Margherita Viggiano Handout Week 2, January 24-26, 2012

The James Jackson Jarves Collection: Historical background

From: Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery. YUAG, 2001 On December 4, 1867, The Prudential Committee of the Yale Corporation voted to authorize a loan of $ 20,000 to James Jackson Jarves “on the deposit of his collection of paintings.” The collection consisted of 119 Italian Old Master paintings, ranging from ca. A.D. 1200 to “the best periods of Italian art.” With Jarves’s attributions, the paintings bore names like Giotto, Cimabue, Duccio, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Raphael, and Ghirlandaio. The term of the loan was for three years, and the pictures were to be installed in the galleries in the School of Fine Arts, Nowhere else in America could such a collection be seen. James Jackson Jarves was a native of Boston who began his search for fortune as a publisher and entrepreneur in Hawaii. Failing completely after eleven years of struggle, he moved to Europe. In Paris and Florence he discovered art, and he became an avid collector of Old Master paintings [the text does not specify where he took the money]. He specialized in early Italian paintings long before they were fashionable or even respected [in the United States perhaps – how did this woman escape peer-review?] Frequently the artists whose works Jarves bought were called “Primitives.” Nevertheless, he amassed what remains today, in spite of changing attributions, one of the most significant collections of early Italian paintings outside Europe. The decision by Yale to exhibit those paintings was not an obvious one. It came about because of the perception and intrepidity [sic] of a few key faculty members. The first was Lewis R. Packard (B.A. 1856), who, just appointed as Hillhouse Professor of Greek [with a B.A.?] met Jarves on a transatlantic crossing in June 1867. Jarves told Packard of his pictures and of his unfulfilled desire that they should reside in a museum in Boston or New York, and offered to sell them to Yale for $ 40,000, allegedly a fraction of their cost. Packard communicated the offer to a friend at Yale, the librarian Addison Van Name (B.A. 1858), with the request that Van Name put the question to Professor Edward Salisbury. Salisbury was receptive, and further information about the collection was sent to him. The Jarves Collection was already well known. It had been exhibited at the New York Institute of Fine Arts in 1860 and at the New-York Historical Society in New York, and Jarves claimed that Mr. Corcoran wished to acquire them for the gallery he was building in Washington. Clarence Cook, the art critic for the New York Daily Tribune, had published a notice in the August 1867 issue of the Galaxy, a New York monthly, that the collection was for sale, along with a plea that some wealthy New Yorker buy it for the city as the basis for a metropolitan picture gallery. This appeal failed, but the idea of a gallery took hold: in 1870 the Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded. Only later did the Metropolitan acquire its early Italian

paintings. Charles Eliot Norton, one of the cultural leaders of Boston and a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, had worked continuously to have the Jarves pictures acquired by the Athenaeum, although without success, from 1859 until they were deposited at Yale. Norton had also first met Jarves on a transatlantic crossing [it is illuminating to see how many transatlantic crossings people would take at the time], in this case in 1855, and he had visited Jarves and his pictures in Florence in 1857. As part of his campaign, Norton called testimonials from all over the world from supporters as diverse as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sir Charles Eastlake, T. A. Trollope, and Signore Bucci, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but it was not enough. The Athenaeum had never shown pictures like Jarves’s Italian paintings, having focused instead on contemporary American and British artists, and its patrons were not interested in contributing to the purchase. Norton was a graceful loser, and he was confident in his assurances that the collection would bring distinction to Yale and New Haven… Norton wrote: It is several years since I saw the collection, and I have no doubt that its value and importance have been much increased by the additions which Mr. Jarves has made to it. But even as I knew it, it was a collection of t he highest value in this country, as illustrating by well chosen examples the historic development and progress of Italian art. […] Such a collection would make a truly magnificent foundation for a gallery, and the institution which should acquire it, would have an easy preeminence over all other schools of art in America. Congratulatory articles about the loan appeared in the New York Daily Tribune, The New Englander and Yale Review, and The Nation; but there remained some concern over the possible reception of the pictures by the public. Gilman, writing in The New Englander and Yale Review, warned that: Such pictures must not be looked at with the same eye for entertainment and amusement, with which people are accustomed to run through the annual exhibitions of modern pictures. There is need for the same appreciative inquiry and study which is needed for the works of Dante and Homer. The aims of the painters, their beliefs, their surroundings, their aspirations, must be borne in mind, or the visitor will turn away unrewarded by the sight. Russell Sturgis, Jr., a New York architect and a Ruskinian like his friend and fellow architect P.B. Wight, was asked to prepare a catalogue of the paintings. Sturgis was a member of the committee charged by the Art Council with arranging for the reception and display of the pictures. Other members were Professor Salisbury, who paid for the catalogue, Professor Gilman, who wrote about the collection for The New Englander and Yale Review, and Luther Maynard Jones (B.A. 1860), a New York attorney who was, along with

