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  • Poesia e ritratto nel Rinascimento
  • Hilary Gatti
Lina Bolzoni . Poesia e ritratto nel Rinascimento. Collezione storica. Rome: Editori Laterza, 2008. 288 pp. + 25 color and 5 b/w pls. index. illus. bibl. €38. ISBN: 978-88-420-8487-7.

The year 2000 saw the foundation, as a research unit of the Scuola Normale in Pisa, of the Centro di Elaborazione Informatica di Testi e Immagini nella Tradizione Letteraria: created, and then directed, by Lina Bolzoni with the intention of furthering the study of the complex relationships between the literary word and the artistic image. Although not limited by its mandate to the study of Renaissance culture alone, the Centro has dedicated special attention to such typically Renaissance subjects as the emblem books, or the art of memory. Now Lina Bolzoni, in line with the interests pursued by the Centro, has published a book that takes as its territory the relationship between Italian Renaissance portraits and the poetic texts that lie behind or celebrate them, offering the reader not only an extraordinary gallery of some of the finest portraits ever painted but also a rich anthology of accompanying poetic texts, compiled with care and expertise by Federica Pich.

Bolzoni claims that her book offers the first-ever example of a collection of Renaissance portraits accompanied by an anthology of related poetic texts; for, although many of the single portraits presented have been discussed in the light of the contemporary poetry referring to them, a systematic collection of Renaissance portraits and the related poetry has been lacking. Bolzoni's subtle and elegant introduction to her book, entitled "Lo specchio del ritratto fra Petrarca e Marino," provides stimulating preliminary discussion, taking as its starting point the myth of Narcissus and Echo — he in love with his own image, she with her own voice — which had been used in the Renaissance itself to relate pictorial images to the written word by Leon Battista Alberti. Bolzoni goes on to consider an ample range of subjects that include the relationship of the portrait and accompanying poetic text to the loved one (a section appropriately entitled "All' inizio fu [End Page 1262] Petrarca"), cultural politics or the celebration of political power, a perception of the ambiguity of the artistic image with respect to the written text and of both to the reality lying behind them, and the emergence of a feminine voice increasingly able to manage its own images of the self as well as their artistic representations.

The gallery of portraits following this introductory essay represents the most noble and idealized face of High Renaissance culture. Their subjects appear before us with such an unquestioning confidence and poise that the reader tends to forget the other side of the coin: the gnarled, rugged, obstinate old men who look out at us from some of Leonardo's sketchbooks; the ferocious anti-aristocratic and radically realist satire of some of the anti-Petrarchan poets of the time. In the presentation of Titian's stunning portrait of a well fed and handsomely robed Aretino (painted at the request of Cosimo I) we are given quotes from the letter Aretino himself wrote about it to Paolo Giovio, but are only more fleetingly informed of the satirical verses by Aretino's insidious enemy, Niccolò Franco, who wrote eleven corrosively satirical sonnets dedicated to this portrait.

Franco questioned the whole genre by asking the reader to consider what may lie hidden beneath, or behind, such astonishingly beautiful exteriors: a question which at times surfaces, but that tends to be kept at bay in the texts presented in this book. For the Italian poets that the reader is invited to consider here developed more complex sets of questions relating to the self and its doubling through artistic representations. As for the men and women of the High Renaissance presented by their famous painters — Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Pinturicchio are all here, as well as some other only slightly lesser names — they appear as seriously and unsmilingly poised in defiance of the destructive hand of time, nonchalantly aware of their cultural and political dominion in a society whose elegance and refinement remain unsurpassed. It may be that their world contained...


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pp. 1262-1263
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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