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Contrapposto: Style and Meaning in Renaissance Art

Author(s): David Summers

Source: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 336-361
Published by: College Art Association
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Style andMeaningin RenaissanceArt*

"... qualunque cosa fra loro o teco facciano i dipinti, tutto apartenga a
hornare o a insegnarti la storia . . . Et farassiper loro dilettarsi de poeti et
delli horatori; questi anno molti ornamenti communi col pittore."1

In memoryof Charles Seymour,Jr.

It was thought for a long time that the Torso Belvedere was
discoveredin the Campo dei Fioriduringthe yearsof the reign
of JuliusII. In 1899, however,Lanciani arguedthat it was not
the TorsoBelvederethat had been found then but rathermost
probablythe sadly mutilated torso of a Discobolos,now almost
completely disguised in its restoration as a gladiator in the
Capitoline Museum.2A drawingof the torso in the Libraryof
Christ Church College, Oxford (Fig. 1), published by
Lanciani, is dated by inscription to 1513, the year of JuliusII's
death; and the same inscription tells us that the torso was
either drawn in or excavated near the house of Giovanni
Ciampolini, which was in the Campo dei Fiori.3 Ciampolini's
was one of the earliest collections of antiquities and his torso
of the Discobolosmust have been held in some regard:after his
death in 1518 and that of his heir Michele in 1519, the
collection was bought at a high price by Giulio Romano and
Penni in 1520.4 Thus a torso of the Discobolos,although it may
never have been identified as such, or if it was identified, still
left much to the imagination, surfaced at an opportune
moment in the development of the Roman High Renaissance
style, and took its place, immediately following the death of
Raphael, in the collection of one of the foremostpractitioners
of the new maniera.
The real Torso Belvedere had been known for at least
seventy-five years when the Discobolos fragment was unearthed. It had belonged to the Colonna since before 1435,

when its inscription, identifying it as a work of Apollonios of

Athens, son of Nestor, was recorded.It apparentlyremainedin
the possession of the Colonna until after the Sack of Rome,
when Clement VII placed the fragment-which by this time
had been made famous by Michelangelo-in the Belvedere
together with other much-admired pieces of Classical

* This article is a later versionof a

paperreadat the symposiumheld in
andPrintsof the FirstManiera,
conjunctionwith the exhibition"Drawings
1515-1535,"sponsoredby the Departmentof Art, BrownUniversity,and
the Museumof Art, RhodeIslandSchoolof Design,22 February
March1973.I wishespeciallyto expressmygratitudeto Professor
of this exemplaryexhibition,
Wilkinsonof BrownUniversity,the organizer
for the invitationto set downwhatprobablywouldnot havebeen written
otherwise. I wish also to thank my distinguished audience at the
symposium,whoseseveralcommentsandcriticismsI hopearesatisfactorily
or answeredin the presentdraftof the paper.
of frequentlycitedsourcesfollowsthe footnotes.
A bibliography
DellaPittura,ed. L. Mallk,Florence,1950, 104and94.
2 R. Lanciani,"Laraccolta
antiquariadi GiovanniCiampolini,"Bulletino
di Roma,XxvlI,1899,101-115;for
the restorationandhistoryof the torsosee H. StuartJones,A Catalogue
in theMunicipal
of Rome,TheMuseo
Capitolino,Oxford, 1912, No. 50. Burckhardt(The Civilizationof the
in Italy, New York,1958, I, 192) lends his authorityto the
traditionalideathat the TorsoBelvederewasfoundin the timeof JuliusII.
3 The drawingbearsthe inscription:"cavatoin casadi zampolino1513in
Roma."C. F Bell (Drawingsby the Old Mastersin the Libraryof Christ

Church, Oxford, Oxford, 1914, 53) lists the drawing as "Italian School
1525-75." The inscribed attribution to Leonardoon the mount is of course
wrong, although it is perhapsnot meaningless. Leonardoarrivedin Rome in
December of 1513, and it is becoming clearer that his importance for events
in Rome in the years immediately following was greater than Vasarihas led
us to believe. See K. Weil-Garris Posner, "Raphael's 'Transfiguration'and
the Legacy of Leonardo,"Art Quarterly,xxxv, 1972, 343-371.
4 Lanciani, "Raccolta," 108-110, including the contract of the sale and
Giulio's testament dated 29 April 1524. Lanciani also gathered available
evidence for Giovanni Ciampolini, a friend of Poliziano. See also H. Egger,
CodexEscurialensis,Ein Skizzenbuchaus der WerkstattDomenicoGhirlandaios,
Vienna, 1909, 135-36.
5 Lanciani, "Raccolta," 101-07; Lanciani did not identify the Discobolos
fragment, but rather offered it as a partial clarification of the history of the
Torso Belvedere, with which he argued it had become confused. On the
Renaissance history of the Torso Belvedere see also P. P. Bober, Drawings
after the Antique by Amico Aspertini. Sketchbooksin the British Museum,
London, 1957, 19, n. 1, with bibliography. P. Barocchi, ed., Scrittid'artedel
cinquecento, Milan-Naples, 1971, I, 27, states that the Torso Belvedere
(called Hercules in the Renaissance when it was not called the Torso) was
found in the time of Alexander VI and remained in the PalazzoColonna in
PiazzaSS. Apostoli until moved by Clement VII.


The story persists that the Torso Belvedere was not found
until about the same time as the Laocoon or the Apollo
Belvedere largely because it exerted no influence upon
Renaissance art until the early cinquecento, when, as the
well-known art-historicalstory goes, Michelangelo perceived
the realizationof his own aims in it-so much so that it came
to be called Michelangelo's Torso-and magnified his
conception of the human figure accordingly. I would like to
suggest, however,that the TorsoBelvedereneed not have gone
unnoticed in the decades before its "discovery" by
Michelangelo, but that it representedan alternative that the
earlier Renaissance-and most especially its major writer,
Leon Battista Alberti-consciously and with good reason
rejected; and when Michelangelo did turn appreciative eyes
upon the TorsoBelvederehe did so not in isolation but rather
as a major participant in a reorientation of dominant Early
Renaissance critical ideals. In this important instance, then,
crucial change in Italian Renaissance art was not the result
simply of the chance rediscoveryof notable antique sculpture;

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and however influential such discoveries may have been, we

must finally look elsewhere to understand the receptivity to
the more grandiloquent aspects of ancient art, which-far
from being unknown to the early quattrocento-must have
been visible from the first revived interest in the remains of
We may begin to appreciate the critical significance of our
two torsos by noting the outstandingsimilarity that no doubt
got them confused in the first place, a pronounced twist.
Shearman has shown the importance for the Mannerist style
of Quintilian's comparison of the movement of Myron's
Discobolosto ornate or unusualdiction in rhetoric. The central
image of Quintilian's passage is a curve, flexus, by means of
which he effects an equation of motusand ornatus.
The body when held bolt uprighthas but little grace, for the
face looks straight forward,the arms hang by the side, the
feet are joined and the whole figureis stiff from top to toe.
But that curve, I might almost call it motion, with which
we are so familiar, gives an impression of action and
animation ... Where can we find a more violent and
elaborateattitude than that of the Discobolos of Myron?Yet
the critic who disapprovedof the figurebecause it was not
upright, would merely show his utter failure to understand
the sculptor'sart, in which the very novelty and difficultyof
execution is what most deserves our praise. A similar
impression of grace and charm is produced by rhetorical
figures . . . they involve a certain departure from the
straight line and have the merit of variation from ordinary

Shearman connected this passage directly with Myron's

statue and lists several instances of what he considers to be
citations of the Discobolosin cinquecento art.7 The Discobolos
as a type does not seem to have been recognized until the
eighteenth century, however, and if the parallels put forward
by Shearman-such as the suppliant nephew in Titian's
portrait of Paul III-are more than coincidental, then the
Renaissance must have had a fairly complete Discobolos of
which we now have no knowledge, which of courseis possible.8

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler, New York-London,

1921, 11,xiii, 9-11; and J. Shearman, Mannerism,Baltimore, 1967, 83-86.
7 Shearman, Mannerism,85-86.

8 The Discobolosas a type seems to have been identified only late in the 18th
der ClassischenAltertumswiscentury. See Pauly-Wissowa,Real-Encyclopiidie
senschaft,xvi, I, Stuttgart, 1933, 1127. It was identified by Carlo Fea on the
basis of the descriptions of Lucian (trans. A. M. Harmon, London-New
York, 1921, iII, 346-47) and Quintilian. Gems (see A. Furtwingler, Die
antikenGemmen, Leipzig-Berlin, 1900, XLIV,n. 26) show the Discobolosfrom
the side. Celio Calcagnini's "In statuam discoboli" (in G. B. Pigna,
Carminum Libri Quattuor, Venice, 1553, 199-200) describes the figure as
bent down to the right rather than to the left, and may be based on Lucian's
9 L. Steinberg, "Salviati's Beheadingof St. Johnthe Baptist," Art News, LXX,
1972, 46-47.


But, proceedingfrom the fragmentwe know they did have, we

must literally look at the problem from a different point of
view in order to plot its influence. Steinberg has pointed out
that when Francesco Salviati conspicuously adapted one of
Michelangelo's figuresfrom the Last Judgmentto the task of
stooping for the severedhead of St. John the Baptist, the body
of the saint at the executioner'sfeet was mutilated beyond all
precedent because the trunk of the Baptist was also an
intentionally recognizablequotation, this time of a Classical
sculpture,which he identifiedas the TorsoBelvedere(Fig. 2).9
There is, however, a simple difference between the Torso
Belvedere and the trunk of Myron's Discobolos that is of
importance here: they twist in opposite directions, the
Discobolosto face its right, the TorsoBelvedereto face its left. If
Salviati meant the figureto be clearly recognizable, it seems
improbablethat he would have reversedit; and if we turn the
figure over in our mind's eye we see that it is not the Torso
Belvederethat is being cited, but the Discobolos.10
Little could have been told about the appearanceof Myron's
statue from the battered hulk that is all we know the
Renaissance to have had. It is tempting nonetheless to think
that there was enough-the crucialflexus-to identify Giulio
Romano's torso with Quintilian's text. If so, then Salviati
meant to refer to the two paradigms,ancient and modern, of
the embellished figuralmovement to which he himself was so
devoted, and we can understandhow the Discobolos,fragmentary as it was, could still bear distinguishable progeny in
cinquecento art. Condivi described the Last Judgmentfrom
which the figureof Salviati'sexecutioner was taken as a kind of
summa in which Michelangelo had "expressedall that art is
able of the human body,omitting no act or gesture."" And as
we have seen, Myron's Discobolos was the single great
precedent in Classical literaturefor the equation of movement
in sculptureand varietas.
Before leaving it, note should be taken of how Salviati
displayedhis truncated model: it is seen from above, in such a
way that the upperback and lower stomach, as well as fuzzily
restored stumps of legs, are visible. A study for a soldier by
Baccio Bandinelli, dated around1520, is remarkablysimilarto
the Discobolosseen from the same point of view (Figs. 3 and

10 A drawing(by Rosso Fiorentino) in Christ Church identified as SaintJohn

the Baptist Preaching evidently quotes the Torso Belvedere in the left
foregroundfigure, shown with a similarly perverselymutilated arm (J. Byam
Shaw, Old Master Drawingsfrom Christ Church, Oxford. A Loan Exhibition,
Oxford, 1972, n. 63). The figureis reversed.Reversal,of course, was a prime
means of concealing a debt or, as in this case, of varying a distinguished
prototype (see E. H. Gombrich, "The Style 'all'antica': Imitation and
Assimilation," Normand Form.Studiesin the Art of the Renaissance,London,
1966, 124); and the important point is that the Torso Belvedere more
completely exemplified the stylistic position suggested by Quintilian's text
than did the poor truncated remnant of the Discobolos. Citations of the
Torso Belvedere, partially restored but still sufficiently mutilated to make
their origin unmistakable, seem to have been a minor Mannerist topos. See
R. Pallucchini, SebastianViniziano, Milan, 1944, pl. 88, a and b.
"1 A. Condivi, La vita di Michelangelo raccolta dal suo discepolo, ed. P.
d'Ancona, Milan, 1928, 154.

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3 BaccioBandinelli,studyfora Massacre
of theInnocents.
Florence,Uffizi,GabinettoDisegnie Stampe

4 Myron,Discobolos.Rome, Museo
ill. 115)

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4). 12 The literally neo-Classical Bandinelli seems evidently to

have taken the sculptureas his model, and the strongdefinition
of the figure to the knee (the head and arms are relatively
credible as free restorations by Bandinelli) suggests a more
complete Discobolosthan the Giulio Romano torso. However
this may be, the drawingclosely correspondsto the Discobolos
in detail; it twists in the same direction, and perhaps most
important, it is shown in the same head-on, doubled-over,and
stronglyforeshortenedfashion that Salviati wouldalso choose.
Taken together, these two worksseem to provide a clue as to
how artistsof the cinquecento might have seen the Discobolos.
Once the pattern is recognized, it can be seen that there are
other conspicuous examples of this same figure which,
although they would have become a self-generatingseries after
a certain point, all stem in one way or another from the
Discobolos.The central figurein Michelangelo'sBrazenSerpent
pendentive is perhapsthe earliest example (Fig. 5); another is
the central chargingnude in Rosso Fiorentino'sMoses and the
Daughtersof Jethro(Fig. 6); yet a third, here referringto his
own collection of antiquities, is a fallen soldier in Giulio
Romano'sBattleof Maxentiusand Constantine(Fig. 7).
This series of figurestells us not only how the Discoboloswas
seen, but it also provides a key to the critical significance of
the figure, still in relation to Quintilian's text. Even in the
context of the maniera, these head-on figuresare singularly
contorted and difficult, bold displays of varieta and facilita.
They are in such violent movement as simultaneously to
display front and rear. When thus described, the figures
embodyan antithesis, which, as we shall see, was a majorform
of rhetorical, of poetic, and, in the Renaissance, of pictorial
ornament. Antithesis had a variety of translations and
synonyms; one of these was contrapositum,which, as is well
13 In this form
known, was the basis for the wordcontrapposto.
antithesis was appropriated directly into the Renaissance
language of painting, bringing most of its traditional literary
meanings with it. There was a good reason for this appropriation, because antithesis occupied a unique place in the history
of literarystyle, and its tradition of significancefor poetry and
rhetoric parallels and elucidates the use of its cognate in the

theoryof the visualarts. Butnot to look too farahead,it is

enoughfornowto saythata workthatmadeforthrightuseof a
contrapposto,adding opposition of direction to a figura
was an exampleof
itself alreadya contrapposto,
for cognoscenti,as
to be.14
Quintilian pronouncedMyron's
Wemustnowreturnto the historyof the TorsoBelvedereto
pickup anotherstrandof the argument.It willbe remembered
that its inscriptionwas recordedaround1435, and Lanciani
believedthat it might have been found earlier,in 1430 or
1432.15Since it is an imposingsculpturein anycase,andsince
it wasownedby the Colonna, its discovery-at a time when
interestin the still mostly buriedmarvelsof antiquitywas
intense-can hardlyhavegone unnoticed.It mighthavebeen
of special interest to two men centrally importantin the
history of Renaissanceart: Donatello, and perhapsmore
apostolico,Leon Battista
important,the youngabbreviatore
Alberti.16Withthis secondpossibilityin mindwemayturnto
an importantandpuzzlingpassagein Alberti'sDellaPittura.
Likemost theoristsof the Renaissance,Albertirecognized
the complexityof the centralproblemof the representation
movement,and he devotedseveralpages of his treatiseon
painting to the decorumof human actions. Some of his
precepts,he says,weretakenfromnature.One of them, in a
forthe limitsof movements,statesthe rule
list of prescriptions
that the waistis nevertwistedso muchthat the point of the
abovethe navel,presumably
shoulderis perpendicular
Lateron, after
to surpassthis limit is a physicalimpossibility.
listing a numberof possible and impossiblemovements,
Albertiturnsto an artisticpracticethat seemsto him to be

12 Uffizi n. 6911F See A. Forlani in Mostra di

disegni dei fondatori
dell'Accademia delle Arti del Disegno nel IV centenario della fondazione,
Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence, 1963, n. 6. The drawing
is a study for a soldier to the far right in Bandinelli'sMassacreof the Innocents
(Drawings and Prints of the First Maniera, 1515-35, Brown University-Rhode Island School of Design, 22 February-25 March 1973, Cat. No. 1)
engraved by Marco Dente (ibid., No. 90). Forlani does not connect the
soldier with the Discobolos. In the preliminarydrawing, the figure'sleft leg
tucks under in the unusual manner characteristic of the Discobolos.
Bandinelli's soldier-mostly in what it lacks-is similar to the Vatican
Discobolos, brought from Hadrian's Villa in 1791. Hadrian's Villa was well
known to Renaissance artists, and Bandinelli may possibly have seen it
there, although it is hard to say-especially if recognized-why such a
sculpture would not have come to wide attention long before the end of the
18th century. Forlani observes that the drawing served as the basis for the
modelloof Bandinelli's firstHerculesand Caecus composition, formerlyin the
KaiserFriedrich Museum in Berlin. The reason for the similarity is probably
the common source and its significance. Both Bandinelli's modello and
Michelangelo's bozzettoin the Casa Buonarrotiusually connected with the
same programseem to be competing variations on the Discobolos theme.
Bandinelli also used the same figure as the crowning contrappostoin the
lower right corner of his antithesis-ridden Combat of Lust and Reason
composition engraved by Nicholas Beatrizet (Bartsch 44).
13 Contrapposto as a characteristic Classical figural construction
connected by Shearman (Mannerism, 83) with a "figure of speech much

favored by Petrarch."The translation of "antithesis" by "contrapositum"is

noted by Quintilian (Ix, iii. 81): "antithesis, which Roman writers call
either contrapositumor contentio." The figure is given signal importance by
Augustine (see note 73 below); and extolled in similar terms by Isidore of
Seville, who limits the field of possible translations to one: "Antitheta,
quae Latine contraposita appellantur: quae, dum ex adverso ponuntur,
sententiae pulchritudinem faciunt et in ornamento locutionis decentissima
existunt" (Etymologiae 1. xxi, ed. W. M. Lindsay, Oxford, 1911, I, n.p.).
Isidoreprovidesan elaborate example of antithesis from Cicero (In Catilinum
11.25) and, again like Augustine, cites the example of Ecclesiastes. See also
Matthieu de Vendome, Ars versificatoria, III, 25ff. (E. Faral, Les Arts
poetiques du XIIe et du XIlle si&cle, Paris, 1923, 173): "Antithetum est
contrapositio, quando contraria contrariis opponuntur, ut apud Ovidium:
(MetamorphosesI. 19) Frigidapugnabant calidis, humentia siccis/Mollia cum
duris, sine pondere habentia pondus." Fourkinds of antithesis are discussed
in this instance, by construction, by noun, adjective, and verb, and
examples of each are given from Ovid and from BernardusSilvestris.
14 On the figura serpentinataas a
contrappostosee D. Summers, "Maniera
and Movement: The FiguraSerpentinata," Art Quarterly,xxxv, 1972, 273.
s1 Lanciani, "Raccolta," 103.
16 Alberti was in Rome from 1431 to
1434; Donatello is mentioned as being
in Rome in a letter of Poggio Braccionlini dated 23 September 1430; he had
returned to Florence by the summer of 1433.

