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The 'Bibliotheca Graeca': Castagno, Alberti, and Ancient Sources

Author(s): Toby Yuen


Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 112, No. 812 (Nov., 1970), pp. 724-736
Published by: Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/876445
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TOBY

The

Castagno,

'YUEN

'Bibliotheca

Alberti,

and

OF the few mural ensembles that have survived from the


Quattrocento, only two may be described as entirely
illusionistic in conception and not dominated by figurative
elements. They are the bibliothecagraeca, originally part of
the Vatican Library of Sixtus IV (Fig.6), and the Sala del
Mappamondo in Palazzo Venezia. Both decorations are of
uncertain authorship. Both are analogous in that a single
point perspective system of fictive classical architecture is
rigorously applied to the four walls, thus compelling the
visitor to take a fixed vantage-point at the centre of the hall.
The walls of the Sala del Mappamondo, painted around
1490, are unique in that figurative scenes are entirely
absent.1 The hall itself is so vast that its dimensions almost
outweigh the mediocre quality of the execution. As monumental architecture this decoration appears less striking
when one realizes that nearly all the motifs are literal
quotations of the triumphal arch theme, deriving from the
Arch of Constantine, and that these had been introduced
some forty years earlier by Mantegna in the Roman settings
of his frescoes of St James in the Erimitani at Padua.
The lesser known bibliothecagraeca, while modest in size
and earlier in date, represents the most precocious surviving
work of illusionistic painting of the fifteenth century. The
mise en sckne is a noble cortile enclosed by heavy Roman
colonnades that sustain a rich entablature, broken by
projecting bays, and, in the curved lunettes above, an open
air marble balustrade of gothic type, surmounted by vases of
flowers and by tendril-like streamers swirled about in the
most frivolous linear patterns (Figs.8, 9). Indeed, the
lively all'antica, all'aperta effects conjured by this continuous
scheme are reminiscent in character, lighting system, and
theme of the so-called 'second' style of Pompeian painting.
Whether the artist knew visible remains of ancient painting
or was inspired by purely contemporary developments in
Quattrocento painting is the question.
The first possibility inevitably invites controversy, since
actual walls of the second style are not yet known to have
been discovered - or recorded, to be more precise - until
the eighteenth century, whereas monuments of the third
and the fourth styles did escape the ravages of Renaissance
plundering. If, on the other hand, the decoration of the
bibliothecagraecawas the product of Quattrocento trends, when
should it be dated? Some historians tend to view the 1470's
as the great decade for the invention of classicizing room
schemes, the intarsia decoration of the Urbino studiolo,
and Mantegna's Camera degli Sposi, while from the I480's
on one can trace the fresh interest in grotteschi, catalyzed by

* This is a revised section of a survey of illusionistic mural decoration of the


second half of the Quattrocento in Rome. I am most grateful to the FulbrightHays Commission which helped to make this research possible.
1 Illustrated in F. HERMANIN: II Palazzo di Venezia, Rome
[I1948], pp.I03-132;
'The Programme for the Decoration of the Belvedere of
of s. SANDSTROM:
Innocent VIII', KonsthistoriskTidskrift,XXIX [1960], p.60.

Graeca':
Ancient

Sources*

the rediscovery of Nero's Domus Aurea.2 The I450's also


formed a period of comparable fermentation during which
the young Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, and Castagno
improvised scenes within imposing classical environs.
Significantly, scholars concerned with the role of the
bibliothecagraeca are divided as to which of these two decades
of antiquarian revival it should be assigned to. The attribution is also shrouded in doubt. Melozzo da Forli, Piero, the
circle of Alberti, and the bottega of Ghirlandaio have all
been suggested.3
It will become clear in this study that the frescoes belong
to the 1450's and that the design evolved from an association between two masters of perspective who were active in
Rome in the same period: Alberti and Castagno. In his
fresco cycle of the Uomini Illustri Castagno betrays an
incipient interest in Albertian motifs. In the decoration of
the bibliothecagraeca he brings to view a mature grasp of
the severe classical idiom and the romanita,which must have
grown out of direct encounters with Alberti and the ambient of Rome. The antique models that Alberti himself
drew upon are difficult to identify, owing to the fusion of
fantastic and real architectural forms in this reconstruction
of what he imagined to be an all'antica peristyle. Knowledge
of Roman ruins, supplemented by classical allusions to villa
architecture, formed the touchstone of Alberti's conception
for the Vatican frescoes. In this sense the decoration of the
bibliothecagraeca falls outside the mainstream of Quattrocento painting. Its illusionistic conception anticipated
Cinquecento schemes such as Peruzzi's Sala delle Prospettive
rather than the Mantegnesque Sala del Mappamondo.
Until the ambiguity about its date and attribution is
dispelled, the sources and implications of the bibliotheca
graeca will remain obscure. Redig de Campos's history of the
north wing of the old pontifical palace is invaluable in
augmenting the preceding researches. His studies of the
masonry stripped in the restoration of 1967 confirm the
2 On the diverse influences of this crucial monument, see the excellent
study by
N. DACOS:La dicouverteet la formationdes grotesquesa la Renaissance (Studies of
the Warburg Institute), London [1969].
latina and the bibliothecagraecaformed the bibliotheca
3 From 1475 the bibliotheca
communis.The former hall measures 19 by Io46 m.; the latter, 8 by Io48
m. They were evidently named as such on the basis of the corresponding MSS
filed in them; they now exist as part of the Floreria Apostolica. The two
adjoining rooms to the east were annexed before 1480 to become part of the
Vatican Library of Sixtus IV. See P. FABRE: 'Le Vaticane de Sixte IV',
Me'langesd'Archiologieet d'Histoire, a. XV [18951, PP-455-483. The attribution
to Melozzo was advanced by E. STEINMANN(Die SixtinischeKapelle, Munich
[1901], p.52); to Piero by G. ZIPPEL ('Piero della Francesca a Roma', Rassegna
d'Arte, VI [1919], pp.81-94), HERMANIN (op. cit., p.io8), and E. STRONG
('Some chapters from the unfinished history of the Vatican Palace...',
unpubl., British School at Rome, [I948], pp.I20f.); to the Ghirlandaio work(I Palazzi Vaticani,Bologna [1967], p. 61); and to
shop by D. REDIGDE CAMPOS
an unidentified follower of Alberti by K. LANCKORONSKA
('Zu Raffaels Loggien',
Sammlungenin Wien, n.s. IX [1935], PP.I I4f)
Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischen
and A. BLUNT('Illusionistic Decoration in Central Italian Painting', Journal
of theRoyalSocietyof Arts, CVII [1958-1969], p.312).

725

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6. Diagram of the building nucleus around the Cortile del Papagallo: Innocent III-Alexander
VI. Author's revision of Redig de Campos: I Palazzi Vaticani,Grafico i.

7. Bibliothecagraecaafter restoration: east and south wa


Rome.)

8. Bibliothecagraeca: east and south walls.


Fresco. (Floreria Apostolica,
Vatican, Rome.)

