Thursday, January 10, 2013

January 6, 2013 -

Written on a cassone panel in the Louvre from the early 15th century are the names of five Italian artists:
              Giotto    Paolo Uccello               Donatello       Antonio Manetti         Filippo Brunelleschi

Since the names are presumed to have been written on the panel in a later period, they carry less value in the identification of the figures. Whoever wrote the names was considering a gathering of portraits of artists in the Italian Renaissance who were interested in the art of perspective. Giotto plays with space in all his paintings, Uccello did perspective drawings of mazzocchi and used one-point perspective in his paintings. Donatello was introduced to the idea of one-point perspective by Brunelleschi, and his bas-reliefs then reflect his own interpretation of natural space, using one-point perspective in the panel under St. George on Orsanmichele or two-point perspective in his Sant'Antonio panels in Padua.  If the Antonio Manetti here is Antonio Manetti di Chiaccheri, he is the same man responsible for the intarsia panels executed around 1436 for the North sacristy in the Florentine Duomo, where the use of one-point perpective is particularly clear and skillful. That leaves Brunelleschi, the inventor of one-point perspective in his painted panels of the Baptistery and the Palazzo Vecchio (now lost), probably created around 1409, the same time period as the story of the Grasso Legnauiolo.
         But wait. The identifications, like news reports in the modern day, need to have confirmation from other sources before we can be sure these portraits are of these names. The only identification that seems certain without a doubt below these faces is the one for Filippo Brunelleschi. His profile portrait is nearly identical to a death-mask plaster taken of him (now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) and to the profile portrait of him painted by Masaccio on the lower left wall of the Brancacci Chapel in the scene of the Raising of Peter (the one furthest to the right.)

In fact, the style of the painted figures in the Louvre panel is so similar to the style of the portraits of the four men in Masaccio's scene: Masolino, Masaccio, Alberti, and Brunelleschi, in that order left to right, that several scholars have decided this Quattrocento panel in the Louvre is painted by Masaccio.  A date is not on the panel itself, but from the way light is treated on the faces and the sculptural quality of the drapery, the panel would easily fall into the 1420-30 period in Tuscany, precisely the period in which Masaccio is painting the Brancacci Chapel figures (1424-27).
          It is worth noting at this point that Vasari actually mentions this panel specifically as by Masaccio in his Life of Masaccio in Le Vite. Here is what he says in Italian:         
"E gli artefici piú eccellenti, conoscendo benissimo la sua virtú gli hanno dato vanto di avere aggiunto nella pittura vivacità ne' colori, terribilità nel disegno, rilievo grandissimo nelle figure et ordine nelle vedute de gli scorti, affermando universalmente che da Giotto in qua di tutti i vecchi maestri Masaccio è il piú moderno che si sia visto; e che e' mostrò co 'l giudizio suo, quasi che per un testamento, in cinque teste fatte da lui, a chi per lo augumento fatto nelle arti si avesse ad avere il grado di quelle: lasciandocene in una tavola di sua mano, oggi in casa Giuliano da San | Gallo in Fiorenza, i ritratti quasi vivissimi, che sono questi: Giotto per il principio della pittura; Donato per la scultura; Filippo Brunellesco per la architettura; e Paulo Uccello per gli animali e per la prospettiva; e tra questi Antonio Manetti per eccellentissimo matematico de' tempi suoi." (online Vasari, Le Vite, 1551)
        Vasari himself here attributes a panel with five heads to Masaccio and says it is in Giuliano da Sangallo's house in Florence. He identifies the portraits as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Paulo Uccello, and Antonio Manetti, the same names written on the Louvre panel; we cannot be sure if the labels below the heads were added after Vasari's identifications or not, but even though the order is not the same, the labels seem influenced by Vasari's list. Vasari's vast undertaking in writing The Lives ensures that he is not always right about things, especially when more than a hundred years has passed from the panel's creation to the author's writing about it. But he is right about the panel being by Masaccio, even though in his 1568 edition of the Lives he changes his mind and attributes it to Uccello.
          In fact, the best article I've read on this panel so far is the one by Jeno Lanyi (published after his death in the April, 1944 issue of the Burlington Magazine), where he thinks the panel is a copy from Masaccio's Sagra del Carmine (c. 1422). Masaccio is said by Vasari to have painted the procession (Sagra) in the church of the Carmine in which he included portraits of Brunelleschi, Donatello, and other of their friends in the procession to the Chiesa del Carmine. Lanyi sees the individual portraits with light coming from the right as a record of a fresco lit from the right where the apparent differences of position and distance of the heads can be explained by their having been copied from Masaccio's fresco on a wall. (The Sagra del Carmine was destroyed in the 17th century and we only know it through drawing fragments.) Lanyi's identifications then are:
         His argument that the "Giotto" figure at the far left is Masaccio dressed up in his Sunday best is very persuasive, especially when you reverse the self-portrait of Masaccio in the Enthronement of Peter in the Brancacci Chapel.  It shows the same self-aware person looking out at the viewer with pride in his work. The angle of the head to torso is the same and the serious self-awareness and intention to connect with the viewer is the same. The same long nose and small mouth are present in both. The painting on the panel of the 5 artists is of such high quality that I believe it is by the hand of Masaccio himself and not a copy made by another artist of Masaccio's work (as Lanyi surmises). If Masaccio had used a pricked drawing for the fresco, the use of the same drawing twice, reversed for the panel, would make economic sense, too.