Sturgis, Jarves’s official representative in the negotiations with Yale. Sturgis attempted to address the possible public concern and misunderstanding of the pictures in his introduction to the catalogue. He discussed authenticity and the notion of “Primitives,” offered explanatory and historical notes on each picture, and provided a historical table of the general sweep of Italian art. Going far beyond the simple lists of works that made up the catalogues of the 1858 and 1867 loan exhibitions at Yale, Sturgis’s catalogue of the Jarves pictures is the first at Yale, and apparently in any American museum, to approach a modern scholarly exhibition catalogue. Also included as further encouragement for the viewer were some of the testimonial letters from the earlier catalogue of the collection from its showing in New York in 1860, which described the pictures as the ‘unique Jarves Collection of Old Masters.” The Jarves pictures were hung in the north gallery of the School of Fine Arts building, whose Ruskinian Gothic architecture, based by the architect’s own admission on Italian sources, was especially suitable for them. Jarves supervised the hanging personally. The gallery did not open at once, however. Concerns about the public reaction caused College officials to delay the opening until Sturgis’s catalogue was ready, and when the gallery did open to the public in May 1868, it was opened without a formal ceremony or reception. […] The installation that Jarves arranged remained in place until 1892, when following conservation, the pictures were rehung with new labels. The original hanging was chronological. Like many 19th century displays, the pictures were densely hung, often one above another, sometimes as many as five deep. Their ornate Gothic-style gold frames and their rich jewel-like colors were cause for much comment. […] Among the pictures are some extremely important works, even with today’s less ambitious attributions, including… the Hercules and Deianira by Antonio del Pollaiuolo; two fragments from a Temptation of St Anthony cycle on an altarpiece by the Master of the Osservanza Triptych; a Portrait of a Lady with a Rabbit by Rodolfo Ghirlandaio, and an Annunciation by Neroccio de’ Landi. The terms of the agreement of 1867 stipulated that Jarves was to repay the loan in three years, or forfeit the pictures that had been deposited as collateral. The pictures being his only significant asset, Jarves was obliged to put them up for sale to raise the $ 20,000 he owed. An auction was arranged for November 9, 1871, to be held in the gallery where the pictures hung at Yale. The sale was advertised in the New York and Boston press, a catalogue was prepared, and an auctioneer was brought in from Boston [the passive form allows room for interpretation]. Jarves had expected to sell the pictures individually in order to raise the necessary funds, but the day before the auction [typical Yale style] he learned that the College would only permit the sale of the collection en bloc [they had no right to do so, but they wanted to buy the collection for nothing]. Jarves was devastated [see what happens when you enter a pact with the devil]. He had been well aware, based on past experience, that there was no individual, nor any institution in either Boston or New York who could or would bid on the whole collection. The auctioneer began the sale shortly before noon with a statement that had he known of the College’s lien on the pictures, the sale would never have been advertized as it was [they had kept him in the dark regarding their intentions]. To say that the pictures could be sold individually only on the condition that the total price realized by the collection would exceed $ 20,000 was unrealistic, “a farce” at best, and the only solution

