34–­69 (ch. 2); Self-­Portrait, 35 Alberti, Pier Francesco, Academia d’ Pitori, 274n31 Alemán, Mateo, Guzmán de Alfarache, 184 Alexander the Great, 272n19 Alhazen, 85 Allori, Alessandro: Descent from the Cross, 104–­5, 105; Last Judgment, 240n31; Trinity, 104–­6, 105 Alpers, Svetlana, 233 ambiguity, xvi, 65, 154, 157–­58, 161, 199, 202, 269n51 Ambrose, St., 77, 96, 244n2, 252n7 Ammianus Marcellinus, 249n16 anamorphoses, 137 Andrea del Sarto, Disputation on the Trinity, 240n29, 241n35 Angelo d’Antonio, Giovanni, 244n7, 246–­47n31 Anne of Bohemia, 7 Annunciation, 71–­86 (ch. 3); exegesis on, 72–­75; iconography of, 72–­73, 75–­76, 81, 84–­85 Annunciation, Würzburg Cathedral, 74 Anselm, St., 252n7 Ansoldi, Costantino, 119–­20 Antoninus, St., 71–­72, 240n30 appropriation art, xv, 209, 219 Aquinas, St. Thomas, 5–­6 Ariosto, Ludovico, xiv, 20, 241n40 Aristotle, 85 Arma Christi, German woodcut, 90 Armenini, Giovanni Battista, 277n7

art, representational techniques, continuity principle, 15–­27. See also foreshortening Artemis (Diana) of Ephesus, 27–­28, 27, 30, 31 art history, methodology: collocation of painting with architecture, 53, 130–­43 (ch. 9), 158–­61, 259n17, 260–­61n38; copies and adaptations, viii, xv, 27–­28, 99–­100, 103–­4, 110–­13, 123–­29, 155, 209–­35 (ch. 16), 254n31, 261n2, 267n35; image-­based vs. text-­based, viii–­ix, xi, xiii–­xv, 1–­33 (ch. 1), 34–­69 (ch. 2); period texts, insufficiency of, 7, 10, 12, 26–­27; taste, role of, 1–­2. See also spectator participation Asúa, Manuel, 256n2 (ch. 8) Asúa Campos, Luis de, 256n2 (ch. 8) Atti, Gaetano, 149, 155, 157 Attic grave stele, Prokles and Prokleides, 186 Attic kylix, 211 Auden, W. H., 20, 145 Augustine, St., 4–­5, 76–­77, 79, 85, 239n8, 244n2, 245n16 Averroes, 85 Avicenna, 85 Avignon School, Retable de Boulbon, 244n7 Bacchiacca, Francesco, Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel, 227, 227 Bacon, Roger, 71–­72, 85 Baglione, Giovanni, 133 Bailly, David, Vanitas with Self-­Portrait, 274n34 Baldung Grien, Hans, Dead Christ Carried to Heaven by Angels, 104 Baltrusaitis, Jurgis, 137 Banchieri, Adriano, Festino nella sera del giovedi grasso avanti cena, 193 Bandini, Francesco, 128 Barbaro, Daniele, 259n19; La practica della perspettiva, 137 Barocci, Federico, 260nn27–­28; Annunciation, 206, 207 Baronio, Cesare, 152, 266n27, 267n37 Bartolo di Fredi, St. Petronilla Cured by St. Peter, 158 Baschenis, Evaristo, 272n21; Musical Instruments, 169 Bastiani, Lazzaro di, follower of, Martyrdom of St. George, 52 Baudelaire, Charles, 189, 231 Baxandall, Michael, xiii, 56, 57–­60, 65, 243n26 Beham, Hans Sebald, Fountain of Youth and Bathhouse, 221, 222–­23, 226 Bellori, Pietro, 138 Benjamin, Walter, xi, 4 Berenson, Bernard, 120–­21, 247n35, 251n2 Bernard, St., 6, 72, 78, 244n2, 246n27 Bernini, Gian Lorenzo: Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 143; Tritone, 221, 224; The Vision of Constantine, 143

In de x [294]

