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Michelnagelo Desenul Si Subiectele Artei

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Michelnagelo Desenul Si Subiectele Artei
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  Michelangelo, Drawing, and the Subject of Art Joost Keizer On January 1, 1521, Albrecht Dürer recorded in his diary, Ihave done a good Veronica in oil, worth twelve guilders. Igave it to Erancisco, the agent in Portugal. I then paintedanother Veronica in oil, better than the first, and gave it tothe agent Brandan in Portugal. ' On the face of it, Dürer'snote constituted simply the bookkeeping of an artist traffick-ing in international imagery, fixing price, quantity, quality,medium, and destination. Yet for Hans Belting, writing in1990, Dûrer's seemingly formulaic notation revealed a wholeculture in transition, a culture well on its way to becomingmodern while at the same time not completely divorced froma traditional understanding of the image.^ Dùrer's paintingsof Veronica still belonged to that venerated tradition of theicon. Veronica had captured the first and true image ofChrist, the vera icon imprinted without human hands onthe sweat cloth  sudarium)  Veronica had offered Christ. The sudarium  legitimized the Christian icon.'^ After the fall ofConstantinople in 1204, the cloth—or at least a version ofit—was brought to Rome, where it served as the most impor-tant indulgenced image in the Christian world. By about1500, the  vera icon  had become the best-known and mostauthoritative of all images, stamped on badges, copied inpaintings, and endlessly replicated in prints. At one point allpictures of Christ sought their srcins in that single proto-type, an image made without human hands. Dürer's imagesof Veronica, on the other hand, did not simply point to the ver icon  in Rome—or some copy of it—they also insisted onDürer's authorship. Eor Belting, these pictures were held upas art  Kunst),  the one painting having surpassed the other inits execution and therefore fetching a better price. Eranciscoand Brandan received a Dürer as well as a Veronica. Such a double conception of the image. Belting argued,first arose in Italy, a region Dürer had visited twice. Dürer wasimpressed by the cult of art he found in Venice. In a letter tohis friend Willibald Pirckheimer on December 7, 1506, hereported that everyone he had met there was very knowl-edgeable about the art of painting. * Dürer, according toBelting, was thereby positioned between two cultures, the onestill adhering to an idea of the image that privileged subjectmatter over the name of the painter and the other, arising inItaly, slowly shifting emphasis away from subject matterproper to adopt art theory as its primary subject of represen-tation. The material image, Belting explained, dissolvesitself in an image about artistic conception, which is justifiedby the artist's imagination and is addressed to that of thebeholder. About 1500, the subject of Italian art could well be called  Disegno, Concetto,  or  Idea.^ Art's path to becoming modern is often seen as its slowemancipation from the Christian cult.'' Preachers had indeeda lot to say about the divorce of art from religion in the yearsaround 1500. Take, for instance, a sermon by the Dominicanfriar Girolamo Savonarola, preached in Florence in February1498, in which the monk ranted against the understanding ofpictures as deposits of specific artistic personae, the mod-ern picture Belting saw arising at the time. Savonarola di-rected his criticism against the aphorism Every painterpaints  himself The dictum had been current in Florencesince the 1470s, and for Savonarola it epitomized a deeply feltretreat from the Christian cult value of pictures toward a cultof art and artists. The subject of religious images, the friarcomplained, was now not so much the figure (Christ, a saint,a prophet) represented  in  or  through  the painting but theartist responsible  for  the painting.^Savonarola's words arrogate a unique place for art in earlymodern society, which showed no signs of a more widespreadculture of  unbelief.^  No claims for a comparable seculariza-tion process could, for example, be made at the time fortexts, which were simply divided between secular and reli-gious writing. Nobody was pointing to an erosion of religioussubject matter in religious texts. In fact, Savonarola lamentedthe fact that non-Christian texts, like Livy's  Histories,  werediscussed in an allegorical way, a mode of interpretation thathe thought should be exclusively reserved for the Bible.® Bythe end of the fifteenth century, the interpretation of textsand pictures moved in opposite directions, the first elaborat-ing on allegory, the second getting rid of it. This movementsuggests an extensive hollowing out of subject matter inpictures, not just in religious images, at the time.The model proposed by Belting privileges the religiousartwork as a site of modernization over the secular artwork.Because secular artworks—that is, works with a nonreligioussubject matter—never stood in the service of Christian reli-gion to begin with. Belting and others imply, they lack thecapacity to reform or to emancipate, exactly the capacity thatart historians identify as the motivating force for the mod-ernization of art. Still, the exclusive position of art in earlymodern society that preachers like Savonarola appear topoint to also indicates that any artwork—not just religiousimages—could be emancipated from its duty to simply illus-trate subject matter. This became a problem only in therealm of religious art, which is why preachers singled outthose pictures for criticism. If, as Belting maintains, the mod-ern institution of art arose from the capacity of art to fore-ground art theory as a subject of representation, then there isno reason to disqualify the contribution of secular painting.Belting, for instance, mentions Leon Battista Alberti's  Depictura,  written in 1435, as a foundational text for the theo-retical preoccupation of Italian art and its steady moderniza-tion.