There are those who expresstoo animatedmovements,

makingthe chest andthe smallof the backvisibleat once
in the same figure,an impossibleand inappropriate
deserving praise
because they hear that those images seem alive that
violentlymoveeach member;andforthis reasonthey make
figuresthat seemto be fencersandactors,with none of the

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dignity of painting, whence not only are they without grace

and sweetness, but even more they show the ingegnoof the


artist to be too fervent and furious [troppoferventeet

Alberti had stated just before this that there were many
artists guilty of the excess he describes, but he does not name
them. We do not usually associate such contortions with the
style of the early quattrocento, although certain figures by
Donatello, or Jacopodella Quercia, or Nanni di Banco fit the
description. 18 (Vasari praised Nanni's Porta della Mandorla

reliefhighlyforthe movementof its angels,butbelievedit to

be the work of Jacopodella Quercia.) Krautheimerhas argued
that the criticism was levelled at Donatello.19 And no better
example of conspicuous figural ornament could be found in
any work of the cinquecento than the stooping figurein the

of Brunelleschi's
competitionrelief(Fig. 8).
This extremecontrapposto-asymbolof license, as we shall

see, throughout the Renaissance critical tradition-together

with the clear Classical quotation of the Spinariosymmetrically opposite, differ in degreebut not in kind fromthe subtler

5 Michelangelo,BrazenSerpent(detail). Rome,Vatican,Sistine

front-rearcontrappostoof the servants in the lower left

of Ghiberti'scompetitionpanel (Fig. 9). It is the
question of degree that must be stressed. Both Ghiberti and
Brunelleschi followed a similar schema, with ancillary
decorative figures in the foreground, the main narrative
behind. The latter stated the story, the former embellished
it.20 Furthermoreit embellished it in a way that, as we shall
17 Alberti, Della Pittura,96-97; and De Pictura(in L. B. Alberti,On Painting
and On Sculpture, ed. C. Grayson, London, 1972), 85. This passage may
relate to Quintilian (In. iii. 105), where the movements of the orator are
described as Alberti had just previously defined motions in general (De
Pictura,82-83), and circularmotion, as a seventh species, is forbidden. This
classification of movements was very common, and Alberti, who
recommended all seven movements in an istoria, evidently drew his
disapprovalof vigorous contrappostofrom other sources. The closest parallel
seems to me to be Cicero, De Officiis I. xxxvi: "Nam et palaestrici motus
sunt saepe odiosiores, et histrionum non nulli gestus ineptiis non vacant, et
in utroque genere quae sunt recta et simplicia, laundantur. . . [in dress]
sicut in plerisque rebus, mediocritas optima est." On the importance of the
mean for Alberti see J. Bialostocki, "The Powerof Beauty. A Utopian Idea
of Leon Battista Alberti," Studienzur toskanischenKunst. Festschrift
fiir L. H.
Heydenreich,Munich, 1964, 16, with bibliography.
"8 Jacopodella Quercia'sAdam for the Fonte Gaia Expulsionis closest to the
Torso Belvedere of any figure in early quattrocento sculpture. Although A.
C. Hanson (Jacopodella Quercia'sFonteGaia, Oxford, 1965, 66) shows the
more likely derivation of the figurefrom sarcophagi, the scale, torsion, and
construction of human movement in the Expulsionrelief show a keen sense
for the stylistic virtues later to be admired in the Torso Belvedere, and one
may understandhow Vasari-and perhapsMichelangelo-could have given
Jacopo such an important place in the development of Italian art (see G.
Vasari, Le vite de' piu eccellentipittoriscultoried architettori,ed. G. Milanesi,
Florence, 1906, 11, 105). On movement in the Porta della Mandorlasee H.
W. Janson, "Nanni di Banco's Assumption of the Virgin on the Portadella
Mandorla," Studies in Western Art. Acts of the Twentieth International
Congressof the Historyof Art, Princeton, 1963, II, 98-107.
19 R. Krautheimerand T. Krautheimer-Hess,LorenzoGhiberti, Princeton,
1956, 327.
20 Forboth Alberti and LeonardoBruni, an istoriawas
generallydefinable in
terms of the same relationship of content and ornament. Alberti (see note 1
above) wrote that anything shown in a painting should serve either to
ornament or to teach the istoria. Bruni, writing of the program for
Ghiberti's second doors, advised that the istoria should have two things:
"principalmente: l'una che siano illustri, l'altra che siano significanti.
Illustri chiamo quelle che possono ben pascere l'occhio con varieth di
disegno, significanti chiamo quelle che abbino importanza degna di
memoria." In both cases ornamentoand variett are discussed first. ForBruni's
letter see Krautheimer, Ghiberti,372, Doc. 52.


6 RossoFiorentino,MosesandtheDaughters
of Jethro(detail).

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7 Giulio Romano, The Battle of Maxentius and

Constantine(detail). Vatican,Sala di Costantino



8 FilippoBrunelleschi,Sacrifice
of Isaac
(detail). Florence, Bargello (photo:
Alinari-Art ReferenceBureau)


see, related the new istoria to a broad discussion of meaning

and style. What was alreadyat issue was the role of ornament
in pictorial composition. Here, as it would be in innumerable
examplesin the centuries to come, the ornament in point was
antithesis, or contrapposto. Brunelleschi's composition was
more ornate because its ornamentation was more obvious.
Some thirty yearslater, Alberti did not invent but rathermore
closely defined and greatly expanded the nascent formulation
of pictorial eloquence evident in the two reliefs. Moderation
triumphed again. Alberti, to state the matter in terms of the
two competing panels, broughthis humanist argumentsto bear
in favorof the sweet, fluid, middle style shownby Ghiberti and
would have proscribed Brunelleschi's stooping figure as
excessive, as having more to do with art than with nature or
It is also possible that Alberti meant not only to refer to
modern works,but also to the art of antiquity.In that case (as
was necessarilytrue to a greateror lesser extent in any event),
he would have been discussing those standards by which
ancient art should be admitted to the repertory of modern
forms, rejecting the alternative offeredby the TorsoBelvedere
and the Discobolosas describedby Quintilian.
If, for the sake of argument, we assume that Alberti was
referringto the Torso Belvedere, we may begin to understand
why Alberti would go out of his way to condemn one of the
most powerfulpieces of Classical sculpturethat he could have
known, a sculpturethat would be enshrined by artists two or
three generations later in the same tradition in which he
wrote. In ordermore fully to understandhis reasons, we must
examine the end of his statement more closely. Alberti
objected first of all to such a figurebecause it was contraryto
nature. Also, on the level of decorum, such striking
movements departed from the sweet grace of youths and
virgins, the gentle, restrained, and aristocratic movements
Alberti most preferred. But in the paragraph immediately
following, we read that violent passions of the soul call for
violent movements, and so the objection on grounds of
decorumis not necessarilyenough. It is finally the symptomatic relation of the animation of the figurerepresentedto the
imagination from which it sprang that brings down his
disapproval.To a later generation it would be precisely such
license, such obtrusive evidence of art, such embellishment,
such maniera, that would make the kind of figure Alberti
condemns desirable and even central. In critical terms that
would later be inverted-especially to praise the works of
Michelangelo-Alberti condemned such contrappostofigures
and the ingegno of artists who produced them as "troppo
ferventeet furioso."

Althoughcriticalpositionsareoftenpassionatelyheld, the point should

of individualsolutions,or
be madethat it wasquitepossibleto disapprove
evenof generalstylisticintentions,andstill to recognizethe geniusof an
artist.As we shallsee, competencewasneverat issuein the debatewe are
considering,and in factwhatwasadverselycriticizedwasnot too little art,
but too much. When art shone forth itself, it underminedrhetorical
purpose,or so most writersfelt. Alberti could disapprovecritically of
Donatello'slicense,or Brunelleschi's,
movementsto Donatello'sbronze
couldapplyAlberti'scensureof improper
doorsforthe Old Sacristyin S. Lorenzoandstill, as the greatestsculptorof
his time, awardDonatelloin imaginationthe commissionfor the doorsof
the Cathedralof Sforzinda.


9 LorenzoGhiberti,Sacrifice
(photo:Alinari-Art Reference


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Alberti himself recommended the composition of figures,

groupsof figures,and colors by the juxtaposition of opposites,
that is, bycontrapposto,and clearlyconsideredthis construction
to be a prime means to the attainment of varieta.He provided
moreorlessexplicit instructions."Idesireall these movementsto
be in a painting:there aresome bodies placed towardus, others
away from us, and in one body some parts are shown to the
observer,some aredrawnback, some arehigh and some low."22
There were limits to such things, however, and it was because
there werethose who "surpassedeveryreason"in these matters
that Alberti deemed it necessary to list the things he had
gatheredfromnaturethat might assistthe painterto the desired
moderation. Those who surpassedeveryreason, as it turnsout,
are those who carry the formula of contrapposto too far,
displaying opposites without mediation, in figuresthat show
front and rearsimultaneously,a thing impossible (contraryto
nature) and non condicente(contraryto art). It is importantto
stress both of these criteria; because Alberti considered the
artificialorderto be no less importantthan the naturalorder,
and the association of ornatus and ingenium implicit in his
remarksis essential to an understandingof his critical position.
Exaggeratedmovements, we recall, expressthe overheated
ingeniumof the artist;and for Alberti, bent on supplyingrules
for the art of painting, ingeniumwas very nearly a negative
term, at best a source for rules when they could be had in no
other way. So, he wrote, rather than following the good
example of Zeuxis and the maidens of Croton, a modern
painter will instead "rashlytrust in his own ingenium";23 and
painters who paint without a model will never make beautiful
Finally, Alberti
things "bythe light of their own ingenium."24
also ridiculedthose painters, sculptors,orators,and poets who
"beginsome workwith greatenthusiasm, and then when their
ardorcooled abandon it in a rough and unfinished state, and
under impulseto do something different, devote themselves to
fresh enterprises."The passagetranslatedas "when their ardor
cooled"reads"dumardorille ingenii deferbuit."25And Alberti
concludes that "diligence is no less welcome than native
ability in many things-Siquidem non paucis in rebus ipsa
diligentia gratanon minus est quam omne ingenium."26
Alberti'suse of the wordingeniumis fairlyexactly consistent

with its use in his major Classical sources. Pliny uses it in the
sense of invention, and it is said of Timanthes (whom Alberti
praises for showing Menelaus with his face covered in a
painting of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia) that howevergreat the
painter's art might be, his ingenium surpasses it, clearly
suggesting that ingenium is opposed to (or at least separate
from) art and that it is the power to invent.27 Quintilian's
inclusion of ingeniumamong those qualities beyond art (i.e.,
beyond instruction) is both consistent with Alberti'susageand
an indication of why he treats the idea as he does.28 In a
period of youthful confidence and vigorous creative activity
such as the early Florentinequattrocento, Alberti'sinsistence
upon ars as opposed to ingenium may well have had an
immediate polemical purpose, of a piece with his rejection of
extreme contrapposto,aimed at artists who, buoyedby a sense
of freedom and awareof participation in momentous change,
looked to no other authority than their own native force of
imagination and talent. Alberti, on the other hand, took on
the task of makingpainting a liberalart and, to that extent, of
bridling license. Later on, when the art was established on a
more truly neo-Classical course-a course set largely by
Alberti-the question could be put in other terms. The
painter "who begins some work with great enthusiasm, and
then when his ardor cooled abandons it in a rough and
unfinished state" reminds us inevitably of Leonardo, more
specifically of the Adorationof the Magi and the beginning of
the High Renaissance style. To follow this transformation
would lead us away from our purpose, and it may be sufficient
to cite one example that clearly shows the point-for-point
inversion of Alberti's critical ideals, an inversion well
advanced by the late quattrocento, which more or less
coincided with what we call Mannerism.
For Alberti, decorum was governedpartly by art and partly
by nature, understood as the intelligible orderof nature. On
both points Alberti had ample grounds for rejecting human
movements simultaneouslyvisible front and rear. Plato called
such coupling of opposing movements "disorderly and
irrational,"and Saint Augustine, applyingsimilarprinciplesto
visible forms, observedthat perceptionrejects certain things,
for example, a figurebending over too far (showing both back

22 Alberti, Della Pittura, 95.

23 Ibid., 99. In section 56 of De Pictura, in which this
phrase occurs, Alberti
uses ingenium in a negative context four separate times. The significant
exception to all this is his dedication of Della Pitturato Brunelleschi.
24 Ibid.

which was often set antithetically, thus sharpening the opposition already
fairly explicit between the ideas in a statement such as Quintilian's. The
two terms together were meant to praise what were by implication mutually
exclusive virtues of the artist, skill and imagination. Baxandall observes
that, given the popularity of the term, simply to praise the art of a writer
was to suggest that he had no ingenium;this could be reversed,of course, and
it would have been little better to say that he had imagination without art.
In any case, Alberti clearly understood ingeniumto be both good and bad,
subject to harmonizing iudicium. Michelangelo would insist on the same
point (G. Vasari, Le vite di Michelangelonelle redazionidel 1550 e del 1568,
ed. P. Barocchi, Milan-Naples, 1962, 1, 128); "Voi avete avuto uno alla
fabrica, che ha un grande ingegno"; Michelangelo responded: "Gli vero,
ma gli ha cattivo giudizio." Vasari himself makes the same opposition in a
significant fashion. After the destruction of the ancient monuments
(Vasari-Milanesi, I, 232) architects had to work "non secondo le regole
dell'arti predette (che non l'avevano), ma secondo la qualitOdegl'ingegni
loro." They achieved little by doing so, as Vasari insisted at length, and in
these terms the great achievement he was chronicling was in large part the
attainment of ars. On ingeniumand iudiciumsee E. R. Curtius, European
Literatureand the LatinMiddleAges, New York, 1963, 296-301.


Ibid., 104-05.
26 Ibid.; he warns against excessive
diligence as well.
27 K. Jex-Blake and E. Sellers, The Elder
Pliny's Chapterson the History of
Art, Chicago, 1968, 116-17. Pliny cites as an example of Timanthes'
ingeniumthe tiny satyrs measuring the thumb of a sleeping Cyclops, a story
Alberti turns to another purpose.
28 Quintilian X. ii. 12: "the
greatest qualities of the orator are beyond all
imitation, by which I mean ingenium, inventio, vis, facilitas and all the
qualities which are independent of art." Alberti also uses ingenium in a
similarly positive sense; for example De Pictura, 72-73: "Maior enim est
ingenii laus in historia quam in colosso." Ingeniumwas therefore double
edged. M. Baxandall (Giotto and the Orators:HumanistObservorsof Painting
in Italy and the Discoveryof PictorialComposition,Oxford, 1971, 15) stresses
the conventional nature in humanist writing of the phrase ars et ingenium,

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and front) or standing on its head (inverted); such things he

called faults of order.29 And after Alberti, in the cinquecento,
Paolo Pino still consideredthe prohibition important enough
to repeatand evidently disapprovedof a compositional device
fairly widespreadby the time he wrote.30 In defense of such
figures, we find that one of the participants in G. A. Gilio's
Degli errori de'pittori. M. Pulidoro Saraceni, doctor of
medicine, in a discussion of artistic license, enthusiastically
endorsesthe license which the author wishes finally,when the
point has been sufficiently debated, strictly to curtail. Gilio
himself champions a Counter-Reformation sobriety rather
closer as a critical position to Alberti than to the "Mannerist"
position of his interlocutor, which by this time was on the
wane. But what is expressed in the discussion is a precise
inversion of critical terms. And its expression in this case is
also the same, conspicuous contrapposto,or more generally
conspicuousdisplay of artificialconstruction.
Trulythe ingegnoof man is great, and all the more so when
sometimes with charming and beautiful inventions he does
that which nature cannot do by herself. In this regard, I
understand that a painting was taken to Francis, King of
France, in which an armed man was painted in such a way
as to show his whole back; and the prudent and ingenious
artist wishing also to show the front, and not being able to,
charmingly painted a mirror in his hand, in which was
shown his face, with the chest and all the rest, with such
29 Plato, Timaeus 43B; and Saint Augustine, De Musica xiv. 47 (Migne,
Pat. Lat., xxxiI, col. 1188): "Sed nempe etiam formas visibiles sensus ipse
aspernantur, aut pronas contra quam decet, aut capite deorsum, et similia,
in quibus non inaequalitas, manente partium parilitate, sed perversitas
30 P. Pino, Dialogodi pittura,Venice, 1548, in P. Barocchi, Trattatid'artedel
cinquecentofra manierismoe controriforma,Bari, 1960, I, 101.
31 G. A. Gilio, Degli errorie degli abusi de'pittoricirca l'istorie, Camerino,
1564, in Barocchi, Trattati,II, 17. The earliest example of the praise of such
contrappostiseems to be in Bartolommeo Fazio'sDe virisillustribus(1456). In
one of the figuresin a painting now lost of women leaving the bath, Jan van
Eyck showed "only the face and breastbut then representedthe hind parts of
her body in a mirrorpainted on the wall opposite, so that you may see her
back as well as her breast." See M. Baxandall, "Bartholomaeus Facius on
Painting," Journalof the Warburgand CourtauldInstitutes, xxvii, 1964, 102;
W. Stechow, NorthernRenaissanceArt, 1400-1600. Sourcesand Documents,
Englewood Cliffs, 1966, 4-5; E. Panofsky, Early NetherlandishPainting:Its
Origin and Character,Cambridge, Mass., 1953, 2, n. 7. This evidently was
regarded as a miracle of art and as such should be related to Giorgione's
paragone painting of Saint George, described by Paolo Pino (Dialogo di
pittura, in Barocchi, Trattati, I, 131) in which reflected images made it
possible to see "integramente una figuraa un sguardo solo." Strange as it
may seem, the figure seen simultaneously front and rear, whether by
reflection or twisting, was a perennial bone of contention, precisely because
it connoted extreme artifice and display, which might be either praised or
condemned. Alberti considered his prohibition important enough to repeat
in his De Re Aedificatoria (p. 69) in the context of a Horatian argument
against excessive novelty of invention. Leonardoalreadytook a kindlier view
than Alberti of what he called "moti composti." Writing of varietain battle
compositions, Leonardo recommended figures seen front, back, and side,
but he especially praised for their "grand'artificio e grande vivaccita e
movimento" those in which "una sola figurati dimostra le gambe dinanzi e
parte del profilo della spalla." Elsewhere, "quello che per alcuna operazione
si richiede piegarsi in git et in traverso in un medesimo tempo." See
Barocchi, Scritti, II, 1724-25, for text and references. Since Leonardo prescribes them for battle pieces, these figuresfall more within the confines of
thematic decorum, less in the realm of pureornament; but they are admired
first of all for their "grand'artificio."Shearman (Mannerism, 86) offers the
example of a letter from Pietro Aretino to Vasari, praising a drawing of the
IsraelitesCollecting Manna which, in its own rhetorical excess, would be
convincing as irony (P. Aretino, Letteresull'arte, ed. E. Camesasca, Milan,