If you reverse his face, the features line up nicely with those on the Louvre panel:

The fact that he is looking out at the viewer confirms it as a self-portrait. Masaccio is the first painter in the history of art to make a realistic self-portrait looking out at us in the lower right section of a mural. It is as if he wanted to sign his work in the usual place for signatures in documents of the period, but paints his own face instead looking out as a 3-dimensional signature, a document of his having been responsible for the painting. (Taddeo di Bartolo does a self-portrait in the center of the Assunta triptych in Montepulciano slightly earlier, 1401. He puts his saint's name above in the halo so we will be sure to know it is he),



but Masaccio's mural had much more influence on later artists (subject of another blog entry) and the way they present self-portraits precisely because Masaccio painted in Florence and Bartolo in Montepulciano. It goes without saying that Masaccio also paints in a new Renaissance style that acknowledges flesh and light, while the Montepulciano painter still relies on Medieval formulas for waves of hair and finger-lengths, with no care for light source.
           If this Louvre panel figure dressed in red gown and cap is Masaccio, it makes sense that Brunelleschi and Donatello would be properly identified on the panel along with him, since they were both friends with him and both had contributed to the Brancacci Chapel project (Brunelleschi was responsible for teaching Masaccio the one-point perspective used for the first time in wall painting in that chapel and Donatello may have carried out the central bas-relief panel in marble for the chapel  - the Ascension of Christ giving the keys to Peter, a relief of 1428-30 now in the Victoria and Albert Museum).
       But then what of Masolino, Masaccio's partner in the chapel, whose portrait is probably next to Masaccio's in the Enthronement scene?  Masaccio means "Big Ugly Tom" and Masolino means "Little tiny Tom" so in the portrait of him on the left wall of that chapel, Masolino is small in height and head next to the portrait of the artist who paints the scene:
Is that fellow not the same as the man next to Brunelleschi on the Louvre panel? Just spruced up with hat and lace shirt and red over-tunic as if on parade? Just shown in 3/4 view instead of profile?
If Masaccio were making a panel to record people who were involved in the Brancacci
project, Masolino would be the logical artist to include since he painted the rest of the chapel (except for the sections finished later in the 1480s by Filippino Lippi.)  Masolino's height is not important in a panel recording faces, so his height seems the same as Brunelleschi's and even taller than Donatello's in the Louvre portrait, but that is just because the five faces have no spatial relation to one another in the Louvre panel. Since Antonio di Chiaccheri is not involved in the Brancacci Chapel project, he would not be appropriate to include here. Antonio di Chiacchieri and Masaccio never worked on a project together and therefore, if the far left figure is Masaccio, the identification of this second right figure cannot be Antonio.

             Which leaves the portrait second from left labelled "Paolo Uccello" on the Louvre panel.
             In order to dispute the identification as Paolo Uccello, we should find out what Paolo Uccello actually looked like. How to figure that out? Since he is painting around the same time as Masaccio and is born in 1397, he cannot be the old man with the forked-beard in the Louvre panel (as Lanyi had realized.) At the time of the Brancacci murals, he would have been 27-30 years old and the man in the Louvre panel is certainly much older than 30. Uccello knew about one-point perspective and was a friend of Donatello's, but he had been trained by Ghiberti and was at work on his frescoes in the Green Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella in Florence around 1432-36, just after those years 1424-27 in which the Brancacci was being painted. When Masaccio leaves Florence in 1428, it is presumed he would return to finish the chapel, so it is possible that Uccello would not have seen the chapel in the 1430's but only later.
              Masaccio begins the tradition of artists' "signing" their works in the lower right corners by painting in self-portraits. Wouldn't Uccello have been aware, through Donatello, that Masaccio had made this "new" artistic statement?  All artists want to know what the latest trends are in artistic rebellion, how tradition is being changed and molded by the artists around them. Uccello's early paintings (1432-36) of Creation and Expulsion in the Green Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella do not show any use of 1-point perspective, nor do they show any reflection of awareness of Masaccio's new move on the Brancacci left wall. But what of his works after the Brancacci revolution? His later Green Cloister narratives (1447-48) display extraordinary 1-point perspective, as though he were trying to outdo Masaccio.
          And doesn't Uccello put his own features on the face of Noah's son in the Drunkenness of Noah there? The head wraps over the mazzocchio so that we don't see that he's bald, but the raised eyebrows, prominent eyes, long nose and short-width mouth are the same as in the other examples we shall see in a minute; he's just more idealized here:
Since that mural is late in the cycle, we should explore earlier paintings of Uccello's to see if he decides to paint a self-portrait in them in rivalry with and in homage to Masaccio.
             Where would we look in Uccello's works to find Masaccio's signature interest? What are the projects that Uccello works on after 1427? In between the two Green Cloister projects Uccello takes on the painting of the Chapel of the Assunta in the Prato Cathedral between 1435 and 1436. Can we find a self-portrait of the artist there that conforms to the "new" Masaccian model?
             Sure enough, if we look closely at the frescoes in Prato, Uccello uses several opportunities to record his own features in scenes, even once at the right as his "signature". Uccello is asked to paint the Life of St. Stephen, the first martyr, and the Life of the Virgin, both in the first chapel to the right of the main altar chapel in the Cathedral at Prato. Since the Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, it made sense to include his story both on the main altar walls and in the next chapel over. While the story of Stephen's Stoning on the left wall is probably painted by Andrea di Giusto, the rest of the chapel stories are Uccello's. In the Disputation of Stephen are two very specific characters to the left of the saint:  a man's whose eyebrows are raised in disbelief and a man whose cheeks are blown up as if he's spewing hot air on the saints' ideas or as if he's whistling disbelief at them:
The younger man with the purple turban has such a distinct face with pointed ears. We are struck by the specificity of his eyebrows painted in like Gothic arches, his long nose, his short mountain-range mouth.While he doesn't look directly out at the viewer, he faces forward as if conveying his reaction to the saint to an audience. He is unlike any of the other participants in the event.  He would be just an individual face in the crowd, though, if he didn't appear again in the cycle on the wall.
          For the Prato Cathedral's Presentation of the Virgin, the lowest scene in the Virgin's Life on the opposite wall to the St. Stephen story, also by Uccello, the turbaned man with no hair sticking out appears again, and this time, guess where? The far right side of the Presentation:
As if to make fun of the tradition started by Masaccio, Uccello places himself as a signature on the far right side of the scene but instead of looking out at the viewer, he is looking at the face of the woman in the roundel of the scene's border decoration:

And once you see the face of the artist, he appears other places as well, the clock in the Florence Duomo that is encircled by 4 prophets or Evangelists, one of whom might be a self-portrait:

and in another roundel outside the main scene, in the left decorative frame near the Birth of the Virgin where
he doesn't look directly at the scene since he is a man and the birthing room is off-limits to males.
In all of these depictions he is bare-headed, nearly bald, and has eyes in peculiar positions and raised eyebrows, pointy ears. Even with head covered again as one of the shepherds in the stained-glass Nativity done for the Duomo c.1434-44, where his eyes stand out though hard to see in this reproduction; it makes sense that he would want his own image kneeling toward the Holy Family in a work in the sacred center of Florence.

None of these images look at all like the old man in the Louvre panel labelled Paolo Uccello. He has no pointy ears, no turban, and he has long-white forked beard. And noone looking like the Louvre panel man shows up in the paintings of Uccello.
            So who is this man with the forked beard and fur hat second from left in the Louvre panel?  What connection might he have to the other figures that would make him appropriate for this panel?
           If you think about the panel as a mapping of the work done on the Brancacci Chapel, then all of the other four men fit:
Masaccio worked on                    Donatello did the          Masolino worked on  Brun. oversaw
Left wall                                      central altar sculpture          Right wall                   Perspective

The aged white bearded figure, then, should somehow fit into the overall project on the left.
To the left of the central altar in the Brancacci Chapel are two scenes of Peter, one preaching and one healing with his shadow.
If we look at both of those scenes, we find a man with a bi-forked beard just like the one in the panel:
In the preaching scene he is dressed in burgundy robe, kneeling without head covering before Peter; in the shadow scene he is trailing in the far back behind Peter and wears a blue cap.  Is he the original patron of the chapel, the Piero di Piuvichese for whom Felice Brancacci had the walls painted?  His great age would be a way of showing a person from the past, an old relative, the ancestor buried in the chapel walls, honored by his descendent by being included in the fabric of the chapel he had had constructed.
           Piero di Piuvichese is one of the reasons the life cycle of Pietro (Saint Peter) is chosen as the subject of the chapel walls; St. Peter is his name saint. It would make sense that he would be among the bystanders in the saint's pictorial life in the chapel itself as well as in the document made by Masaccio of the contributors to the project. So, in my opinion, the identity of the five figures in the Louvre panel should read as follows:

                MASACCIO       PIERO di PIUVICHESE            DONATELLO                 MASOLINO          BRUNELLESCHI 
                Painter-Left wall   BRANCACCI Original Patron     Sculptor-Center              Painter-Rt.wall                  Draughtsman

Even if Lanyi was right, that these figures were taken from another work where some of these men processed in the Sagra del Carmine, they all are vital to the creation of this holy chapel, and Masaccio would have selected these out of the whole procession as men who were connected by the chapel's work.  Masaccio's modern self-awareness is presented twice here, once in his own self-portrait, and once in the notion displayed on the panel that the "workers" should be documented for their adornment of the sacred space. That the workers share the space on the panel with the original patron (who would not have appeared in the procession but funded the original chapel project) is just another sign of Masaccio's artistic prescience.

No comments:

Post a Comment