* Alberti located his modern conception of art insecular painting. The  historia,  that great work of the painter, was a large work for public display—hardly similar to therelatively small cult images Belting talks about—and the ex-amples of  histori e  Alberti mentioned were of nonreligious  MICHELANGELO. DRAWING, AND THE SUBJECT OF ART stibject matter: the Calumny of Apelles and an ancient reliefof the Carrying of the Dead Meleager. The contribution of early sixteenth-century secular imag-ery to the modern conception of art is exemplified by Mi-chelangelo's  Battle of  aseína  cartoon (1504). This artwork,which had a substantial impact, did away with traditionalcontent and took instead the making of art as its subject.Scholarship on the cartoon is marked by an interpretativedilemma, an ironic sense of indecision that seems to mirrorthe double culture of art that Belting recognized in the sameperiod. For some, the work still adheres to a traditionalunderstanding of subject matter: an image of battle, thesubject of which can be located in text and the objective ofwhich is to incite contemporary Florentines to defend theircity as heroically as the story illustrated by Michelangelo.Others, instead, deny the work any kind of social relevance.They define subject matter as nothing more than a pretextfor the artist to paint the Michelangelesque nude. There is,however, another way to interpret it. While the cartoon evi-dences an erosion of iconography, the work's thematizing ofits own making never asserted the pure autonomy that for-malist scholars have granted it. Informed by a culture ofhistorical revision, Michelangelo's  aseína  cartoon served asan argument in favor of the social and political centrality ofa new institution of art, one that looks decidedly modern.Whereas in the eyes of Belting, religious art's withdrawalfrom conventional subject matter resulted in its disengage-ment from (Christian) society, the model offered here grantsthe secular work of art a new social responsibility exactlybecause of its denial of iconography. The Subject of istory Sometime in the fall of 1504, for the first and last time in acareer spanning more than seven decades, Michelangelo wascommissioned to paint a moment from history. The Signoria(a group of eight citizens headed by the  gonfaloniere v hich  ranthe daily business of the government) asked the artist, previ-ously occupied with biblical and antique subject matter, topaint the Florentine victory over Pisa, fought near the villageof Cascina, eight miles to the southeast of the harbor city, onJuly 26, 1364. The fresco was destined for the Sala del GranConsiglio, a giant space built behind the Palazzo della Signo-ria (the Florentine town hall) between 1494 and 1498. Theroom was constructed in response to an important politicalevent: the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence onNovember 9, 1494. The Medici had de facto ruled overFlorence for sixty years, and their expulsion marked a water-shed in Florentine politics and culture. The structure ofgovernment that replaced the Medici until the family's returnin 1512 was called the Governo Popolare, the government ofthe people, at whose constitutional heart was placed theGran Consiglio, or Great Council, in whose meeting placeMichelangelo was to paint his mural. Consisting of threethousand men who discussed and voted on proposals madeby the Signoria, the council replaced a Medici politics ofselection and privilege to become what one contemporarycalled the soul of the Governo Popolare, that foundationof liberty. ' ^ Inscriptions announced the hall's politicalcreed, and initial attempts at decoration pictured an atmo-sphere of political replacement and defacement.'' Objectsappropriated from the expelled Medici family were displayedas trophies of war, including some of the most expensiveitems of Lorenzo de' Medici's collection of antiquities. Thealtarpiece that once adorned the private chapel at thePalazzo Medici now stood on an altar at the Sala del GranConsiglio. It was in this charged political atmosphere thatMichelangelo's fresco was commissioned. A year before,Leonardo da Vinci had been called on to paint the Florentinevictory over the Milanese at Anghiari in 1441 for the sameroom. Leonardo's and Michelangelo's frescoes would havebeen paired on the west wall of the room.''' Leonardobegan his fresco in 1505 but left it unfinished; Michelan-gelo never started to paint. He produced only a prepara-tory cartoon, which was torn to shreds in the course of thesixteenth century by artists eager to copy the figures con-tained in it.'^ A painted grisaille copy of the whole cartoonwas commissioned from Aristotile da Sangallo by GiorgioVasari in 1542 to preserve Michelangelo's by then famouscomposition (Fig. 1). 'It is difficult to think of a more political commission thanthe one for Michelangelo's and Leonardo's battle pieces,especially Michelangelo's.'