charm that that generousking paid many hundredsof scudi

for it.31
There is of course an obvious difference between Pulidoro's
painting with a mirror (which belongs to the tradition of
Giorgione'sparagonepainting of Saint George) and Alberti's
forbidden figure, since one is achieved by reflection and the
other shows both sides in a single figure. But clearly what
nature cannot do and art can do is to show both sides of a
figure at once. Alberti would have agreed, and therefore
rejected such a figure as an inordinate display of art at the
expense of nature; Pulidoro, more interested in art than
nature, embraces the contrappostoprecisely because of its
artificiality and, in doing so, extols the ingegnoof the artist
that Alberti had been at such pains to circumscribe.
Alberti defined to a remarkableextent the understandingof
conspicuousartifice and pictorial ornament for the artistsand
theorists who followed him. Through the extension of his
ideas and the new pictorial solutions derived from them by
Leonardo, his influence was immense. But much of Alberti's
apparent influence owes to the fact that his ideas arose from,
and then were understood within, a common critical
tradition to which he gave specific neo-Classical shape; and
within this tradition Alberti's position on the question of
pictorial ornament must have been abundantly clear to his
Alberti devoted much attention to varieta-which
1957,1,175). He selectsforespeciallylavishtreatment"thenudethat, bent
to the ground,displaysfrontandback,to be, in virtueof its easyforceand
with the graceof its unforcedease, a magnetto the eye, in that having
encounteredit the eye holds it to itself until dazzledit turnselsewhere."
Aretino continuesto describethe drawingin termsof anotherpictorial
frequentlymet, the oppositionof nude and clothed. "Andof
gentle movementis the manieraof the draperyof the members,coveredand
bare"[velatee scoprite].Again, the popularityin the Renaissanceof the
so-called "Lettodi Policleto"and the frequentrepetitionsof the forced
contortionsof the oftenquotedfemalefigureseenfrombehindwouldarise,I
wouldargue,fromthe recognition,broadlybasedin generalcriticalterms,
of the stylistic significanceof such a figureas highly ornate. See E. H.
Gombrich,Normand Form,126-27. And again, Aretino'sdescription,
adducedby Gombrich,of Giulio Romano'sinventionsas "anticamente
modernie modernamenteantichi" is a tribute in kind. Such Mannerist
attitudeswerenot to last for long, and PirroLigorio,clearlyshowingthe
writerssuchasGilio upon
impressof the insistenceof Counter-Reformation
decorum,returnedto the positionof Alberti, condemningpainterswho
"arenot ashamedto showbodiesfromin frontandbackat the sametime"
(D. R. Coffin, "PirroLigorioon the Nobility of the Arts,"Journalof the
Institutes,xxvii, 1964,200). Berninimadethe same
criticismon naturalisticgrounds(Chantelou,Journal
duvoyageen Francedu
CavalierBernin,Paris,1930, 106. "LesLombards
ont et6 grandspeintres,
maisilsn'ontpasete bonsdessinateurs,
car,voyezcette femme.. la partie
d'en hautest tourn6ed'unc8t6 et celle d'enbasd'unautre,et de telle sorte
que la naturene peut faire cette contorsion").There was a consistent
association of ingegnowith movenziaand, in analogyto rhetoric, with
elocutionin cinquecentotheory.LodovicoDolce (Barocchi,Trattati,
dividespaintinginto threeparts,inventione,
e colorito.Inventionhas
two sources:(1) history,fromwhichthe themeis takensemplicemente;
(2) ingegno.Fromingegnocome not onlyordineandconvenevolezza
correspondingto disposition in rhetoric) but also attitudini,which are
coupled with varietaandenergia;all are in the realmof elocutio(style).
Dolce concedesthat muchof this overlapswith his next category,disegno.
Muchof inventione,therefore,falls underthe headingof elocution, as do
disegnoand colorito.The reasonfor this imbalanceis that the sourcefor
Dolce's categories (as Barocchi'snotes to the text imply) is not the
rhetoricalwritersdirectly,but ratherrhetoricalcategoriesas previously
appliedandadaptedto the problemsof poetry,as in Bernardino
Poetica(1536), in B. Weinberg,Trattatidi poeticae retoricadel '500, Bari,
1970,1, 272.

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amounted to artful composition and embellishment. But for

Alberti the delectatioalways linked with varietd&-principally
by the rhetoricalwriters,by whom such issueshad been by far
most completely developed-was meant not to be itself the
substanceof art, but a means to an end. Embellishmentserved
the function of instructing through delight and was thus
subordinate to theme. For this reason Alberti rejected the
conspicuous contrappostoof the figuresimultaneously visible
front and rear in languagevery similar to Quintilian'scensure

of what he called malaadfectatio,"a fault in everykind of

style"; it is a fault of elocution and includes all kinds of
bombast,but also-and herehis wordsdrawnearto those of
Alberti-"the same name is applied to virtues carriedto
excess, when the ingeniumloses its iudiciumand is misledby
the false appearanceof beauty;it is the worstof all offenses
againststyle,sinceotherfaultsaredueto carelessness,
is deliberate ...,"32 "Where ornament is concerned,"
vice and virtueareneverfarapart;for those that employa
viciousstyleof embellishment
disguisetheirvices with the
nameof virtue. . . let none of ourdecadentsaccuseme of
beingan enemyto thosewhospeakwith graceandfinish.I
do not deny the existenceof such a virtue, I merelydeny
that theypossessit . .. ShallI preferthe barrenplaneand
the myrtlestrimlyclipped,to the fruitfuloliveandthe elm
that wedsthe vine?33

The closetheoreticalkinshipof poetryandpaintingin the

Renaissancecriticaltraditionwas conclusivelydemonstrated
and generouslyillustratedby RensselaerW. Lee in 1940;and
Horace'sfamoussimile ut picturapoesishas thus come to
of Renaissance
providea valuablekey to the understanding
artistic theory and practice.34 With the unprecedented
importanceof the visualartsfromthe beginningof the Italian
Renaissance it became desirable almost immediatelyto
formulatesupportingtheory,and in the absenceof morethan
scatteredreferencesand fragmentsof such theory in the
literaturecoming down fromantiquity,other sourceswere
turnedto the task. But when Albertiwrotehis De Picturain

32 QuintilianvIIi. iii. 56-58: "Stylemaybe corruptedin as manywaysas it

maybe adorned."Adfectatioin the Renaissanceseemsverynearlyto have

in a negativesense has come to mean, and the
wordwill appearfrequentlyin what follows. See also Castiglione in a
centrally importanttext (II librodel cortegiano,in Operedi Baldassare
Castiglione, Giovannidella Casa, BenvenutoCellini, ed. C. Cordie,
Milan-Naples, 1960, 47): ". . . fuggir quanto pii si po, e come un
asperissimoe pericolososcoglio, la affettazione;e per dir forseuna nova
che nascondal'artee dimostra
parola,usarin ognicosaunacertasprezzatura
cib, che si fa e dice, venirfattosenzafaticae quasisenzapensarvi.Da questo
credoio che deriviassaila grazia:perchtdellecoseraree benfatteognunsa
la difficulth,onde in essela facilithgeneragrandissima
iii. 7-9.
33 QuintilianVIII.
34R. W. Lee, "'Ut PicturaPoesis':The HumanistTheoryof Painting,"Art
underthe sametitle, New
35K. Borinski,DieAntikein PoetikundKunsttheorie,
passim,has stressedthe importanceof ancientrhetoricforthe literatureof
Renaissanceart. Lee, "Ut PicturaPoesis,"is primarilyconcernedwith the
periodbetweenthe middleof the 16thandthe middleof the 18thcenturies.

the early1430's,the dawningculturalage for which he was

wasnearlyas muchin needof a poeticsas it wasof
a theory of painting. For all intents and purposes the
quattrocentohad only the briefArs Poeticaof Horace,which
was itselfless than comprehensive.
did not become
tance than the Classicalpoetics for the earlydefinitionof
Renaissancepainting(andpoetrytoo, forthat matter)wasthe
This wastrueforseveralreasons.
greattraditionof rhetoric.35
a greatnumberof writerson
In the firstplace,
accessible,and the art they
taught-prose composition-was moregenerallyusefulthan
poetryand, as a liberalart, wasone of the indispensable
of education.Virtuallyeveryaspect
critical problems
and Quintilian-to take the two most important Latin
authors-wererich with referencesand parallelsto painting,
referencesthat musthave been readwith greatinterestand
that must necessarily have reinforced the tendency of
Renaissancereadersto imaginevanishedancient painting
within the criticalframework
of rhetoric.Also, the Middle
between poetry and
rhetoric,whichweregroupedtogether formsof eloquence,
and this understanding-which gave poetry an uncertain
placeamongthe arts-persistedin the Renaissance.Finally,in
the literature
of antiquitythe boundaries
a host of
poetrywerefluidand Latinpoets had appropriated
rhetoricaltechniquesanddevicesto the writing poetry.36
The Ars Poeticaof Horaceitself is intimatelytied to the
rhetoricaltraditionin one majorrespectthat, as we shall
to ourargument;
shortlysee, is of greatimportance
poetry was fundamentallydeterminedby the audiencefor
whichit is written.So strongwasthis tendency,andso strong
wererhetoricalcriticalcategoriesin the followingcenturies
that, as BernardWeinberghas pointed out, successive
commentatorson the Ars Poeticaaccentuatedits rhetorical
this wasmuchto the tasteof Renaissance

In my opinion, Lee very much underestimates the importance of the

rhetorical writers for the Renaissance neo-Classical critical tradition. J. R.
Spencer, "Ut Rhetorica pictura," Journal of the Warburgand Courtauld
Institutes, xx, 1957, as his title suggests, offers an alternative to Lee's
hypothesis and catalogues Alberti's debt to Cicero and Quintilian. The
effort is in the right direction, but the too-literal comparison of ancient
rhetoric to De Pictura misplaces the emphasis of the investigation.
Renaissance rhetoric was mostly, like poetry, written rather than spoken,
and the results of M. Baxandall, centered on eloquence and the idea of
composition (for which eloquence was the model) (Giotto and the Orators,
121-139), have opened the way to a more fruitful understanding of the
adaptation of Classical rhetorical Renaissance critical needs.
36 On ancient and medieval rhetoric see E. R. Curtius, EuropeanLiterature,
62-78; on poetry and rhetoric, ibid., 145-166. The place of poetry among
the arts in the Renaissance is treated by B. Weinberg, A Historyof Literary
Criticismin the Italian Renaissance,Chicago, 1961, I, 1-37; C. S. Baldwin,
RenaissanceLiteraryTheoryand Practice, Gloucester, 1959, 15ff., notes the
continuation in the Renaissance of concern with elocutioin rhetoric and the
fusion of the arts of poetry and rhetoric. See also D. L. Clark, Rhetoricand
Poetryin the Renaissance,New York, 1922, chaps. Iv and v.

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poetics, who added specificallyrhetoricalformulationsin

andadaptingthe text.37
To take an author close to artistic events in Florence,
CristoforoLandinoin his commentaryon Horace,published
in 1482, followedCiceroin maintainingthe close relationof
rhetoricandpoetry.And whenhe describedpoetryas "bound
together by varied rhythms" (variis numeris colligata);
"circumscribedby separate measures"(distinctispedibus
by variousornamentsandvarious
flowers"(ac variasdeniqueluminibusvariisquefloribusillustrata),38 Landino used terms that closely coincide with
Cicero'slengthydiscussionof the periodicstyle in the Orator,
termsthat, it mightbe noted, recallthe basiccategoriesof
Alberti'sDe Pictura:circumscriptio,
compositio,and receptio
39 What is suggestedby this is what seemsto have
been the case:suchstylistictermsmovedfreelyfromrhetoric
to poetics,and fromboth to painting.Theyconstituted,in a
word,a commoncriticalvocabulary.
As Landinoassumed,poetryand rhetoricweregenerally
consideredto be alike in point of elocutio,which is usually
translatedas "style."Elocutiowas the thirdpartof rhetoric,
more difficult than the first two parts, invention and
disposition(whatto sayandhowto arrangethe subjectmatter,
as Cicero definedthem);40 it requiredmuch more artifice,
havingto do with compositionas opposedto disposition,and
with figuresof speechandthought.AngeloPolizianofollowed
Cicero(andLandino)exactlywhenhe wrotethat "thepoet is
very close to the orator(as Cicerosays);just as he is more
restrictedin rhythms,so is he freerin the choice of words.'"41
When Polizianothusagreedwith Cicero,he didnot mean(as
Cicerodid not mean) to compareall rhetoricto poetry.He
meantto comparethe periodicstyle to poetry;this was the
middle,embellishedstyle, the good, modern,eloquent,suave
style that Cicero himself had practiced and advocated.
Accordingto Cicero, what poetic and rhetoricaleloquence
them was the visibilityof artificialorder.42Poetryspoke in
meter,andprosenecessarilyusedthe sameforms,whichwere
limitedin number;butto the degreethat meterwasobviousin
prose, it constituteda gravefault of style.43Thus rhetoric

could use the devicesof poetry-still accordingto Cicerocouldbe achieved

subjectto decorum;but in prosenumerositas
not only by meansof meterbut also throughthe symmetry
of wordsor clauses.44
It is necessaryto dwellat somelengthon Cicero'sdefinition
of eloquencebecausethe questionit raises-the visibilityof
artificialorderin the completedwork-will arisemanytimes
in whatfollows.It wasby no meansuniversally
agreedthat art
should be hidden; many
theory-and more in
style.The quotient
practice-defendeda conspicuously
of artificialityin Cicero'sprosewasof coursehigh. And not
only did he defend this style but he provideda buttressing
psychologyfor the structureof eloquence which, since it
to the Renaissance
all the arts,deservesourattention.
What is the originof these devices?In the pleasureof the
. . . forwhatpurposearetheyused?
When?Always.In what
[in totacontinuatione
The samephenomWhatproducesthe pleasure?
ena as in verse;theorysetsdownthe exactmeasureof these,
but without theory the ear marks their limits with
unconsciousintuition [sedauresipsaetacitieumsensusine

B. Weinberg,
History,1,71-110.As an
37 On Horaceandhis commentators,


exampleof the appropriationof rhetoricalcategoriesto poetics, see B.

Daniello, Dellapoetica(Weinberg,Trattati,I, 243), who definesthe three
partsof poetryas follows:"l'invenzioneprimadelle cose, o vogliamdire
la disposizionepoi, o verordinedi esse;e finalmentela forma
dello scrivereornamentele gia ritrovatee disposte, che (latinamente
partlando)elocuzione si chiama e che noi volgare, leggiadroet ornato
38 Quotedin Weinberg,
History,I, 80.
39 Alberti,De Pictura,66-67.
40 Cicero,Orator
(trans.H. M. Hubbell,London-Cambridge,
1962)xv. 51.
These two partsrequire"lessartandlabor"than elocution.
41A. Poliziano,Panepistemon,
Opera,Rome, 1498,fols. Y ix-xiv andZ vi.
Quotedin Weinberg,History,1, 4; his sourceis Cicero,Oratorxix. 66-xx,
68; and lix. 202.
42 Cicerofrequently
makesthis distinction.See forexampleOratorliv. 183;
lxvii. 222; lxvii. 227. Also Quintilianx. i. 28. And comparingpoetryand
rhetoricon another significantlevel, Quintilian IX.iv. 116:"Quemin
poematelocumhabetversificatio,eumin orationecompositio."
43 Cicero,Oratorlxvii. 227.
44 Ibid., xliv. 149-50; Iv. 220-21. Concinnitasmight be definedas the
qualityof formalrelationshipor the degreeof clarityof symmetry.

In view of such remarksit is not difficultto understandwhy

Renaissancewriters,fascinatedas they wereby the periodic
style,46 could so easily accept the identity of poetry and
rhetoric;and the implicationsof this identityare important.
was audibleto all
Cicerostoutlymaintainedthe numerositas
but the least human, and was therefore suitable to the
instructionthroughdelightof any audience.47Howeverthat
maybe, therewerewithin the suavemode itselfdistinctions
with regardto audiencethat boredirectlyon mattersof style.
Since it used the same structuraland ornamentaldevices,
fell underthe
epideicticrhetoric,the genusdemonstrativum,
rubric of the middle suave style; the difference,between
simpleeloquenceand epideictic,wasnot one of kind but of
degree.48Once again, visibility of artificeis the operative
Ibid.,Ix. 203.


