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Humanism

By ibukazi Apr 14, 2014 1860 Words
The problems of defining humanism in relation to art are compounded by the notion of‘renaissance’ art. Some scholars unhesitatingly speak of ‘the arts in the age of humanism’ and even ‘the art of humanism’; others resolve to treat the arts in terms independent of any such associations. This division reflects a healthy suspicion about relying on broad categories such as ‘humanism’ and ‘renaissance’ in historical inquiry generally and in art history and criticism in particular. There is an increasing tendency for scholars to explore issues and employ methods that break free of traditional debates about the phases, schools and types of both ‘renaissance thought’ and ‘renaissance style’. Humanists were first and foremost men of letters. Insofar as they involved themselves with the visual arts, Classical or contemporary all’antica, they did so because of what they deemed common interests. They were often employed to devise iconographic programmes for artists. For their part, many artists and works of art displayed a familiarity with sources, tastes and ideals in favour among not only humanists but patrons and other segments of the public educated along humanist lines. Historians thus face a dilemma. It is easy to speak, at a general level, of manifold commonalities, correlations and connections between humanism and the arts; when to label any specific artist or work of art ‘humanist’ is another, and contested, question. At first sight evidence of such connections appears in two fields. There are those instances in which writers and artists comment on one another with appreciation, as when Petrarch likenedSimone Martini, and Ugolino Verino likened Sandro Botticelli, to Apelles. There were also various allusions to the dawning of a new age with Dante, Petrarch, Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio. Of greater moment is the inclusion of arts in humanistic memorializations of the illustrious, notably the accounts of artists’ lives written by Vasari and Karel van Mander. Notoriously unreliable as histories, such testimonials are telling primary sources nonetheless. Humanism also played a part in changing the status of visual artists, a process begun by Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century. Humanists tended to view artists as practitioners of the high-status liberal arts, rather than the mechanical, and hence to urge them to study the humanities. Raphael: School of Athens (c. 1510–12), fresco, Stanza della Segnatura,…By the same token, causes for which humanists labourered were treated by artists. Noteworthy examples include Taddeo di Bartolo’s fresco cycle of Cardinal and Political Virtues (1413–14; Siena, Pal. Pub.), Young Boy Reading Cicero (mid-1460s; London, Wallace) byVincenzo Foppa, the zodiacal triumphs (c. 1469; Ferrara, Pal. Schifanoia) by Francesco del Cossa and others, Botticelli’s Pallas and the Centaur (Florence, Uffizi) and A Youth Presented to the Liberal Arts (1491; Paris, Louvre), Raphael’s School of Athens(1509–11; Rome, Vatican, Stanza della Segnatura), Paolo Veronese’s Triumph of Venice (c. 1582; Venice, Doge’s Pal.), Pallas Protecting the Arts and Sciences (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) by Bartholomeus Spranger and Four Philosophers (c. 1612; Florence, Pitti) by Rubens. Humanists were frequently the subject of portraits. Cardinal Bessarion (?1403–72), prelate–scholar and translator of Greek texts, is portrayed in the Vision of St Augustine (1502–7; Venice, Scuola S Giorgio degli Schiavoni) by Vittore Carpaccio. Lorenzo Lotto’s portrait of Andrea Odoni (1527; London, Hampton Court, Royal Col.) shows the collector surrounded by his antiquities. Raphael painted Baldassare Castiglione (c.1514–15; Paris, Louvre) as the ideal courtier. Hans Holbein the younger several times painted Thomas More andErasmus, who was also portrayed by Albrecht Dürer (1520; Paris, Louvre) and Quinten Metsys (1517; London, Hampton Court, Royal Col.). A second field of observation reveals instances in which writers and artists were connected by ties of patronage. Filippo Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello and Masaccio worked in Florence during the great era of civic humanism. Botticelli and Michelangelo were closely associated with Ficino and other leading Neo-Platonists in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici. TheGonzagas in Mantua protected humanists including Castiglione and Vittorino da Feltre as well as the painter Andrea Mantegna. Popes Julius II and Leo X assembled a remarkable group of scholars and artists in Rome, notably Pietro Bembo, Donato Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci,Michelangelo and Raphael. Francis I patronized Budé, Leonardo, Rabelais, Sebastiano Serlio and artists of the Fontainebleau schools, such as Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio. The book trade too produced notable matches, for example Dürer’s illustrations for Brant’s Das Narrenschiff and prints by the Haarlem painter Maarten van Heemskerck for the publications of the Dutch humanist Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert. Such connections suggest extensive relations between humanist men of letters and visual artists. Much of the evidence, however, is circumstantial, the relations tangential, and the extent of the impact of patrons and patronage on artists is the subject of much fresh, often revisionist, research based on archival resources and methods derived from social history. Other connections between literary humanism and the visual arts are discernible. Humanismwas demonstrated in writings as well as in works of art by, among others, Alberti, Ghiberti,Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dürer, Benvenuto Cellini and Joachim von Sandrart, the ‘German Apelles’. Alberti is particularly important, as he articulated humanist views, setting the arts, and discussion of the arts, on a new, higher level, establishing the basis of academic art theory. Especially significant was his study of the rediscovered texts of Vitruvius, his appreciation of the architecture of Brunelleschi and, related to both, his reflections on proportion, balance, harmony and perspective. None of the procedures Alberti advocated was a humanist invention. He made them humanist by the adoption of mathematical, didactic and Classical principles. His thoughts on perspective were often