^ War was at the heart of the pol-itics of the Governo Popolare at the time. The Florentineswere fighting a cosdy battle against Pisa, which had reclaimedits independence in 1494 in the wake of the dramatic politicalevents that had also led to the expulsion of the Medici. Thewar was draining the city of almost all its tax revenues; it wasthe subject of daily discussion during government assembliesthat met in the Sala del Gran Consiglio.' A historical batdecould have served as a model for current military politics,which is how most historians interpret Michelangelo's car-toon.These interpretations, despite the solidity of the relationbetween art and politics that they map out, favor the view-point of reconstruction too much and care too little aboutthe structure of Michelangelo's composidon. Political consid-eradon of Michelangelo's cartoon often departs from whatthe cartoon could have been—a finished paindng whose onlyduty  w s  to communicate polidcal propaganda—employing atoo narrow iconological method that makes meaning primar-ily reside in a body of text Michelangelo purportedly soughtto illustrate. Scholars often deduce meaning from what thecartoon never was and what, it can be argued, Michelangelodecided early on his work should not become.The faithful copy of Michelangelo's cartoon by da Sangalloshows nineteen men, drawn in various poses and larger thanlife.''^ Most of them are nude. Naked men climb out of   poolof water just visible on the lower border of the composition;others try to dress, hastily, apparently in the face of approach-ing danger. The source of that threat is not figured in thepainted copy, and it is not at all clear if it ever featured in thecartoon. There is a drawing in the Bddsh Museum, London,that shows the main group of the bathers and includes somemen on horses in the upper left corner, in the directionwhere the man on the left is pointing (Fig. 2). The back-ground of the London copy looks awkwardly detached fromthe foreground. The nude men form the primary work; thesoldiers in the background register as added material, per-haps to make sense of the pointing figures in the cartoon, as,we will see, another copyist would do.   6 BULLETIN SEPTEMBER 2011 VOLUME XCIII NUMBER .S 1 Aristotile da Sangallo, aUi-i .MKhrlaiigt-lo,  I he attle  ofCasaiia iM.^, ictiipera on panel, 34'/¿ X 50% in. (87.7 X 129 cm).Holkham Hall, Norfolk (artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by Viscount Coke and Trustees of the HolkhamEstate)2 After Michelangelo,  The attle of Cascina late 16th century, pen audbrown ink over black chalk on paper,18 X 35 in. (45.8 X 89 cm). TheBritish Museum, London (artwork inthe public domain; photograph © theTrustees of the British Museum)Backgrouud details remaiu mere oruaments pushed to themargius of the compositiou. But what is marginal in Michel-angelo's work was central in the text he purportedly illus-trated. The Battle of Cascina was preserved in at least twoextensive historical descriptions: Filippo Villani's fourteenth-century  Crónica  and Leonardo Bruni's  Historiae  lor ntin po-puli published in 1442 and translated into Italian by DonatoAcciauolo in 1492. A copy of Acciauolo's translation was keptin the quarters of the  gonfaloniere  Piero Soderini, the head ofthe Signoria at the time of the commission. It has beenconvincingly argued that Soderiui was largely responsible forthe commission and that it is therefore likely that Soderinigave Michelangelo access to Bruni's, and not Villani's, text.^'Bruni's pages tell of the tremendous heat that day, whenFlorentine soldiers were doing little more than waiting. TheFlorentine captain, Galeotto Malatesta, had fallen ill. A smallgroup of Pisaus would sometimes show up at camp, pretend-ing to attack, at first causing some confusiou among theFlorentine soldiers, btit after a while they stopped noticing.Most of the Florentine soldiers had fallen asleep in their  MICHELANGELO. DRAWING. AND THE SUBJECT OF ART 307 tents;  others decided to refresh themselves in the rivernearby. Now the Pisans, aware of the Florentines' low guard,started the onslaught. They attacked the side of the Floren-tine camp where the forces from Arezzo were stadoned—abad decision, it turned out, for, unlike their bathing andsleeping Florentine companions, the Aretines were alert.They checked the first onset and prevented the Florentinearmy from suffering a humiliating defeat. The sound of battlefinally drove the rest of the (Florentine) soldiers to arms. Andin the end, the Pisans were safely pushed back within theircity walls, surrounded, but not defeated. Neglecting the coreof Bruni's account, which tells of the battle proper—of mil-itary tactics and the movement of troops—Michelangelochose to depict what was in fact nothing more than a subor-dinate clause in the  Hístoríae:  The heat  w s  tremendous, anda large part of the soldiery was unarmed or lying down intheir tents or bathing in the river that flowed nearby. '^^There is no mention in Bruni ofthose same soldiers climbingout of the river at the sound of battle. He just wrote that the clamor rose the rest to arms. The grand narrative sweep ofBruni's history is set aside in Michelangelo's collection ofmen portrayed in the most quoddian of actions, putting ontrousers and stockings with an almost perversely absorbedattention. It is difficult to imagine a representation of warfurther removed from tradition than Michelangelo's. UnlikePaolo Uccello's  Battles  of San  Romano  of 1432 and Leonardo'scontemporaneous  Battle of  Anghiari  (which survives only incopies), Michelangelo's cartoon is oblivious to battle.Michelangelo's digressions into mundane details couldhardly count as the stuff of history, at least not according tothe standards of depictions of history and history writing asthey were being formulated at the time. In history wridng, historia  could consist of either meaningful acts of histoiy  res gestae or the narration of those acts.'