Berruguete, Pedro (attributed to), Federico da Montefeltro and His Son Guidobaldo, 186 Blanc, Charles, 145, 267n38 Bloemaert, Abraham, Baptism of Christ, 278n17 Bois, Yve-­Alain, 237n6 Bolzanio, Urbano, 95 Bonaventure, St., 86, 247n33 Bonfigli, Benedetto, Annunciation, 79 Borghini, Raffaello, 107 Bossuet, Jacques-­Bénigne, 246n29, 277n9 Botticelli, Sandro: Lamentation, 101–­2; Nativity, 255n37 Bracciolini, Poggio, 249n16 Bramantino, Pietà, 254n34 Brancusi, Constantin, 2 Braque, Georges, 32 Bréal, Auguste, 181, 184 Bredius, Abraham, 165 Bridget, St., xiii–­xiv, 5–­6, 89, 249n5 Brigittine Order, 89 Broederlam, Melchior, Annunciation, 73 Bronzino, Agnolo, 104, 106; Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence, work in, 97; Deposition, 101, 252–­53n14; Descent into Limbo, 213, 214; Portrait of an Elderly Woman, 275n9 Brown, Jonathan, 201, 203 Browning, Robert, 86 Bruhns, Leo, 132–­33 Burckhardt, Jacob, 34–­35, 147, 158, 242n3, 261n4 Burton, Robert, 227, 256n16 Butterfield, Andrew, 240n34 Bynum, Caroline, xiii–­xiv Cajetan, Cardinal (Thomas de Vio), 97, 99, 252n7 Callot, Jacques: Capricci di varie figure, 224, 225; Pantalone, 194, 194; Sainte Pétronille, 158 Calvi, Jacopo Alessandro, 148, 150, 155, 157, 261n6, 264n11, 264n15 Camón Aznar, José, 125, 256–­57n2, 257n5 Cano, Alonso, 276n10 Capponi, Lodovico di Gino, 99, 106 Caravaggio, 147, 259n22; Burial of St. Lucy, 139; Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, xii, 130–­43 (ch. 9); Conversion of St. Paul, 130–­43 (ch. 9), 135; Crucifixion of St. Peter, 130–­43 (ch. 9), 136; Death of the Virgin, 140, 141 Carracci, Agostino: Landscape with the Entombment, 252n13; Lot and His Daughters, 220, 221, 224; Nymph, Putto, and Small Satyr, 220, 221, 224 Carracci, Annibale, 99; Assumption, 131, 133; drawing after the Sistine Ancestors, 278n12 Carracci, Lodovico, 264n9, 267n37 Cartari, Vincenzo, 241n50, 250n26, 251n34 cartography, 15 Casal, Antonio Méndez, 256n2 (ch. 8) Castagno, Andrea del: Last Supper, 23, 24; Vision of St. Jerome, 8–­15, 9 Castiglione, Baldassare, 93, 115 Celsus (Greek philosopher), 72 Cennini, Cennino, 134 Cerasi, Stefano and Tiberio, bust portraits of, 132–­33 Cerasi Chapel. See Rome: Santa Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel Charlemagne, 152 Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, 161

Charles VIII (king of France), 152 Chastel, André, 274n34 Chesneau, Ernest, 235 Christiansen, Keith, 45, 244n9 Chrysostom, St. John, 77, 246nn23–­24 Cicero, 246n22 Cigoli (Lodovico Cardi), 258n9; Trinity, 254n28 Ciriaco d’Ancona, 52, 93 Clapp, Frederick Mortimer, 97, 120, 251n2, 252n8 Clark, Allan, xi; The King’s Temptress, 1–­2, 1 Clement VII (pope), 116 Clio, Hellenistic sculpture, 231 Clouet, François, Catherine de’ Medici, 275n9 Cochin, Charles-­Nicolas, 267n34 Cohen, Adam Ezra, 248n39 Cohen, Ted, 276n4 Collaert, Jan, I, The Invention of the Compass (after Stradanus), 207 Communion of the Apostles, 11–­12, 11 Condivi, Ascanio, 30 Cope, Maurice, 259n17 Corboli, Girolamo, 8, 11–­12 Corio, Bernardino, Historia di Milano, 207 Cossa, Francesco del, St. Vincent Ferrer, 249n11 Coster, Samuel, The Play of the Rich Man, 177 Court, Jean de, Faith, 216, 217, 278n11 Cox-­Rearick, Janet, 97, 107, 109, 252n11, 254n31 Cranach, Lucas, 233 Cristofari, Pietro Paolo, mosaic copy of St. Petronilla altarpiece, 160, 261n2, 267n35 Crivelli, Carlo, Annunciation, 247n31 Cubism, 32–­33 Cunnally, John, 239n12, 243n43, 250n24 Curione, Celio, 250n26 Currier & Ives, Descent from the Cross, 213, 215, 216 Custis, George Washington Parke, 234 Cyril of Jerusalem, 240n33 Daddi, Bernardo, 244n7 Daniele da Volterra, 213, 216; Deposition, xv; Descent from the Cross, 213, 216; Descent from the Cross (copy by Gonçalves), 278n10; Descent from the Cross (copy by Toschi), 215; Pietà, 257–58n9; Santa Trinità dei Monti, della Rovere chapel, 260–­61n38 Dante Alighieri, ix, xiv, xvi, 93 d’Antonio, Francesco, 240n29 Daumier, Honoré, Le ventre législatif, 193, 193 Davent, Léon, Apelles Painting Alexander and Campaspe, 255n35 de Bry, Jan Theodor, 221 Degas, Edgar, 235 de Groot, Hofstede, 165, 274n29 de Jonge, C. H., 165 della Bella, Stefano, Diverses testes & figures, 218, 219 de Rossi, G. B., 150 Desplaces, Louis, Descent from the Cross (after Jouvenet), 215, 216 d’Este, Leonello, 230n11, 239n11 destruction of works of art, 1 de Vries, Lyckle, 163–­64 Dolce, Lodovico, 26 Dolci, Danilo, 206