Baxandall(Giottoand the Orators,20-31) notes the admirationof

of earlyhumanists-forthe "antithetical
LeonardoBruni-as representative
or parallelizingcharacter"of periodicprose.This was in fact a structural
basis of the periodicstyle. Bruni'sphrase"pariaparibusreddunturaut
contrariacontrariisvel oppositainterse" clearlyrecallsCicero'sbriefand
often repeateddescriptionsof the suave dicendigenus, which employs
tumex contrariissumptaverbis,
(De Partitione
1960,vi. 21).
47 Cicero,OratorI. 168.
48Ibid.,xi. 37-xii. 38. Ciceroconfesseshis admirationfor the Gorgianic
or Sophisticstyle, calling it "the nurseof that oratorwhomwe wish to
delineate"and considersepideictic to be indispensablepracticefor the
cultivationof eloquence.Again (Oratorlii. 175), discussingthe Sophistic
style, Ciceroobservesthat Gorgias"wasthe firstto employclausesof equal
length, with similarendings, and with antithesis, which, by their very
nature,generallyhavea rhythmicalcadenceevenif it is not intended."This
is, of course,once againa briefbutessentialdescriptionof the middlestyle,
but the use of these devices is subject to judgmentand decorum, and
Gorgiasis finally condemnednot for using them, but for using them
See alsoOratorlxii. 210 on the correctuse of the rhythmic

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by the need to instruct or move; it was a rhetoric of pure

delectatio (i.e., of pure ornatus). In this respect, as the
rhetoricalwritersoften pointed out, it was like poetry. It was
also intended for an audience of cognoscenti(as we will recall
Myron'sDiscobolosalso was), for a listener who "is not afraid
that he will be deceived by the tricks of an artificialstyle," but
rather "is gratefulto the oratorfor ministeringto the pleasure

of his ear.'"49
indulges in a neatness and symmetry of sentences, and is

allowed to use well defined and rounded periods; the

ornamentation is done of set purpose, with no attempts at
concealment, but openly and avowedly, so that words
correspond to words as if measured off in equal phrase.
Frequentlythings inconsistent are placed side by side, and

are madeto end in the sameway and with similarsound

Thereis everyreasonto believethat, since the writersof the

Renaissanceso nearlyequatedpoetryand rhetoric,it was a
simplematter(andin factwasimplicitin the firstequation)to
furtheridentifypoetryandthe genusdemonstrativum.
or not suchan equationwasexplicitlymade,the associationof
ornament-structuraland merelyembellishing-withpoetry
placesthe formulaut picturapoesisin a ratherdifferentlight.
composedof visiblyartificial
elements implies an audience who know and savor the
this in turnimplieda fundamental
A poet (or painter)mightappealto personsof suchjudgment
(or flatterthosewho pretendedto suchjudgment)by working
in a style of pure eloquence, understoodas evident and
criticallyjustifiableartifice.He mightappeal,in otherwords,
to preciselythe sort of audiencewith which the manierais
Beforeleavingthese questions,and beforeconsideringthe
antithesisin detail, it will be usefulto followthe issuesraised
so fara bit further,since they touchuponthe centralcritical
notionsof giudizio,varieta,andgenerallyuponthe underlying
psychologyof eloquence.Wemaybeginby takingnote of the
role played by contrariain the passage from Cicero's Orator
cited in the last paragraph.They are not simply ornaments,
but possess in themselves a certain numerositas, and are
integral to the structureof the period. Their organizingforce
was apprehended-unconsciously, so to speak-by the senses,
and this apprehensionCicero believed to precede theory and
to be innate in sense, as we have already observed. "Nature


Ibid., lxi. 208.

5soIbid., xii. 38.

51 In an ideally constituted republic, according to Poliziano, both forensic
and epideictic rhetoric would flourish, and the context of his discussion
makes it clear that there is little distinction between the charms of the
poetry he commends and the refined discourse of private life. See his Oratio
super FabioQuintiliano et Statii Sylvis, in E. Garin, ed., Prosatorilatini del
quattrocento, Milan-Naples, 1952, 882: "Age vero ut nunquam forum,
nunquam rostra, nunquam subsellia, nunquam conciones ineamus, quid
tandem est in hoc ocio atque in hac privata vita iucundis, quid dulcius, quid
humanitati accomodatius, quam eo sermonis genere uti, qui sententiis

herselfimplantedin our earsthe powerof judginglong and

shortsoundsas wellashighandlowin words."52
then, not fromthe intellectbutfromspeechandthe senses;it
is the sheerjoy in soundsand variationsof soundsthat gave
birthto poetry(andto eloquence),artfollowingbehind.For
auriumis the sameas the voluptas
Cicero,the iudicium
and it was the exerciseof this reason
Cicero specificallyrepresentedhearingas discriminating
betweenopposites;andthe approval(orjudgment)of soundby
the senseof hearingexpressesitselfas pleasure.These ideas,
which ultimatelyallowedhim to basestyle in the activityof
senseitself,proceededfroma theoryof the natureof sensefirst
expoundedby Aristotle.Both Platoand Aristotlestatedthat
"thebeautifulis thatwhichgivespleasurethroughhearingand
definitionof beauty
seemshardlyas implicativeas the better-known
to an idea(beautyas truth)or asdue
relation or proportion, with all their philosophical and
theologicalechoes;andyet this definitionandthe psychological notions that supportedit providedan indispensableand
universalprinciplefor the Renaissancediscussionof art, the
dell'occhio.""Thepleasureof hearingandsight"was
not itselfleft undefined,andin it the specificconfiguration
the notion of the pleasureof sense gave clear formto the
treatmentof whatin this caseareliterallyestheticissues.
Accordingto Aristotle,sense is a ratio;this, he argues,is
evident from the fact that either excessive brightnessor
darknessare injuriousto sight and that in generala mean
to all fivesenses.Eachsense
betweenextremesis pleasurable
has a uniquerealmof awareness-sightthe visible,touchthe
tangible-and ratherthanbeingsimplypassive,eachsenseof
its own naturemakesdistinctionsamongits peculiarobjects,
that is, betweenthe "affective"
qualitiesbelongingto its realm
of awareness.
qualitiesexistas contraries,so
that sightdiscriminates
sweetandbitter,andboth, morethan simplydiscriminating,
seeka mean.55
It mustbe stressedthat this psychologywasnot necessarily
directlylinkedto the studyof Aristotle'sDe Anima,but was
commonlyassumedby Renaissancewritersjust as our own
moremechanisticnotionsaboutthe natureof perceptionare
assumedtoday without referenceto-or even knowledge
of-those who formulated them. Sense was a "virtue" or
"faculty," and its powers, simple in the examples we have
examined, could be much more complex and developed;
Cicero praised the discriminatory powers of sense in terms
clearly anticipating the idea of "taste." Such iudiciumCicero
refertus, verbis ornatus, facetiis urbanitateque expolitus, nihil rude, nihil
ineptum habeat atque agreste?"
52 Cicero, Orator li. 173.
53 Ibid., xlviii. 160-61. The whole notion of varietaswas given a similarbasis
by the rhetorical writers;see for example Quintilian (viii. iii. 52) criticizing
oratory"all of one color," without varietas."This is one of the surestsigns of
lack of art, and produces a uniquely unpleasing effect, not merely on the
mind, but on the ear, on account of its sameness of thought, the uniformity
of its figures, and the monotony of its structure[compositio]."
54 Plato, HippiasMajor298a; Aristotle, Topics146a21.
55 Aristotle, De Anima 418-426.

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considered an indication, like the activity of the intellect, of

the lofty nature of the human soul.
In the first place our eyes have a finer perception of many
things in the arts which appeal to the sense of sight,
painting, modelling and sculpture and also in bodily
movements and gestures, since the eyes judge beauty and
arrangement[venustaset ordo] and so to speak proprietyof
color and shape, and also other more importantmatters,for
they recognizevirtues and vices, the angryand the friendly,
the joyful and the sad, the brave man and the coward, the
bold and the craven. The ears are likewise marvelously
skillful organs of discrimination [iudicium]; they judge
differences of tone; of pitch and key in the music of the
voice and of wind and stringed instruments, and many
different qualities of voice, sonorous and dull, smooth and
rough, bass and treble, flexible and hard, distinctions
discriminated[iudicantur]by the human ear alone.56
In his TenBooksof Architecture,Alberti followedthis pattern
closely in describing how the Greeks had achieved the
beautiful in architecture,substitutingfor the iudiciumaurium,
from which Cicero had taken his principal examples, the
She [Greece] began thereforeto trace and deduce this art of
building, as indeed she did all others, from the very lap of
Nature itself, examining, weighing and considering it in all
of its parts . . . enquiring . . . into the difference between
those buildings which were highly praised, and those that
weredisliked ... She tried all Mannerof Experiments,still
tracing and keeping close to the footsteps of Nature,
mingling uneven numbers with even, straight lines with
curves, Light with shade, hoping that as it happensfromthe
conjunction of male and female, she should by mixture of
these oppositeshit upon some third thing that would answer
her purpose:Nor even in the most minute particularsdid she
neglect to weigh and consider all the parts over and over
again, how those on the right agreedwith those on the left,
the upright with the platform, the nearer with remote,
adding, diminishing, proportioning the great parts to the
small, the similarwith the dissimilar,the last to the first, till
she had clearly demonstratedwhat rules wereto be observed
. in those edifices which were designed chiefly for
For Cicero the final appeal was to the ear; it was the

Cicero, De Natura Deorum II. Iviii (trans. H. Rackham, CambridgeLondon, 1967).
57 Alberti, L'Architettura
(De Re, III,ed. G. Orlandi, Milan,
1966, II, 452, here in the translation of G. Leoni, The Architectureof Leon
Battista Alberti, London, 1726, II, 4). See also Castiglione, Cortegiano,
58 Cicero, Orator xliv. 150; also lviii. 198, where it is arguedthat rhetoric is
more difficult than poetry because it has no fixed rules (i.e., meter) but is
subject only to the judgment of the pleasure of the ear.
59 Vasari-Milanesi, Iv, 9.
Vasari-Milanesi, 1, 151.
60 See A. Scaglione, The ClassicalTheoryof Compositionfrom Its Originsto
the Present, Chapel Hill, 1972, 8ff, esp. 31 with bibliography; also on the
early history of the form J. H. Finley, Jr., Thucydides, Cambridge, 1942,


aurium that demanded and justifiedornatus,

varietas,gratia, concinnitas,and all the many virtues cognate
with the qualities of the terza maniera. It was also the ear
that rejected faulty or too obvious rhythms. "However
agreeable or important thoughts may be, still if they are
expressed in words that are ill arranged, they will offend the
ForAlberti and
ear, which is veryfastidiousin its judgment."s58
for Vasari,understandablyenough, the final appeal was to the
eye; for Vasarithe figuresof the secondamanierawere "crudee
scorticate, che faceva difficoltai agli occhi e durezza nella
maniera,""aspree difficili agli occhi di chi le guardava,"59
when he recapitulated much of the introduction to the third
part of the Lives in his theoretical introduction to the art of
sculpture,Vasariadvised that "one may use no better measure
than the judgment of the eye; which, even if a thing may be
most well measured,and the eye remainsoffended by it, it will
for this reasonnot cease to censure it." Pleasureand judgment
again areone; and it is the eye that "con il giudicio"takes away
and addsas it sees the disgraziaof the work, until finallyit gives
"proporzione, grazia, disegno e perfezione" such that the
result will be praised"daogni ottimo giudizio."59a

The antithesis occupied a unique and venerableplace in the

history of rhetoric and, more than being simply a figure of
speech, was a structuraldevice as well, which, as we have just
briefly discussed, lent apparent order to expression.60 The
antithesis was the principal compositional form of early
artistic prose, the invention of which was associatedwith the
sophist Giorgiasof Leontini, and remaineda constituent of the
more varied periodic style. Even the briefest descriptions of
this style seldom fail to mention antithesis, which was thus
basic to what Cicero regarded as the modern style of
eloquence. Aristotle wrote that a period could be organizedin
two ways. "It is either simplydivided [i.e., conjunctive] or it is
antithetical where, in each of the two membersof the period
one of a pairof opposites is put along with one of another pair,
or the same wordis used to brackettwo opposites."60' Aristotle
justifies construction by antithesis by stating the principle,
repeated innumerabletimes afterward,that the juxtaposition
of two contraries heightened both by contrast. ". . . It is
satisfying,because the significanceof contrasted ideas is easily
felt, especially when they are thus set side by side, and also
because it has the effect of a logical argument;it is by putting

250ff. On the-cultural scope of the figure see C. Norden, Die antike

Kunstprosa, Leipzig, 1898, passim. Writing of Euphuism (p. 786), Norden
identifies the formal antithesis as the signature of the style. "Man kann
behaupten, dass sie in jenen Jahrhundertendas internationale Kunstmittel
des Stils gewesen ist." Tracingthe source of Euphuismto Spanish literature,
Norden, before examining in detail the character of Spanish humanism,
answers his own rhetorical question as to the final source of the style: "...
dieser Antithesenstil oder, was dasselbe ist, dieser Satzparallelismuskann
nur eine der vielen Erscheinungsformenjenes alten gorgianischen Schema
sein, dessen tandelnde, auf Ohr und Auge sinnlich wirkende Art seit zwei
Jahrtausendenauf Menschen verschiedenster Zunge seine Wirkung ausiibte
und zur Nachahmung reizte, wie wir im ganzen Verlauf dieser Untersuchungen erkannt haben."
60a Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1409b-10a (trans. W. Rhys Roberts, Oxford, 1946,

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two opposing conclusions side by side that you prove one of

them false."61
At this point we may anticipate the argument a bit by
suggestingthe way in which this formulafor the construction
of meaning might be transferredto the problemsof pictorial
composition. Aristotle's argument that the meaning of
contrasted ideas is easily apprehended, especially when they
are set side by side, recalls at once Leonardo'soften repeated
maxim-applied at one time or another to all the major
elements of pictorial composition-that, as he wrote of black
and white and light and dark, "opposites always appear to
intensify one another."62 ". .

In istorie one ought to mingle

direct contrariesso that they may afforda greatcontrastto one

another, and all the more when they are in close proximity;
that is, the ugly next to the beautiful, the big to the small, the
old to the young, the strong to the weak; all should be varied
as much as possible and close together."63 The painter, in
short, should compose by antithesis, fromchiaroscuro,through
the construction of his narrative, to the figure serpentinate
moving in the fictive world that resulted.64 Leonardo's
observations and prescriptions on the subject of contrast
should be understood not simply as the results of keen
perception and empiricalopenness, but as half perceptualand
half stylistic principles, ingeniously but directly adapted from
similar ancient and commonly understood principles, whose
dual purpose of pleasing and persuadingwas altogether more
important than any simple correspondence to visual impression.
61 Ibid., 1410a. Later rhetorical writers often discussed contrast in visual

terms, pointing to the fusion of the visual and the aural at the root of their
art. Quintilian considered energia-placing one's subject vividly before the
eyes of his audience-to be the highest attainment of rhetorical skill; it was
classed as an ornament and was to be had from the close study of nature
(viii. iii. 61ff.). It was associated especially with the stirring of emotion (vi.
ii. 32ff.). Cicero also associated such visual manifestness with ornament,
but understood it more generally, and it is perhaps this that underlies his
frequent metaphorical treatment of ornament in terms of light and color.
"The style is brilliant if the wordsemployed are chosen for their dignity and
used metaphorically and in exaggeration and adjectivally and in duplication
and synonymously and in harmony with the actual action and the
representationof the facts. For it is this department of oratory which almost
sets the fact before the eyes-for it is the sense of sight that is most appealed
to, although it is nevertheless possible for the rest of the senses and also
most of all the mind itself to be affected. But the things that weresaid about
the clear style all apply to the brilliant style, for brilliance is worth
considerably more than the clearness above mentioned. The one helps the
other make us feel that we actually see it before our eyes" (De Partitione
Oratoria vi. 20-1). On such a view ornament is anything but extraneous.
Contrary to modern rhetorical tastes, it is not simply statement that is
finally most truthful; ornament ratherrestoresthe life lost in transformation
of words. It is in some such sense that Leonardo, discussing varieta of
movement, wrotethat "Inthese preceptsofpainting an inquiryis madeasto the
best way of persuadingof the nature of movement, as the oratorspersuadeby
words . . ." (Leonardo da Vinci, Treatiseon Painting,ed. A. P. McMahon,
Princeton, 1956, 385-386). The coupling of pictorial ornatus and energia
will be encountered several times in what follows.
62 Leonardo, Treatise,277 and 456.

63 Ibid., 271:"Dico che nelle istorie si debbe mischiareinsieme viccinamente i

retti contrari per che dano gran parangone l'uno al'altro e tanto piihquanto
saranno piihpropinqui cio il brutto viccino al bello el grande al piccholo el
vechio al giovane il forte al debbole e cosi si varia quanto si po e
64 See note 14 above.
Cicero, Oratorxlix. 164.
66 Ibid., xi. 36. Alberti (Della Pittura, 101) seems to have split this antithesis
when, writing of light and dark, he recommends that the painter learn to
hate "le chose orride et obscure." There were a number of Classical

To returnto the rhetorical tradition proper,Cicero, further

along in the development of the ideas just examined in
Aristotle's Rhetoric,passionately defended the periodic style
integral to his own writing. Both Cicero's practice and his
defense of his practice were of the greatest importancefor all
those writers who turned to his prose as a model. And, in
another example of the adaptation of rhetorical stylistics to
the theory of art, it was out of the cluster of ideas constituting
Cicero'sversionof the periodicstyle that Alberti selected some
of the majorterms for his TenBooksof Architecture,concinnitas
chief among them. Cicero'swordswere in fact formallyprecise
enough to be easily and naturallyturned to other purposes;for
. . . this is the second point on which we said the iudicium
aurium is required. Sentences are rounded off either by
arrangement or words-spontaneously, as it were-or by
using a certain class of wordsin which there is an inherent
symmetry [aut quodam genere verborum in quibus ipsis
concinnitasinest]. If they have similarcase-endings,or if the
clausesareequallybalanced, or if contraryideas areopposed
[sive opponunturcontraria] then the completion of the
period is also achieved without apparentart.65
Here we might also consider a simple example of what Cicero
meant by such statements in practice. In a discussion of the
relativity of personal styles, Cicero draws an analogy to
painting. "In picturis alios horridaincultaopaca, contra alios
nitida laeta collustrata delectant."66 In such parallel and
precedents for chiaroscuro-one of the chief antitheses, as must alreadyhave
become apparent. These texts-all very much in agreement with the
rhetorical texts in the nature of their justification of the construction of
close opposites-were collected in the 17th century by Franciscus Junius
(The Painting of the Ancients, London, 1638, 273-75). Plutarch, Moralia
(trans. F C. Babbitt, London-New York, 1960) 57, 14, C: "painters... set
off bright and brilliant colours by laying on dark and somber tints close
beside them." Also Philostratus the Elder, Imagines(trans. A. Fairbanks,
Cambridge-London, 1960) II. 3. 15-21: "The most contrary colors [here
black and white] agree very well about the composition of an excellent
beauty" (Junius's translation). Philostratus also writes that the delicate
beauty of the female centaurs being described is set off by their horsey half.
Junius also cites Philoponus's commentary on Aristotle's Meteorologica,an
important source for color theory, on which see E. H. Gombrich, The
Heritageof Apelles. Studiesin the Art of the Renaissance,Ithaca, 1976, 5. See
also Alexander of Aphrodisias(Commentairesur les Mettoresd'Aristote,tr. de
Guillaumede Morebeke,ed. A. J. Smet, Paris, 1968, 41-42) and Alexander's
Problematumin AristotelisOpera cum AverroisCommentariis,Venice, 1562,
vii, 175, an important text translatedby Poliziano (AlexandriAphrodiseisuper
Nonnullis Physicis Dubitationibus, in Opera Omnia Angeli Politiani, Rome,
1498, n.p.). In all these texts (following Aristotle) the opposition light/dark
is an opposition near/far, the contrast thus creating relief, as in "Longinus,"
De Sublimitate17. 2, here from Russell and Winterbottom, Ancient Literary
Criticism, 481-82, where it is argued that brilliance of performance may
itself conceal art, as in painting "when light and shadow are juxtaposed in
colours on the same plane, the light seems more prominent to the eye, and
both stands out and actually appears much nearer." Junius cites a
commentator on the firstbook of Aristotle's Meteorologica(Olympiodoro.
in Meteora AristotelisCommentarii.Ioannis GrammaticiPhiloponiScholia in
PrimumMeteorumAristotelisIoanne BaptistaCamoto. . . Interprete,Venice,
1567). I have not consulted this text, which Juniustranslates as follows: "For
this reason also is a blacke picture made upon a white ground. It is ever so,
that contrary things are more apparent, being placed neer their contraries;
whereas it is hard to discerne things like, placed among things of the same
likeness." Finally, Pliny the Younger (Letters and Panegyrics, trans. B.
Radice, London-New York, 1969), IIn,xIII. 4, uses the chiaroscurometaphor
in the context of a discussion of varietas:"Nec vero adfectanda sunt semper
elata et excelsa. Nam ut in pictura lumen non alia res magis quam umbra
commendat, ita orationem tam summittere quam attollere decet."