was therefore to sell the collection as a whole to a single bidder [this passage does not make any sense: its only function is to muddy the waters by reasserting the official rhetoric of the College]. The College bid $22, 000, and no further bids being offered, the collection was sold to Yale [that’s how they do it.] There appear to have been several reasons why no one bid against Yale for the collection [Freemasonic secret-societies have an internal system to relay information]. Most obvious was the requirement to buy the whole collection, and the general perception that it would sell for between $60,000 and $75,000. There was also the perception that with the College’s lien on the pictures it would be impossible to obtain clear title to them, either singly or as a group [Yale as a new Leviathan, the New-England sea-monster]. In addition, many individuals and institutions were still recovering financially from the Civil War, which put such a major investment beyond their reach. Finally, there was simply not yet enough interest in early Italian art in America to generate a real market. The Jarves Collection was a pioneering effort in this field, complete and well known at a time when both the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum were only beginning their collections. Yale’s purchase was something of a risk [she keeps harping on Yale’s audacity of hope], and it was apparently not universally endorsed at the College [a moment of doubt before committing the crime]. Even Daniel Cady Eaton (B.A. 1857), the newly arrived Professor of History of the Criticism of Art, did not support the purchase [he belonged to a different Masonic lodge], which must have given President Noah Porter pause. Porter, Kingsley, John Ferguson Weir, and many others at Yale were behind it, however, and it therefore went forward. Once the purchase was complete, most in the press and at other universities agreed that the collection brought distinction to Yale [in other words: buy for less and sell for more]. For Jarves, the resolution was not happy, and he complained about it publicly in the press and in letters to President Porter and other at Yale [parable of the pearls and the swine]. He suffered further from personal attacks in the press [more Yale style], and he believed that his integrity had been questioned in the transaction. [How did he acquire the collection to begin with?] He felt he had been abandoned by his friend and official representative in the negotiations with Yale, Russell Sturgis, who was supposed to get him $60,000 for the pictures [Russell preferred to get something for himself instead]. Jarves’s response to these attacks was to accuse Yale of less than honorable dealings [the concept of “honorable dealings” associated with Yale creates a figure of speech known as litotes]. Although some details of the events leading up to the sale remain unexplained [a moment of political correctness before the final swelling act of sycophantism], there is no evidence, nor did anyone seriously believe that Yale acted improperly. And no one would now argue [under threat of losing their job] that the president and faculty showed anything less than prescience and courage [again] in acquiring this magnificent collection [as an appropriate conclusion to the eulogy, Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries:]”


Critical comment Believe me that when I went to the Art Library in search for catalogues of the gallery, I thought I would find some serious scholarship. I did not happen. Nevertheless, I included this hilarious presentation: not only because it is one of the few official ones, but also because it is essential to become aware of the potentially destructive mafia-connection between patronage and truthful representation – which is a serious problem in every field: from politics to art and scholarship. Who disburses the money very often gets to decide what to present as the truth. Technically, this is called propaganda. At the same time, many of their mercenary scribes have no skill, so that it becomes quite a simple task for real scholars to see through the thin disguise and denounce it. In this case, the account provided is simply hilarious. I was particularly fascinated by the thought that this guy, Jarves, was swindled using a legalism that depended on a biased interpretation of the terms of the contract. At the same time, how did he acquire the collection in the first place? With what money – given that he failed “completely after eleven years of struggle”? Chances are that he behaved toward others in the same way in which Yale behaved toward him a few years later. As the Italian proverb reminds us: “Chi di spada ferisce, di spada perisce” – literally, those who wound by the sword, are also killed by the sword. Jarves was probably a “transatlantic” Freemason like the dealers at the College – and we can say so with insider knowledge: not only due to the social and professional environment in which he was active; but also because the first three artworks of the collection all display the Satanic symbolism of the devil horns. He must have hand-picked them with a project in mind.1 And indeed the curator showed great “perception and intrepidity” to place them one next to the other, right at the entrance: welcome to the Tomb. As a last consideration, let us ponder what it means for our students to look at these images from their honest and innocent perspective. Do you think that knowing about the recurrent dynamics of human corruption can help them preserve their honesty? Or do you prefer to keep them in the dark, so that they may fall victims of the same corrupted individuals, mutatis mutandis, who spawn their evil offspring like critters, generation after generation? Some say that dinosaurs were extinguished by meteorite interacting with the surface of the earth…

Yale Peabody gargoyle

See also YUAG Lawrence Weiner’s Shot to Hell while whishing upon a star, 1996. Inter alia.


Artworks: Historical background, references and criticism Three artworks will be considered for the students’ section of Week 2:

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (ca. 1432-1498), Hercules and Deianira (ca. 1475-80) Minimalistic description of the official website:
When the centaur Nessus abducted Deianira, her lover, Hercules, shot him with a poison arrow. The centaur, dying, convinced Deianira that his blood would make a powerful love potion, and she sent Hercules a cloak soaked in Nessus’s blood. Putting it on, Hercules was poisoned and died; Deianira then took her own life in remorse. Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s painting is universally admired for its portrayal of the human body in dramatic action. Less widely acknowledged is the accomplishment of its panoramic landscape depicting Florence and the Arno Valley, one of the first and greatest masterpieces of this genre in Western painting.