9. Bibliothecagraecaafter restoration: south and west wa

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Rome.)

THE

BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA

: CASTAGNO,

thesis that Nicholas V rebuilt the medieval section of the


north wing and extended it to the west in order to establish
his own palatiumnovum(Fig.6).4 The exterior wall to the
west of the medieval section then became the eastern wall
of the future bibliothecagraeca. The new western adjunct
embraced four floors, bounded on the east by the Trecento
wall, on the south by the Cortile del Pappagallo, and on the
north by the Cortile del Belvedere. The vaulting and
arrangement of the space in this wing were identical for
the cantina,the ground floor, and the first floor, each of
which was barely lit by three large windows in the north
wall. Two central massive pillars, situated along the major
axis of each floor, divided the space into three areas, each
covered by double cross-vaults.5The ground floor deviated
from the tripartitepattern; its south wall towards the Cortile
del Pappagallo, was opened by three doors, two of them
leading into the larger hall, later named the bibliotheca
latina, and one into the bibliothecagraeca. The original
divisions of these two sale came to light in 1967, when the
remains unearthed beneath the pavement around the
central pillar in the bibliotheca
latinarevealed that the ground
floor of the western quarter had once been partitioned into
'sei camererettangolari,ciascunacon la sua voltaa crocierabislunga'.6Either Nicholas V or Sixtus IV, or perhaps both,
must have converted the six rooms into the present two
halls.
The confusion about the authorship of the bibliotheca
graecafrescoes stems largely from the original assumption
that the two rooms were contemporaneously decorated by
the same artist or workshop. Writers ascribe it either to the
painters employed by Sixtus in the mid-1470's or to the
Ghirlandaio brothers. As for the Ghirlandaio brothers,
their responsibility for the bibliothecalatina paintings is
verified by Vatican bills of payment. Further evidence of
their hand lies in the style of the eight lunette paintings that
portray the Church Fathers and classical philosophers in
bust form (Fig.21).7
The recent assignation of the frescoesof the neighbouring
room to the Ghirlandaio shop is not, however, supported by
any evidence, documentary or stylistic. On the contrary, the
graeca
possibility of even dating the frescoes of the bibliotheca
within the reign of Sixtus is negated by architectural and
ornamental discrepancies.The most patent is the prominent
display of the papal arms of Nicholas V on the keystones of
the two vaults, the one to the north bearing the initials
'N.PP.V' (Fig.Io) as opposed to the Rovere stemmas of
4 E. MUNTZ: Les arts d la cour des papes pendantle XVe et le XVIe sidcle (Bibliotheque des tcoles d'Athenes et de Rome) Paris, I [1878], II [1882], III [1885];
nell'
Gli affreschidel Pinturicchio
FABRE, op. cit.; F. EHRLE and E. STEVENSON:
Borgia del Palazzo Vaticano,Rome [1897], and REDIGDE CAMPOS:
Appartamento
Palazzi, PP.44, 48.
5 See the reconstruction of the ground floor rooms in FABRE, op. cit., pl.IV.
6 The
original pillar and traces of the four tramezzi built by Nicholas V in the
bibliothecalatina, after being stripped during restoration, are illustrated in
REDIG DE CAMPOS: II RestaurodelleAuledi Niccold V e di SistoIV nel Palazzo
Apostolico,Vatican [1967], P-25; idem: Palazzi, p.47. Cf. T. MAGNUSON: Studies
Rome [1958],
in Roman Quattrocento
Architecture,
p.x19.
SIbid., p.II9; REDIG DE CAMPOs: Palazzi, p.61. Moreover the marmoreal
rendering of the heads, the descriptive treatment of minutiae and the graduated
sky setting, pierced by swooping birds, are fully characteristic of other better
known paintings by Domenico such as The Calling of the First Apostlesin the
Sistine Chapel, 1481. The wooden quality of the lunette paintings in the
bibliothecalatina leads one to suspect that Domenico relied heavily upon his
brother and assistants to execute his designs.

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

Sixtus IV in the bibliothecalatina. The presence of Nicholas


V's painted keys has been ignored or else read as 'insolito
omaggio al defuntofondatore della Libreria Vaticana' by the
Rovere pope." The latter seems a magnanimous motive to
impute to a pope - particularly to Sixtus IV, yet no evidence or parallel exists in the papal annals to show that
any pontiff took pains to transfer credit for his own building
achievements or decorations to a predecessor. Moreover
Nicholas himself was famous for impressing his modest
coat-of-arms upon the frames and keystones of whatever
rooms he built, restored, or decorated.9
The disharmony between the decorative schemes of the
two reading rooms is also striking. Under Sixtus the interior
layouts of both rooms were arranged so that the space of
each was occupied by rows of desks, aligned in a north-south
direction, and the manuscript presses. The decoration of the
bibliothecalatina, done in tempera, corresponds to this plan.
The painted half-figures are confined within the lunettes
while figurative and architectural elements were absent on
the lower walls, but for Melozzo's single fresco. Painted in
an emerald green intonaco, the lower zone simulated a
tapestry with red ribbons suspended by nails from the
actual imposts of the vaulting.10 In contrast to the flat
surface pattern maintained on the lower walls there, the
perspective scheme of the bibliothecagraeca extends over the
entire fields of both the six lunettes and the nether zones
(Figs.7-9). The spatial effects of the false colonnades and
the receding pavements must have been lost upon the
spectator placed amidst slanting desk tops. This surely
would not have occurred had both rooms actually been
decorated by the same artist. Other discordant features
can be cited to demonstrate that the frescoes of the bibliothecagraeca could not have been contemporaneous with the
tempera paintings of the bibliothecalatina.
The untimely death of Pope Nicholas in i455 forestalled
his architects from erecting 'a spacious library lighted by
a range of windows on each side', according to Manetti.
No effort was made to realize this project until the accession
of Sixtus to the papacy. In February of I475 he decided to
house the first public library in the ground floor rooms of the
north wing of the Vatican Palace and appointed Bartolomeo
Platina as his librarian. " Bearing in mind Nicholas's role
as the founder of the north-west quarter, it becomes clear
that the structural measures undertaken by Sixtus to transform this section into a library were minimal in extent.
The Rovere pope erected no new walls. He merely razed
certain of the original party walls and his additions to the
fabric consisted mainly of fenestrations in the south and

8 Illustrated in ZIPPEL, op. cit., p.9I,

PP.47f.

Fig.6; see REDIG DE CAMPOS:Palazzi,

9EHRLE-STEVENSON,op. cit., pp.3If.; MONTZ(op. cit., I, p.IIo) noted that


Nicholas V, inspired by Imperial models, proudly stamped even the building
tiles with his initials.
10 The ground floor rooms and seating arrangement are described and illustrated in FABRE, op. cit., pp.455ff., p.469; concerning fragments of the original
decoration, most of which is lost, on the lower walls of the bibliothecalatina, see
REDIG DE CAMPOS: Restauro,p.Io. Only Melozzo's famous fresco of Sixtus IV
and Platina, 1477, and two papal stemmas intruded this decoration on the
north and west walls.
11 W. CLARK: 'The Vatican
of the Cambridge
Library of Sixtus IV', Proceedings
J.
DABISTICCI:
The VespasianMemoirs,
AntiquarianSociety[1899], P.4; cf. VESPASIANO
tr. W. George and E. Waters, London [1926], p.50.

