Sunday, 6 March 2016

Book Review - Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power


 I was recently sent this book by Alison Cole, an art historian and journalist, about the relationship between artists and courts in Italian Renaissance.
The book provides a very precise backdrop to the artworks that we know and love from that period.
I am always interested in the context in which a painting was made, I find that it matters as much as, if not more than, the subject. It was something I noticed when I went to see the "National Gallery" documentary by Frederick Wiseman, that most explanations about paintings were focussing on the subject while technique and context were seldom mentioned.

   In the past I have posted about the complicate interpretation of Piero's Flagellation providing a summary of Silvia Ronchey's book about it, and also tried to give an explanation of the term "sprezzatura", which was born in that period and is so relevant to the art and culture of Italian courts.
Cole's book refreshed and deepened my knowledge on the differences between all the distinct cultural hubs that coexisted in the peninsula during those extraordinary centuries.

   It is easy to forget that there were profound differences between communities that were only a few dozens of kilometres apart, like the courts of Urbino and Ferrara for example: one fortified and based on military strength and all centred on the figure of the mighty Duke Federico, brave and cultured; the other at times defeated but more open to communications and pervaded by poetry, music and chivalric ideals coming from the North.
If we are aware of these characteristics, it is easier to understand how the luminous, solid and rational space in Piero could be painted just a few hours away from the hyperbolic metaphoric one imagined by Francesco del Cossa in Palazzo Schifanoia (the frescoes featured in Ali Smith's excellent novel "How to Be Both" btw), although they were both "sons" of the ubiquitous Pisanello.

  It was a real pleasure, as I opened the book, finding a painting by an artist belonging to my family. Francesco Rosselli was the half brother of Cosimo and mainly known as the author of an important document, a painting that chronicles the entry of Ferrante d'Aragona's fleet in Naples after his victory over the Anjou. The painting had probably been commissioned by the banker Filippo Strozzi who helped finance the expedition and wanted to consolidate his exchanges with the Neapolitan king.

   The book is pleasant, with a lot of illustrations,  and also offers information on the character of the princes and their heirs, the dynastic intricacies and pecking order within the courts. A good read.

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