Inde x Domenichi, Lodovico, Facetie, 275n8 Domenichino, 147; Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, 159 Domitilla, St., 141, 142 Donatello, 46; door of the Apostles, Old Sacristy, San Lorenzo, Florence, 22, 23; Lamentation, 59 Donne, John, 233, 248n39 Dorigny, Charles, 253n17 Dorigny, Nicolas, St. Petronilla (after Guercino), 261n2, 262 Dou, Gerard: The Painter in His Studio, 273n27; Portrait of the Artist Drawing, 174–­75, 174 Downey, Juan, 198 Du Cange, Charles, 246n21 Duchesne, L’Abbé L., 265–66n23 Dumas, Alexandre, 248n39 Durandus, William, 251n36 Dürer, Albrecht, 45, 116, 250n21, 254n34; Gnadenstuhl, 103–­4, 104, 272n19; Underweysung der messung, 242n16 Duyckinck, Gerardus, 277n5; Christ at Emmaus (attributed to), 212, 213 Eddington, Arthur, 26 Edgerton, Samuel, Jr., 71–­72, 85–­86, 242n22 education of artists, 163–­79 (ch. 11) Egyptomania, 93 Eleutherius, St., 77, 246n21 El Greco, 235; Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, 129, 129; Entombment, 125–­29 (ch. 8), 126–­27; Trinity, 254n28 Eliot, T. S., 227 Elyot, Thomas, 115–­16 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 278n18 Empoli, Jacopo da, 254n31 Ephraim Syrus, St., 76 Erasmus, 10 Eratostratus, 28 Erikson, Erik, 206 Eustochium, St., 9, 10–­11 Fantin-­Latour, Henri, 189 Febvre, Lucien, 247n32 Feliciano, Felice, 46, 93 Ferrari, Gaudenzio, St. Petronilla, 158 Ferrarini, Michele Fabrizio, 93, 249–50n17 Ficino, Marsilio, 93, 250n18 Filarete, 93 Filelfo, Francesco, 93 Fiocco, Giuseppe, 125, 256n2 (ch. 8) Fischel, Oskar, 209 Flaxman, John, Monument to George Steevens, 217, 218 Floris, Frans, St. Luke Painting the Virgin, 119, 197, 197 Foligno, Niccolò da, Annunciation (attributed to), 79 Fontana, Paolo, 251n2 foreshortening: in Caravaggio, 137; in Castagno, 8, 10–­11, 15; in Guercino, 148; in Mantegna, 49–­50, 65, 87–­96 (ch. 4) Forster, Kurt W., 99, 101, 251n2, 252n9, 253n18, 255n8 Foucault, Michel, xiii, 195 Fra Angelico, St. Lawrence Receiving the Treasures of the Church and Distributing Alms, 49, 49 France, Anatole, 239n11 Francis, St., 89, 93

Francis de Sales, St., 152 Frey, Johann Jakob, 149; St. Petronilla (after Guercino), 261n2, 263 Friedlaender, Walter, vii, 139, 141 Fry, Roger, 237n1 (int.) Fulgentius, St., 84 Furtwängler, Wilhelm, 1 Fuseli, Henry, 278n18 Galassi Paluzzi, Carlo, 145 Galen, 85 Gallonio, Antonio, 152, 266n25 Gaudentius, St., 77, 246n21 Gentile da Fabriano, Annunciation, 73, 75, 81, 85 George III (king of England), 234 Ghiberti, Lorenzo, Gates of Paradise, 243n41 Giotto, xiv, 5; Navicella, 66; Presentation, 269n44 Giovanni da Rimini, Last Judgment, 249n11 Gnudi, Cesare, 147, 150, 261n5 Goebbels, Josef, 1 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 20, 145, 147, 149, 227 Goltzius, Hendrick, 258n9; Christ at Emmaus (copy by Matham), 212; Faith (copy by Matham), 216 Gombrich, Ernst, xv Gonçalves, André, altarpiece, Santa Clara, Coimbra, Portugal, 278n10 Gonzaga, Cardinal Francesco, 61 Gonzaga, Lodovico, 53, 57, 61 Gowing, Lawrence, 36 Gracián, Baltasar, El Criticón, 206, 276n11 Graeve, Mary Ann, 259n22 Green, Valentine, 235 Greenberg, Clement, xii, 45, 189, 237n1 (int.) Greenstein, Jack, 42 Gregory XIII (pope), 152 Gregory XV (pope), 152, 161 Grimaldi, Giacomo, 152 Grippi, Rosalind, 123 Guariento, Christ as Judge, 91, 92 Guercino: Incredulity of St. Thomas, 157, 264n9; St. Petronilla altarpiece, viii, 144–­61 (ch. 10), 144, 146, 155; St. Petronilla altarpiece, anonymous 17th-­century copy, 268; St. Petronilla altarpiece (copy by W. Brown), 261n2; St. Petronilla altarpiece (copy by Cristofari), 160, 261n2, 267n35; St. Petronilla altarpiece (copy by Dorigny), 261n2, 262; St. Petronilla altarpiece (copy by Frey), 261n2, 263; St. Petronilla altarpiece, studies for, 146, 149, 154, 156; Taking of Christ, 264n9 Hals, Frans, 235 Hamann, Richard, xi, 4 Hartt, Frederick, 31, 101, 252n2 Heemskerck, Maarten van, 275n9; Angel Leaving Tobias, 231, 232, 233; Torso Belvedere, 123 Hemingway, Ernest, 233 Hess, Jacob, 134 Hesychius, St., 78 hieroglyphics, 93–­96 Hinks, Roger, 141 Hogarth, William: The Beggar’s Opera (formerly attributed to), 232; The Enraged Musician, 273n26; subscription ticket for “A Harlot’s Progress,” 28, 30, 30