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wordsareboth whatCicerocalled
symmetryof corresponding
but clearantithesisin the groups
of wordsthuscomposed.
Cicero often made the point that by such formalmeans
ordercouldbe achievedwithoutevidentartifice.As we have
is to separatethe mechanics
seen, the effectof sucharguments
of the periodfromsimpleembellishment,to extendthe proper
usefulnessof such stylisticmeans, and to root eloquencein
aurium.It wasthe
intelligentperceptionitself, in the iudicium
ideaof the consonanceof the natureof soundandthe nature
of perceptionthat Augustinedevelopedto arguethat both
participatedin a higherunifyingprinciple,finallyallowing
Alberti to call concinnitasa principleessentialboth to the
mindand to nature.67Forourpurposes,it is sufficientto say
that Cicero'sstatement furtherestablishedantithesis as a
generalcompositionaldevice, ratherthan a specificembellishment,whichof courseit mayalsobe. And withthis ideain
mind we may now better understandCicero'sinaequabilis
asa formof the epideictic,rhetoric
varietas,whichhe regarded
intended for the delight of a cultured audience through
artificialmeans.In hisDe Partitione
in speechesthe purposeof whichis to givepleasurethereare
several modes of arrangement. . . chronological ..
in classes;or we ascendfromsmallerto larger
or . . . with inaequabilis
with greatones, simple with complicated,obscurewith
clear [obscuradilucidis],cheerfulwith gloomy,incredible
with probable,all of the methodsfallingunderthe headof
Both antithesisin rhetoricand its offspring,contrapposto
painting,couldbe usedin a numberof ways.Sometimesit was
an embellishmentin a simplesense,one
a mereamplification,
figureamongmany.Butthe importanceandpersistenceof the
rhetoricalform no doubt owes in largepart to its broader
significance,its alsobeingable to be compositional,essential
to the structureof a unitof meaning.On a compositional
it could be ornate (as in Cicero'sinaequabilis
varietas)or, as
Aristotle described, it could simply be a means to clear
presentation.One way or the other it addedbrillianceand
67 Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria v (pp. 816-17).
68 Cicero, De PartitioneOratoria iv. 12. See also S. Speroni, Dialogo della
rhetorica,Venice, 1596 (here from Barocchi, Scritti, 1, 262): "Che si come ii
dipintore et il poeta, due artefici all'oratore sembianti, per diletto di noi
fanno versi et imagini di diverse maniere: quali orribili, quai piacevoli, quai
dolenti e quai lieti; cost il buono oratore non solamente con le facezie, con
gli ornamenti e co'numeri, ed amore, ma ad ira, ad odio et ad invidia
movendo, suol dilettar gli ascoltanti." There were of course bounds to such
things, and Leonardo (see C. Pedretti, Leonardoda Vincion Painting,A Lost
[BookLibroA. ], London, 1965, 60, n. 58) expandsAlberti's principle that the
istoria should "move the soul" of the viewer (and states his own principle
that paintings are visible all at once) to deny the possibility that paintings
can embody simultaneously opposing emotions. "Convenienze de parti delle
istorie non misterai i malincoliosi e lacrimosi e piangenti colli allegri e
ridenti, imperocche la Natura da che colli piangenti si lacrimi e colli ridenti
si allegri, e si separa li loro risi e pianti." Confusion of opposites was also a
conventional way of describing chaos, and it was fairly common to speak of
close opposites as ugly. See for example Alberti, De Pictura, 72-73, where it
is said that the surfaces, which are the building blocks of the istoria, must be
composed with concinnitas et gratia. Faces that have some surfaces large,
others small, some protruding, others hollow, are ugly. Faces in which
pleasing lights pass gradually into agreeable shadows (amena lumina in
umbrassuavesdefluant) will be beautiful.


perspicuity.Alberti, it will be remembered,recommendedthe

attainment of varieticthrough contraposition in his discussion
of movement. He recommendedthe same for color in a passage
the sense of which was repeatedmany times as the tradition of
Renaissance art theory unfolded, and his words once again
providea summaryof many of the ideas discussedso far.
. every kind and sort of color should be seen in a
painting, to be admired with much delight and pleasure.
There will be grace when one color is greatlydifferent from
the others near it. When you paint Diana leading her troop,
the robes of one nymph should be green, of another white,
of another rose, of another yellow, each a differentcolor, so
that light colors are alwaysnear other differentdark colors.
This contrast [comparatione]will be beautiful where the
colors are most clear and bright . . . Dark colors stand
among lights not without some dignity and light colors are
well mixed among the darks. Thus, as I have said, the
painter will dispose his colors.69

The antithesis as a stylistic device continued and at the

same time underwent a profound transformation in late
antiquity and the Middle Ages. The strength of the Christian
tradition was of course greatduringthe Renaissance, and even
if Alberti stayed close to his ancient models in discussing
stylistic questions, the influence of his ideas could hardlyhave
failed to be deeply marked by cognate Christian ideas. As
Curtius has pointed out, Augustine, to take an outstanding
example, strongly favored in his writings those few formal
means Cicero had listed as essential to the periodic style, the
antithesis chief among them.70 He did this, it should be
noted, in splendid literary practice as well as theory, thus
concentrating, while imbuing with Christian meaning and
authority,the stylistic form whose history we have followed in
Aristotle and Cicero. So, for example, when Augustine calls
the knowledge of God "simply manifold, and uniform in its
variety," "comprehending all incomprehensibles" with an
"incomprehensiblecomprehension,"he combines the ancient
description of the divine nature by coincidentiaoppositorum,

Alberti, De Pictura, 90-93. The reference in this passage to Pliny xxxv.

96 (The ElderPliny'sChapterson the Historyof Art, ed. D. Jex-Blakeand E.
Sellers, Chicago, 1968, 130-32) is an important one. Apelles had done a
painting of Diana and her nymphs which, together with his equestrian
portrait of Antigonos, was most preferredby those who knew art (peritiores
artis praeferuntomnibus eius operibus ... Dianam sacrificantiumvirginum
choro mixtam). The painting was said to surpass the verses on the same
theme by Homer (Odysseyvi. 102). See also Cicero, Orator xix. 65. "They
[the Sophists] introduce fables, they use far-fetched metaphors and arrange
them as painters do color combinations (disponunt ut pictores varietatem
colorum, paria paribusreferunt, adversacontrariis, saepissimeque similiter
extrema definiunt.) Huic generi historia finitima est." An important
constituent of Alberti'suse of the termhistoriaas the type of humanistpainting,
it seems to me, is the definition of historiaby the rhetorical writersas ornate,
related to epideictic (Quintilian x. i. 31: "Est enim proxima poetis et
quodammodo carmen solutum . . ."; it is written to record events for
posterity and to win glory for its author and it uses more unusual words and
freer figures), but at the same time, in contrast to poetic (fictive) and
verisimilitudinous narrative (such as comedy), concerned with actual fact,
and possessing "force in proportion to its truth" (Quintilian ii. Iv. 2).
70 Curtius, EuropeanLiterature,74.

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now made one with rhetoricalembellishment,which has

become celebrative;antithesis is developed in its potentiality
for the expressionof paradox.71 ForAugustine not only has the
significance of the forms changed but also the psychology

concinnitas,the iudicium
by them. Numerositas,
auriumwerenot only inherentin senseasCicerohadsaid,but
theywerealso intimationsof a congruitybetweenthe sensing
mind and the order-finally the unity-of its world, and
thereforea sign of grace.72Aristotlehadgroundedthe use of
antithesisin its immediateappeal, in the ease with which
contrarieswererememberedand in their kinshipwith the
forms of logical argument. But for Augustine this same
immediateappeal gave on to transcendentalreality, and
stylistic categoriesthus came to be categoriesof Christian
ontology.In BookxI, chap. 18 of the Cityof God, Augustine
to the taskof accounting
appliesthe antithesismetaphorically
for the existenceof evil in the universe.It will be usefulto
quotethispassagein full,bothbecauseit providesa widerange
of antithesesand alsobecauseit maystandas an exampleof
the kindof meaningthey hadcometo have.
Now God would never create any man, much less any
angel, if he alreadyknewthat he wasdestinedto be evil,
were he not equallyawarehow he was to turn them to
accountin the interestof the goodandtherebyaddlusterto
the successionof the ages as if it werean exquisitepoem
enhancedby whatmightbe calledantitheses.Antitheses,
as they aretermed,areamongthe mostelegantornaments
of style. In Latin they might be called oppositaor, more
Wearenot inthe habitofusingthis
term, although Latin and indeed the languagesof all
nations employ the same ornaments of style. These
antithesesaregracefullydemonstratedby the apostlePaul
too, in his secondletterto the Corinthians,wherehe says:
"Withthe weaponsof righteousness
for the righthandand
for the left; in honourand dishonour,in ill reputeand in
good repute; treated as imposters,and yet truthful; as
unknown,andyet wellknown;asdying,andbeholdwe live;
as punished,andyet not killed;as sorrowful,
andyet always
rejoicing; poor,yetmakingmanyrich;ashavingnothing,
and yet possessing everything." So, just as beauty of

71 Augustine, De Civitate Dei xII. 18 (here The City of God Against the
Pagans, trans. D. S. Wiesen, Cambridge-London, 1968, 495-96). On the
tradition of coincidentiaoppositorumand its transformation by Nicholas
Cusanus see E. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance
Philosophy,Philadelphia, 1972; also R. L. Colie, Paradoxiaepidemica:The
Renaissance Tradition of Paradox, Princeton, 1966, esp. 3-40. Colie is
concerned throughout with paradoxas a mode of thought rather than with
antithesis as a figureof speech.
Augustine, De Vera Religione xxx. 55: "In all the arts it is symmetry
(convenientia) that gives pleasure, preserving unity and making the whole
beautiful. Symmetry demands unity and equality, the similarity of like
parts; or the gradedarrangementof parts which are dissimilar. But who can
find absolute equality of similarity in bodily objects? ... True equality and
similitude, true and primal unity, are not perceived by the eye of the flesh or
by any bodily sense, but are known by the mind." And ibid., xliii. 81: "...

languageis achievedby a contrastof oppositesin this way,

the beautyof the courseof this worldis builtupby a kindof
rhetoric,not of wordsbut of things, which employsthis
contrastof opposites.This is veryclearlystatedin the book
of Ecclesiasticusas follows:"Goodis the oppositeof evil,
and life the oppositeof death;so the sinneris the opposite
of the godly.And so you areto regardall the worksof the
MostHigh:two by two, one the oppositeof the other."73

Opposition or contrast are necessary constituents of

meaning,both visualandconceptual,andit wouldbe difficult
to discussanythingforverylongwithoutrecourseto contrary
principles.In view of the generalimportanceto meaningof
contraries,the hunterof antithesesmayseemhardpressedto
distinguishthem frommereopposition.Admittedlythereare
shadowycases,but for the mostpartthe differenceis as clear
in context as chiaroscuroin painting. Cicero gives as an
exampleof an antithesisthe passage"idquodscisprodest
id quodnescisobest," counterposing
andobesse.74 AlthoughCiceroarguesthat sucha construction
produces numerositas"etiam sine industria," conscious
andartificeare-to saythe least-conspicuously
evident in it. Such a commondevice as antithesiscould be
illustratedwith countless examples, and any selection is
Nevertheless,a smallnumberwill suffice
to showthata definingcharacteristic
is preciselysuchvisibility
of art, the manipulationof wordorderto place opposites
or, inflecting
abruptlytogether,or placethem symmetrically
them slightly fromsuch relationships,to place them in a
contextof artificialconstructionotherwisehighlywrought.So
"75 Or finallyin an exampledearto the Renaissance,
the last threelines of Petrarch's
sonnet "Innobil sanguevita
umilee queta":
E non so che nelli occhi, che 'n un punto
Pofarchiarala notte,oscuroil giorno
E'lmel amaroet addolcirl'assenzio
(And I knownot whatin her eyesmayin an instant

the universal form is perfectly identical with the unity from which it
springs, so that all other things, so far as they have being and resemble
unity, are made according to that form."
73 Augustine, De CivitateDei xi. 18 See also Augustine, De OrdineI. 7. E.
Auerbach (Lingualetterarioe publiconella tardaantichitalatinae nel medievo,
Milan, 1960, 76, n. 20) points to the affinity to mystical literature in the
paradox of the Passion (e.g., O passio desiderabilis! O mors admirabilis!
Quid mirabilius, quam quod mors vivificet, vulnera sanent, sanguis album
faciat .. ..) and the antithetical paradox typical of love poetry from
Proven<althrough Petrarchand the Renaissance.
74 Cicero, Oratorxlix. 166-67.
7s Cicero, Pro Cluentio 15 (here The Speeches, trans. H. Grose Hodge,
Cambridge-London, 1943, 236).

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Make bright night and darkenday

Make honey bitter, sweeten wormwood)76
In sum, what these literaryantitheses as representativeof their
kind have in common is evidently artificial juxtaposition or
balancing of contrariesas distinct from the simple inclusion of
opposites in a unit of meaning.
The carefuldefinition of antithesis is also desirablebecause
the general importance of opposition specifically manifested
itself in numerous philosophical categories forming a
widespreadtradition of their own, a tradition that intersected
at many points with Renaissance art theory and criticism. We
have alreadydiscussed the importance of such categories for
Aristotle's psychology and, to take two more familiar
examples, Aristotle defined change as the passage between
contrary principles or color by degrees between the extremes
of black and white.77 The need to make an adequate
distinction between opposition and antithesis may be
illustrated once again from Alberti's Della Pittura. His
description of Diana'stroop, decked out in bright contrasting
colors, was, as I have argued,a prescriptionfor antithesis, the
kind and degree of embellishment (and the relation of
embellishment to composition) being more or less directly
comparableto antithesis as a figurein rhetoric and poetry. But
Alberti's definition of ricezionedi lume within limits of light
and dark(or white and black) is consistent with categorieslike
those just mentioned in Aristotle.78 The fact of the matter is
that there was a natural affinity between such contrary
principles and antithesis. Thus black and white (or light and

Canzoniere ccxv (here Francesco Petrarca, Rime, Trionfie poesie latine,
ed. E Neri, G. Martellotti, E. Bianchi, N. Sapegno, Milan-Naples, 1951,
287). Similarly Michelangelo (Rime, ed. E. N. Girardi, Bari, 1967, 60-61,
n. 104):

Pur mi consola assai l'esser concesso

Fargiornochiar mia oscuranotte al sole
Che a voi fu dato al nascer per compagno.
Girardiassociates this sonnet with TommasoCavalieri, dating it 1535-1541.
Pietro Bembo's Gli Asolani (Venice, 1505), Opere in volgare,ed. M. Marti,
Florence, 1961, 63, provides a number of variations on standardPetrarchan
bitter-sweet, fire-ice antitheses, and at the beginning of Book II we find a
splendid example of antithetical construction, which may be used to
illustrate several points. "A me pare . . . che, avendo la natura noi uomini
(1) di spiritoe di membraformati;queste (2) mortalie deboli,quello durevolee
sempiterno. . . la celeste parte di noi molte volte, di che si pasca o dove abiti
non curiamo, ponendole pure innanzi piditosto (3) le foglie amaredel vizio,
che i frutti dolcissimidella virtu, nello oscuroe basso uso di quello pi6 spesso
rinchiusa tenendola, che nelle chiareet alte operazioni di questa invitandola
a soggiornare." To begin with (3), the construction is parallel, amare
correspondingto dolcissimi,vizio to virtu, AB-A'B'; in (2) the antitheses are
symmetrical, mortali corresponding to sempiterno, deboli to durevole,
AB-B'A'; in (1) the cardinal Christian conceptual opposition of body and
spirit is changed, as perhapstoo obvious, into the opposition spirito-membra.
In this case the significance of the opposition is clarified and partly carried
by the form itself.
77 Aristotle, On Coming-To-Beand PassingAway 328b. 26ff (trans. E. S.
Forster, Cambridge-London, 1965, 264ff) and De Caelo 286a. For a
discussion of Aristotle's theory of color and its use by Alberti see S. Y.
Edgerton, Jr., "Alberti's Colour Theory: A Medieval Bottle without
Renaissance Wine," Journalof the Warburgand CourtauldInstitutes, xxxii,
1969, 109-134.
78 Alberti, De Pictura, 86-93.
79 Alanus de Insulis, De Planctu Naturae, in J.-P. Migne, Pat. lat. ccx,
Paris, 1855, 443. Many examples of such florid antithesis might be given
from this work and from Alanus's Anticlaudianus.Pseudo-Aristotle (On the


dark) could (and did) become chairoscuro, a conscious

embellishment, in the hands of Leonardo and those who
followed him. Similar transformations of oppositions into
antitheses occurredoften in both prose and poetry. So Alanus
de Insulis, paralleling the sub-lunary spheres and the
microcosm,states his argumentboth in physicalprinciplesand
poetic antitheses. "Sicut enim quatuorelementorum concors
discordia, unica pluralitas, consonantia dissonans, consensus
dissentiens, mundialis regiae structurasconciliat, sic quatuor
conplexionum compar disparitas, inaequalis aequalitas,
deformis conformitas, divisa identitas, aedificium corporis
humani compaginat."79Or Marsilio Ficino, in his commentary on Plato's Symposium, described the beginning of the
world in similar terms. "Formationem, mundum Latine,
Graece kosmon, id est ornamentum vocamus." In the
beginning there was chaos without the ornament of forms. "In
omnibus denique Amor chaos comitatur, praecedit mundum
torpentiasuscitat, obscurailluminat, vivificat mortuos, format
informia, perficit imperfecta."s80
The formula of antithesis was thus a capacious one, and
content frommany intellectual regionscould be broughtto it,
and all was subjected to a unity by the strength of the form
itself. Augustine could arguehis theodicy in a preciselyparallel
fashion by substitutinglight and darkin painting for antithesis
in poetry; "for as the beauty of a picture is increased by
well-managedshadow,so, to the eye that has skill to discern it,
the universeis beautifiedeven by sinners."'81
If anything, the syntactical force of the antithesis, defined
by Aristotle and sustainedin a broadand continuous tradition

