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  • Pirro Ligorio: The Renaissance Artist, Architect, and Antiquarian
  • Robert E. Roemer
David R. Coffin . Pirro Ligorio: The Renaissance Artist, Architect, and Antiquarian. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. xvi + 226 pp. index. append. illus. map. bibl. $55. ISBN: 0–271–02293–0.

Based on a lifetime of work, David Coffin (1918–2003) presents a biography of the sixteenth-century Neapolitan artist and antiquarian Pirro Ligorio (1513–83). Coffin's interest in Ligorio dates from a graduate seminar conducted in 1945 by Erwin Panofsky. The doctoral dissertation on Ligorio and the Villa d'Este that grew from that interest included a biography of Ligorio that is now completed in this book.

The life and work of Ligorio, who moved from Naples to Rome to Ferrara, is difficult to recount because the documentary record is sketchy and scattered; in fact, the first thirty years of his life are all but a complete blank. Coffin carefully indicates whenever he has to make a reasonable surmise about Ligorio's work based on incomplete evidence. Readers of Coffin's earlier studies of Ligorio's work on the Casino of Pope Pius IV, the Villa d'Este and its garden at Tivoli, and the decoration in the ducal palace at Ferrara will find some of this material familiar, but Coffin makes new observations about these projects and uses them to provide context for Ligorio's life.

The organization of the book is straightforward: Ligorio's early years in Rome when he worked primarily as a house painter; his employment under popes Paul IV (1555–59) and Pius IV (1559–65) and his work in Rome during the papacy of Pius V (1566–72); his work at the Villa d'Este in Tivoli; and his final years employed as antiquarian at the ducal palace in Ferrara. Four appendices follow, each of particular value: a list of the house facades in Rome painted by Ligorio; the transcription of two letters, one by Ligorio's wife (likely his second) concerning the dowry of a daughter, the other by two women, either Ligorio's daughters or granddaughters, concerning a property they owned; Coffin's final and conclusive statement of an argument he first made as a graduate student against the attribution of the Palazzetto on the Campidoglio in Rome to Ligorio; a discussion of Ligorio's figural and ornamental drawings.

This last appendix serves as an introduction to the daunting and masterly "Checklist of Figural and Ornamental Drawings," a major accomplishment of and tribute to Coffin's lifetime of scholarship on Ligorio. The checklist has its own [End Page 602] dedication, separate from that of the book itself, to Philip Pouncey and John A. Gere, Keepers of the Drawings at the British Museum. Listed are the 253 figural and ornamental drawings that can presently be identified from the hand of Ligorio; excluded are his archaeological or topographical drawings and, with one exception, those in bound manuscripts. The list is organized by country of location or, where the present location is not known, former location. The list also includes twenty-eight entries of unsure or dubious attribution, a distinction based on whether the evidence is insufficient to judge attribution (unsure) or whether Coffin is unconvinced by the opinion of others including other scholars (dubious).

In piecing together Ligorio's life, Coffin critically presents in chronological order his major works as a painter, designer, and architect. The sweep of Ligoro's life shows the change in his professional standing over time. He came to Rome from Naples as a craftsman who painted the facades of houses. He died in Ferrara as the salaried archeologist and court intellectual for Duke Alfonso II. The transition from manual artisan to humanist intellectual was effected through Ligorio's front-line role in collecting and in some ways defining the cultural resources of ancient Rome since, in meeting the need of the time for a full record of the classical ideal, Ligorio completed some of the partial inscriptions he found. Drama comes to this biography in the person of Giorgio Vasari who omitted Ligorio from his Vite, presumably because Ligorio competed for papal employment with Michelangelo, whom Vasari favored. Vasari's is the...


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pp. 602-603
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Archived 2009
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