726

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Io. Bibliotheca

0.

graeca:

north

Fresco. (Floreria Ap-

Swall.

ostolica,

Vatican,

Rome.)

iI . Bibliotheca graeca: north


and east walls. Fresco.
(Floreria Apostolica, Vatican, Rome.)
,.
I2.

Bibliotheca graeca: south


wall. Fresco. (Floreria Apcstolica, Vatican, Rome.)

13. Detail of false architrave

from the bibliothecagraeca.

Fresco. (Floreria Apostolica, Vatican, Rome.)


I.t.:.

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....

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14. Bibliothecagraeca:west wall, south lunette. Fresco. (Floreria Apostolica, Vatican, Rome.)

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THE

'BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA':

CASTAGNO,

latinafrom
west walls and in the wall dividing the bibliotheca
the graeca.
The quartering of the official library in the present two
rooms is reconstructed through Platina's accounts compiled
between 3oth June, 1475 and I4th September, 1481, and

the results of the 1967 restoration. Together, these sources


show that Sixtus's immediate concern upon eliminating
several of the original party walls was to improve the lighting
of both rooms by inserting five new windows. Between 28th
November, 1475 and 4th May, 1476 Domenico and David
Ghirlandaio were paid 'pro pictura bibliothecae'.Three
German artists were simultaneously engaged to glaze and
embellish the windows. The completed decoration of the
windows, old and new, is recorded 7th June, 1476, 'pro
quinquefenestris magnis, duabus minoribus'.12The windows
comprise the three great finestroniof Nicholas V in the north
wall, as well as the two in the west wall and the two smaller
ones in the south wall of the two rooms (Figs.8, 21), all
added by Sixtus. The Rovere stemmas were added to the
intrados of the three old finestroni,including the one in the
bibliothecagraeca (Fig.Io).
Hence, the new openings in the Greek library are of
primary interest: they represent the only securely datable
elements in that hall. The single window in the south wall
was inserted in late I475 and decorated in early 1476. The
two apertures in the wall between it and the bibliotheca
latina were opened in 1480 (Fig.9). Within the same brief
period, 1475-1476, the original door in the south wall, that

opened onto the Cortile del Pappagallo, was sealed up on the


inner side.13
The four survivingfinestrelleopened by Sixtus in the south
and west walls of both halls in I475 offer a telling contrast
to the three old finestroniin the north wall. In the bibliotheca
latina each of the windows, old and new, is neatly centred
within the lunette it occupies (Fig.2i); each of the lunettes
repeats a simple scheme of either single or paired bust
figures standing behind a stone parapet. The windows are
thus symmetrically flanked by the painted personages who
hold scrolls that flutter around or overlap the real frames in
a trompe-l'oeilmanner, indicating that the Ghirlandaio
shop harmonized its decoration with the architectural
members in the bibliotheca
latina. In the bibliothecagraca, on
the other hand, a mere glimpse of the south wall (Fig.I2)
reveals that the window added by Sixtus destroyed what
must once have been the central section of an earlier
decoration. The fictive balustrade was clearly ruined by this
window, while remnants of amputated flowers and flying
ribbons, protruding from the real frame, signify that no
attempt was made then to disguise the intrusion, a fact
faithfully recorded to this day by the 1967 restoration
(Fig.7).
Another feature oddly at variance with the same frescoes
is the painted frame of the old finestronein the north wall
(Figs.I o, I I) with its heavy ornate inlay of overlapping
12 MONTZ,

13

op. cit., III, pp.121-126.

Ibid., p.126; on the new windows of 1475-1476, see FABRE, op. Cit., pp.46of.
Of the two apertures in the intersecting wall between the two halls, the central
one was later converted into the present door. The marble frame of the sealed
up door of Nicholas V on the exterior side of the wall was preserved and adorned
with the arms of Sixtus IV; it is visible when viewed from the Cortile del
Pappagallo.

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

scales which irrationally cuts across the false architrave,


frieze, colonnade, and balustrade. These aberrations of the
harmoniously proportioned false architecture of the south
and the north walls contradict the idea that Sixtus commissioned the original frescoesof this hall. Though he might
have altered the works of his predecessors,he would scarcely
have damaged his own decorations in such a manner.
Further hints showing that the two halls were not
decorated within the same period are to be found in the
Vatican records of payment. Of Platina's entries for the
period of 1475-1477, only two refer to the bibliothecagraeca.
In 1478 Platina paid for a pictorial task which has hitherto

perplexed scholars: 'HabuerePaulus et Dionysiuspictoresduos


ducatospro duobusparibuscaligarumquampetierea dominonostro
dum pingerent cancellos bibliothecaeet restituerentpicturam
bibliothecaegraecae, ita n. Sanctitassua mandavit,die XVIII
martii 1478.'14

Another restoration of an even earlier date has been


overlooked since it was erroneously published by Miintz;
accordingly, the bill of 7th November, 1476, which was
corrected by Zippel for its omission of the crucial word
'grece'should read: 'Dedi paule et dionysiopictoribus.. .pro

restauratapictura bibliothecegrece, ducatos


X,..'.61

latinadid not require restoraSignificantly, the bibliotheca


tions, nor was it designated by name in the records of
payments to the Ghirlandaio shop and to Melozzo. Platina
probably singled out the bibliotheca
graecaby title simply to
the
minor
of
tasks
distinguish
repainting there from the
decorative
work taking place in the
major, all-embracing
bibliothecalatina. If, as these entries show, restorationswere
called for as early as 1476 in the bibliotheca
graeca,the orginal
frescoes must have been executed at a considerably earlier
date. And if Sixtus was not responsible for these frescoes,
alternative questions arise: (a) what were the restorations
of 1476 and 1478 respectively, and (b) which pontiff
preceding Sixtus ordered the original decoration?
One clue to the 1478 task is suggested by those scholars
who once attributed the frescoes to Melozzo, and by the
damaged condition of this room. Upon the creation of the
second Vatican Library in 1588 the ground floor rooms of
the first library were abandoned, and then shabbily 'ridotto
adessoa uso di Foreria'.16By 19go Steinmann noted that a
large area of the surface had been whitewashed and that
traces of original fresco could be detected beneath the
deteriorated strip framing the window in the north wall,
which was discussed above (Fig.i i). Okkonen also concluded that the colour flaking away from the oak-leaved
festoon strip, that protrudes so awkwardly along the

14 MONTZ,
op. cit., III, p.131-. Cf. A. SCHMARsoW: Melozzo da Forlt, Berlin
[1886], p.41; FABRE, op. Cit., p.464; STEINMANN,op. Cit., p.84; CLARK, op. Cit,
p.22; and REDIG DE CAMPos:Palazzi, p.61. Despite their lack of renown,
Paulus and Dionysius were 'pictores'employed on numerous minor commissions for Platina 'propictura'between May, 1476 and March, 1478.
15 ZIPPEL, op. Cit., p.84 n.2. Cf.
MrrNTz(op. Cit., III, p.I27) who omitted the
word 'grece', which is badly scrawled but still legible today; the spelling of the
word as such is verified by Monsig. J. Ruysschaert.
16A.
delPalazzo Vaticano,Rome [1750], p.411. j. P. CHATTARD
TAJA: Descrizione
(Nuova descrizionedel Vaticano,II, Rome, [1766], P.459 described the bibliothecagraeca:
'con colonneparte verdi, e parte gialle; architrave,fregio, cornice,e capitelli gialli da
alcunifestoniinterrotte.'

