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Reviews 151 trivial. Cumulatively they irritate. If the content of a book is important, why seU it short by insufficient attention to the surface detail? T. L. Burton Department of English University of Adelaide Perrig, Alexander, Michelangelo's drawings: the science of attribution, trans. Michael Joyce, N e w Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1991; cloth; pp. xv, 167; 132 plates; R.R.P. AUS$55.00. Connoisseurs are either expansionists or reductionists. Alexander Perrig is a reductionist of the most extreme kind, reducing the number of Michelangelo's authentic drawings to 24, from the 785 of Hirst in 1988, the 630 of de Tolnay in 1975-80, the 465 of Hartt in 1971, and the ca. 250 accepted earlier in the century (figures from a review of Perrig by Martin Kemp, Times Literary Supplement, 8 November, 1991, p. 23). This rank growth, so ruthlessly pruned, is, he argues, the consequence of poor methodology by several generations of Michelangelo scholars amounting almost to a conspiracy to obscure the truth. Not surprisingly, his views have not been well received. The British Museum, with 15 drawings downgraded, is reported to have responded: 'We have no reason to revise our opinions of the drawings in our collection' (review of Perrig in The Economist, 27 July 1991, pp. 77-78). In Michael Hirst's Michelangelo and his drawings (1988) the only reference to the series of publications in German which form the basis of this book is to the earliest, which is dismissed as an example of 'the reattribution to other artists of drawings long held to be Michelangelo's own, without a serious attempt to enquire how the former actually drew' (p. 2). Others are no doubt murmuring that Perrig has no 'eye'. Is this a case of the art museum/art history establishment closing ranks againstradicalnew insights, or has Perrig failed to understand how Michelangelo drew? Either way, a critical reassessment of the methodologies of Michelangelo scholars combined with an attempt to rethink the problem fromfirstprinciples ought to be interesting, and in its own perverse way this book can be stimulating. It is subtitled 'The science of attribution', and in keeping with such a programme thefirstpart of the book sets out in a systematic way the criteria for deciding whether a drawing is by Michelangelo. Reasonably enough, Perrig begins with those works which can be given to Michelangelo on the basis of non-stylistic evidence — inscriptions, documents and the like. H e then defines Michelangelo's style in terms of these drawings alone, so that if a feature of a drawing cannot be found in this core group, then that drawing is not by Michelangelo. This excludes the highly likely possibility that a group of drawings may be unsupported by external evidence, may have little in common 152 Reviews with this very small group of core works, and yet still be by Michelangelo. Since most drawings in the traditional corpus fall into this category, this puts Perrig in a position to reject and reassign almost any drawing. But according to Perrig, the methodological failings of the status quo go deeper than this. One target of his anger and sarcasm is a reUance on consensus. With rising indignation he traces back the attribution history of a drawing to discover that at no point has anyone proved that it is by Michelangelo; they have only agreed that it is (e.g. the Windsor Resurrection drawing, pp. 6-7). Another target is the criterion of quality, to which Hirst, for one, gives final say. This enables him to argue that many of the more famous Michelangelo drawings, especially the red chalk studies for the Sistine ceiling, are facsimile copies. For Perrig a copy, qualitatively speaking, can be virtually indistinguishable from the original. That a drawing is a copy is revealed not by its evident inferiority, but by the visible consequences of the copying process. By looking for features such as signs of wear and tear, one can decide which of several versions is the one from which the others were traced, or else one can conclude that the original is lost. In addition, there are subtleties of handling, such as the 'interrupted stroke', which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 151-153
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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