Neroccio de’ Landi (1447–1500), Annunciation (ca. 1475–80), tempera on panel
Neroccio de’ Landi, who like his sometime-partner Francesco di Giorgio was also an accomplished sculptor, is best known for the elegance and grace of his renderings of the Virgin, saints, and angels. The sculptural reliefs decorating the buildings, garden wall, and Virgin’s throne in this painting illustrate the essentially decorative character of his interest in the legacy of classical antiquity. A half-moon-shaped panel such as this, known as a lunette, was intended to adorn the upper register of a large altarpiece. The rest of the structure from which this imposing and justly famous panel derives has not yet been identified.


Francesco Francia (1450-1517), The Gambaro Madonna (1495)

This object is on view at the gallery.

There are very few catalogues that describe these artworks. A scholarly catalogue with references that is available as a “non-circulating” at the Art Library is literally disintegrating. Please do not kidnap the pages, or it will become incomprehensible. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Pictures in the Jarves Collection Belonging to Yale University By Osvald Siren Professor of the History of Art, University of Stockholm New Haven: Yale University Press London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press 1916 You can find some helpful data for your presentations and/or papers from the following JPGs of the relevant passages, containing background information on the artists, their cultural milieu and their artworks. I had to cut and reposition my own photocopies due to the fact that the pages stick in the middle and copy at an angle. Enjoy. 7







Literary references Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book IX, translated by Brookes More, Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922. NESSUS AND THE DEATH OF HERCULES [98] Loss of his horn had greatly humbled him, it was so cherished though his only loss,—but he could hide the sad disgrace with reeds and willow boughs entwined about his head. O, Nessus! your fierce passion for the same maid utterly destroyed even you, pierced through the body by a flying arrow-point. [103] Returning to the city of his birth great Hercules, the son of Jupiter, with his new bride, arrived upon the bank of swift Evenus—after winter rains had swollen it so far beyond its wont, that, full of eddies, it was found to be impassable. The hero stood there, brave but anxious for his bride. Nessus, the centaur, strong-limbed and well-acquainted with those fords, came up to him and said, “Plunge in the flood and swim with unimpeded strength—for with my help she will land safely over there.” And so the hero, with no thought of doubt, trusted the damsel to the centaur's care, though she was pale and trembling with her fear of the swift river and the centaur's aid. This done, the hero, burdened as he was with quiver and the lion skin (for he had tossed his club and curving bow across the river to the other bank), declared, “Since I have undertaken it, at once this rushing water must be overcome.” And instantly, he plunged in without thought of where he might cross with most ease, for so he scorned to take advantage of smooth water. [118] And after he had gained the other bank, while picking up his bow which there was thrown, he heard his wife's voice, anxious for his help. He called to Nessus who was in the act then to betray his trust: “Vain confidence! You are not swift enough, vile ravisher! You two-formed monster Nessus, I warn you! Hear me, and never dare to come between me and my love. If fear has no restraint, your father's dreadful fate on whirling wheel, should frighten you from this outrageous act: for you cannot escape, although you trust the fleet-foot effort of a rapid horse. I cannot overtake you with my feet but I can shoot and halt you with a wound.” His deed sustained the final warning word. He shot an arrow through the centaur's back, so that the keen barb was exposed beyond his bleeding breast. He tore it from both wounds, and life-blood spurted instantly, mixed with the deadly poison of Lernaean hydra. This Nessus caught, and muttering, “I shall not die unavenged”, he gave his tunic, soaked with blood to Deianira as a gift; and said, “Keep this to strengthen waning love.” [134] Now many years passed by, and all the deeds, and labors of the mighty Hercules, gave to the wide world his unequalled fame; and finally appeased the hatred of his fierce stepmother. All victorious returning from Oechalia, he prepared to offer sacrifice, when at Cenaeum, upon an altar he had built to Jupiter, but tattling Rumor, swollen out of truth from small beginning to a wicked lie, declared brave Hercules, Amphitryon's son, was burning for the love of Iole. And Deianira—his fond wife—convinced herself, the wicked rumor must be true. [141] Alarmed at the report of his new love, at first, poor wife, she was dissolved in tears, and then she sank in grievous misery. But soon in angry mood, she rose and said: “Why should I give up to my sorrow while I drown my wretched spirit in weak tears? Let me consider an effectual check—while it is possible—even before she comes, invader of my lawful bed: shall I be silent or complain of it? Must I go back to Calydon or 14