729

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THE

'BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA':

CASTAGNO,

balustrade (Fig.I5), was the work of a restorer.17 Unfortunately, the restoration of 1967 conceals the original
colour underlying the repainted strips. Nevertheless, the
same harsh green festoons, which run along the base of the
balustrade and frame the lunettes and two keystones, still
seem to clash with the muted tones of the false architecture
(Figs.I o, I5). The arid rendering of the festoons is a telling
contrast to the delicate atmospheric treatment of the
Augustan frieze of naturalistic swags of fruit, flowers, and
bucrania(Fig. I3), which was very likely inspired by the
unique Caffarelli sarcophagus.18The festoons of oak leaves,
insignia of the Rovere, were probably added by order
of Sixtus for the sake of harmonizing the older decoration of
this hall with that of the bibliothecalatina, where the eight
lunettes and papal stemmas were, de rigueur,enclosed by
Rovere festoons (Fig.2I). Since the festoons overlap the
lunette fields in the bibliothecagraeca with jarring effects
similar to those crowding the base of the balustrade (Figs.
Io, 15), it seems reasonable to conclude that they were the

maladroit repaintings of 1478 entrusted to Paulus and


Dionysius.
At least one element of the 1476 restoration remains
visible on the north wall, where the entrance door once
existed (Figs.7, 8). Sealed up on the inner side by Sixtus,
this section displays a painted column that is crowned by a
composite capital mounted conspicuously lower than the
capitals of the other columns. Clearly this column was an
afterthought created by the restorersto disguise the walled
up door, though they had to lower the shaft and capital
to fit it beneath that window which had spoiled the upper
zone of false architecture (Fig.I2). Without doubt this
posterior column, decapitated by the finestrellaof 1475, was
painted in the initial period of alterations to the fabric,
i475-1476.

The relatively large payment of ten ducats

implies that other areas of the same room required more


repainting.
Here, the identity of the papal patron can be securely
predicated. Between 1455 and 1474 none of Nicholas's
successors made an effort to preserve or embellish the
ground floor rooms. Only Nicholas V, who had founded
the western adjunct of the palace and had placed his keys in
the bibliotheca
graecahad the opportunity and, as we shall see,
the motive to decorate them in classicizing style.
Nicholas V's reputation as the first humanist pope and
as Maecenas of the arts stems from his creation of a brilliant
court of scholars and artists summoned from every part of
Italy and Europe. Knowledge of these artists' activities is
slender, though documents allude to numerous commissions
for the Vatican Palace. Remarkable, too, was the pope's
preferment of the Florentines, foremost among them Fra
Melozzo da Forli und seine Schule,
OP.cit., I, p.83; 0. OKKONEN:
17 STEINMANN,
Helsingfors [1910o], op. cit., p.52 n.2.
18 Illustrated in D. E. STRONG:RomanImperialSculpture,London
[196I], pl.43.
The garland relief of the sarcophagus, in Berlin, was accessible in Rome in the
fifteenth century, and copied in the Codex Escurialensis in two drawings on
the same sheet; see H. EGGER: CodexEscurialensis..., Vienna [I9o6] fol. 36v.
The painted frieze in the bibliothecagraeca reproduces the rich garland frieze
as in the second drawing, that omits the utensils, of the Codex. The relief
itself is a replica of the inner garland panels of the Ara Pacis, which are so
extraordinary in creating the illusion and atmospheric effects of a wooden
fence with suspended garlands and bucrania,but which apparently were not
known before the sixteenth century. See G. MORETTI:Ara Pacis Augustae,Rome
[1948].

AND

ALBERTI,

ANCIENT

SOURCES

Angelico, BernardoRossellino, and Leon Battista Alberti.19


Since the perspectivescheme of the bibliotheca
graecafrescoes
reflects advances made by the Florentine school, his discriminationprovidesanother hint of the painter'sidentity. A
dating within the early 1450's would better explain the
restorations of 1476 and 1478, for after the death of Nicholas

in 1455, these damp, obscurely lit rooms on the ground


floor were neglected.
Against the evidence which points to Nicholas as the
graecafrescoes,only one
patron responsiblefor the bibliotheca
contradictionexists: the fact that the perspectivescheme was
manifestlydesigned for the presentvaulting of the room and
not for the original two camere.Since the four perspective
vanishing-points for the lower walls and lunettes are precisely centralized, the visitor is compelled to stand at the
very centre of the room. On the east and west walls the
orthogonalswould converge at the centre of the broad piers
(Figs.8, 9), showing that the east-west tramezzobuilt by
Nicholas must have been razed before the hall with its
present boundariescould be painted. The explanationof this
apparent enigma implies a reversalin plans by Nicholas for
the ground floor rooms, following a brief period of intense
construction and before their completion. In the light of
what is known of the changing character of the pope's
ambitious building programmes, this answer seems all the
more valid.
From the firstyear of his reign (1447) Nicholas initiated a
vast campaign to rebuild the Borgo Leonino, St Peter's, and
the Vatican Palace, the plans of which were so grandiose in
concept that they could not have been realized even had he
enjoyed a longer life. Alberti's powerful presencewas felt at
the papal court well before 1452 when he presented his
to the pontiff. Nicholas and his
treatise, the De reaedificatoria,
chief architect, Rossellino, were apparently discarding
conservative designs on his advice. Whether Alberti intervened as acting architect or as consultant is a matter of
debate, owing to the dearth of known facts about him.
Yet, in the wake of Brunelleschi'sdeath, Alberti began to
play an ascendant role among the more progressiveartists,
architects, and patrons in Central Italy. From the 1440's on
his influence can be traced in new designs for churches and
palaces, particularly in the buildings of other architects,
supervisedby him, such as Matteo de' Pasti and Rossellino.20
The pope's readinessto alter earlier plans for various parts
of the palace may be attributedin large measureto Alberti's
suggestions. The desire for another studiolo, decorated in a
19 VESPASTANO, op. cit., p.46; L. PASTOR: The History of the Popes, ed. F. I.
Antrobus, London [1923], II, pp.183, 195.
20 Alberti's role as
designer then is recognized in the Palazzo Rucellai and the
Tempio Malatestiano, built by Rossellino and Matteo de' Pasti, respectively,
who were closely supervised by him. From the I460's on his principles and
motifs are reflected in the Palace of Pius II at Pienza and in parts of the Palazzo
Venezia, and in the designs of the progressive circle of painters and architects
at the court of Federigo da Montefeltro at Urbino. R. KRAUTHEIMER: 'The

tragic and comic scenes of the Renaissance', Gazettedes Beaux-Arts,XXXIII

[1948], pp.327-346;