In de x [296]

Holbein, Hans, the Younger, 255n37 Hollander, Anne, 203–­4 Hollander, John, 224 Hope, Charles, 7–­8, 249n15 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 90, 248n36 Horapollo, 93–­95 Hugh of St. Victor, 31 Hull, Vida J., xiii–­xiv humanists, 8, 56, 57, 65–­66, 93, 255n37 images, influence on texts, 4–­7 Ingres, Jean-­Auguste-­Dominique, 42 Irenaeus, St., 76 Irving, Washington, 274n31 Ivins, William M., Jr., 272n20 Jameson, Anna Brownell, 158, 267n32, 267n38 Jerome, St., 8–­13, 15, 28, 30, 152, 240n30; Epistle 22, 10 Johann of Neumarkt, 239n17 John Paul II (pope), 247n34 Johns, Jasper, 218 Johnson, John G., 120 Jones, Ernest, 245n12, 245n20, 246n21 Jouvenet, Jean, Descent from the Cross (copied by Desplaces), 215, 216 Joyce, James, vii, viii, 61, 172, 242n23, 245n17 Kabbalah, 94 Kemp, Martin, 201, 203 Kern, Leonhard, Abraham and Isaac, 254n34 Koran, 244n2 Kozloff, Max, 203, 205 Kramer, Hilton, 69 Künstle, Karl, 145 Landino, Cristoforo, 8, 219n22 Landucci, Luca, 8 Lanfranco, Giovanni, 148 language, descriptive limitations of, 15, 17, 19–­20, 22. See also art history, methodology: image-­based vs. text-­based Lanzi, Luigi, 148, 150, 264n11 Lascaris, Giovanni Antonio, 254n34 Leonardo da Vinci, 20, 27, 36, 86, 102, 134, 137, 253n22; Last Supper, 23, 24–­26, 25, 247n35; Mona Lisa (parodied by Addams), 233–34, 233 Leo XII (pope), 277n9 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 3, 20, 241n40 Letarouilly, Paul, 258n3 Lievens, Jan, 165, 169; Bust of a Balding Man, 170 Lightbown, Ronald, 243n35, 248n1 Ligoria, Piero, 256n1 (ch. 7) Lippi, Filippino, 244n8 Lippi, Filippo, 70–­86 (ch. 3); Annunciation (Florence, San Lorenzo), 247n35; Annunciation (London, National Gallery), xii, 70, 71–­72, 82, 83, 84–­86, 244n8; Annunciation (New York, Frick Collection), 79, 81; Annunciation (New York, Metropolitan Museum), 81–­82, 82, 247n35; Annunciation (Rome, Palazzo Barberini), 243n36; Annunciation (Rome, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj), 73–­74, 74, 243n36; Barbadori Altarpiece, 247n35; Death of St. Jerome, 240n29; Madonna Enthroned, 247n35; Prato, frescoes at, 260n32; St. Augustine in His Study, 79

Lomazzo, Giovanni Paolo, 134, 137 Lorenzetti, Ambrogio, xiv, 5, 99 Lorenzetti, Pietro, xiv Lorenzo di Credi, 41–­42 lost profile (profil perdu), 11, 25–­26 Lotz, Wolfgang, 131 Louis XI (king of France), 152 Lucian, 94–­95 Luini, Bernardino, Burial of St. Catherine, 102 Luther, Martin, 247n34 Lutwin, 247n34 Macrobius, 28, 30 Maderna, Carlo, 138 Maggi, Giovanni, Santa Maria del Popolo, 258n10 (ch. 9) Mahon, Denis, 150, 153–­54, 157, 261–62n6, 264n16, 269n51 Mainardi, Sebastiano, 244n8 Malaspina, Marchesa Taddea, 118–­19 Mâle, Emile, 151–­52, 265n22, 267n39 Mancini, Giulio, 129, 148, 264n11 Manet, Édouard, 193, 233, 235; Velázquez and, 189 —­works: Bar at the Folies Bergères, 119, 120; Dead Toreador, 275n3; Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 221, 229, 235; Le fifre, 189, 192; Olympia, 235; Portrait of Pablillos de Valladolid, Jester of Philip IV (after Velázquez), 189, 191; Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet), 275n2 Mansart, Jules Hardouin, 261n2 Manship, Paul, 2 Mantegna, Andrea, 34–­69 (ch. 2), 87–­96 (ch. 4), 134; Alberti, relationship to, 34–­69 (ch. 2); close-­up, use of, 55; coincidence of opposites, 91–­93; perspective, use of, 46, 49–­50, 52–­56, 62, 64–­65; surface and depth, parity of, 87–­89; synecdoches, use of, 42, 54 —­works: Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi), 53–­55, 53–­54, 61; Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan, 40; Christ Carrying the Cross with Simon of Cyrene, 55, 57, 242n24; Christ Descending into Limbo, 38; Circumcision, 36, 37, 42; Dead Christ, xii, 8, 55, 87–­96 (ch. 4), 88–­89; Dormition, 243n36; Entombment, 57–­60, 58, 252n13; The Infant Savior, 41; The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele in Rome, 42; Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 19, 19, 42; Madonna della Vittoria, 41–­42, 43–­44; Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, 38; Ovetari Chapel, Assumption of the Virgin, 42, 55, 56; Ovetari Chapel, Martyrdom of St. James, 50, 51, 52–­53, 55; Ovetari Chapel, St. James Baptizing Hermogenes, 46, 47, 49–­50; Ovetari Chapel, St. James before Herod Agrippa, 35, 46, 48; Ovetari Chapel, St. James Led to Execution, 62, 63, 64–­65, 66–­68, 67–­69; Ovetari Chapel, Translation of the Body of St. Christopher, 17, 17; Parnassus, 42; Portrait of a Man, 40; Resurrection panel at Tours, 32; Sacrifice of Isaac, 38; A Sibyl and a Prophet, xv, 21, 22–­25; St. Mark, 55, 56; St. Sebastian (Paris, Louvre), 36, 40; St. Sebastian (Venice, Ca’ d’Oro), 38, 39–­40; St. Sebastian (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), 17, 18, 40, 42; Triumphs of Caesar, 65, 93, 249n15; Virgin and Child, 41, 55, 57; Virgin and Child with Saints, 58, 59 Mantovano, Rinaldo, 260n34 Marangoni, Matteo, 150, 264n16 Marcanova, Giovanni, 52, 242n22 Marcantonio Raimondi, 158; Ariadne (Cleopatra) (after the antique), 221, 223; The Climbers (after Michelangelo), 221, 222; Crouching Venus, 112, 113, 255n37; God Appearing to Noah (after Raphael), 227, 227; Judgment of Paris (after Raphael), 221, 222, 229, 269n44; Virgin and Child Seated on Clouds, 254–55n35

