19.06.06 Flora and Wilkins, Art and Experience in Trecento Italy

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April Oettinger

The Medieval Review 19.06.06

Flora, Holly and Sarah S. Wilkins, eds. Art and Experience in Trecento Italy. Trecento Forum. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols , 2018. pp. 347. ISBN: 978-2-503-58195-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
April Oettinger
Goucher College
april.oettinger@goucher.edu

The essays gathered in Art and Experience in Trecento Italy reevaluate art and culture across the Italian peninsula between 1250-1450, as well as celebrate the spirit of inquiry, innovative scholarship, wry wit, and passion that typified the life and work of Andrew Ladis. The 21 essays in the present volume, the proceedings of a 2016 memorial conference that took place at Tulane University in New Orleans, mark the inception of the Trecento Forum, a timely new series in which emerging and established scholars from around the world "will contribute to a new understanding of how of art [across media] was created and experienced throughout Italy in the fourteenth-century," as described in the Brepols website. Holly Flora and Sarah S. Wilkins, the series editors, liken the volume to a delicious gumbo, the signature soup of New Orleans, an apt metaphor for the "long" fourteenth century that emerges here: a diverse and spicy dish laced with subtlety and surprises.

Marvin Trachtenberg's essay sets the tone for the volume by evoking the "burst" of creativity that characterized the ambitious expansion of the built environment in the Age of Dante and what he calls the "Roaring (12)'90s movement" (23). The reciprocal relationship between Dante's poetics and the innovative visual culture of trecento Florence prefaces the multifaceted case studies that follow. The essays, organized under thematic headings, cover a wide ground of geographical regions in and beyond Florence, a variety of media, and a range of methodological perspectives. The first section of the book, "Media and Materiality," explores artistic networks and mobility through the examples of stained glass and drawing. Nancy Thompson discusses networks of stained glass production and the import and export of colorful glass windows in and out of Italy. Giada Damen treats the little understood practice of drawing in the '300, noting that early modern collections and discussions of late medieval Italian drawings (as in the writings of Cennino Cennini, Ghiberti, and Vasari) stand to tell us a great deal about artistic practice, materials, and compositional ideas across artistic media.

Laura Jacobus and Meredith Sisson explore memory, devotion, and verisimilitude in the next section of the book, titled "Likeness and Beauty." Jacobus takes up Bernardino 'Porrina' degli Albertini (d. 1308/9), a statue that once adorned a family chapel in the cemetery of the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta in Casole d'Elsa, in relation to inscriptions that described Porrina as though he were present. One wonders whether the interplay between the statue and the inscription not only points toward a renewed interest in verisimilitude in the trecento, as the author suggests, but also marks an Ovidian moment of "statue poetry," in which the beholder (or poet) brings stone to life (as in the story of Pygmalion or the playful verse composed over the centuries for Pasquino)? Meredith Sisson's essay explores the vividly mortified flesh of the suffering Christ in comparison to images of the uncorrupted body of Christ, two wide-spread Crucifixion types in the fourteenth century that effectively connected with the beholder ("sacramental seeing," as Sisson describes it, 93), and guided devotional contemplation.

The next two sections of the book, "Building and Identity" and "Artists and Altarpieces," treat matters of patronage, style, and the production of civic, political, familial, and ecclesiastic identity in the built environment and devotional images. Theresa Flanigan's essay traces the reconstruction of the storied Ponte Vecchio in 1339-46 as an expression of civic pride, engagement, and strategic urban planning aimed at controlling partisan factions and imposing order within the city of Florence. As a locus of urban traffic and life, Flanigan associates the harmonious design of the Ponte Vecchio with civic virtue, order, and unity. Erik Gustafson's essay, on the other hand, explores the lack of a unified style of Gothic architecture in the trecento. Through the case of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, he addresses the ways in which a "visual, architectonic rhetoric" of architectural styles expressed identity and doctrines propagated by ecclesiastical patrons, in this case, the Franciscans and Dominicans (121). The final essay of this section, by Lorenzo Vigotti, turns to Florentine palace architecture and challenges the traditional view that Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici marked a breakthrough in architectural style. He instead shows that Michelozzo's design relied on trecento palaces that preceded it, suggesting that the Palazzo Medici in fact took its cues from palaces both in, and in some cases, well beyond, Florence. For instance, Vigotti points out that Florentine palaces located at strategic points on the Florentine trade network, such as Avignon and Palma de Mallorca, also played a role in shaping the architecture of the Palazzo Medici. More broadly, he suggests that Florentine families were making a marked effort to shape their identity and consolidate their power through the architectural language of their palaces. Thus, Vigotti's essay makes a compelling companion piece to Flanigan's study of the Ponte Vecchio and civic unity.