V. MARIANI: 'Roma in L. B. Alberti', Studi Romani, VII

[1948], pp.635-646. Nicholas V held him in the highest esteem well before he
became pope, and, in the first months of his reign, granted him a benefice;
see G. MANCINI: Vita di Leon Battista Alberti, Florence [1882], and G. DEHIO:
'Die Bauproject

Nicolaus

des Funften und Leon Battista Alberti', Repertorium

III [1880], p.254. MAGNUSON(op. Cit., pp.88-97) argues


fiir Kunstwissenschaften,
against the idea of Alberti's direct intervention in Nicholas's projects; E.
MACDOUGALL(The Art Bulletin, XLIV [I962], pp.67-75) demonstrates how

untenable this hypothesis is, particularly with respect to the Borgo project,
and convincingly

maintains his role as the foremost designer from the I450's on.

730

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Florence;

ex-Vilt

in

THE

BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA

CASTAGNO,

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

more classicizing vein than the one painted by Fra Angelico


(since destroyed), probably induced him to remove the
party wall that subdivided the moderate-sized bibliotheca
graeca.His previous purpose for the six camereis uncertain
nor is it known whether he had a hand in razing any of
the other party walls in the bibliotheca
latina.

sources about the court of Nicholas is needed to unravel it.


Proof that Castagno was employed by Nicholas V was
discovered by Mtintz in the form of a Vatican bill of payment for I4th October, I454: 'Duc. I5, bol. 4 d. c. a mo
Andreinoda Firenzepint(ore) cont. a 6 lavorantiper opere 76
datedadi26 di sett.a di 13 di Ottobrea variatiprezzi.' Occurring

The authorship of the frescoes is first intimated by the


vigorous drawing style of the two anonymous busts painted
in the lunette field of the north wall (Fig. Io). Both heads are
damaged, but enough remains to demonstrate that they
share nothing in style with the prosaically rendered heads
by the Ghirlandaio shop (Fig.21). Curiously, the better
preserved, aristocratic figure on the right and the vase
beside him are drawn far out of scale to the blond giovanotto
on the left. The latter peers downwards while the older
personage in profile fixes him with an intense 'spacetraversing' glance that cuts across the real window between
them. The floral elements may symbolize their relationship

coincides with a shadowy hiatus in the Florentine's brief


career. Though the entry of 1454 fails to specify the 'opere
76', it does establish his presence in the Vatican. Castagno,
dubbed both 'Andreino' and 'Andrea' in contemporary
and later notices, by 1454, supervised an active shop and
had Baldovinetti as a partner.22
Until now, the implications of this Roman sojourn have
been overlooked.23To demonstrate that the commission of
1454 must be identical with the decoration of the bibliotheca
graeca,we may juxtapose another, known hall frescoed by
him for the Villa Carducci at Legnaia, the UominiIllustri
cycle (Fig.22). It is here, and nowhere else, that we discover
the same system of decoration and perspective formula. In
both halls rational and harmonious forms are intended to
be viewed from an ideal viewpoint, fixed at the very centre
of the room, and even the same devices of fictive architecture
are exploited: a rich entablature, symmetrical intercolumniations, wooden coffered ceiling, Composite capitals,
marble wainscoting, and elegant streamers floating in an
airy upper zone. Unlike the frescoed hall in the Villa
Carducci, however, the newly frescoed bibliotheca
graecawas
probably never enjoyed by its patron, Nicholas V, since he
was confined to his bed during the last months of his life
(August I454-March 1455). After the pope's untimely death
it was abandoned and evidently forgotten until Sixtus IV
gave it a new function.
If the imprint of Castagno's personality is transparentin
both halls, an equally conspicuous 'leap' in spiritual conception distinguishesthe Vatican from the Legnaia frescoes.
The decoration of the bibliotheca
graecais so much bolder,
more powerful, and novel owing to the new romanitdthat

(Figs.14, 15).

The fusion of elastic line and plastic strength here characterize the style of only one master active during midcentury, Andrea del Castagno. The physiognomy of the
giovanottois marvellously akin to the more robust heads
painted by him in the 1450's, such as St Thaddeus in the

Last Supper, Christ in Christand St Julian (Figs.I6, I7),


Pippo Spano, and the superb bust portrait in the Washington National Gallery (Mellon Collection). The identical
features are mirrored in the tilted head of the giovanotto:the
almond-shaped eyes with swollen curved lids and sideways
glance, petulant 'cupid-bow' lips, full, tapered chin, hooktipped nose with dilated nostrils and broad cheek bones.
Rude energy and fastidious line animate the idealized heads
which Castagno was fond of posing in three-quarter'sview.
His hand is thus betrayed by the elegance, precision, and
tension of a linearism, tempered by asprezzaof form, which
places him among the most sophisticateddraughtsmenof the
Quattrocento, rivalled only by Pollaiuolo and Botticelli.
His weakness as a colourist, despite his debt to Domenico
Veneziano, was counterbalanced by his power as a designer.
The haughty, less idealized figure on the right (Fig. 19) recalls otherprofilesby the same artist,above all, those ofNiccol6
Acciaioli, Niccolo Tolentino (Figs.I8, 20), and St Matthew
in the Last Supper.The early dating of the bibliotheca
graeca
is reaffirmed by the style of coiffure, head-gear, and dress.
Despite the ruined surface, we can still make out the silhouette of a thick curly mass of hair framing the face of the
giovanotto. It reflects a hair style popular among dandified
Florentine youths in the I440's and -5o's, usually achieved
by strenuous brushing or wadding, and is well modelled in
the 'Adimari' cassone in Florence. Also typical of the same
period are the flamboyant vest coat, inflated slashed sleeves,
and beret with its faintly military aspect, worn by the
lordly personage, who clearly would not be a member of the
clergy. He may be a princely patron or a wealthy humanist,
though the latter possibility seems remote. The identity and
relationship of the two men remain a mystery. One may
hazard certain guesses,21 but a detailed study of the literary
There is an enigmatic passageby

R. M. TORRIGGIO (Le SacreGrotte,Rome


p.225) which mentions Niccol6 Perotti in a record of 12th April, 1462,
[x6351,
21

between I6th June, 1454 and early 1455, this commission

as 'arcivescovosipontino,letteratointimo del Bessarione,poeta laureataa Bologna de