stay? Shall I depart unbidden, from my house? Or, if no other method can prevail, shall I oppose my rival's first approach? O shade of Meleager, let me prove I am yet worthy to be called your sister; and in the desperate slaughter of this rival, the world, astonished, may be taught to fear the vengeance of an injured woman's rage.” So, torn by many moods, at last her mind fixed on one thought:—she might still keep his love, could certainly restore it, if she sent to him the tunic soaked in Nessus' blood. Unknowingly, she gave the fatal cause of her own woe to trusting Lichas, whom she urged in gentle words to take the gift, from her to her loved husband Hercules. He, unsuspecting, put the tunic on, all covered with Lernaean hydra's poison. [159] The hero then was casting frankincense into the sacred flames, and pouring wine on marble altars, as his holy prayers were floating to the Gods. The hallowed heat striking upon his poisoned vesture, caused Echidna-bane to melt into his flesh. As long as he was able he withstood the torture. His great fortitude was strong. But when at last his anguish overcame even his endurance, he filled all the wild of Oeta with his cries: he overturned those hallowed altars, then in frenzied haste he strove to pull the tunic from his back. The poisoned garment, cleaving to him, ripped his skin, heat-shriveled, from his burning flesh. Or, tightening on him, as his great strength pulled, stripped with it the great muscles from his limbs, leaving his huge bones bare. Even his blood audibly hissed, as red-hot blades when they are plunged in water, so the burning bane boiled in his veins. Great perspiration streamed from his dissolving body, as the heat consumed his entrails; and his sinews cracked, brittle when burnt. The marrow in his bones dissolved, as it absorbed the venom-heat. [172] There was no limit to his misery; raising both hands up towards the stars of heaven, he cried, “Come Juno, feast upon my death; feast on me, cruel one, look down from your exalted seat; behold my dreadful end and glut your savage heart! Oh, if I may deserve some pity from my enemy, from you I mean, this hateful life of mine take from me—sick with cruel suffering and only born for toil. The loss of life will be a boon to me, and surely is a fitting boon, such as stepmothers give! Was it for this I slew Busiris, who defiled his temples with the strangers' blood? For this I took his mother's strength from fierce antaeus—that I did not show a fear before the Spanish shepherd's triple form? Nor did I fear the monstrous triple form of Cerberus.—And is it possible my hands once seized and broke the strong bull's horns? And Elis knows their labor, and the waves of Stymphalus, and the Parthenian woods. For this the prowess of these hands secured the Amazonian girdle wrought of gold; and did my strong arms, gather all in vain the fruit when guarded by the dragon's eyes. The centaurs could not foil me, nor the boar that ravaged in Arcadian fruitful fields. Was it for this the hydra could not gain double the strength from strength as it was lost? And when I saw the steeds of Thrace, so fat with human blood, and their vile mangers heaped with mangled bodies, in a righteous rage I threw them to the ground, and slaughtered them, together with their master! In a cave I crushed the Nemean monster with these arms; and my strong neck upheld the widespread sky! And even the cruel Juno, wife of Jove—is weary of imposing heavy toils, but I am not subdued performing them. A new calamity now crushes me, which not my strength, nor valor, nor the use of weapons can resist. Devouring flames have preyed upon my limbs, and blasting heat now shrivels the burnt tissue of my frame. But still Eurystheus is alive and well! And there are those who yet believe in Gods!” [204] Just as a wild bull, in whose body spears are rankling, while the frightened hunter flies away for safety, so the hero ranged over sky-piercing Oeta; his huge groans, his awful shrieks resounding in those cliffs. At times he struggles with the poisoned robe. Goaded to fury, he has razed great trees, and scattered the vast mountain rocks around! And stretched his arms towards his ancestral skies!