Inde x Marcel, Guillaume, 241n50 Martial, Epigrams, 182–­83 Martini, Simone, 79 Martyr, Justin, 76 Masaccio, 10, 134, 240n31 Maso di Banco, Christ in Judgment, 91 Masolino, 258n13 Massaio, Pietro del, 241n36 Master IDC (probably Jean de Court), Faith, 216, 217, 278n11 Master I.Q.V., Apelles Painting Alexander and Campaspe (after Primaticcio), 255n35 Master of the Barberini Panels, Annunciation, 244n8 Master of the Martyrdom of the 10,000, Christ Child in the Sacred Heart, 90 Master of the Parement de Narbonne, Très Belles Heures de Notre-­Dame, 244n7 Matham, Jacob: Annunciation (after G. Valeriano), 81, 247n31; Christ at Emmaus (after Goltzius), 212, 213; Faith (after Goltzius), 216, 217 Matteo di Giovanni, Assumption of the Virgin, 13–­15, 14 Maura y Montaner, Bartolomé, El cómico (after Velázquez), 191 Maximilian I (Holy Roman Emperor), 116, 272n19 Mayer, A. L., 125, 129, 256n2 (ch. 8) Mayer, Elizabeth, 145 McLaglen, Victor, 178 McLuhan, Marshall, 32–­33 Mechthild of Magdeburg, 5–­6 Medici, Alessandro de’, 115–­21 (ch. 6) Medici, Cosimo de’, 119 Medici, Francesco de’, 119–­20 Medici, Giulio de’, 119 Meireles, Cildo, 248n39 Melanchthon, Philip, 116, 206 Meleager, 60 Metsu, Gabriel: Young Lady Drawing, 272n19; Young Painter Playing the Flute, 272n21 Michelangelo: Pontormo and, 252n12; portrait in El Greco painting, 129, 129; Raphael and, 110–­12 —­works: Battle of Cascina, 127, 221; Battle of Cascina (copy by Sangallo), 128; Battle of Cascina (partial copy by Marcantonio Raimondi, The Climbers), 221, 222; Bruges Madonna, 111–­12, 111, 254n35; Conversion of St. Paul, 240–­41n35; David, 2–­3, 3; Doni Tondo, 111; Entombment, 102; Florentine Pietà, 125, 127–­28, 127, 257n6; Florentine Pietà (copy by C. Alberti), 257n9; Florentine Pietà, Sabbatini adaptation, 129; Medici Madonna, 113, 230, 231, 233; Moses, 272n19; Pietà for Vittoria Colonna, 101, 257n6; Roman Pietà, 60, 99–­100, 99, 112, 152, 266n25, 267n34; Sistine Chapel, Ancestor lunettes, 217, 217, 218, 218, 278n12; Sistine Chapel, Creation of Sun and Moon, 253n23; Sistine Chapel, Last Judgment, 30–­32, 31, 123, 124, 247n35, 256nn2–­3 (ch. 7), 258n10 (ch. 8), 269n44 Michelson, Annette, xiii, 275–76n1 (ch. 15) Mignon, Jean, Pietà (after Penni), 101 Milton, John, 85, 229, 248n36, 248nn38–­39 Mingote, cartoon after Velázquez’s Las Meninas, 206, 207, 276n8 Minucius Felix, 28, 30 Modestini, Mario, 244n9 Molanus, Johannes, 252n7 Mombritius, Boninus, 265n19 Monaco, Lorenzo, 45, 45; Nativity and Last Judgment, 242n18