FedericoIII, la cui effigievedevasidipinta nella bibliothecavaticana'.Born in 1430,
Perotti had an accelerated career, as a classical scholar, papal secretary to
Nicholas from 1453, who praised him highly, and Bishop of Siponte from
1458.
See VESPASIANO,op. cit., p.50, and D. DE MENIL,ed.: Buildersand Humanists:
the
RenaissancePopes..., Houston [1966], pp.2o7ff. Either this precocious scholar,
before he joined the clerical ranks, is indeed the giovanottoby Castagno, or
merely a portrait in another papal studioloused as a library, loosely titled the
Vatican Library before the reign of Sixtus IV.
22 MONTZ, Op.cit., I,
p.94 n.2; this bill of the TesoreriaSegreta, 1454, folio
now in the Archivio di Stato in Rome (Camerale I, Vol.1469), should be I74v,
read
as:
'Duc[ati] 15, bol[ognini]4 d[i] c[amera] a m[aestro]Andreinoda Firenzepint[ore]
cont[ati] a 6 lavorantiper opere76 date da di 26 sett[embreja di 13 Ottobrea variati
prezzi.'
To paint a room the size of the bibliotheca
graecain eighteen days would certainly
have required the help of six 'lavoranti'.
He was also dubbed 'Andreinodegli Impiccati' after working for the Medici
in I440, and was still referred to in documents as 'Andreinodipintore'after his
death in 1457. R. W. KENNEDY: Alessio Baldovinetti,New Haven [1938], p.i5;
A. FORTUNA: 'Alcune note su Andrea del Castagno', L'Arte, LXII
[1958],
P-349; for analysis of Castagno's late works, see M. HORSTER: 'Castagnos
Florentiner Fresken I45o-I457',
Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch, XVII [9551],
and L. BELLOSI:'Intorno ad Andrea del Castagno', Paragone,
n.s.
pp.79-I3i,
23 [1967], pp.3-18. Concerning Nicholas V, PASTOR, Cit., II, p.307.
op.
23 I have learnt, through brief correspondence, that Dr Horster is also
making
a similar attribution of the bibliothecagraeca to Castagno in a
forthcoming
monograph.

733

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THE

'BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA?

: CASTAGNO,

one may safely assume that the Villa Carducci cycle was the
antecedent

in execution, datable about 1449-I450,

and

served as an experimental prelude. In the painted architecture of the bibliothecagraecathere exists a bold monumentality, fully consistent with revived Roman ideals of
mass, severity, and gravitas.Only single gothic motifs such
as the balustrade quatrefoilsinterrupt the grandiose vision,
to remind the viewer of the painter's Tuscan heritage. The
Villa Carducci ensemble, on the other hand, remains
predominantly Florentine in its scheme and effects, though
it does reflect the latest Albertian innovations. The pilaster
strips that rhythmically divide the false niches housing the
UominiIllustriwere freshly inspired by those on the facade
of the Palazzo Rucellai (1446-1451) designed by Alberti.
Castagno's construction for the UominiIllustri is also an
attempt to re-create a favourite humanist theme within an
antique-style setting, as prescribed by Alberti in his treatise
on architecture, which would be mounted upon a powerful
podium of 'handsome Pannels' proper for porticoes and
halls, to evoke the 'brave and memorable Actions of one's
Countrymen, and their Effigies' (IX, 4). Yet these borrowings were offset by Castagno'spreferencefor older Florentine
models. The arrangement of the niche figures and pulti
owes much to Donatello's sculptures,24while the scheme
harks back to the profane decorative system of Trecento
palace interiors such as the Palazzo Davanzati, where the
uppermost zone alone was reserved for scenes of landscape
or architecture. The lower walls often simulated hanging
tapestries, as in the anachronistic scheme of the bibliotheca
latinastill. Castagno partially broke away from this formula
in the Legnaia frescoes by placing the series of false niches
with seemingly live figuresin the middle zone, but the effects
are ultimately decorative rather than illusionistic. The false
inlays of the podium and recessedniches are crystallizedinto
hard planar patterns of colourful surfaces, thus countering
the illusion of wall penetration and steep perspective. The
figuresare thrust back inwards and the flatnessof the picture
plane is re-asserted.
In the bibliothecagraeca ornament is subordinated to
structural mass and spatial clarity. Moreover, the Flavian
entablature, Augustan frieze, and projecting bays are
saturated with a rich Roman idiom alien to Florentine
painting of the 1450's. The plan and details of the powerful
colonnade closely resemble those of the 'Colonnacce' of
the 'Forum of Nerva', when its podium was still concealed
by earth. The character of the pictorial ensemble, however, is
so antiquarian and grandiose that it must have been conceived by an erudite mind equally familiar with the ruins
and environs of Rome and with classical texts. In recalling
Castagno's contadino origins and his bias for Florentine
archetypes, and calculating that he could have spent three
months, at the very most, in Rome prior to the Vatican

24For quotations I cite the English trans. by G. Leoni in J. Rykwert's ed.


of L. B. ALBERTI: Ten Books of Architecture,London [1955]. With regard to
the gothic tradition of allegorical figures depicted as living persons, see
SANDSTROM:Levels of Unreality... (Figura), Uppsala [1963], p.113. The
figures in the shallow niches apparently derive from Donatello's early niche
sculptures, in the Bargello, while the putti recall Donatello's playful creatures
on the Cantoria reliefs.

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

commission, it seems improbable that Castagno was the


sole author of the bibliotheca
graecafresco scheme. It would
be safer to assume, I maintain, that Alberti whose influence
is already visible in the UominiIllustri series, personally
advised him in this enterprise. This would seem the most
credible interpretationsince we must also take into account
the fact of Alberti's presence in Rome in the autumn of
Floren1454, his self-avowedfraternizationwith avant-garde
tine artists,25 and, above all, the Albertian species of architecture depicted in the bibliotheca
graeca.
The species of porticoed cortile envisionedhere reflectsan
integral part of Alberti's ideal architecture. Whereas contemporary architects, that is the followers of Brunelleschi,
favoured the arcade motif of light, flowing porticoes of
arches springing from slender columns, Alberti shunned it
as being unclassical and thereforesuitable only to buildings
of inferior importance: 'The Porticoes of the Houses of the
principal Citizens may have a compleat regular Entablature
over the Columns; but those of lower Degree should only
have Arches.' (IX, 4). His theory that the 'Quality of the
Owner' (IX, i) strictly determines the function of architectural motifs revives the Vitruvian notion of architectural
propriety. Vitruvius had recommended that houses should
be planned on principles'to suit different classes of persons'
(VI, 5, 3).26 Alberti prescribed all'antica styles, types, and

ornamental motifssolely for the higher ranksof his social and


intellectual hierarchy. Hence, porticoes bearing a straight
entablature are reserved for palaces, temples, and noble
public edifices. Within this system the colonnades in the
bibliothecagraecatranscend the fanciful props of an antiquarian's dream. The modest-sized room of Nicholas V
projects the mood and dignity of a royal residence which
'ought to be the first in Beauty and Magnificence' and
'should have stately Porticoes, and handsome Courts with
every Thing else in Imitation of a public Edifice, that tends
to Dignity or Ornament' (IX, I).
In turn the porticoes enclose the principal unit of the
house, the cortile, the social and physical functionsof which
render it 'a public Market-place to the whole House', for
from it 'derives all the Advantages of Communication and
Light' (V, I7). The type of cortile alluded to by Alberti