[211] So, in his frenzy, as he wandered there, he chanced upon the trembling Lichas, crouched in the close covert of a hollow rock. Then in a savage fury he cried out, “Was it you, Lichas, brought this fatal gift? Shall you be called the author of my death?” Lichas, in terror, groveled at his feet, and begged for mercy—“Only let me live!” But seizing on him, the crazed Hero whirled him thrice and once again about his head, and hurled him, shot as by a catapult, into the waves of the Euboic Sea. While he was hanging in the air, his form was hardened; as, we know, rain drops may first be frozen by the cold air, and then change to snow, and as it falls through whirling winds may press, so twisted, into round hailstones: even so has ancient lore declared that when strong arms hurled Lichas through the mountain air through fear, his blood was curdled in his veins. No moisture left in him, he was transformed into a flint-rock. Even to this day, a low crag rising from the waves is seen out of the deep Euboean Sea, and holds the certain outline of a human form, so sure]y traced, the wary sailors fear to tread upon it, thinking it has life, and they have called it Lichas ever since. [229] But, O illustrious son of Jupiter! How many of the overspreading trees, thick-growing on the lofty mountain-peak of Oeta, did you level to the ground, and heap into a pyre! And then you bade obedient Philoctetes light a torch beneath it, and then take in recompense your bow with its capacious quiver full of arrows, arms that now again would see the realm of Troy. And as the pyre began to kindle with the greedy flames, you spread the Nemean lion skin upon the top, and, club for pillow, you lay down to sleep, as placid as if, with abounding cups of generous wine and crowned with garlands, you were safe, reclining on a banquet-couch. [239] And now on every side the spreading flames were crackling fiercely, as they leaped from earth upon the careless limbs of Hercules. He scorned their power. The Gods felt fear for earth's defender and their sympathy gave pleasure to Saturnian Jove—he knew their thought—and joyfully he said to them: “Your sudden fear is surely my delight, O heavenly Gods! my heart is lifted up and joy prevails upon me, in the thought that I am called the Father and the King of all this grateful race of Gods. I know my own beloved offspring is secure in your declared protection: your concern may justly evidence his worth, whose deeds great benefits bestowed. Let not vain thoughts alarm you, nor the rising flames of Oeta; for Hercules who conquered everything, shall conquer equally the spreading fires which now you see: and all that part of him, celestial— inherited of me—immortal, cannot feel the power of death. It is not subject to the poison-heat. And therefore, since his earth-life is now lost, him I'll translate, unshackled from all dross, and purified, to our celestial shore. I trust this action seems agreeable to all the Deities surrounding me. If any jealous god of heaven should grieve at the divinity of Hercules, he may begrudge the prize but he will know at least 'twas given him deservedly, and with this thought he must approve the deed.” The Gods confirmed it: and though Juno seemed to be contented and to acquiesce, her deep vexation was not wholly hid, when Jupiter with his concluding words so plainly hinted at her jealous mind. [262] Now, while the Gods conversed, the mortal part of Hercules was burnt by Mulciber; but yet an outline of a spirit-form remained. Unlike the well-known mortal shape derived by nature of his mother, he kept traces only of his father, Jove. And as a serpent, when it is revived from its old age, casts off the faded skin, and fresh with vigor glitters in new scales, so, when the hero had put off all dross, his own celestial, wonderful appeared, majestic and of godlike dignity. And him, the glorious father of the Gods in the great chariot drawn by four swift steeds, took up above the wide-encircling clouds, and set him there amid the glittering stars.


Critical question on Pollaiuolo Why framing the Ovidian narrative of Hercules and Deianira in the context of Florence? Dante offers us the answer: Giusti son due, e non vi sono intesi; superbia, invidia e avarizia sono le tre faville c' hanno i cuori accesi. (Inferno, canto VI, vv. 72-75) Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello, nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta, non donna di provincie, ma bordello! […] Ahi gente che dovresti esser devota, e lasciar seder Cesare in la sella, se bene intendi ciò che Dio ti nota, guarda come esta fiera è fatta fella per non esser corretta da li sproni, poi che ponesti mano a la predella. O Alberto tedesco ch'abbandoni costei ch'è fatta indomita e selvaggia, e dovresti inforcar li suoi arcioni, giusto giudicio da le stelle caggia sovra 'l tuo sangue, e sia novo e aperto, tal che 'l tuo successor temenza n'aggia! (Purgatory, canto VI, vv. 72-102) Fiorenza dentro da la cerchia antica, ond'ella toglie ancora e terza e nona, si stava in pace, sobria e pudica. (Paradise, canto XV, vv. 97-99) Two men are just, but no one listens to them. Three sparks that set on fire every heart are envy, pride, and avariciousness.