reviewed and augmented by strains of Neo-Platonism and Neo-Pythagoreanism, later exploited in theoretical treatises by Piero della Francesca, Leonardo,Andrea Palladio and Dürer, and in such bold explorations of visual space as those of Paolo Uccello. The revival of Classical architectural forms in the works of Bramante, Leonardo, Palladio and Serlio owed much directly or indirectly to Alberti’s influence. Humanists and artists alike were devotees of the cult of antiquity. Inasmuch as humanists led a revival of Greek and Roman literary models, it is tempting to attribute the prevalence of Classical forms and subjects in the arts to humanist influence; but the complexities of the situation justify caution. Both writers and artists drew on a far wider range of Classical forms and contents than did their medieval predecessors. For both, Classical precedents served as points of departure for creative endeavours, and these developments in letters and arts were concurrent and mutually reinforcing. Andrea Mantegna: St Sebastian, tempera on panel, 680×306 mm, c.…Literary humanism gave artists access to larger portions of the Classical heritage. More significantly, it helped legitimize an expanded range of artistic ventures, even those that artists undertook for reasons related to aesthetics, technique or commerce. A standard humanist notion about art was the reversal of Horace’s dictum ‘ut pictura poesis’ (‘as is painting so is poetry’;Ars poetica 361; see UT PICTURA POESIS). The rise in status of the visual arts in the Renaissance is reflected in the extension of literary comparisons to comparisons between the visual arts, such asPARAGONE, the dispute about the relative merits of painting andsculpture. Thus artists profited from humanist valuations of Classical mythology, depictions of life past and present, and the nobility and beauty of man—a theme expressed in depictions of the human figure, clothed or nude, idealized or individualized. Humanist concern for philological–historical accuracy was matched by that of many artists for the authenticity of architectural and other details in the treatment of religious as well as secular subjects. The attentiveness of Mantegna in this respect, for example in St Sebastian (c. 1480; Paris, Louvre), his frescoes (1453–7; most destr. 1944) in the Ovetari chapel of the church of the Eremitani, Padua, and the Triumphs of Caesar (c. 1484–94; London, Hampton Court, Royal Col.), was a quality prized by numerous others. Donatello: equestrian monument to Gattamelata, bronze on marble and stone…Humanism also placed new emphasis on those whose virtues and deeds made a mark on human history. This was given artistic expression in various ways. It is evident, for example, in equestrian statuary: Donatello’s Gattamelata (1447–53; Padua, Piazza del Santo), depicting the condottiere Erasmo da Narni (1370–1443),Andrea del Verrocchio’s monument (c. 1485; Venice, Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo) to Narni’s successor Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400–76), and Leonardo’s plans (Windsor Castle, Berks, Royal Lib.) for a monument in Milan to Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (1441–1518). The same impulse appears in painted equestrian portraits, such asUccello’s Sir John Hawkwood (1436; Florence Cathedral),Castagno’s Niccolò da Tolentino (c. 1456; Florence Cathedral) andCharles V at Mühlberg (c. 1548; Madrid, Prado) by Titian. Bernardo Rossellino: tomb of Leonardo Bruni, marble, c. 1446–8 (Florence,…Artists were also commissioned to contribute to galleries of heroes. Uccello drew on Petrarch and Boccaccio for figures (destr.) adorning the Casa Vitaliani in Padua (1444–8). Castagno featured illustrious men and women (c. 1450; Florence, Uffizi) in scenes for the gallery of the Villa Carducci, near Florence. Pietro Perugino memorialized figures from Livy and Plutarch in the Sala dell’Udienza (c. 1500) of the Collegio del Cambio, Perugia. Among other examples areMasaccio’s procession of famous men of Florence (c. 1422; destr. 1598–1600) in S Maria del Carmine, Florence, and the portraits of 28 famous men (c. 1473–6; Paris, Louvre; Urbino, Pal. Ducale) that were painted for the studiolo of Federigo da Montefeltro’s ducal palace at Urbino and are attributed to Justus of Ghent. Of similar inspiration were such distinguished funerary works of the Renaissance as Bernardo Rossellino’s tomb of Leonardo Bruni (c. 1445–50; Florence, Santa Croce) and Michelangelo’s designs for the tombs of the Medici (1520–34; Florence, S Lorenzo) and Julius II (from 1513; Rome, S Pietro in Vincoli). Lorenzo Ghiberti: Gates of Paradise (c. 1426–52), gilded bronze, Baptistery,…Intimacy between writers and artists is indicated by artistic renderings of humanist texts and programmes. Close investigation, however, reveals that allegations of direct dependence or collaboration are often hard to prove. Coluccio Salutati’s De laboribus Herculis (c. 1391), on the meanings of Classical legends, prepared the way for many artistic renderings of the hero. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (c. 1435; Florence, Baptistery) is attributed to a programme by Traversari. Titian’s mythological paintings for the studiolo of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, were derived from the Imagines of Philostratus the elder. The first of the series for the studiolo, Giovanni Bellini’s Feast of the Gods (c. 1514; Washington, DC, N.G.A.), links Bellini to Pietro Bembo, just as Mantegna’s and Perugino’s mythological scenes (Paris, Louvre) for Isabella d’Este’s studiolo in Mantua link them to her artistic adviser Paride da Ceresara. Botticelli’sCalumny of Apelles (1490s; Florence, Uffizi) follows an ekphrasis in Lucian of Samosata, while his Primavera (c. 1478; Florence, Uffizi) and Birth of Venus (c. 1485; Florence, Uffizi) are apparently based on the writings of Angelo Poliziano. They are certainly suffused with Neo-Platonism, as are Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love (c. 1515; Rome, Gal. Borghese) and much ofMichelangelo’s art. Arcadia (Naples, 1504) by Jacopo Sannazzaro (1456–1530) inspired innumerable pastorals in both poetry and painting. The sources and forms of Renaissance humanism were diverse, as were its effects, including those on the visual arts. Connective links such as those suggested above show that interdisciplinary inquiries remain very much in order.

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