Cosmos, trans. D. J. Furley, Cambridge-London, 1965, 379) argues that

nature loves opposites, in the elements, in the sexes, and likens this to art
et fragments,
(here in the translation of Apuleius, Opusculesphilosophiques
ed. J. Beaujeu, Paris, 1973, 139): "artesque ipsae, naturam imitantes, ex
inparibusparia faciunt: pictura ex discordibuspigmentorum coloribus, atris
atque albis, luteis et puniceis, confusione modica temperatis, imagines iis
quae imitatur similes facit. Ipsa etiam musica, quae de longis et brevibus,
acutis et gravioribus sonis constat tam diversis et dissonis vocibus,
harmoniam consonam reddit." This author adds to the same list of colors
used by the greatest painters of antiquity providedby Pliny (NaturalHistory
xxxv. 50) the information that these colors were understood as pairs of
opposites and could be set antithetically.
80 M.
Ficino, Commentaryon Plato'sSymposium,ed. and trans. S. R. Jayne,
Columbia, 1944, 39-40. See also above, note 13, the example from Ovid's
Metamorphosesadduced by Matthieu de Vend6me. The inscription on a
copy after a drawingby Antonio Pollaiuolo ("Antonij Jacobiexcellentissimj
ac eximij florentinj pictoris scultorisque prestantissimi hoc opus est-eum
qui hominum imaginem fecit-vide quam mirum in membra redegit")
alludes, as B. Degenhart points out ("Unbekannte Zeichnungen Francescos
di Giorgio," Zeitschriftftir Kunstgeschichte, viii, 1939, 125-135), to the
beginning of Ovid's Metamorphoses(I. 17ff; see note 13 above and I. 22ff.:
"Hanc deus et melior litem natura diremit . . ." God separated earth and
sky, land and sea, air and ether and imposed order and place upon them.
"Sic ubi dispositam quisquisfuit ille deorum/ congeriem secuit sectamque in
membra coegit"). Degenhart understands the reference to mean that
Pollaiuolo, who showed the figurefront, back, and from the side with arms
removed, had devised a way of showing a three-dimensional model clearly in
two dimensions. However that may be, such presentation, as the
composition of the London Martyrdomof Saint Sebastianshows, could also
be exploited as conspicuouscontrapposto;and the inscription should perhaps
be understood to mean not that Pollaiuolo's composition of the membersof
the figurewas like the orderlycosmos but that it was like the compositional
order of this famous example of antithesis. Ficino, who argued that love
existed in chaos, sees love as the force that makes chaos an "ornament of
forms"by making opposite principles subordinateone to another.
81 Augustine, De CivitateDei
xl. 23.

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10 Raphael, Transfiguration.
Rome, Pinacoteca

throughantiquity,was heightenedand purifiedduringthe

MiddleAges, culminatingwith fatefulconsequencesfor the
Renaissancein the poetryof Petrarch.As is well known,the
incidenceof antithesesis high in Petrarch'spoetry,andthe
elaborationand exploitation of these antitheses was the
essenceof the Petrarchism
to which his poetrygave rise.82
When GiorgioVasaripraisedClassicalsculpture"nella lor
dolcezzae nelle loroasprezze"
he echoedone of the pillarsof
Petrarchism,Canzoniere132.83 He was voicing a critical
judgmentbringingtogetherthe developmentof two strains
of antithesis:contrapposto
composition,adaptedout of the
rhetoricalwritersby Albertiandtranslatedinto pictorialform
by Leonardo;and the medievaltradition, begun fromthe
sourcesto which the Renaissancetheoristsof paintinghad
and in its ownwaymodified.
turned,but profoundly

The criticalquestionconcerningthe use of ornamentin

rhetorichingedupon its visibility.The moreevidentwasthe
ornament(invariablyidentifiedwith art or artifice)the less
rhetoricaland morepoetic it was-assumingof coursethat it
wasdonewithrequisiteskill. (The exceptionto thisruleis the
82 L. Forster,The Icy Fire. Five Studiesin
1969, 1-60 with bibliography. Antithesis provides both ornament and
clarity on several levels of structure (unlike metaphor, for example) and was
uniquely broadly applicable. See for example H. Peacham, The Gardenof
Eloquence,London, 1577, 160, who discusses antitheses under the general
heading of comparatio.Antithesis makes the matter "plainly discerned"; it
"is a most excellent ornament of eloquence, serving most aptly to
amplification, it graceth and bewtifieth the oration with pleasant varietie,

11 Raphael,SaintMichael.Paris,Louvre

according to rules peculiar to the art of rhetoric.) The

applicationof similarcriticalprinciplesto paintingmayeasily
be imagined. Any painting might be expected to have
contrastsof lightanddark,butonlycertainpaintingsorstyles
of paintingabruptlycounterposeextremevalues.Raphael's
is clearlyworkedout in termsof valuecontrasts,
and it is mostlikelythat, just as RaphaelstudiedLeonardo's
compositionsof shapesand forms,he was also awareof his
principlesof light-darkconstructionin arrivingat his own
solution. Similarly, in the Disputa, Raphael, precisely
recapitulatingPliny in practice, studied chiaroscuroas a
separatetheme in preliminarydrawings,but softenedand
concealedthe valuecontrastsin his finishedfresco.84In the
(Fig.10), however,or the SaintMichael(Fig.11),
constructionby contrastis evidentin itself. If the parallelof
painting to rhetoric (and poetry) is sound, then three
importantconclusionsmaybe drawnaboutpaintingssuchas
the Transfiguration
and the SaintMichael:chiaroscuro
generally)was understoodas a pictorialembellishment;there was an acknowledgedmode of embellished
painting;and this mode impliedan audienceof giudiciosie
Hereagainis Ciceroon the rhetoricof display:
. . in historyand epideicticoratory,as it is called, it is
and giveth single perspicuityand lightby the opposition, it is so generall that
it may serve to amplifie and garnish any grave and weighty cause." It is
cautioned that antitheses should not grow to such a multitude as to betray
"affectation, a fault which ought to be shunned."
83 Vasari-Milanesi,vI, 10.
84 On Pliny's tonos and harmogensee note 92 below.

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desirableto haveeverythingdone in the periodicalstyle of

IsocratesandTheopompus,so that the languagerunson as
if enclosedin a circle until it comes to an end with each
phrase complete and perfect. Consequently, since the
inventionof this style-call it circumscriptio
or continuatio,or ambitus, if you will-no one worth
countingas an authorhas writtenan orationdesignedfor
andaliento the courtroom
andthe contestsof publiclife withoutshapingnearlyall his
sentences in the mould of rhythm [in quadrum
Forsince the listeneris not one who is afraid
thathe willbe deceivedbythe tricksof an artificialstyle,he
is gratefulto the oratorforministeringto the pleasureof his

Aside from chiaroscuro,opposition supplied an elastic

formulafor the treatmentof color which, howevermuch
modified from writer to writer, prevailed through many
repetitions.Usuallyjuxtapositionof opposingcolorswasnot
Butthe underlying
advocated,anda meanwasrecommended.
formulaof oppositionis important,since it meantthat, like
chiaroscuroin contrast with gradedtransition, contrasted
ratherthan blendedcolorscouldbe displayedornamentally
As usualit is Albertiwho leadsthe wayin this
matter.AlthoughAlbertimademuchof the lack of ancient
the subjectof color,andstatesthat in the
textsin introducing
absenceof theoryhe necessarilydrewuponhis owningegno,
he wasnot withoutantiqueguidancewhenhe formulated
famousdescriptionof Dianaandhernymphs.He turnedto the
example of embellishmentin rhetoric, specificallyto the
antithesis.ButwhereasAlbertiseemsto havewishedto keep
with its connotationsof embellishment,separate
from this basic structural category of ricezionedi lume,
Lodovico Dolce extended the formulaof contrappostoto
includelight anddarkin general,thuscounterposing
Albertihad been a mereconceptualpolarity."Theprincipal
that light makeswith
part of coloritois the contendimento
shadow"[fa il lumecon l'ombra].87Contendimento,
means contrast or conflict, is a fairly rare word, and one
wonderswhetherit is not a simpletranslationof the Latin

Cicero,Oratorlxi. 208.

See above, note 69.

87 Dolce, Aretino (Barocchi, Trattati, I, 183). This description of the
behavior of light, dark, and color was incorporatedby Dolce into his detailed
critical praise of Titian, who "camina di pari con la natura, onde ogni sua

figurae viva." Titianavoided"vaghezzavana,""ornamentiaffettati"and

"crudezza";rather in his paintings "combattono e scherzano sempre i lumi

con l'ombre, e perdono e diminuiscono con quell'istesso che fa la medesima
natura" (ibid., 200). Here the vividness of contrast is the desirable and most
visible quality, touching on the fundamental justification of antithesis as
88 Cicero, De Oratore
III. liii. 205; or Quintilian, note 13 above.
89 Dolce, Aretino, 183; it was usual to discuss color (hue) as the resolution of

contrastsof value(chiaroscuro);
see, for example,Vasari-Milanesi,
"Questo si fatto piano dal pittore con retto giudizio mantenuto nel mezzo

chiaroe negli estremie ne'fondiscuroed accompagnato

tra questie quello
da colore mezzano tra il chiaro e lo scuro." And note 91 above. But also

(ibid., 179), contrastcould exist amonghues in a paintingor figureas a

wholeas wellas betweenvalues."L'unionenellapitturae unadiscordanza
colore diversi accordati insieme, i quali, nella diversita di piti divise,


contentio,whichwasa synonymfor antithesis.88 If this is not

the case, then Dolce, while maintainingthe sameformula,
mayhavefollowedAlbertiin makinglightanddarklimits,and
he continuesthat betweentheselimits"ameanis found,that
unitesone contrarywith the otherandmakesthe figuresseem
round, and more or less distant according to need."89
Castiglione,once againdiscussingchiaroscuro,
been less interestedin the meanfavoredby Dolcethan in the
extremes,and his remarkson the subject are to my mind
theoriesof contrapposto
directlyrelatedto Leonardo's
painters. . . showthe light of relief
andmakereliefappearby meansof shadow;andso with light
they deepenthe shadowsof planes[an Albertiantouch]and
bringtogetherdiversecolorsin such a waythat throughthis
diversityone bettershowsoff the other,andthe placingof the
figurescontraryone to the other helps them to achievethat
end whichis the intentionof the painter."90
It is noteworthy
that Castiglionemovesfreelyin the courseof this passagefrom
the abruptjuxtapositionof chiaroscuro
andcolorto composition of figuresby contrapposto.According to Leonardo's
principlesof composition,he wasfullyjustifiedin doingso, for
both areornamentsof the samekind. GiorgioVasarifurther
extendedthis identificationof chiaroscuro
and composizione,
so unitedin theircolors,
that those figuresin istoriewhicharemostimportantaredone
chiarechiare;draperiesof semi-darkcolor shouldbe placed
behind those more forward. . . indeed, little by little, as
figuresdiminishinwards,they becomealso equallydarkerby
degrees,both in colorof fleshandclothing.91
The majorsourcefor all these pronouncementson the
proper use of color-with the possible exception of
Alberti's-is Pliny'shistoryof painting.Pliny'saccountof the
developmentof light and color in painting-perhapsbehind
and certainlyparallelto Alberti'sdivisionof ricezione
di lume
and colore-was influentialfor Leonardo'suse of color and
provideda powerfulprecedentfor (and perhapsstimulus
in painting.
toward)the formulaof contrapposto
Art at last differentiateditself and discoveredlight and
shade,the severalhuesbeingso employedasto enhanceone
anotherby contrast[lumenatqueumbras,differentia
mostrano differentemente distinte l'una dall'altra le parti delle figure;come
le carni dai capelli, ed un panno diverso di colore dall'altro."
90 Castiglione, Cortegiano,101. It is being arguedthat the courtier should be
possessed of antithetical virtues, such as daring and modesty. "Per6bisogna
che sappia valersene, e per lo paragone e quasi contrarieta dell'una talor far
che l'altra sia piu chiaramente conosciuta: come i boni pittori, i quali con
l'ombra fanno apparere e mostrano i lumi de'rilevi; e cos' col lume
profondano l'ombre dei piani, e compagnano i colori diversi insieme di
modo che per quella diversita l'uno e l'altro meglio si dimostra, e '1 posar
delle figure contrario l'una all'altra le aiuta a far quell'officio che e
intenzione del pittore."
91 Vasari-Milanesi, 1, 179. Evident and ever more clearly stated in the
repetitions of this formula is the equation of near-farand light-dark. This is
an adaptation of an Aristotelian doctrine (Meteorologica,374b; trans. H. D.
P. Lee, Cambridge-London, 1962, 255ff): "Black is in a sort of negation of
sight; an object is black because sight fails; so everything at a distance looks
blacker, because sight does not reach it." See Edgerton, "Alberti's Colour
Theory," 119. The Pseudo-Longinus(De Sublimitate.17; see note 66 above)
argues that in painting light is seen before shade, just as in rhetoric the
brilliance of a figuremay outshine-and so conceal-its artifice.

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alterna vice sese excitante]. Later on glow [splendor]-a

different thing to light-was introduced. The transition
between light and shade they called tonos, but the
arrangementof hues and the transition from one color to
another harmonizationor harmogen.
Vasari'sfriend and intellectual advisor Vincenzo Borghini
similarly defined pictorial composition by analogy to music;
"as high and low voices composed together with reason and
rule make a most sweet harmonyand consonance," so in the
composition of paintings "a composition of great things with
small, of distant with near results in a consonance and
harmonymost pleasing to the eye."93 "This composition, this
discordanzaconcorde,this harmony and proportion"Borghini
identifies with perspective.94 But one does not have to read
very far to realize that he is not so much concerned with
measured transition or spatial clarity as with the clear
juxtaposition of opposites. Again, he calls such "musica
pittoresca" "il condimento, l'ornamento e la grazia della
pittura."Borghiniassuresus that the parallelto music is meant
not actually to equate painting and music, but rather more
strongly to make his point about the nature of pictorial
composition; he also offers the example of poetry, which he
discusses on similar formal grounds. ". . . Long and short
syllables . . . composed together with rule, make that

beautiful composition; so those fars and nears make a perfect


FromAlberti onwards,contrappostowas a general constructive principle-perhaps the majorcomponent of varieta-with

many important applications, and from Leonardoonwardsit
was the foundation of a pictorial eloquence that encompassed
chiaroscuroand figureserpentinateas well as juxtaposition of
colors, of beautifuland ugly, young and old, near to far, and so
forth. Of course, afterLeonardothis eloquence was made up of
practical solutions of great expressive flexibility as well as
theoretical precepts, forming in themselves a complete and
more or less self-sufficient style. At the end of the cinquecento, Giovanni Coscia, again arguingthat painting and
music aresisters,repeatsthe argumentsof Vasariand Borghini,
broadeningthem to cover a wide range of pictorial antitheses.
As the musician avails himself also of dissonances, in order
to make his harmony seem sweeter and more smooth
[soave], so the painter, wishing that colors make a more
beautiful effect, and rendergreatercharm [vaghezza]to the
viewer, uses contrariesone against the other [contrarijl'uno
92 Pliny, xxxv. 29.
93 V. Borghini, Selva di notizie, in Barocchi, Scritti, 1, 648.
94 Ibid., 649. For the Classical and medieval precedents of the idea of
concordia discors see L. Spitzer, Classical and Christian Ideas of World
Harmony, Baltimore, 1963, 9ff. In the frontispiece of the edition of 1518 of
his De HarmoniaMusicorumInstrumentorum,Franchino Gafurio is shown
delivering the dictum "Harmoniaest discordia concors"; see R. Wittkower,
ArchitecturalPrinciplesin theAge of Humanism,New York,1971, 124. See also
Vasari, note 95 above.
95 Ibid., 650-51. Borghini's near/far antithesis at once recalls the small
figuresin Pontormo's Carmignano Visitationor Parmigianino'sMadonnaof
the LongNeck, both in other respects pure constructions in graziae varieta.
96 R. Alberti and
E Zuccaro, Originee progressodell'Accademiadel Disegnodi
Roma (Pavia, 1604); here in Scritti d'arte di Federico Zuccaro, ed. D.
Heikamp, Florence, 1961, 63. The oration was delivered 27 March 1594.

