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Reviewed by:
  • The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: A New Translation and Critical Edition
  • Steven F. Ostrow
Giovan Pietro Bellori . The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: A New Translation and Critical Edition. Ed. Hellmut Wohl. Trans. Alice Sedgwick Wohl. Intro. Tomaso Montanari. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. viii + 504 pp. index. append. illus. gloss. chron. bibl. $130. ISBN: 0-521-78187-6.

The editio princeps of Bellori's Lives appeared in 1672 with a dedication to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a note to the reader, and a passage from Philostratus's Imagines. After these came a prefatory essay entitled "The Idea of the Painter, the Sculptor, and the Architect" (which Bellori had first delivered as a lecture to the Roman Academy of St. Luke in 1664), followed by the biographies of the artists. In addition, the volume included forty-three engravings, consisting of a few initials and tailpieces, two views of the statue of Antinous, portraits of each of the artists, [End Page 1192] and fifteen allegories. Whereas Giovanni Baglione, in his Lives of 1642, included more than two hundred biographies of artists, Bellori's was a highly selective group of twelve: nine painters (Annibale and Agostino Carracci, Federico Barocci, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Domenichino, Giovanni Lanfranco, and Nicolas Poussin), two sculptors (François Du Quesnoy and Alessandro Algardi), and one architect (Domenico Fontana). And in contrast to Baglione, who barely described the works of art he cited, Bellori used a vivid, ekphrastic mode, and carefully interpreted the meanings of the works, enabling his readers to both imagine their appearance and understand their content.

It was precisely these features — Bellori's selectivity and unprecedented method of description and analysis — that were singled out in the first review of the Lives. Bellori, the anonymous reviewer remarked, "does not want to write indiscriminately about everyone, but has selected the principal artists . . . who can serve as examples. . . . Nor has he contented himself to simply refer, as the others have, to the paintings and pictures made by them, but instead describes them in a new way, figure by figure, part by part, making learned observations about them and explaining their allegories and fables" (Giornale de letterati 6 [1673], 78). Readers of the Lives today are equally struck by Bellori's choice of artists, descriptive mode, and erudite commentary, as well as by his theoretical ideas about classical style and what his text reveals, in a larger sense, about the cultural politics of the seventeenth century. The Lives remain a work of paramount art-historical and historiographical importance, a book one returns to again and again.

The most widely used and respected edition of the Lives is Evelina Borea's of 1976, which includes a brilliant introduction by Giovanni Previtali, a chronology of Bellori's life and works, extensive notes, indices, thirty-three illustrations, and an extensive bibliography. Borea reproduces the complete original text and engravings, and adds the biographies of Guido Reni, Andrea Sacchi, and Carlo Maratti, which Bellori had written for an intended second part to his Lives, but which were only published posthumously in 1942. For those unable to read Italian and wishing to read Bellori's text in English, however, the only parts of his volume available are the prefatory "Idea" and the vite of Caravaggio, the Carracci, Barocci, and van Dyck. With the publication of the volume under review, we now have an English translation of the entire text of the Lives (including the three posthumously-published biographies), one of the most anticipated and welcome additions to Seicento studies in years.

The team of scholars behind this edition is an ideal one. Alice Sedgwick Wohl, perhaps best-known for her translation of Condivi's Life of Michelangelo, has rendered the text into a faithful English translation, true to the sober clarity and rhetorical techniques of Bellori's literary style, and far more elegant and closer to the original than previous efforts. Tomaso Montanari, who has published several important essays on Bellori, provides an introduction that is a model of its kind, treating the reception of the Lives, a biographical and literary profile of Bellori, the genesis of the Lives, Bellori's historical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1192-1194
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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