2019 American Association of Italian Studies Annual Conference, Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC
IAS-Sponsored Session

Character Portraits and Vasari

Room 1617
Friday March 15, 2019,9-10:30am

Organizer and Chair: Shelley E. Zuraw, University of Georgia


Tiffanie P. Townsend, Georgia Southern University
“Rosso Fiorentino and Portraits of Eccentricity"

Rosso Fiorentino’s tendency not to include symbolic personal props in the many portraits attributed to him has made identifying his sitters nearly impossible. With even less iconographic information provided than in his other portraits, his Portrait of a Young Man in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie has been proposed as a self-portrait, with no evidence to support the identification save the red hair of the sitter, the trait which gave the artist his nickname. This paper acknowledges that that identification is almost certainly erroneous; rather I seek to address the reasons why that identification is so compelling. Unlike the other, more traditional portraits given to Rosso, the moody and slouching man in the Berlin panel begs a backstory, and I believe this has led to a correlation inspired by an accepted, though literary, portrait of the artist. Vasari’s turbulent Life of Rosso describes a handsome, troubled young artist, a man who was at times elegant and gentle and, at others, paranoid and peculiar, even violent. This paper will explore Vasari’s vivid portrayal of this strange character, as well as our desire not just to see that man pictured, but that it be a revelation by the artist himself, verifying his odd persona.

Michael P. Kemling, University of North Georgia
“Vasari, Condivi, Vasari: The Many Faces of Michelangelo”

In 1550, Giorgio Vasari published the first edition of his Vite with the final and culminating life being that of Michelangelo.  The entire enterprise can be interpreted as Vasari’s attempt to justify the Michelangelo’s genius. Although Michelangelo spent most of his career concerned with his public persona, he apparently did not approve of Vasari’s account. In 1553 he asked Ascanio Condivi to write a new biography, which is widely believed to have been dictated by Michelangelo.  Among the numerous differences, Condivi includes a detailed description of Michelangelo’s facial features.  When placed in the context of the previous portraits of the artist, the passage can be seen as an extension of Michelangelo’s desire to further his social and artistic identities.  Remarkably, Condivi’s passage had an immediate impact, as we see artists adopting Michelangelo’s features as their own.  Vasari appears to have also seen the value of the passage as he included it verbatim in his revised 1568 edition.  In turn, Vasari’s second biography of Michelangelo served not only as a model for how any artist should live and work, but also look.  This paper examines how Condivi and Vasari employed their descriptions differently: the same portrait was used to construct two distinct types of the ideal artist.

Shannon N. Pritchard, University of Southern Indiana
“Giambologna’s Bronzes Speaking to Artists Through Self-Image”

Giambologna’s self-portrait in bronze from 1599 is a visual statement of all the Flemish artist had achieved in his forty-one years of service to the Medici court.  This bust-length portrait shows the artist in an elegant outfit with a traditional Northern European ruffled collar, looking very much the aristocrat: regal, confident, and wealthy.  Further enhancing his air of sophistication is the cross prominently displayed on his left breast, the Order of Knights of Christ, which had been awarded to the artist by Pope Alexander VII in the same year as the self-portrait.  The finely chased and highly polished bronze gives the self-portrait a monumentality that belies its actual size, which is a diminutive 3 ½” inches.   While the function of this small self-portrait (known in three bronzes and one painted plaster) is not fully known, its form and content was most certainly influenced by the courtly aesthetic manifested in Medicean Florence. It also reveals the artist’s awareness of both traditional form and innovative developments in portraiture by his Northern compatriots.  Moreover, this self-portrait is a visual manifestation of various documents, including two contemporary biographies (Giorgio Vasari and Raffaello Borghini), and letters written by or about Giambologna, which present an image of an artist in high demand, aware of his status, and concerned about his legacy (both financially and artistically).  This paper will examine Giambologna’s small self-portrait within this historical context, arguing that the artist deliberately represented himself in a manner that bound together his Northern heritage with his celebrated status as an artist/knight, thereby placing him among the international artistic elite whose faces were as famous as their art.

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