all'altro]so that makinga history, he makesshadowyfigures,

consonant with a clear distance or figuresthat, on account
of distance, are dimmed in color, and in this way, with
these dimmings [sbattimenti]and distancings [lontananze]
they make the principal figuresbright [allegre]and with
relief they make a marvelous concord; and similarly in
complexions [carnagioni]they make, next to a maiden an
old woman, and wheremany aredressedthey use some nude
figures [usano alcuni pezzi di figurenude] and many other
contrasts [contrasti].96
With Coscia's last wordswe have one of the formsin which
the idea of contrappostopassed into the general neo-Classical
tradition. Specific referenceto rhetoric is forgotten, and with
it the connotations of audience and embellishment inherent
in the rhetorical context become less explicit. Fdlibien,
writing after the immediate transformationof Classical ideas
had been achieved, and when contrappostocomposition was
many generations old, its status changed to that of a broad
practical canon, defined "contrast"as "a word much used by
painters and sculptorsto expressthe diversityof figureswhich
appearin their worksand the variety which should be evident
in the position and movement of membersof the body and in
all attitudes in general. This is why they say 'to contrast,'
meaning to vary the actions and dispositionsof the figures."97
Or Roger de Piles, who was clearlyfamiliarwith the tradition
we have followed, and was well awareof its immediatesources:
"Contrastis a diversityin the disposition of objects and of the
membersof figures.Forexample, if in a groupof three figures,
one appearsfrontally, another from the rear and a third from
the side, it is said that there is a contrast. Further, it is said
that a figureis well contrastedwhen in its posturethe members
are opposed to each other, either that they crossor that they
turn to differentsides." And again:
The wordcontrast is not used in our languageexcept among
painters, who took it from the Italians. It signifies an
opposition which is encounteredamong objects in connection with the lines that form them as a whole or in part. It
includesnot only the differentmovementsof figures,but the
different positions of the members and of all the other
objects that occur together, in a manner, appearingwithout
affectationand only for the purposeof giving moreenergyto
the expressionof the theme. Thus, one can define contrast:
an opposition of the lines which form objects, by means of
which they complement one another.9'"

de la sculpture,de la peintureet
97 A. F61ibien,Des principesde 1'architecture,
des autresarts qui en cdpendent,Paris, 1699, 383, s. v. "contraste."
98 Texts cited by W. Kambartel, Symmetrieund Schbnheit. Ober mbgliche
in der Architekturtheorie
des neuerenKunstbewusstseins
Perraults,Munich, 1972, 50. Kambartelmistakenly asserts that the concept
of contrast (which he correctly sees as the companion to bilateral
symmetry) firstappearsin 17th-centuryart theory. Rather, as Rogerde Piles
recognizes, it came from the Italian and was, as we have argued, a
fundamental tenet of neo-Classical painting from Alberti onwards.
Kambartel does not consider the rhetorical-poetic basis of contrast (at all
times so closely linked with essential varieti) an omission that greatly
distorts his history. As I shall arguein another place, bilateral symmetryas a
conscious esthetic principle also, .finally, has some of its roots in similar
rhetorical-poetic rather than mathematical principles, as Kambartel has

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If the suspicion still lingers that such argumentsare merely

the result of the imposition of rhetorical categories upon
painting, it should be emphasized that De Piles explicitly
relates the ideas to painters. Bernini also provides some
understandingboth of the continuation and evolution of these
ideas in the Baroque. According to Chantelou, Bernini
remarked apropos of the difficulties of architecture, that
geometry and perspective were necessary to the architect.
Bernini added, fully in harmony with the Renaissance
distinction and opposition between quantitative and qualitative proportion, that "it was necessaryto have a good eye for
judgingwell i contrapposti;things appearto us not only as they
are, but in relation to their surroundings,which modify their
appearance."99 If this seems like a simple and too general
principle, it is because the simplicity of this statement is in an
inverse relation to the scope of its possible application. In his
own practice-to which I'oeilpour bien juger is still closely
bound-Bernini not only adjustedpart to part of his sculpture
on the basis of this principle, but in his example of its
application to architecture, contrapposto clearly had the
weightiest possible consequences;the colonnade of St. Peter's
was made as low as possiblein orderto make Maderno'sfagade,
which was criticized for being too squat, seem high by
contrast. It is significant that Bernini used the word
contrapposto;the term reflected not only an optical principle
(still ultimately rooted in the psychology of Aristotle), but
retained the fully esthetic ambivalence it had had in the
Renaissance, signifyingsensoryjudgmentand the understanding of composition as a harmonyof opposites.
Since the antithesis was a major stylistic form in Western
literature, there was considerable support to be had for the
idea of contrappostocomposition in a period that habitually
thought of visual meaning in termsof rhetoric and poetry, and
style in terms of eloquence. But there was also evidence that
ancient art itself arose from similar premises, and Xenophon,
writing without referenceto literature, defined both painting
and sculpturein termsso close to the High Renaissancenotion
of contrapposto-as evident in Leonardo and those who
followed his innovations at whateverremove-that it must be
imagined that the text was regardedas a major remnant of
Classical art theory, surviving from the best period. In a brief
section of the Memorabilia-perhapsalreadyknown to Alberti
by the early 1430's-Xenophon purports to record two
dialogues of Socrates, one with the great painter Parrhasios,
another with the sculptor Cliton. "Well, Parrhasios, is
painting the representation of visible things? Certainly by
making likenesses with colors you imitate forms which are

99Fora discussionof this and relatedtexts see T. K. Kitao, "Bernini's

" Journalof the
ChurchFacades:Methodof Designand the Contrapposti,
Societyof Architectural
xxIv, 1965,263-284, here282-83.
andSocrates(DePictura,66-67) are
referredbyGraysonto Pliny(xxxv. 67-68) andto Xenophon(seefollowing
note for reference).Alberti'swordsare so close to Quintilian(xII.x. 4),
however,that this seemsthe immediatesource,as suggestedby Mallk(Della
Pittura,82) and Spencer (LeonBattistaAlbertion Painting,trans. J. R.
Spencer,New Haven,1966, 121).The questionof whetheror not Alberti
usedXenophonis thereforein doubt.He couldhave,since thereweremany


deep and high, shadowyand light, hardand soft, roughand

smooth and young and old."100We are next told-in full
agreementwith the primecommonplaceof Renaissanceart
theory-that whenthe painterwishesto showperfectbeauty,
and findsno single personwho correspondsto his idea, he
copies the most beautifulfeaturesfrommanymodels, thus
makingthe whole beautiful. Frombeginningto end, the
dialogueis in completeaccordwith the tenetsof cinquecento
art theory, and having extractedthese two essentialpoints
fromParrhasios,Socratesproceedsto instructthe painterin
the central mysteryof his own art, its powerto embody
throughexpressionand actionthe workingsof the soul, thus
makingthe invisible visible, and demonstratingthe truly
spiritualnatureof painting.Parrhasios
be imitated"whichhasneitherproportions
norcolor. . and
which, in fact, is not evenvisible."101
in expressions
him that men'ssoulsarein factrepresentable
the face and movementsof the body, concludingwith the
argumentthat it is betterto paint noble men than villains.
The discussionof sculpturealsotakesthe formof counterposi102The ends
tion, strictlyanalogousto the figuraserpentinata.
of sculpture and painting are said to be the same, the
expressionof the movementsof men'sminds.Socratesnotes
the lifelikenessof Cliton'ssculpture,observingthat he must
imitatelivingmodels.Clitonrepliesthat he does.
Then youhave certainlyremarked,and that with no little
exactness,the naturaldispositionof all the parts,in all the
differentposturesof the body:for, whilstsomeof these are
extended,othersremainbent;whenthat is raisedaboveits
naturalheight, this sinksbelowit; these arerelaxed,and
those againarecontracted,to give the greaterforceto the
meditatedblow,andthe morethesethingsareattendedto,
the neareryouapproachto life.103

To summarize,a clear apprehensionof the virtues and

necessaryuses of ornamenttogether with an equallyclear
of its vices andabuseswaspartandparcelof the
Classical critical tradition, which was most perfectly
developedin the traditionof rhetoricalliterature.Not only
wasthe newlanguageof pictorialcompositionassistedin many
waysby attentionto the rhetoricalwriters,but the language
and characterof embellishmentwere set, its relation to
content defined in a numberof alternatives,and in many ways
these were the crucial issues. At the broadest level the
question was ethical. Dionysius of Halicarnassusfavoredthe
middle style "becauseit is a mean-and excellence is a mean
in life and actions too, according to Aristotle and his

manuscripts available in the early quattrocento (R. R. Bolgar, The Classical

Heritage and Its Beneficiaries: From the Carolingian Age to the End of the
Renaissance,New York, 1964, 492-93).
101Xenophon, Memorabilia.III, x. The translation is from
J. J. Pollitt, The
Art of Greece1400-31 B. C., Englewood Cliffs, 1965, 160.
10o Ibid.
102 Summers, "Figuraserpentinata," 272-73.
103Xenophon, Memorabilia.iii, x.

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school."104 The congruence in this instance of critical with

ethical or psychological or physical categories reinforcedthe

tendency toward the mean and underscored the distrust of
excess. Given the transference of the idea of elocutio from
rhetorical to pictorial composition implied by the use of
contrapposti,it requireda majorchange in taste-in termsthat
had been understood from the beginning of the
Renaissance-to an art of ornatus comparable to poetry or
epideictic in orderfor pure artifice to be admiredin the art of
antiquityor encouragedin the art of the present. At the same
time, the appreciation of an art of ornatus signalled a new
social function of art, since a differentaudience was impliedby
what became a dominant stylistic trend (although not a
universalone, since other choices werealwayspossible). It was
clear to Alberti what mannerism would be in these general
critical terms, even though he could not have foretold
specifically what difficult&would be added to the canon of
ornament as the decadespassed. He had, in fact, attempted to
bridle, on the model of Ciceronian eloquence, the strong
tendencies towardsuch a pure but restricted art that he saw
In such a context we should understandAlberti's censureof
extreme contrapposto.It was excessive and licentious, having
more to do with art-and with the artist, it is important to
recall-than with the matterat hand. Most later writerswould
agree with Alberti's position on contrapposto:it was necessary
for the sake of varieti, but had to be used with discretion. As
we have seen, Leonardo wrote of counterposition as a
fundamentalarticle of pictorial invention, followedratherless
boldly by Paolo Pino and Lodovico Dolce.105 At the end of
the cinquecento, Gregorio Comanini, whose Il Figino was
publishedin 1591, provideda succinct recapitulationof earlier
writerson the subject of contrapposto,and his remarksdeserve
examination in some detail. The topic is taken up in the midst
of a long and concrete comparisonof painting and poetry. Just
having likened figuralproportionto the metrics of verse, the
painter Ambrogio Figino (whose name was given to the
dialogue and who is the speaker at this point) moves on to
what must be regardedas a higher level of elocution.

men, infants and old, the depth of the sea to the land,
valleys to mountains;and other similarcounterpositionsare
made, from which not a little charm [vaghezza]is born in
painting; which we also see born of contraries in good
poems. And it is well to consider that, as regardsthe use of
antitheses, the same advice applies to painter and poet.
There follows a rathertedious-but nonetheless instructiveexample of the properuse of antithesis. It must be used with
sprezzatura, and an example of this virtue in practice is
providedfrom a commentaryby TorquatoTassoon a poem by
Giovanni della Casa. These three lines are singled out for
Anzi il dolce aerpuroe questa luce
Chiara, che'l mondo agli occhi nostri scopre,
Traestitu d'abissioscurie misti
Sprezzaturaconsists in this case in the following: in order to
avoid two antithetical faults, baseness and affection, Della
Casa answeredthe wordspuroand chiarawith the wordsoscuri
and misti, then added the word dolce for which he gave no
counterpart. It is this last slight ruptureof expectation (for
there was no more conventional antithesis that dolcelamaro)
that earns praise for its "judicious disdain." After a less
convincing example of the same thing from Petrarch,Figino
In the style of dignity and magnificence[Figino throughout
is discoursing on the heroic mode] the too frequent
occurrenceof metaphorand antithesis much diminishesthe
grandeur and majesty of the oration, or poem, just as a
judiciousdisdain of them as explained aboveornamentsand
heightens it. Similarly, if the painter who, when he has
painted an infant, will place an old man next to him; or
next to a man a woman;next to a giant a dwarf,or next to a
beautiful girl an ugly old woman, and next to a white
Scythian a black moor, will make an improperand affected
thing, and he must be clever in his variation of his figures
and contrive to display in his works a noble negligence
rather than a base diligence [a contrapposto itself]. Of
movement I say the same; if wheneverthe occasion arisesto
make a figurestanding upright, or that showsthe breastand
all the fore partsof the body, he alwaysmakesnext to them
a seated figure,or one that shows the shouldersand all the
back, he will be considered without fail an artist who is
affected [affettato]and even ridiculous.106

Nor should I neglect to say how the poet in the composition

[tessitura]of his verses tempers the bitterness [asprezza]of
two words by placing a sweet one between them; so the
painterbrushes[sparge]a color halfwaybetween the one and
the other when these two colors seem extreme; and in the
midst of many sturdyand muscularfigures,he mixes some
others that are lighter and more graceful to sweeten the
work and take away an excess of severity. And as the poet
plays with antitheses, or with contrapposti,so the painter
counterposes in one single painting figuresof women and

Figino gives us a fairly full catalogue of contrappostiand at

the same time affordsfurtherinsight into the critical question
of their piroperuse. Contrasting colors should not be set
againstone another, but should be harmonized,a mean struck

104 D. A. Russell and M.

Winterbottom, AncientLiteraryCriticism,Oxford,
1972, 340; for the famous doctrine of the mean, Aristotle, Nicomachean
Ethics, 1108b, 12ff: "There are three kinds of disposition, then two of them
vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz.
the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all." Such principles could of
course be widely applied and Castiglione's remark that, in dancing,
movements "troppo gagliardi e sforzati," and in music "quelle diminuzioni
forti e replicate che mostrano pidiarte che dolcezza" (Cortegiano, 213) is
closely similar to Alberti's reservations about extreme contrapposto.In his
De Dignitateet ExcellentiaHominis, Giannozzo Manetti (Prosatorilatini del
quattrocento, Milan-Naples, 1952, 429, 449) answered the argument that

the senses may be damaged by excess (as Aristotle stated), thus

demonstrating the weakness and vulnerability of the human condition, by
insisting that one should avoid such extremes and seek the mean. "When
we use the senses in a measuredand moderate fashion, not only are we not
wearied, we are rather restoredand soothed. And if it is impossible to deny
that nature has given us weak and frail bodies . . . she has also abundantly
furnished us with many remedies for our weakness and fragility."
105 Summers, "Figuraserpentinata," 274.
106 G. Comanini, I1 Figino overo del fine della pittura, Mantua, 1591, in
Barocchi, Trattati,III,360-64.

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i .i






'C` ,



12 Sebastiano del Piombo, S.

Giovanni CrisostomoAltarpiece,
(detail). Venice, S. Giovanni

13 JacopoPontormo,Visitation

between them. In this Comanini agrees with most writers,

beginning with Alberti. But it was possible to occupy a critical
position in which colors were set against one another,
consciously to pursue the ornate and the licentious. The
must also be remembered;Della Casa's
advice aboutsprezzatura
chiastic lines are anything but free of ornament, and the cure
for obvious artificialitywas evidently not less art, but more.
To take another specific example, Alberti, writing on
varietd,recommendsthat there should be "some figureserect,
shown full-face . . and others with the face contrarioand the
armsfolded, the feet joined."107 All such varieta,accordingto
Alberti, should be "moderate and grave, with dignity and
truth." Lodovico Dolce, who called varieta "the principal
marvel of nature," recommended pictorial construction by
counterposition, going so far as to say that painters lacking
varietahave nothing. 08 He counsels against excess, however,
and as an example of a virtue become a vice, belittles painters
who "having painted a youth . . . make next to him an old
man or an infant, and so, next to a girl, and old lady; and
similarly, having made a face in profile, they make another
full-faceor three-quarters"[occhioe mezzo].109 Such juxtapositions are common in Renaissance painting and we may
appreciatewhat Dolce's interlocutorAretino meant in a detail
of Sebastiano's S. Giovanni Crisostomo Altarpiece, or, even
more clearly, in Pontormo'sCarmignano Visitation(compare
Figs. 12 and 13). Since artifice and ornament were so closely
identified critically, and since both together were the nub of
the critical issue, it is probablyto be expected that it wouldbe
in practice such as this, and not in the writings of the
theorists, nearly all of whom held to the Albertian mean on

Alberti, Della Pittura, 119.

Dolce, Aretino, 179. Dolce's discussion of varieti is conventionally
rhetorical, but unusual, although not unique, in groundingvariety in nature.
109 Ibid. This formula for variety in the composition of heads (as well as
colors) was evidently considerably older than Alberti; it was easily adapted


the question,that an artof ornatusfoundexpression,and in

fact for a time dominated;farfromvarietathat is "moderate
and grave, with dignity and truth," Pontormoespecially
formulauntil it is evidentin itself,
purifiedthe compositional
obscuring or profoundly modifying the content of the
painting.The imagehas crystallizedalong lines definedby
chief amongthem.

The formula of contrappostowas generous enough to

encompassa whole gamutof expressiveaims. In literature,
antithesisfueledthe imaginationof poets of varioustalents
influence,and, as a poetic
duringthe centuriesof Petrarch's
device, its use rangedfrom conventional formula,stylish
repetition in numberlessPetrarchistpoems, to the lofty
antithesesof Gongora.110Again, we might trace a similar
expressiverangein late Renaissancepaintingand sculpture,
fromthe literary,nostalgicgraceof Raphael'sGalateato the
of his Transfiguration,
EmpoliSaintMichaelto the S. MicheleVisdomini
Altarpiece,or fromthe languid,namelessmovementsof the
Sistineignudito the polar,unresolvedtensionof the Boboli
compositioncouldalsoencompassa numberof
apparentlydifferentartistic styles. Michelangelo'sBrazen
Serpentpendentiveand Raphael'sTransfiguration
(Figs.5 and
10) areparticipantsin aboutthe samedegree,whatevertheir
and Pontormo'sPoggioa Caiano lunettes are also closely

to the new humanist format, came always to be discussed in terms of

contrapposto,and could be exploited in itself as ornamental structure.
110 In addition to L. Forster, Icy Fire (note 82 above), see D. Alonso,
Estudios y ensayos Gongorinos, Madrid, 1960, 117-173, "La simetria

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comparableessaysin contrappostocomposition.111 The literary

form of contrapposto,as we have seen, had a long career,
signifying clarity and orderon the one hand, paradoxon the
other, and embellishment in both instances, Classical and
Christian. The same expressive range might be expected in
visual contrapposti. But within or beyond such directly
transferred possibilities of meaning, there also doubtless
occurred what might be called a disjunctive influence of the
form. That is, in the visual arts, implementation of the new
form created an expressive potential over and above the
original intentions of its inventors. Chiaroscuroespecially
opened a vast new area of visual meaning exploited long after
its High Renaissance use had been forgotten. However this
may have been, since the compositionaldevice of contrapposto
was originallydefined with referenceto rhetoric and poetry, it
edged easily and without transformation into iconography,
making form and meaning structurallycongruent. Raphael's
Transfigurationis built around chiaroscuroand figureserpentinate, and it also juxtaposes Heaven and earth, natural and
supernatural,near and far;his SaintMichaelcounterposeslight
and dark(as Sebastianocalls it, "tutte chiare e tutte nere"),112

goodandevil (Figs.10-11).Whateverelse it
might representor signify, Michelangelo'sVictory(Fig. 14)
counterposesyouth and age, and states the main figurein the

The psychomachic
the Victory is the conspicuous prototype-Vincenzo Danti's
L'Onoreche vince l'Inganno,for example, or the groupsfrom

Michelangelo'scatafalque-are contrapposti,visually and

conceptually in the same degree. In the Medici Chapel the
jovial and saturnine temperaments are counterposed in
Giuliano and Lorenzode'Medici, and the Times of Day are set

in double contrapposto.And, as in the earlier examples,

Michelangelostatedhis allegoricalfiguresin the purestfigure
To this list of illustrationsmight also be added
suchsalientessaysin manieraasRossoFiorentino's
with Angels, Parmigianino'sVision of Saint Jerome, or

the dangersof excessive art, but at the same time held it in a

certain respect. Moreover, differences outside the Classical
rules were hard to chart; decorum and the mean were too
pliable final arbiters, defining only impreciselywhere license
and excess began, and it was no easy matter critically to
distinguish lack of skill or order from the flight of genius
beyond any rule. Quintilian damned ornate diction in much
the same terms he used to praisethe Discobolos,just as Vasari
abusedmedieval architecturein much the same wordshe used
to praisethe architectureof Michelangelo.113Asianism was in
the fullest sense a sin, clearly seductive to many an avowed
partisanof the Attic manner. Restraintalwaysimplied excess,
the mean extremes, embellishment pure art. Stylishness,
maniera,was thus inextricablyjoined to artisticfreedomas the
Renaissance understood it; it pointed onward to licenseusually a negative term in referenceto rhetoric, more neutral
or even positive with reference to poetry; when positively
interpreted,as it was to praisethe art of Michelangelo, license
was virtuallyindistinguishablefrompuremaking, the regionof
divine furor, where work and artist alike are possessed of
grace.114 This departure from accepted rules had its own
conventions (as is alwaysthe case), but at its highest limits the
artist was newly isolated, like the mad poet of Horace, who,
obsessedwith his own meters, perhapstalks to no one. And to
sieze the formsof the beautiful in themselves, to orderworlds
sustainedby the pure apparentenergyof the formsof ornatus,
to combine and recombine them at one's will, was to
transcend them in the act of making, to surpassart through
art. None of this was possiblewithin the constraintsof nature,
submissionto purposeor usage.

