- The Roman Crucible: The Artistic Patronage of the Papacy, 1198–1304 by Julian Gardner
Julian Gardner is an authority on the art and architecture of Rome between the pontificates of Popes Innocent III (1198–1216) and Benedict XI (1303–04), making this volume a welcome addition to the literature on the subject. In fact the contents of the book are much more wide-ranging than the title suggests. The author looks at artistic patronage not only of the popes of the period but also that of the cardinals. He makes the influence of French styles on Italian art a strong underlying theme of the study, while also mentioning the Byzantine tradition. He includes architecture, sculpture, painting, mosaics, manuscripts, English embroidered vestments (“opus anglicanum”), seals, and luxury liturgical arts in other media such as metal and enamel. He goes beyond Rome to look at the architecture of palaces in the hill-towns around the city, where the popes resided for a few months of the year. He also considers churches beyond Rome connected with cardinals, who either came from other European centers or who served the Church there as papal legates. At every turn he includes pertinent historical evidence—from wills, chronicles, letters, papal bulls, and other relevant documents.
An important part of the book is devoted to the patronage of cardinals. There is a particularly interesting overview of surviving personal seals, small privately commissioned works, which not only indicate the artistic taste of their patrons and the varying styles of the time but also provide a well-dated body of evidence, which can be used in some instances to further one’s understanding of more monumental works of art and architecture. Similarly, papal and curial tombs, although interesting in themselves, help to underpin the stylistic trends of the time. As in other parts of the book, the author includes fascinating biographical details about the men who commissioned these works.
The most significant sections of the book are the discussions of major programs of mosaic and painting in Rome in the thirteenth century. These include in the years between 1198 and 1276 the refashioning of the apse and façade mosaics of Old St. Peter’s, the new apse mosaic of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and the murals in the Chapel of St. Sylvester at SS. Quattro Coronati. The recent restoration of the pope’s private chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum at the Lateran highlighted its innovative architecture and interior decoration, with murals and mosaics [End Page 624] commissioned by Pope Nicholas III (1277–80), as a key monument of the time. Gardner discusses a “final flowering” of art in Rome in the magnificent mosaics by Jacopo Torriti and other artists at Saint John Lateran and Saint Mary Major; in the work of Pietro Cavallini at S. Cecilia, S. Giorgio in Velabro, and S. Maria in Trastevere; as well as in Giotto’s Navicella and Stefaneschi’s altarpiece at St. Peter’s.
In a postscript Gardner mentions the paintings in the “Gothic Hall” at SS. Quattro Coronati, whose discovery must have postdated his writing of the rest of the text. In fact, the final chapter of the book is an overview of recent scholarship in the field, which seems to indicate that the publication of the book took a long time. This overview is, however, very useful, as the author underlines important new trends in research and some exciting recent discoveries. He also points out many questions, which still need clarification. This means that this authoritative scholarly work is not meant to be seen as the last word on the subject. It ends with an openness to new possibilities for research and ways in which younger scholars can continue to contribute to the understanding of this fascinating subject.