^^ For instance, in his Actius  of 1495, the Neapolitan humanist Giovanni Pontano,following Cicero, defined history as the narradon of thingsdone [which] usually consist of the stuff of war. The narra-tion of past wars, Pontano continues, serves to supply thepresent with models of  civic  virtue.'^'*  In that strict sense of theword, Leonardo's  Battle  of  Anghiari  qualifies better as a  historia than Michelangelo's representation. Leonardo was given aniconographie program, which maps out the fullness of historywith overwhelming precision. It details a progression in timefrom the moment the commander addresses his troops priorto the battle, to the battle  itself ending with a triumphalmarch. He was to include numerous contemporary figures,their positions meticulously described, the number of sol-diers arduously plotted out, and the articulation of the ter-rain at Anghiari given its proper due.^°Yet it may be Michelangelo's refusal to present a model ofcivic virtue, as proposed by Pontano, that shows his resistanceto the contemporary models of writing and representinghistory. The battle fell short of embodying a glorious momentin Florentine military history, and it is not difficult to read aloss of civic virtue on the part of the Florentines into Bruni's pages.  Bruni recounts that after having barely survived thePisan onslaught, the soldiers from Florence started to rebelagainst their officers. The men depicted in Michelangelo'swork could barely register as role models for civic virtue, save,of course, for the men from Arezzo. Bruni's emphasis onAretine military virtue is perhaps not surprising in the con-text of a book by a notable citizen of Arezzo, but, perhapsmore relevant, by Michelangelo's dme the Aretines wereconsidered the enemies of Florence, not its allies. In revoltagainst the Florentines, the Aretines added more militaryconcerns to the already overextended Florentine govern-ment. The Aredne rebellion was frequendy discussed in gov-ernment meetings. The city's second chancellor, NiccoloMachiavelli, even dedicated a whole treatise to its forcefulsuppression, published a year before Michelangelo receivedhis commission.^^ Other, more glorious victories over Pisawere available to the Florentines at the time, such as thevictory of 1406, narrated at length in Bruni's  Historiae,  whichsecured the subjection of Pisa to Florence for almost ninety years.  At least from the perspective of 1504, the Cascinavictory would have read as a minor instance in a range of farmore successful military campaigns against the harbor city inthe fifteenth century.^^Earlier scholarship did not need such justification to de-clare subject matter as mere aporia. Scholars have oftentaken a formalist approach to the  Caseína  cartoon. Manygranted Michelangelo unprecedented artistic leeway. SydneyFreedberg, for instance, wrote of a constraint of the subjectof the artist's interests and will, and Cecil Gould, in the onlymonograph on the cartoon, guessed that Michelangelo hadthe last word in determining subject matter.^** Their interpre-tations ultimately serve to announce the  Cascina  cartoon aslittle more than a testament to Michelangelo's artistic free-dom, from even the constraints of iconography dictated byhis patron. Michelangelo, the argument goes, turned onthose few words in Bruni merely to produce the Michelan-gelesque nude that met with such an enthusiastic responsethroughout Europe in the sixteenth century. To be sure,Michelangelo's cartoon somehow pointed to the future; itspeculiar composition generated a copious copying industrynaturally following from the claims Michelangelo was makingin the cartoon. But Michelangelo could not turn toward thefuture of reception until he had reordered art's past. Michel-angelo's reconsideration of the subject of art began as adismantling of art's former dependence on text. Historia Nineteen men have rarely shown such resistance to formingan integrated whole. Organized in three overlapping planes,they stand isolated from one another, actors unaware of theplot they are acting out. The man in the first row at leftreaching for the water, apparently to rescue a drowningcompanion, for example, is badly placed: hands begging forhelp appear farther downstream. At right, a bearded mantries to put on his stockings, with great difficulty pullingfabric over what we imagine to be wet skin. Like the manstanding in the background, concentrating on his attempt toclose that last button of his garb, he is oblivious to the chaossurrounding him. And in instances where contact is on theverge of being established, Michelangelo refuses to carry itthrough. In the middle of the composition, a man turns tothe back row in an effort to connect with the soldier behindhim, but the latter is too absorbed in winding a cloth aroundhis head to answer his companion's gaze.It is not enough to say that the cartoon tells a story of

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