25

C. GRAYSON(An AutographLetterfrom L. B. Albertito Matteode' Pasti November


i8, 1454, New York [I957]) shows that Alberti supervised Matteo in the
construction of the Tempio Malatestiano, while he remained in Rome. That
Alberti became closely acquainted with the most advanced artists and architects in Florence through his visits, 1427-1434, is proved by his preface to
his treatise On Painting (ed. J. Spencer, New Haven [1966], p.9) where he
also urges the painter to associate with poets and orators; in his treatise on
architecture he stresses that the arts 'absolutely necessary to the Architect,
LorenzoGhiberti,
are Painting and Mathematicks' (X, io). See KRAUTHEIMER:
Piero della Francesca,London [I1951],
Princeton [1956], pp.316-320; K. CLARK:
pp. I 7f. His powerful influence on Piero's architectural style dates from about
1450 when they worked at Rimini, precisely at the time Castagno began to
employ Albertian motifs. It would seem that Alberti's belief that the 'architect
has borrowed from the painter his epistyles, capitals, columns, pediments, and
other similar things' (SPENCER, op. cit., p.64) was reversed, in practice, on
Castagno's part in the Vatican frescoes.
26 VITRUVIUS: The Ten Books
of Architecture,tr. M. H. Morgan, New York
[1960]: 'Hence, men of everyday fortune do not need entrance courts, tablina,
or atriums built in grand style, because such men are more apt to discharge
their social obligations by going round to others than to have others come to
them.' (VI, 5, I). See KRAUTHEIMER:
Ghiberti,p.333.

734

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THE

cBIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA

: CASTAGNO,

must be the peristyle rather than the atrium form.27 At


first glance the marble balustrade above appears to be a
gothic parapet, yet the naturalistic treatment of floral
elements and breezy setting suggest another Albertian ideal,
the open air terrace. Though Alberti could not have seen a
Greek agora, he presumed that the Greeks made them
'exactly square, and encompassed them with large double
Porticoes, which they adorned with Columns and their
Intablatures, all of Stone, with noble Terraces at the Top,
for taking the Air upon' (VIII, 6). The airy terrace in the
lunette fields counterbalances the heavy closed colonnades
below and instills a flavour of intimacy.
It is no accident that the Vatican frescoes, which display
a classical cortile and garden, coincide in time with the rebirth of interest in villa design. Humanists, architects, and
patrons, inspired by literary allusions to the idyllic settings
of porticoed promenades and gardens in the Greek
Academies and by the Petrarchian ideal of a retreat for the
vita contemplativa,
began to incorporate villa elements in the
plans of houses and palaces. Since their enthusiasm outstripped their fragmentary knowledge of ancient villas, they
turned to the only literary sources touching on classical villa
design, the two letters of Pliny the Younger. In describing
his 'Laurentine' villa, Pliny stresses the importance of its
siting for beauty, healthy exposure, spaciousness, cascading
fountains, paved porticoes, a formal garden richly laid out
with box and fruit trees and a terrace 'fragrantwith violets'.
Around 1460, in the Veneto, BartolomeoPagello, a Vicenzan
humanist, built the first villa based directly on Pliny's
accounts. That Pliny exerted an influence as early as the
I440's, however, is shown by Alberti's recital of the selfsame
features in the passages on villas in his architecturaltreatise,
which was evidently begun in the I440's and finished in the
main by 1452. As Alberti was among the first to reassert
the classical ideal of the intimate balance between house
and nature and to envisage the suburban villa as a residence
combining the 'Dignity of the Townhouse, and the Delights
and Pleasures of the Country-house' (IX, 2),28 he probably
helped to plan the project of Nicholas V for a magnificent
cortile-garden complex in the Vatican Palace. Though it
was precluded by the pope's death, porticoes, cortiles,

27 Though loosely applied by Early Renaissance writers, Alberti usually means


'cortile' in the specific sense of a Hellenistic peristyle court surrounded by
porticoes rather than the simple Roman atrium.
28 H. TANZER:The Villas of Pliny the rounger,New York [1924], Letter II,
17,
pp.8-I I. j. ACKERMAN:'Sources of the Renaissance Villa', Acts ... of theHistory
of Art, II [1963], pp.6f. G. MASSON
('Palladian villas as rural centres', ArchitecturalReview, CXVIII [1955], p.17) published the letter of about 1460, outlining plans to convert his rural villa into a place for 'cultured relaxation'
with specific features lifted straight from Pliny's account of the Laurentine
villa. On Pliny's profound influence in the Quattrocento, C. L. FROMMEL: Die
Farnesina und Peruzzis Architektonisches
Friihwerk, Berlin [1961], p.II6, L. H.
HEYDENREICH:
'Federigo da Montefeltro as a Building Patron', Studies in
Renaissance& BaroqueArt Presentedto AnthonyBlunt ..., London [19671,
PP-5f.,
who points out Alberti's role, and MASSON:
Italian Gardens,London [1966],
pp.6o, 67, who notes humanist theories on gardens set within classical environs,
such as that described in the Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili (c.1467), enclosed by a
Corinthian peristyle garden. On Pliny's influence upon High Renaissance
painting, the forthcoming article by J. DALEY. For the dating of Alberti's
architectural treatise, KRAUTHEIMER:
Ghiberti,pp.268-27o n.28. For Alberti's
passages on villa features, ALBERTI,
op. cit., V, 14-18; IX, 2; cf. his brief treatise
on the villa rusticatype (1438) in GRAYSON,ed.: 'Villa', Rinascimento,IV [1953].
On Nicholas V's project for the Vatican garden complex, ACKERMAN:
The
Cortiledel Belvedere,Vatican
[1954], p.8.

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

fountains, and garden landscaping were to play a major


role, which would have given it a far more classical aspect
than the medieval hortusconclusus.
In this context the combination of a severe palatial
cortile, fit for a humanist pope, and an intimate gardenterrace seems less paradoxical. Even the conceit of recreating
the out-of-doors in-doors seems to have been inspired by
Pliny's letter about his Tuscan villa. Here Pliny describes a
garden suite looking onto a cortile that included a room
painted with garden scenes, 'ornamented by a marble
wainscoting and, no less pleasing, a frieze above it, depicting
birds perched on leafy branches'.29 The garden interior
theme would have appealed to Alberti if he wished to
embody the au courantideas of villa elements as essential
features of palaces and villas. In its entirety the false Roman
architecture in the Vatican frescoes may have been an
experimental model proposed by Alberti and executed by
Castagno, to illustrate ideas for a regal residence coupled
with elements of the grandiose garden scheme. The decoration does simulate a novel classical ambient, perhaps intended to visualize the splendid dreams of Nicholas V, in
lieu of the yet unbuilt extensions planned for the old palace
or, at the very least, to whet the papal imagination. In analogous fashion the Roman-Campanian painters of the second
style once gave form to their visions of architectural innovations long before they could be realized.
Ancient pictorial sources must have played a role here.
Throughout his architectural treatise Alberti acknowledges
his debt to classical authors, yet proudly reminds the reader
of his own first-handstudies of antique models. The question
of whether any artist in the fifteenth century knew ancient
painted walls remains ambiguous owing to the absence of
documentation of their survival and destruction. If we
recall, however, that humanists such as Biondo and Pius II
often stumbled upon the remains of ancient villas, we
cannot lightly discount the idea that Alberti, one of the
most passionate as well as methodical explorers of Roman
ruins, might have discovered fragments and even walls of
painted decoration. His incisive descriptions of ancient
building plans, stucco decoration, wax painting technique,
mosaic work, pavement settings, tomb decorations, and
masonry, as they are recorded in his treatise, together with
his visible influence upon the design of the Vatican frescoes,
lend substance to this possibility. Painted walls may have
been part of what he liked to designate, but did not bother
to classify, as 'ancient Works'.30 On the other hand, the
character of his treatise remains theoretical rather than
topographical or antiquarian; whatever remains he recorded were for the sake of example and precept. In like
manner the scheme of fictive architecture in the bibliotheca