Montaigne, Michel de, 277n4 Montañés, Martinez, 119 Morinck, Hans: Pietà, 254n28; Trinity, 254n28 Morland, George, The Artist in a Landscape, 218–­19, 219 Moroni, Giovanni Battista, Lucrezia Agliardi Vertova, 275n9 Muller, Jan, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (after von Aachen), 228, 229, 278n17 Muraro, Michelangelo, 44–­45 Nabokov, Vladimir, 233 Naldini, Giovanni Battista: Deposition, 102; Pietà, 254n34 Natura (personification). See Artemis (Diana) of Ephesus Naumann, Francis, 178 Nereus, St., 141, 142, 150 Newman, Barnett, Broken Obelisk, 243n36 Nicolas of Cusa (Cusanus), 243n38 Nieuwenhuis, P. N. H. Domela, 166 Nuremberg Frauenkirche, Virgin of the Annunciation, 82 Oertel, Robert, 258n13 optics/vision, theories of, 15, 71–­72, 84–­86, 200, 248n39 Origen, 72 Pacheco, Francisco, 182, 183, 278n17; St. Sebastian Nursed by St. Irene, 228–­29, 228 Paleotti, Gabriele, 275n10 Pallucchini, Rodolfo, 125, 129, 256n2 (ch. 8), 257n5 Palomino, Antonio, 201–­2 Paneels, Willem, Cursus Mundi (after Rubens), 186 Panofsky, Erwin, xv, 46, 217 Parmigianino, Self-­Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 195, 197, 202, 205 Parrhasios, Demos, 243n42 Passarotti, Bartolomeo, Portrait of an Elderly Woman, 275n9 Passeri, Giovanni Battista, 147–­48, 155–­57, 264n10 Passeri, Irma, 121 Patin, Jacques, Balet comique de la royne, 193 Paul, St., 4, 60, 76, 107 Paula, St., 9, 10–­11 Paul I (pope), 151, 265n21 Pauli, Gustav, 235 Paul III (pope), 272n19 Peale, Rembrandt, The Roman Daughter, 229 Penni, Luca: Entombment, 253n17; Pietà (engraved by Mignon), 101 pentagram, symbolism of, xii, 87–­90, 94–­96 Pepin the Short, 151 perspective, artists’ use of. See foreshortening Perugini, Charles-­Edward, St. Petronilla (after Guercino), 261n2 Perugino, Pietro, Lamentation, 101 Peter, St., 4, 144–­61 (ch. 10), 267n37 Petrarch, xiv, 255n2 Petronilla, St.: cult and life of, 150–­52; iconography of, 158; reinternment of, 145–­61 (ch. 10) Petronius, Satyricon, 20 Pevsner, Nikolaus, 218 Philip IV (king of Spain), 195–­208 (ch. 15) Philip IV (Philippe le Bel, king of France), 152 Photius (patriarch of Constantinople), 78 Picart, Bernard, 279n25


In de x [298]

Picasso, Pablo, ix, xi–­xii, 1, 226, 229–­30, 233, 241n42; Demoiselles d’Avignon, 119; Minotauromachy, 269n44; Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 32, 32; Still Life with Pipe, 32–­33, 32 Pico della Mirandola, 94, 251n29 Piero della Francesca: Annunciation, 73, 75; Proof of the True Cross, 243n36 Pinturicchio, 258n13 Pirckheimer, Willibald, 250n21 Pisanello, 57 Pizzolo, Niccolò, 46 Plato, 206 Pliny the Elder, 65, 115, 158, 243n42, 255n2, 255n4 Pollaiuolo, Antonio del, 4, 240n35 Pollak, Oskar, 157 Pollock, Jackson, 45 Polygnotus, 158 Polykleitos, Doryphoros (Roman copy), 3 Pomponius Gauricus, De sculptura, 157–­58 Pontormo, Jacopo da, xvi; Alessandro de’ Medici, 114, 115–­21 (ch. 6), 116, 118, 120, 197; Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence, 97–­114 (ch. 5); Capponi Chapel, altarpiece, 98–­100; Capponi Chapel, Annunciation, 269n44; Capponi Chapel, studies, 100, 103, 108, 110; Madonna and Saints, 253n25; Two Men with a Passage from Cicero’s “On Friendship,” 255n14 Pope, Alexander, 248n39 Pope-­Hennessy, John, 46, 254n35 Poussin, Nicolas, Deluge, 269n44 Preti, Mattia, Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria, 13, 241n35 Primaticcio, Apelles Painting Alexander and Campaspe, 255n35 Próspero, Felipe, 277n19 Pseudo-­Augustine, 245n20 Pseudo-­Bonaventure, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 247n33, 253n17 Pulzone, Scipione, Pietà, 257–58n9 Pythagoras, 94 Quarton, Enguerrand, Coronation, 244n7 Quintilian, 77 Rabelais, François, 79, 247n32 Raphael, 99, 226, 254n35; Manet and, 235; Michelangelo and, 110–­12; portrait in El Greco painting, 129 —­works: Borghese Entombment, 102, 111, 252n13; Chigi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, 106; God Appearing to Noah (copy by Marcantonio Raimondi), 227, 227; Judgment of Paris (copy by Marcantonio Raimondi), 221, 222, 229, 235, 269n44; La Belle Jardinière, 111–­12, 111–­12 Réau, Louis, 261n3 Reliquary of St. Isidore, Creation of Adam and Temptation of Adam, 6 Rembrandt, 15, 272n20; Abraham Caressing Isaac, 254n34; Angel Leaving Tobias, 230–­31, 232, 233; Night Watch, 1; The Pancake Woman, 181–­82, 182 Renaissance art: continuity principle, 15–­27; narrative conventions, 101 Reni, Guido, 275n10 Reuchlin, Johann, De arte cabalistica, 94–­95 Rewald, John, 229, 235 Reynolds, Joshua, 229–­30; Caroline, Duchess of Marlborough, 278n12; Recovery from Sickness, 217, 218 Riace, bronze warrior, 5 Ricci, Giovanni Battista (Il Novara), 132; vault fresco, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, 132 Rice, Louise, 269n51