The next pair of essays addresses the ways in which artists modulated iconography and style to appeal to the political and regional sensibilities of their audiences. Jill Harrison suggests a fresh reading of the political nuances of Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna, pointing out that details of the altarpiece would have been understood in the age of Giotto in terms of the political divides between the Guelf and Ghibellines, as well as further divides within each faction. Damien Cerutti's essay explores iconographic mobility in the case of Masaccio and Masolino, two Florentine artists who produced altarpieces for Roman patrons. Specifically, Cerutti looks at the iconography of Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiecefor the Old St. Peter's and Masaccio and Masolino's dispersed triptych for Santa Maria Maggiore, both double-sided altarpieces (an unusual type in Florence) that were adapted for the needs of regional patrons.

"Rivalry and Replication" returns to the construction of images to affirm or propagate civic and religious identity. Claudia Bolgia's essay takes up the Felici Chapel Tabernacle in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, a marble structure that at once functioned to commemorate Francesco Felici and to enshrine the most famous miracle working image in Rome held to have stopped the Black Death, the Madonna Advocata. Bolgia points out that the structure in Santa Maria in Aracoeli was intentionally designed to resemble an earlier tabernacle in the Lateran, yet its placement in the context of the Aracoeli, in close proximity to the populist revolt of Cola di Rienzo, transformed its meaning. While interpreting it as a monument celebrating the ideals of civic autonomy and an expression of identity and power that countered the Papacy, Bolgia's essay more broadly points to the role of images as agents for asserting authority in '300 Rome. Wolfgang Loseries' essay revises our understanding of the genesis of Simone Martini's design for the Patron Saints' Altarpieces in the Siena Duomo. Loseries looks to existing sources in Siena to trace the models for Martini's unprecedented arrangement of a narrative scene flanked by two saints, and suggests that the predella of Duccio's Maesta and stained glass windows in close proximity to Martini's altarpiece not only shaped Martini's composition, but that Martini's altarpiece, in turn, conditioned the design of subsequent altarpieces in Sienese churches.

The four essays in part VI, "Space and Experience," explore the imaginative interplay between images and their beholders. Karl Whittington treats the ways in which devotional painting in the trecento blurs the boundaries between pictorial space and real space, and the play between presence and plasticity, to heighten spiritual contemplation. He concludes that fourteenth-century artists not only began to explore painting as a window into imagined space (well before the age of Alberti), but also as "a threshold that is ruptured as figures reach out to us" (225). Michael Grillo's paper continues the exploration of the immersive experience of trecento painting through a close look at the permeability of the frame, the function of indexical images as Memory Theaters, and the reflective experience of the beholder. Jessica Richardson's paper takes up the subject of authorship and the experience of miraculous images in fourteenth-century Bologna in the case of Simone dei Crocefissi, and the practice of multiplying and promoting miraculous '300 images in later centuries. In the last essay of the section, Mark Rosen discusses Ambrogio Lorenzetti's rotating mappamundithat once adorned the west wall of the Sala del Mappamondo in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. To reconstruct the possible appearance (particularly what sort of imagery might have lay at its center) and significance of the lost map, Rosen situates the lost Siena mappamundi in relation to other trecento and early quattrocento mappaemundi. He points out that the rotating Sienese map was unusual because of its placement in a republican context, positing that the image at the middle would likely have celebrated the stability of the Sienese government in the midst of the vicissitudes of world politics.

The last two sections of the volume focus on the techniques, process, and poetics of the conservation and display of trecento art. The two essays on "Connoisseurship and Conservation" elucidate manuscript production and the techniques and materials of wall painting in the '300. Bryan Keene's study closely examines the clues that leaves and cuttings from a dispersed two-volume antiphonary might reveal about networks of regional and local illuminators working in Florence. Fabio Frezzato's essay builds on the 2005 study of the Arena Chapel by considering the process and materials of fresco painting in the age of Giotto and his followers in relation to scientific analysis of layers, as well as documentary evidence. The final essays in the volume address the "Preservation and Display" of trecento art. Cathleen Hoeniger provides a fascinating account of the aftermath of the allied bombing of the Camposanto in Pisa, of the masterpieces that were lost, and the copious knowledge gained through close analysis of the sinopiadrawings and fresco fragments that were revealed by the crumbled walls. Anita Moskowitz's essay traces the engaging story of the interventions of Florentine antiquarian Stefano Bardini (1836-1922), who separated numerous polyptychs, altered or overpainted panels, and also composed new sculpture out of fourteenth-century fragments, as in the pastiche of Tuscan and Sienese fragments that makes up the Aedicula in the Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence. Moskowitz's study reminds us that, indeed, trecento art--and even nineteenth-century recreations of trecento art--offers a rich concoction of ingredients that often surprises us, but never fails to please.

Like the best gumbo, we are left deeply satisfied, and yearning for more. I could imagine no better tribute to the memory of Andrew Ladis, whose lively spirit and contagious passion for trecento art--and for all things poetic, playful, and artful--has inspired so many scholars in and beyond the field of medieval studies. It will be exciting to read forthcoming volumes of Trecento Forum, which will no doubt have more riches in store for us.

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