29 TANZER,op. cit., Letter V, 6, p.19.


30
See, as examples, ALBERTI: Architecture,III, 16; VI, 9; VII, 2, VIII, 1-4,
IX, 4. The author of DescriptiourbisRomae (1433) surveyed and attempted to
deduce principles of ancient practice from the remains:'There was not the
least Remain of any ancient Structure ... but what I went and examined, ...
Thus I was continually searching, considering, measuring and making Draughts
of every Thing I could hear of' (VI, I). That ancient paintings were known on
the Palatine is further indicated by the passage in Pirro Ligorio's MS. Libro
dell'antichitd,VI, fol.I51I, in the Archivio di Stato in Turin (published in DACOS,
op. cit., pp.I16f.): Ne havemoveduto. . delle antichecase private.,.. et in altri
luoghidel CollePalatine'.

735

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THE

'BIBLIOTHECA

GRAECA

: CASTAGNO,

graeca is visionary, an idealized complex of forms, not


reducible to a series of ancient motifs, though drawing
from them. Rich with literary borrowings the frescoes are
still closer to the principles and fantasy of ancient painting
than to contemporary decoration.
That painted walls of the second style had not been
recorded during quarrying operations in Rome and Ostia
merely underliesthe indifferenceof the artigianiand accountants whose sole concern was the re-use of ancient marbles
as building materials. Since theatres, palaces, and tombs of
the third and fourth styles survived Renaissance vandalism,
writers are inclined to dismiss the idea of a possible influence of Roman illusionistic painting upon Quattrocento
artists. The excavations of the eighteenth century which
unearthed frescoed walls of the second style are not 'proof
positive' that they were unknown until then. They establish
only that, by this late date, sufficient archaeologicalinterest
in Roman painting was awakened so that historians and
artists, now aware of their significance, took pains to codify
them. The fact that Alberti's own plans, drawings, and
models are lost to us is unfortunate, but in no way implies
that they never existed. His treatise, his edifices, and his
role in the design of the Vatican frescoestestify to his probable acquaintance with ancient painting. Hence, it would
seem far more illuminating to enquire about the species of
mural painting he may have seen beforetheir destruction.
Alberti's idea of the primacy of fictive architecture in
interior decoration is prescribedin a passage in his treatise:
'Upon side Walls no Sort of Painting shews handsomerthan
the Representation of Columns in Architecture.' (IX, 4).
Though this is not proof in itself that he saw painted walls
of the second style, it anticipates the execution of the
frescoes of the bibliothecagraeca in which architectural
representations,and not figural scenes, on the surrounding
walls become the principal means to beguile the interest of
the spectator. Further, the passage takes on added significance in relation to the particular themes of the Vatican
frescoes. Aside from the literary sources cited, four-wall
schemes of continuous classical colonnades do not exist in
medieval or Quattrocento painting. Yet such schemes are
most common in Roman wall decoration of rooms where
colonnades, articulated by boldly projecting bays, are the
'exact counterparts of real columns surrounding the garden'.31 The visitor, compelled to stand at a precisely fixed
point in the room, thus becomes a participant within the
imaginary extended boundaries. Houses, such as the villa
at Boscoreale, offer the most famous examples, but those in
Rome, before their destruction, were also notable for contriving illusionistic effects of porticoed peristyles. The
31 P.
Roman Wall Paintingsfrom Boscorealein the Metropolitan
w. LEHMANN:
Museumof Art, Cambridge [x953], p.8.

ALBERTI,

AND

ANCIENT

SOURCES

'Ambientedeifestoni di pino' on the Palatine,32 exemplifies


this speciesin Rome. The use of a rational systemof lighting,
by which a single source pretends to illuminate the entire
room and to cast uniform shadows is characteristic of a
number of second style decorations, such as the 'Ambiente
delleMaschere'and the 'Casadi Livia'on the Palatine (Figs.
23, 24). The same principle of counterfeit lighting is applied

in the Vatican frescoes: the northernmost faces of the


projecting bays on the east, west, and south walls are
uniformly lit by the real window in the north wall (Figs.
14, 15)-

The scheme of continuous garden scenes, as Pliny's


letter indicates, was another, though less frequent trompel'oeil theme of Roman decoration. The splendid garden
room of the 'Villa of Livia' at Primaporta belongs to this
genre. Because it is so unique, it is cited here with reserve
as one of the few survivingexamples. Its singular naturalism
of foliage and fresh air setting have much in common, for
liveliness of effect, with the open air terrace and garden
elements in the Vatican frescoes. How Castagno contrived
such extraordinarily free and crisp botanic effects is a
question that cannot be answered by literary sources
alone. It is a striking departure from the settings of his
other painting, like the Widener David, and particularly
the conventions of Central Italian painting, or the stylized
vistas of loggia decorations, as in the Casa dei Cavalieri di
Rodi in Rome of about 1470. The bold mounting of the
elegant amphora-shaped vases on the balustrade also
recalls the fantastic vessels set on the projecting bays of
entablatures, a motif peculiar to painted walls of the
second and third styles (Figs.23, 24).
Thus, the two schemes of porticoed cortile and garden,
which are combined here to form the first all'anticaroom
ensemble of the Quattrocento, reveal a wealth of ancient
stimuli, literary and visual. The literary sources are more
apparent and can be traced to the humanist interest in
villa architecture. Though the pictorial prototypes suggested above are without concrete documentation, they at
least reveal the generic similarities between Roman
illusionistic painting and the decorative scheme of the
bibliotheca
graeca,which is so extraordinary for its period.
Not to attempt an explanation would be to consign these
frescoes by Castagno to a vacuum. If we recognize the
progressive and reborn classical spirit in them, we must
speculate on the origins, Albertian and Roman, of their
conception. To neglect the question of their derivation would
be to lose sight of their unique position in the nascent
history of classicizing room decoration.

32 Illustrated in G. CARETTONI:
'Due nuovi ambienti dipinti sul palatino',
Bollettinod'Arte,XLVI [1g96], Figs.I-3.

736

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