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  • Le immagini e il tempo: Narrazione visiva, storia e allegoria tra Cinque e Seicento
  • Lew Andrews
Silvia Tomasi Velli . Le immagini e il tempo: Narrazione visiva, storia e allegoria tra Cinque e Seicento.Studi 9. Pisa: Edizioni della Normale, 2007. 344 pp. index. illus. bibl. €25. ISBN: 978–88–7642–216–4.

During the Quattrocento, the use of continuous narrative —the inclusion of more than one moment in a single scene or picture —became quite prevalent, even after the introduction of one-point perspective. By the end of the Cinquecento this was no longer the case, and the continuous method was largely set aside, at least for most easel paintings. This was a remarkable transformation, but until now, a detailed account of how it came about had not yet been written: Silvia Tomasi Velli's Le immagini e il tempo goes a long way toward filling that gap.

Tomasi Velli focuses initially on Vincenzio Borghini and his Selva di notizie (1564), a collection of notes that has often been overlooked in studies of Renaissance narrative art (including mine). Borghini argues that since painting is concerned with the depiction of nature, and since in the natural world one does not see the same thing in two places at once, an istoria should not include more than one moment or action at a time. Continuous narrative is specifically ruled out on the grounds that it undermines the verisimilitude of the picture.

Among the discussions that precede Borghini's, Tomasi Velli singles out Ludovico Dolce. At one point, speaking of narrative imagery, Dolce says that it is not verisimilar that in one time many different things are shown. Although vague, what is important is that Dolce not only seems to limit the time passing in a picture, he also introduces verisimilitude as a standard, and in that respect his statement is the seed of what Borghini will say soon after (although Dolce is not necessarily the direct source). Tomasi Velli then turns to Aristotle and the sixteenth-century commentaries on his Poetics. This represents a tradition that she says runs parallel to the texts already mentioned, and like them, feeds into Borghini's argument.

In the second part of the book, she turns more specificially to the use of continuous narrative, and backtracks to the Quattrocento and speaks of how its use becomes more widespread during this period. The crucial point is that the introduction of one-point perspective did not lead to the abandonment of that practice, but on the contrary, promoted its use because, as recent discussions have suggested, it provided more space in which to situate different moments in time, an expanded narrative.

In this context, Tomasi Velli cites my Story and Space in Renaissance Art (1995), but while she accepts my basic position, she is critical of my approach. In [End Page 885] particular, she suggests that to explain continuous narrative in terms of the duration of visual perception is a methodological trap. But in characterizing my argument in this way, she has misunderstood my intentions: I was not making a direct correlation between the time it takes to view a picture and the time represented within it. On the contrary, I stressed the disjunction between them (as she concedes in a note): time passes in both cases, but not in equal measure. By invoking Ghiberti and Leonardo (and others), I was not suggesting that the duration of the viewing process justified the use of the continuous method. Instead, my objective was to show that prevailing notions of perception and perspective do not in any way preclude the use, or the spread, of this sort of narrative. As Tomasi Velli indicates, no Quattrocento author suggested any conflict or contradiction, and this was precisely my point.

Further on, Tomasi Velli makes a parallel between the expansive continuous narratives of the Quattrocento and the staging of sacre rappresentazioni. This is a connection that has been made before, and there is considerable truth to it. But she speaks of sacre rappresentationi as medieval, as if they harked back to an earlier time. In fact, they flourished in the fifteenth century, supplanting the lauds of earlier times, the staging of which...


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