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

Character Portraits II: Vasari and Beyond

Room 1617
Friday March 15,2019, 10:45am-12:15pm

Organizer: Shelley E. Zuraw, University of Georgia

Chair: Shannon Pritchard, University of Southern Indiana


Shelley E. Zuraw, University of Georgia
“Vasari’s Tale of a Woman Sculptor: Truth is Stranger than Fiction"

Vasari’s 1550 edition of the Lives includes a brief biography of a woman whose work he had recently seen in Bologna—Properzia de’Rossi. In 1568 he expanded her life to include mention of other female artists. His vita and her life remain one of the most important, if puzzling, narratives of female artistic talent in the Renaissance. In her 2012 article on this problem, Sally Quinn acknowledges that “details of Properzia’s training remain unknown.” This despite the fact that she apparently began as a carver of fruit stones, a choice that, according to Vasari, she made because of her “ingegno” and then she moved, without difficulty, to marble carving at San Petronio. Vasari is, in almost every life, obsessed with the artist’s training. Equally, he ends most lives with a list of the master’s students. His book is a genealogy of artistic training. If he does not know the teacher or master, he is willing to make it up. Properzia, however, appears without a master and without training. Certainly this seeming lack underscores her uniqueness and her femininity—fruit stones being the detritus of the kitchen seem a good material for woman’s work, even if it is carving. Yet learning to carve marble was even more extraordinary; as testified to by the struggles of Raphael and Cellini, two exceptional artists in other media already. And it should be noted that in the Bolognese shop overseeing the marble decoration for the façade of San Petronio early exposure to marble carving did not seem necessary–witness Amico Aspertini and Alfonso Lombardi. This paper addresses the role of training—education and tradition—in Vasari’s life of Properzia and how it should alter our perception of her and her vita.

Julia L. Valiela, Independent scholar
“A Renaissance Woman Engraver in Image and Text”

Sculpted and printed portraits of Renaissance women artists have attracted considerably less study than painted examples, such as the well-known portrayals of Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana.  In response, this paper will examine the visual and textual representations of Diana Mantuana (or Diana Scultori, ca. 1547-1612), an accomplished female engraver who worked in Mantua and Rome.  Her portrait medal (e.g., British Museum, London) will offer valuable insight into the representational options open to sixteenth-century women artists in general and acceptable formats and materials in particular.  The medal’s novel reverse depicts the artist’s hand in the act of engraving.  Special consideration will be given to the motif’s relationship to similar gestures in other artist portraits and to the concepts of disegno and invenzione.  The medal will emerge as a bold, albeit gendered, announcement of Diana’s artistic practice.  The complementary medal of her husband, architect Francesco da Volterra, will be shown to validate as well as temper this assertion.  These medallic portraits will prove analogous to the carefully worded signatures and inscriptions on Diana’s prints, which Evelyn Lincoln has discussed as calculated efforts to drum up business and build a public reputation.  Contemporary reception of Diana’s profession and work will be gleaned from a portrait engraving attributed to Cherubino Alberti and Giorgio Vasari’s comments in the second edition of the Lives of the Artists.  Together these images and texts will shed light on the public identity deemed appropriate for a female engraver and her shrewd adaptation of male artists’ career development strategies.

Laura L. Watts, Daemen College
“Realizing the Risorgimento:""Two Pictorial Statements by Francesco Hayez, 1827 and 1867”

Giuseppe Mazzini, writing in London in 1840, called Francesco Hayez (1791-1882), the Venetian-born, Roman-trained painter established in Milan, “The most advanced artist we know in the feeling of the Ideal that is called upon to govern all works of the Era.”[i]The era he’s referencing, the Risorgimento, was politically volatile, and Hayez was its most powerful pictorial voice.  Two of his paintings bookend the age, with Hayez appearing among the cast of characters in both.  In his Pietro l’Ermita, based on Tommaso Grossi’s epic poem I Lombardi alla prima crociata of 1826, he paints himself as one of the crusaders.  Syntactically, the placement of his visage says more about his sympathy with the gathering storm of the Risorgimento, than a historical reenactment.  Likewise, and even more personally, his Gli Ultimi Momenti di Marin’ Faliero of 1867, based on Lord Byron’s play of 1821, portrays Hayez’s disillusionment with the Risorgimento and his disenchantment with the new State.  This paper investigates how although these are not his only historiated self-portraits, they indicate two distinct points in the artist’s interaction with history, with literature, and with painting.  At one point, he demonstrated a young man’s optimism, a champion for pictorial and political reform; at a much later point, he performed the role of one left behind, by his colleagues and his country.   Hayez does not comment on his appearance in either, but his first-hand accounts of the politically charged era, not to mention his consistent handling of literary sources, evokes the story of an artist and his time.

[i] G. Mazzini, “Modern Italian Painters,” London and Westminster Review (1840).

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