Richardson, Jonathan, 213, 216 Robbia, Luca della, Logic and Dialectic, 22, 22 Robinson, Frank, 271n14, 274n29 Romano, Giulio, 260n38 Rome: maps of, 15, 16; Piazza Barberini, 221, 224, 249n11; San Giacomo in Augusta, 138; Santa Maria della Scala, 141; Santa Maria del Popolo, Cerasi Chapel, 106, 130–­43 (ch. 9), 130, 132–­36, 138–­39; Santa Maria in Vallicella, 138; Sant’ Andrea della Valle, 138 Roncalli, Cristoforo (Il Pomarancio), 260n30; St. Domitilla with Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, 141–­43, 142 Rosa, Salvator, Blind Belisarius (copy by Trumbull), 234 Rosen, David, 121 Rosso Fiorentino, Dead Christ Surrounded by Angels, 253n20 Rubens, Peter Paul, 1, 61, 187, 258n9; Adoration of the Magi, 67, 68; Cursus Mundi (copy by Paneels), 186; Holy Family, 113; Nature and Her Followers, 28; Shivering Venus, 255n37; Three Graces, 110; Triumph of the Catholic Faith, 28, 29, 30 Rudolph II (Holy Roman Emperor), 272n19 rulers as artists, 115–­17 Rupert of Deutz, xvi, 277n9 Sabbatini, Lorenzo, Deposition (after Michelangelo), 128, 129, 257n9 Sacred Heart, devotion to, 89–­90 Salmon, André, 32 Salviati, Francesco, 256n1 (ch. 7); Beheading of St. John the Baptist, 122–­ 24 (ch. 7), 122; Jason and the Ram, 256n3; Resurrection, 256n3 Sangallo, Aristotile da, Battle of Cascina (after Michelangelo), 128 Sano di Pietro, 158 Saraceni, Carlo, Death of the Virgin, 141 Sargent, John Singer, 204 Savonarola, Girolamo, 277n9 Scannelli, Francesco, 150 Schama, Simon, 178 Schiff, Gert, 221 Schjeldahl, Peter, 40–­41 Schöne, Wolfgang, 134, 141, 258n11 (ch. 9) Schönfeld, Johann Heinrich, The Academy/Life Class, 220, 221 Scultori, Adamo, 217 Seleucus I (king of Babylonia and Syria), 250n24 Semrau, Max, 145, 147 Sennett, Richard, 201 Shakespeare, William, xiv, 1, 17, 84, 149–­50, 188, 206, 233, 248n39, 259n21 Shearman, John, xvi, 97, 101–­2, 106–­8 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 248n39 Shiff, Richard, vii–­viii Signorelli, Luca, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, 12, 240n35 Sixtus IV (pope), 152 Snyder, Joel, 201, 276n4 Soehner, Halldor, 125, 256–­57n2, 257nn4–­5 Soldano, Aniello, 192 spectator participation: in Bernini, 143; in Caravaggio, 131, 139, 141–­43; in Roncalli, 141–­43; in Velázquez, 189, 193–­94, 195–­208 (ch. 15) Spranger, Bartholomeus, 272n19 Squarcione, Francesco, 46 Steen, Jan: Allegory of the Art of Painting, 167; Cheerful Company in the Arbor of an Inn, 273n26; doctor’s visit, theme of, 163, 177; The Drawing Lesson, xii, 162–­79 (ch. 11), 162, 167–­68, 170–­71; The Harpsichord Lesson, 163–­65, 164, 171, 173, 177; The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah, 272n23; A Painter and His Family, 166, 170, 179; Prayer before the Meal,

