E. Kris-O.Kurz, “The Heroization of Man”
I - The Heroization of the Artist's Biography As subsections here we can distinguish the following: - unusual background: (as repeating motifs we come across things such as illegitimacy, poverty, serious illness in childhood). As such, some premonition of an extra-ordinary future is apparent already in childhood; - an early talent in arts that is manifested in some very noticeable fashion (the artist sketches animals as he is tending the herd, doodles on the walls - as with Filippi Lippi or doodles in notebooks - Poussin, Michelangelo; this passion for drawing is often actively discouraged, for example the child is beaten by the father); - the artist meets a benefactor or teacher who recognized the child's talent and who in later life becomes a significant force, often assuming the role of the father. Part of this is the often repeated admission of the teacher that he has no more that he can teach the future artist. An appropriate example of this, albeit from a significantly later period, is provided by the description of Pablo Picasso's childhood: The heavy rain that had been falling a few days earlier had given way to a strong easterly wind. Night had fallen early and it was dark. It was a heavy autumn night in the city of Malaga. At number 36 in the Plaza de Riego ... , there was an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty. Doña María Francisca Picasso López was lying in childbed. [--] The birth was not easy but at a quarter past eleven on that autumn night it was all over. A new baby, another son of the city of Malaga, had come into the world. [---] That night, Tuesday October 25th, saw the start of the life of the man who, with time, would become a myth, and like all myths, a legend. His uncle Salvador Ruiz Blasco, a qualified doctor, attended the birth and made sure, with his skill, that the newborn baby survived.» (Mallen 1999a) «His unusual adeptness for drawing began to manifest itself early, around the age of 10, when he became his father's pupil [Picasso's father was professor of Drawing José Ruiz Blasco] ... At this time he started his first paintings. From that point his ability to experiment with what he learned and to develop new expressive means quickly allowed him to surpass his father's abilities. (Mallen 1999b) One of the favourite motifs in the childhood stories of Renaissance and later-day artist was the tending the herds. Probably the most famous of these childhood shepherds in the history of art is Giotto. Vasari describes in a very lively fashion how Giotto loved to draw animals as he tended them. It was there that his future teacher, the artist Cimabue discovered the boy: «... and while the sheep were grazing, [Giotto] was drawing one of them with a roughly sharpened piece of stone on the smooth surface of the cliff, even though apart from Nature he had no other teacher.»
(Vasari 1927: I, 66.) This fact found its way into the eleventh canto of Dante's Divine Comedy. The herder and in particular the shepherd motif was particularly successful in artists' biographies for centuries. In Vasari we can find the same episode in the biographies of Andrea Sansivono and Andrea del Castagno, Mantegna was a shepherd, Raffaellino da Reggio was a goatherd, and from later periods we know that Zurbarán and Goya were also herders (Kris & Kurz 1979: 2638). Another story was circulated about Giotto. According to this version Giotto was supposed to have become a wool merchant but he ran away from the workshop in order to paint (Kris & Kurz 1979:24). In the descriptions of the artists' lives, the facts are not important but rather how they can be made to follow the canons and preconceived notions that were already prevalent assumes importance. We find instead of accuracy, mythical motifs. In Giotto's times and in the following centuries a spirit of pastoralism was floating over Europe and so it was inevitable that the artists had to be sent to tend herds too. The post-Freudian...
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