Ah, abject Italy, you inn of sorrows, you ship without a helmsman in harsh seas, no queen of provinces but of bordellos! […] Ah you – who if you understood what God ordained, would then attend to things devout and in the saddle surely would allow Caesar to sit – see how this beast turns fierce because there are no spurs that would correct it, since you have laid your hands upon the bit! O German Albert, you who have abandoned that steed become recalcitrant and savage, you who should ride astride its saddlebows – upon your blood may the just judgment of the stars descend with signs so strange and plain that your successor has to feel its terror!

Florence, within her ancient ring of walls – that ring from which she still draws tierce and nones – sober and chaste, lived in tranquility.


In the Pollaiuolo painting, the mythological story of Hercules and Deianira becomes a political allegory to represent the current reality of Florence: torn between internecine conflicts, lead by opposing parties, and always at war with neighboring cities. Exactly as in Dante’s poetry, the city is compared to a woman, a literal interpretation of the body politics; and her expression – contrary to Siren’s analysis – is one of apparent accessibility, symbolizing Florence’s political instability as it was successively ruled by opposing factions. The causes of such destructive political instability are complex and involve many institutions at many levels, and they were brilliantly synthesized by Dante: especially in the political cantos of the Divine Comedy, i.e. the sixth canto of each Cantica: Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise; and in the central cantos of the Paradise devoted to his heroic ancestor Cacciaguida. These reasons were: the corruption of the Roman Church striving for political and economic power; the disinterest of the Emperor in the Italian provinces; the presence and prideful attitude of many factions internal to the city itself; and the rise of the merchant classes, spreading new “values” connected to easy money, luxury, entertainment and a general corruption of the mores. This is my analysis. You don’t have to quote me, but please do quote Dante.

Criticism in art and literature: the Poetics of Divine Inspiration Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sonnet 46 (ca. 1528) If my crude hammer shapes the hard stones into one human appearance or another, deriving its motion from the Master who guides it, watches and holds it, it moves at Another’s pace. But that Divine One, which lodges and dwells in heaven, beautifies self and others by its own action; and if no hammer can be made without a hammer, by that Living One, every other one is made. And since a blow becomes more powerful the higher it’s raised up over the forge, that One’s flown up to heaven above my own. So now my own will fail to be completed unless the Divine Smithy, to help make it, gives it that aid which was unique on earth.


Together with his kindred spirit Leonardo, Michelangelo was perhaps the most accomplished artist in history. If Michelangelo did not know the source and the dynamics of artistic creation, nobody can claim to know: certainly not Wimsatt or Derrida, who never created anything. But it is remarkable how the concept of divine inspiration – which originates in the Sacred Scripture and in Plato’s Ion – has been forcefully removed from both artistic and literary criticism. This operation was deliberately performed in order to make space for a number of conflicting materialized and secularized theories, spanning from the various formalisms to the various post-structuralisms, whose final result is always the same: failing enrolment, and the suicide of the humanities. I am amazed that after paying $50,000 a year for something that the rest of the world calls mystification, but which we can call “theory,” no one has yet sued the various universities for failing to deliver the truth on this issue. And if lies are insubstantial, money is always very real. Apart from the significant tuition fee itself, there are also moral damages to seek when young and innocent students are led astray and made to believe that, for instance, inspiration will come to them from a leading a lifestyle similar to the poètes maudits of 19th century France. The truth is that if someone has real artistic talent – that is precisely the surest and quickest way to lose it. This is of course my perspective, which I am entitled express as a scholar and intellectual working in a democratic country. You are invited to consider it, since it is presently the only alternative voice in a chorus of decaying clichés (speaking of originality), with an aim at developing your own idea of artistic creation based on your experience and understanding of reality and the academia.

Comparative study of the artworks I have not found critical material on the Gambaro Madonna of Francesco Francia, but a comparative study of the artwork with Leonardo is quite revealing in terms of recurrent subjects and similar interpretations though different personal styles. A characteristic of Leonardo’s mimesis of the “Mother and Divine Child” subject is his effort to portray Jesus first of all as a child. Leonardo’s Divine Infant is not the mature figure of Gentile da Fabriano, who blesses the beholder with the sign of the Holy Trinity. Leonardo’s Child is primarily a child in the Benois Madonna (ca. 1478), in the Madonna of the Carnation (1473-8)2 and also in the Madonna Litta (1480-1490)3.