Inde x 177; Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 177; Scholar in His Study, 163, 270, 271n2; Self-­Portrait, 178, 179; Supper at Emmaus, 177; Twelfth-­Night Feast, 272n23; Two Men and a Young Woman Making Music on a Terrace, 164 Steinberg, Saul, New Yorker cover, 224, 226, 226 Stendhal, 149–­50, 157 Stephen II (pope), 151 stigmata. See wounds of Christ Stone of Unction, 96 Strange, Robert, Charles I of England with the Duke of Hamilton (after Van Dyck), 210, 234–­35 Strozzi, Alessandro, map of Rome, 16 Summers, David, 256n1 (ch. 7) Suso, Henry, 89 Sutton, Peter, 173, 177–­78 Swift, Jonathan, 26–­27 Synesius of Cyrene, 227 Tacconi, Innocenzo, Coronation of the Virgin, 133–­34, 133, 134 Taddeo di Bartolo, map of Rome, 16 Tansillo, Luigi, Lagrime di S. Pietro, 267n37 Tennyson, Alfred, 17, 19–­20 Tertullian, 76, 152 Theodore of Mopsuestia, 240n33 Thomas, Dylan, 38 Thomas à Kempis, 89 Thomas Aquinas, St., 5–­6 Throne of Grace (Gnadenstuhl), 10, 103–­7, 104, 114, 240n34 Tintoretto: Last Supper, 137; St. Roch in Glory, 12, 241n35; Temptation of St. Anthony, 241n35 Titian, 55, 134, 276n10; Adoration of the Magi, 209, 210, 211; Assunta, 240–41n35; Bacchanal of the Andrians, 127, 128; Christ Carrying the Cross, 242n24; in El Greco painting, 129; Presentation of the Virgin, 259n17; Venus and the Lute Player, 257n8 Tolnay, Charles de, 30–­31 Tolstoy, Leo, 247n34 Tonks, Henry, Caricature of Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” with Sargent as the Painter, 204, 204 Torriti, Jacopo, Annunciation, 73 Toschi, Paolo, Descent from the Cross (after Daniele da Volterra), 215 Traditio legis, 239n8 Trollope, Adolphus, 116 Trumbull, John, 213; Blind Belisarius (after Rosa), 234; Portrait of General Washington, 209, 210, 211, 234–­35 Turner, Nicholas, 269n51 Ubertino da Casale, 249n9 Uccello, Paolo, 8; Sir John Hawkwood, 62, 64 Umā, Nepalese goddess, 2 Valentiner, W. R., 166, 168, 272n20 Valeriano, Giuseppe, Annunciation (copy by Matham), 81, 247n31 Valeriano, Pierio, Hieroglyphica, 95–­96, 96, 250n26, 251n32 van der Weyden, Roger, Exhumation of St. Hubert, 157 van de Velde, Adriaen, 167, 274n30 van de Velde, Jan, The Pancake Woman, 182–­83, 183 Van Dyck, Anthony: Charles I and Henrietta Maria Holding a Laurel Wreath, 276n10; Charles I of England with the Duke of Hamilton, 209, 210, 211, 234–­35

Van Gelder, H. E., 163–­64, 165, 274n29 van Hoogstraten, Samuel, 178 van Leyden, Lucas, 221 van Mander, Karel, 274n31 van Mieris, Frans, 272n19 Van Veen, Otto: Amorum emblemata, 248n39; Death of the Virgin (copy by Wierix), 13, 241n35 Varnedoe, Kirk, 201 Varro, Marcus Terentius, 65–­66 Vasari, Giorgio, 8, 11, 30–­32, 101, 107, 109, 117–­19, 121, 123, 240n32, 261n38; Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici, 117 Vecchi, Orazio, L’Amfiparnaso, 193 Velázquez, Diego, 229, 235; perspective, use of, 199, 201–­2, 204–­5 —­works: Juan Martinez Montañes, 119; Las Meninas, xi, xii, xvi, 119, 195–­208 (ch. 15), 196; Old Woman Cooking Eggs, xv, 180, 181–­85 (ch. 12); Pablo de Valladolid, 189–­94 (ch. 14), 190, 191, 202; Water Carrier of Seville, 186, 187–­88 (ch. 13) Veneziano, Domenico, 8; Annunciation, 247n35; Virgin and Child, 244n7 Veneziano, Lorenzo, Annunciation, 244n7 Vermeer, Johannes, 179; Allegory, 166 Verona, San Zeno, Baptism of Christ, 6 Veronese, Paolo, Charity and St. Sebastian, 273 Vigerio, Marco, 93 vision. See optics/vision, theories of Vitruvius, Pollio, 243n39 Vittoria, Alessandro, St. Sebastian, 168–­69, 168, 272n21 Volterra, Francesco da, 138 von Aachen, Hans, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (copy by Muller), 228, 229, 278n17 von der Vogelweide, Walter, 78, 246n27 von Muralt, Johann, Kinder-­Büchlein, 217, 217 von Schneider, Arthur, 258n11 (ch. 9) Voorhout, Johannes, Still Life and a Woman at an Easel, 273, 273–­74n28 Voragine, Jacopo da, Golden Legend, 151, 265n19 Voss, Hermann, 145, 251n2 Vyšši Brod Altar, 244n5 Walsh, John, 163, 167–­70, 176–­78, 271–­72n19, 274nn29–­30 Warburg, Aby, xv, 235 Weenix, Jan Baptist, 273n26 West, Benjamin, Half-­Draped Female Nude, 213, 214 West, Mae, 178 Wethey, Harold E., 125, 128, 256n2 (ch. 8), 258n10 (ch. 8) Wierix, Hieronymus: Dawn (Childhood) from The Four Ages of Man (after Francken), 29; Death of the Virgin (after Van Veen), 13 Wittkower, Rudolph, 159, 278n18 Wölfflin, Heinrich, xiii, 148 Woolf, Virginia, 20 Wordsworth, William, 173–­74 wounds of Christ (stigmata), xii, 79, 87–­91, 93–­96 Yeats, William Butler, 76, 244–­45n11 Zeno, St., 76, 245n18, 246n27, 248n38 Zuccaro, Federico, 241n35; Dead Christ with Angels, 254n28; Death of the Virgin, 260n27; Trinity, 254n28 Zuccaro, Taddeo: Death of the Virgin, 260n27; Pietà, 257–58n9; Raising of Eutychus, 2­58n9