Beccafumi'sfirstSaint Michael Altarpiece.

It must be stressedthat these essays in pureornatusare not
finally merely ornate in the unhappy modern sense of the
word. The language of rhetoric, and the critical language of
the Renaissance to which it contributed so much, recognized

Both antithetical composition and the related idea of the

giudiziodell'occhio-the two major themes with which this
paper has been concerned-were rooted in an appeal to the
sense of sight. Light and dark, together with color, were, still
accordingto Aristotle, the special objects of the sense of sight.
And generally antithesis provided a conceptual means for
dealing with change. The antitheses of courtly poetry
characteristically described the emotions; Ovid's often

11 The schematic contrapposto evident in Pontormo's Poggio a Caiano

lunette and the Medici Chapel is both extraordinaryand similar. Pontormo
strongly counterposes back/front, male/female, nude/clothed, youth and
age, in a context of inflected but close symmetry analogous to the reflected
pyramidalgroupsof the Medici Chapel. K. Weil-GarrisPosner ("Comments
on the Medici Chapel and Pontormo's Lunette at Poggio a Caiano,"
BurlingtonMagazine,cxv, 1973, 641-49) discusses connections between the
two projects.
112 In a letter to
Michelangelo of 2 July 1518 (K. Frey, ed., Sammlung
ausgewiihlterBriefean MichelagnioloBuonarroti,Berlin, 1899, xcI, 104-05).
See also the discussion in S. Freedberg, Paintingof the High Renaissancein
Romeand Florence, Cambridge, Mass. 1961, I, 353; and K. W.-G. Posner,
"Raphael's'Transfiguration,'" 352-53.
113 In
terms close to Alberti's (note 17 above), Quintilian (viii. Pr. 33)
writes, "Ea debent praestare sine dubio et admirabilem et iucundam
orationem, verum admirabilem non sic, quomodo prodigia miramur, et
iucundam non deformi voluptate sed cum laude ac dignitate coniuncta." Or
II. v. 8-13: "Nam sermo rectus et secundum naturamenuntiatus nihil habere
ex ingenio videtur; illa vero, quae utconque deflexa sunt, tanquam
esquisitiora miramur; non aliter quam distoris et quocunque modo
produgiosiscorporibusapud quosdammaius est pretium quam iis, quae nihil

ex communi habitu boni perdiderunt."In the introduction to the third part

of his Lives, Vasari (Vasari-Milanesi, Iv, 7-8) wrote that one of the
accomplishments of the seconda maniera was ordine, which "fu il dividere
l'un genere da l'altro, si che toccasse ad ogni corpo le membra sue e non si
cambiasse pii tra loro il Dorico, lo Ionico,il Corintio ed il Toscano."
Michelangelo, however, was described as having achieved the virtuoso
Composite orderby just such anti-canonical combination. The regions prior
to art and beyond art (both subject to ingegno,but only one to giudizio)were
characterized in the same terms. See D. Summers, "Michelangelo on
Architecture," Art Bulletin, LIV,1972, 154-55.
114 These issues
require a study to themselves; but as a clear and simple
statement of the transferenceof grace from artist to artifact we may consider
the following passage from Vincenzo Danti (Il primolibrodi un trattatodelle
perfetteproporzioni(Florence, 1567), in Barocchi, Trattati,1,230. "E quando
si dice tallora alcuna cosa esser graziosa, la quale non e uomo, ne di lui
imagine o figura;possiamo dire che questa si fatta graziasia un ritratto della
grazia, che vera e ferma non pu6 vedersi, secondo il parer mio, se non
nell'uomo. E ancor che possa essere, in molte cose che l'arte compone, un
certa grazia, pid in una che in un'altra;io dir6 che questa venga per un dono
particolaredell'ingegno e del giudizio, che in alcuni degli artefici pih, et in
altri risplende meno."

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14 Michelangelo, Victory.
Florence, PalazzoVecchio

repeatedcosmogonydescribedgeneration and corruption;and

more than describing it, or recounting its conceptual parts,
antithesis as a form of expressionpresented it with a peculiar
vividness, perspicuitas. It was the fundamentally visual
characterof antithesis that justifiedits constant comparisonto
painting. It was consideredthe special powerof painting as an
art of imitation to see its subject before the eyes with a
vividness surpassingthat of any other art. Antithesis, uniquely
among structuresof thought, had the same force.
Contrappostocould be decorative or structural, as we have
seen; in either case its final justification lay in its vividness,
the clarity with which art by direct contrast could make
opposites evident, or bring them into harmony.On this level
antithesis touched on basic principles and there was a
continuous relation between nature, or our knowledge of
nature, and art. We may recall Alberti's famous maxim, a
restatement of Aristotle's notion, that "large, small; long,
short; high, low; broad,narrow;bright, dark;light and shadow
and every similar thing which, because it may or may not
belong to a thing, the philosopher call accidents [as opposed
to substance], are such that they are known through
The point is backed up with
comparison" [comparatione].115
examplesfromVirgil, Pliny'saccount of ancient painting, and
everydayexperience before being directed to the definition of
the properuse of black and white in painting.

11 Alberti, Della Pittura,68-69.


Lorenzo de'Medici, Comentosopraalcuni de' suoi sonetti, Opere, ed. A.

Simioni, Bari, 1939, I, 68. ". . . volendo che una pittura interamente
piaccia, bisogna adiungervi questa parte: che la cosa dipinta ancora per se


Lorenzo de'Medici, who requiredof a painting that it be

pleasing in itself-material, or workmanship,or suitability to
purpose aside-speaks of contrapposto in terms distinctly
reminiscent of Alberti.116 Like Alberti, Lorenzois discussing
relativeknowledge, opinion, which, citing Plato, he definesas
a mean between true knowledgeand ignorance. The reference
to Plato is doubly significant because Lorenzo ends his
meditation on relative knowledge with a wa'rningagainst it,
calling it an illusion to be shunned in favor of the absolute,
thus placing the beauty of his lady above the harmony of
warring contrasts. But such Platonizing reservations notwithstanding, his wordsexplore in some detail the relation of
antithesis and variet&,which he considers to be virtually the
same. We are, he says, always unsatisfied with opinion,
because the mind is content only with the true. What we can
know relatively we know per comparazione. He adduces
examples very much like Alberti's. A man of normal
height-three braccia-would be small if four were the norm.
The Ethiopians call those among them white who are lighter
than most, and the same among the Italians would be black.
Good and riches are similarlyrelative. He then considersthe
example of a pearl, prizedso far as it is bright and clear, or the
more as it approaches true and perfect whiteness; if it were
placed on a dark field or against a dark color, so that the
of its contrarymight make the pearl seem nearer
effect would be an illusion, because the
whiteness of the pearl itself could not have changed. Still,
from this illusion a kind of beauty is born, "that proceedsfrom
the variety and distinction of things, because one takes force
from the other, and it seems that each more approachesits
perfection."'17 The emphasis on seeming, although negative
in this instance, is consistent with the Renaissance understanding of the illusory and paradoxicalnature of painting.
And there is an importantfusion of structurallyrelated ideas
here, of ornatuswith the laws of vision and, beyond that, with
the laws of time and nature.
Again, LorenzoGhiberti, explainingthe action of light and
color, remarkedthat color is not apparentin itself, but is the
result of light striking something, which gives it form. His
example is a stained-glasswindow,which makes light visible as
color; and, he adds, the light "is seen because of the dark
places inside, since in this way the contrary that is placed
beside its contrary appearsmore clearly."'18 This analysis of
perception is the result of an assumption about visual
experience that is borne out by visual experience. It is
consistent both in content and expression with the ideas we
have been examining and illustrates the continuity between
nature and experience, art and eloquence. There were several
such coincidences, all pointing from the static to the active,
and all of them, like chiaroscuro,essential to the new pictorial
structure. The theory of human and animal movement,
central to Renaissance artistic intentions, was based on

117 Ibid., 134-35. See also Selve

d'Amore, I, 27-28. "Contrarie voci fanno
un suon soavel E diversi color bellezza nuova;/ Piace la voce acuta
per la
grave/ nel nero il bianco la sua graziatroval Fatto che l'un nemico all'altro
giova. ."
"8 L. Ghiberti, I
Commentari,ed. O. Morisani, Naples, 1947, 99.

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opposition from Aristotle to Leonardo.119It can only have

been regarded as a corroboration of the objectivity of the
beautiful that the construction of function in this case
preciselyfit the realizationof varieta.And, still on the level of
the artificial,there was, as we have seen, ample textual reason
to believe that the great painting of the past had made use of
the contrapositionof bright and dark.120
These ideas may also be brought to bear on questions of
major stylistic change. The transition from the first to the
second books of Alberti'sDe Picturamakes it evident that the
scientific basis of painting-perspective-is significantfor the
whole istoriato be constructed upon it as perspicuitas,clarity
of organization, insuring convincing vividness.121 As such,
perspective was replaceable by antithesis, which fulfilled a
similardemandof presentation.In what might be called visual
rhetorical terms, in short, perspective and antithesis were
much the same. Chiaroscuro (to take the visually most
inclusive and compositionally most basic form of antithesis)
thus could complementperspective,or even make it redundant
and supplant it, without compromising the all-important
sensuous truth and immediacyof the image. It was Leonardo
who most deeply understood the rhetorical vividness of
counterposition, who first probed and then realized it as a
mode of synthesis equal and alternative to perspective. The
Adorationof the Magi is split half and half, light and dark, at
the same time that regions of space are painstakinglyclarified
by perspective study. Earlier, the dark trees set against the
white horizon in the UffiziAnnunciation(again in conjunction
with carefulperspective construction) recordthe first urgings
of this solution; and the portrait of Ginevra de'Benci
establishesit as a principle of composition, excludinga massof
visible data for one underlyingand concentrating analogue to
the vividness of things reallyseen. In the Madonnaof theRocks
the synthesis of the empirical and the compositional is
complete, realized on the highest level of istoria. After
Leonardo the perceptual aspect of antithesis, which made it
applicable to words and images alike-and perhaps most
deeply to images, the basic justifying metaphor-was
forgotten, and the form became, even in the hands of

Raphael, rhetoricalin a flattersense of the word. ForLeonardo

contrast pointed up truth, darknesslight, and the tension of
these opposites would not resolve itself in a higher mediating
principle, other, perhaps, than the artist-viewerhimself, and
thus finally fixed even the artist'seye in the realm of the seen.
But for most central Italian painters immediately after him
who used the formulaof contrapposto-and here chiaroscurois
especially intended-it was embellishment, the exornatioof
varietas.One senses, in fact, that the form
had undergone this change in its significance for Leonardo
himself when, late in his life, he painted his LouvreSaintJohn
the Baptist.Later Caravaggio,although pointedly abandoning
the multiform embellishments of Mannerist art, could still
touch and in fact more powerfullyexploit the rhetoricaltruth
of chiaroscuro,giving his figures the presence of life itself,
consistent with the intention of his images, by placing them in
a situation of artificial,now supernatural,contrast.

119See Summers,"Figuraserpentinata,"275-78. Leonardo'sgeneral

of Leonardo
principleof humanmovement(J. P. Richter,TheLiterary
da Vinci,London,1883, II, 120, n. 826; "Delloandaredell'omo.L'andare
dell'omoe semprea uso dell'universaleandaredelli animalidi 4 piedi,
imperochesiccomeessi movonoi loro piedi in croce a uso del trotto del
cavallo,cosi l'omoin crocesi movele sue4 membra,cioe se cacciainantiil
pie destroper caminare,egli cacciainanzicon quelloil bracciosinistro,e
semprecosisequita")is takenmoreorlessdirectlyfromAristotle,De Incessu
Animalium,712a 25. See AristotelisOperacum AverroisCommentariis,
am Main,1962), vI, 210v.
120 See note 66 above.
121 Quintilianon elocution(viii. ii. 22) callsperspicuitas
the orator'sfirst
virtue;it makeslanguage"et doctisprobabiliset planusimperitis."As in
Alberti, the enunciationof the premisethat the compositionshouldbe
clear to learned and unlearned alike (De Pictura, 78-79) precedes a
andlucidityarenot enough"(VIII.iii.
discussionof ornatus;for"correctness
2), andornamentfurtherservesto convince."Forwhenouraudiencefindit
a pleasureto listen, theirattentionandtheirreadinessto believewhatthey
hearareboth alike increased,while they aregenerallyfilledwith delight,
Thisis a descriptionof the
by admiration."
middlestyle;see Quintilianviii. iii. 42; citingCicero,De Partitione
vI. 19-22; and Dionysius of Halicarnassus(Russell, AncientLiterary
Criticism,314-35) wherea styleof figuredclarityis advocatedas best, able
to swaylearnedandunlearnedalike.Alberti'ssectionon varieta(DePictura,

78-79) follows the order of Quintilian's paragraphs containing the

Discobolos passage (see again note 6 above); like Quintilian he describes
variety in terms of human movement, and does so in very nearly the same
words. That Alberti was reading his antique source closely is suggested by
the fact that he takes up immediately after the passageon varietasthe story
of Apelles' showing the one-eyed Antigonus in profile. What was omitted in
this sequence is the Discobolos passage, which smacked of epideictic,
rhetoric (and sculpture) for cognoscenti, and was consequently counter to
the premise that the istoriashould be accessible to all. Alberti substitutes a
long section on the decorum of movement, which, although governed by
the prior principle of varieti, should be taken from nature. This too is
bracketedwithin the same sequence fromQuintilian, since Alberti proceeds
to the discussion of Timanthes' Sacrificeof Iphigenia(which in the Institutio
follows the Antigonus episode) as an example of the movements of the soul,
repeating Quintilian almost verbatim,as both Spencer (On Painting, 78, n.
63) and Grayson (De Pictura, 82, n. 47) agree. Alberti, in short, used
Quintilian critically, following him closely in this treatment and
justification of varietaand movement, but pointedly excluding the Discobolos
passage, replacing it with a more natural (as opposed to artificial) doctrine
of movement-actually more consistent with Quintilian's overall critical
position; see notes 32 and 119 above-and concluding with a prohibition of
figuressuch as the Discobolos.
122 H.
W6lfflin, ClassicArt, London-New York, 258ff.

Whether he surmisedit from clues in the writing of Alberti

or Leonardo,or extractedit fromthe abundantevidence in the
paintings themselves, Heinrich Walfflin recognizedthe High
Renaissance Classical style to be based upon what he termed
"invention of composition by contrasts."122 This coincidence
between the creative results and what can be glimpsed of an
aspect of the thought suggeststhat these ideas, far from being
mere literaryechoes, nourished the formation of a great style
of painting. Some of the art theory of the Renaissance is far
from practice and little more than humanist literaryexercise;
and many of its major themes are not the major themes of
painting itself. But this is by no means true of all of it, and,
even in the worst examples (just as in modern theory and
criticism), howeverfarspeculationmay stray into purelyverbal
possibilities, it is still of its time and circles a living center that
can be located. What seems to us a dry list of contextless
Classicalcitations was for the Renaissancereaderresonantand
suggestivewithin a system of assumptionswe no longer hold.
The Renaissancewas much closer than we to the antiquity it
emulated, and the conceptual structures shared by the two

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periods, now understood with great difficulty, were then the

universalheritage of the educated. It was preciselyout of such
a universalheritage that the High Renaissancestyle grew.This
new Classical style was integrally related to the understood
meaning of a Classical style, fed partly by the remains of
ancient art, partly by the vast literature of ancient stylistics,
and partly by contemporary needs, circumstances, assumptions, and habits. A Classical style did not simply imply
restraint,decorum, and the mean. Cicero himself, as Poliziano
pointed out, felt the beauty of the Asian style and made it a
part of his own practice.123 Indeed, Cicero defended the
ornate style in terms well known to Renaissance writers on
painting beginning with Alberti. According to the rhetorical
tradition, ornatus and its experiential counterpart delectatio
were the esthetic substance of poetry; voluptas was near
iudicium. It was this more sensuous side of the Classical
tradition that was lost to sight during the centuries of
ever-constricting Classicism between our times and the
Renaissance; and from the point of view of latterday
neo-Classicism it is difficult to understand the psychological
and cultural sources of the High Renaissance style. The
achievement of the beautiful-a task to which Italian artists
set themselves more or less single-mindedly over several
generations-was modelled in many ways on the achievement
of eloquence, and was a balance of reason and delight, the
known and the sensed, the timeless and the circumstantial.In
Alberti'sDe Picturathe developmentachieved its firstand to a
certain extent its determinative definition, inseparably
mingled with the esthetic ideals of humanist eloquence. The
Ciceronian period and High Renaissancecomposition are thus
sisters in a tradition, and the great painters of the High
Renaissance, at once reclaiming and creating the lost art of
the past, could boast with Bembo that their ancient language
"had been so far purgedof the rust of the untaught centuries
that today it has regainedits ancient splendorand charm."124
Universityof Pittsburgh


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