Notice the same dynamics of the eyes as we find in Masaccio’s Holy Trinity fresco for the figure of the Blessed Virgin. To see the image better, you can copy, paste and resize this image on a new document; or simply find a different one online. 3 For this work Leonardo probably collaborated with another painter, but the contours of the eyes and mouth of the Virgin are clearly his own, reminding us powerfully of the Mona Lisa. The expression on the visage of the Child is also so very rich and complex that it could only have been accomplished by the master artist himself. The figure of the Child Jesus looks at the beholder with an expression that encapsulates full awareness of his mission as well as the natural, human desire to remain close to his beloved Mother. He seems to be saying: “I will be offered as a Victim – but not yet.” The nakedness of the Child, in stark contrast with the rich, gentile garment of Mary clearly alludes to his mission for the redemption of fallen humanity. Notice once again the transposition of the Biblical scene in the contemporary world, in order to highlight the actuality of the Scripture and the constant repetition of its patterns in human life.


Gentile da Fabriano, Virgin and Child, ca. 1425

Leonardo, The Madonna of the Carnation, 1473-8

Leonardo, The Benois Madonna, ca. 1478

Leonardo, Madonna Litta, 1480-1490

The other comparative study that is possible – and advisable – with the works present at the gallery is with Neroccio’s Annunciation (1475–80). Once again, there are different interpretations for the same subject, and different renditions according to the personal style, talent and skill of the artist. The emotional and intellectual response of the beholder also varies following these parameters. In Fra Angelico (c. 1438-1445), Mary represents the Virgin of Humility, standing in awe before the message of the Angel who communicates God’s Will. In Piero della Francesca (1452-1458), Mary represents the majestic Queen of Angels and Saints and Queen of the One and Three Churches: the church militant (on earth), the church penitent (in purgatory), and the church triumphant (in heaven). Her expression is that of a Roman matron, majestic and suffused with dignity and reserve. In Leonardo (1472-1475), Mary appears as the most perfect human creature: gentle and humanly surprised, but not so much as to lose the passage of the Scripture that she was reading before the apparition of the Archangel. Her great dignity is highlighted by contrast through the humble attitude of Gabriel, bowing his head before the Mother of God. In Neroccio (1475–80), there is yet a different combination: Mary is “meek and humble” as Jesus, but she does not appear surprised at all: she looks as though she had been expecting the Angel’s message with prescience.


Neroccio de’ Landi, Annunciation (ca. 1475–80)

Piero della Francesca, Annunciation, 1452-1458, fresco

Fra Angelico, Annunciation (c. 1438-1445) Venice, Museo Marciano

Leonardo, Annunciation, 1472-1475, oil and tempera


As a reference for the perspective employed by Neroccio, see the passage from Manetti’s The Life of Brunelleschi included in the first handout: From The Life of Brunelleschi By Antonio di Tuccio Manetti [143-157] During the same period he propounded and realized what painters today call perspective, since it forms part of that science which, in effect, consists of setting down properly and rationally the reductions and enlargements of near and distant objects as perceived by the eye of man: buildings, plains, mountains, places of every sort and location, with figures and objects in correct proportion to the distance in which they are shown. He originated the rule that is essential to whatever has been accomplished since his time in that area. We do not know whether centuries ago the ancient painters – who in that period of fine sculptors are believed to have been good masters – knew about perspective or employed it rationally. If indeed they employed it by rule (I did not previously call it a science without a reason) as he did later, whoever could have imparted it to him had been dead for centuries and no written records about it have been discovered, or if they have been, have not been comprehended. Through industry and intelligence he either rediscovered or invented it. Other prominent symbols and features of Neroccio painting include:       Mary as Door to Heaven (the open door in the background); The new Eden made possible by her Fiat (the marvelous landscape); The reinterpretation of classical antiquity in the reliefs of the architecture; The contemporariness of the Biblical scene, transposed in what looks like the cortile (inner court) of a gentile mansion; The symbolism of the lilies, i.e. virginal purity of body and spirit, in the vase between the two figures; The dynamism of the Archangel, traveling across different realities; and the static pose of the Virgin in what is considered as the pivotal moment of human history.


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