- Bernard Salomon: Illustrateur Lyonnais
Peter Sharratt's Bernard Salomon provides a new monographic treatment of this important sixteenth-century Lyonnais illustrator, of whom there has been no comprehensive study since the now-hard-to-find nineteenth-century monograph by Natalis Rondot. Sharratt updates the corpus with works not available to Rondot, and provides a great deal of useful contextual material. He surveys the available documentation of Salomon's life and work, gleaning as much as can be gotten about his career. He also examines text-image relations in mid-sixteenth-century France, bringing together a great deal of useful contemporary commentary thereon. He studies Salomon's contributions to emblem books, ceremonial books, and the famous Ovid and Bible illustrations, highlighting significant themes and issues. Along with its appeal to audiences interested in Renaissance book publishing, emblematics, festivals, and text-image relations, this book will be of interest to students of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art, not only in France but throughout Europe. The books Salomon illustrated, especially the Metamorphoses, reached a wide audience. An especially useful chapter presents the current state of research on the artist's influence and indicates areas ripe for future research. [End Page 900]
Sharratt provides a catalogue of works he attributes to Salomon along with rejected and doubtful attributions. There is a basic problem in scholarship on Salomon: only one set of illustrations was attributed to Salomon in his lifetime, those of the 1560 Hymnes du Temps. A tradition of attributing the Tournes Metamorphoses and Grande Suite de la Bible to him dates safely to the sixteenth century. Beyond these any review of the corpus involves making (or retaining) attributions. To this end, Sharratt has painstakingly catalogued the opinions of previous authors on attributions. This makes his text extremely useful as a comprehensive research resource on the history of attributions, but the weight given to prior opinions means he often does not fully justify his own conclusions. In the text Sharratt helpfully enumerates specific qualities of Salomon's style, but in the catalogue he does not deploy them as concretely, as critically, or as comparatively as an art historian would desire.
Connoisseurial argument works best when presented visually: images are used to establish stylistic comparisons, influences, and rejected attributions. The book includes numerous, but not enough, illustrations. The perennial issue of budget constraints is surely compounded in the case of a prolific book illustrator. But the principles on which images were chosen are not always clear, and lead to some missed opportunities in supporting the book's arguments. (On a very basic level, illustrations would have benefited from clearer labeling with the attributed artist's name: in almost all cases except those attributed to Salomon, this would be "unknown.") Without sufficient comparative images, often we have to take Sharratt's word for it, and this is made more difficult by certain of his basic assumptions: we are to understand that Salomon, a so-called humanist artist, read each text, chose which stories to illustrate, made the designs, and cut the blocks himself, only occasionally leaving this final task to an assistant. This is a romantic view of the life of the artist in sixteenth-century France; I think it fair to say that while designing illustrations — which we can be sure he did — might have been compatible with attentive reading of literary texts or with block-cutting, the latter two tasks rarely went together. A connoisseurial practice not invested in the identity of the individual artist might have gone so far as to attempt to define and describe different hands present in the images — quite evidently of varying quality — contained in the Tournes editions. Of course, some variation can be understood as inconsistency or evolution within an artist's work. Without being dogmatic about the hierarchical separation of functions, one senses a missed opportunity to attempt an analysis of the contributions of different individuals in the collaborative operations of Lyon book publishing.
Sharratt himself notes the tendency to assimilate works in a given circle...