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Book Reviews Malcolm Bull. Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth: Vico and Neapolitan Painting. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-691-138848 (hardback). Pp. xvi + 144. $21.55. In his prologue Bull quotes E. H. Gombrich, who quotes the 18th-century Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard: ‘‘Painting is [a] sorceress [who] can persuade us through . . . evident falsehoods that she is pure Truth.’’ The author adds that his own Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth ‘‘explores . . . not [painting’s] ability to simulate truth, but its capacity to change our perception of what truth is.’’ Bull then regroups to explain Egyptologist Jan Assmann’s Mosaic distinction for European civilization, which insists on the one true God, and that Christianity inherited this distinction declaring pagan religions false and pagan idols destroyed. ‘‘The position of non-pagan images was more ambiguous, but always suspect.’’ Thus ‘‘images, idols, and false gods . . . represented things that did not exist,’’ and consequently the Renaissance revival of themes from classical mythology represented a ‘‘complex challenge to Christian conceptions of truth.’’ Painting was false as a representation of theological reality, and mythological painting was doubly false as a representation of pagan gods and monsters. Just here (subtitle: Vico and Neapolitan Painting), in 1710, along comes Giambattista Vico (1668–1744), who says that human truth is ‘‘actually like a painting’’ (xi–xii). Beginning ‘‘Vico’’ (chap. 1) with a verso copy of Francesco Solimena’s portrait of the Italian historian in his early sixties (xvi), Bull offers the reader a thumbnail sketch of Vico’s life (doctorate in canon and civil law in 1694, professor of rhetoric in 1699) and work culminating with the New Science (1725, 1730, and 1744), and notes that in the spirit of Horace’s ut pictura poesis, Vico’s work is replete with analogies to painting. With little antique statuary in Naples during his lifetime, Vico was surrounded by neighborhood churches transformed by ambitious programs of renovation and decoration. In San Nichola a Nilo the altarpiece was Luca Giordano’s Saint Nicholas of Bari. In nearby San Michele Angelo the altarpiece was Marco Pino’s Saint Michael. And in the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, the Gothic church housed an Annunciation by Titian, Caravaggio’s Flagellation, and on the ceiling of the sacristy, Solimena’s Triumph of the Dominican Order (1704–06). From 1704 to 1718 Vico with his growing family lived at Largo dei Girolamini 112, across the street from the Chiesa dei Girolamini, where he most frequently attended, and chose to be buried (10–11). Whenever exiting into the piazzetta Vico would have walked beneath Giordano’s Christianity & Literature 2015, Vol. 64(4) 465–504 ! The Author(s) 2015 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/ journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0148333115581749 cal.sagepub.com fresco of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (1684) on the back wall of the church, so becoming part of the fresco’s own chaotic exodus. Giordano’s Meeting of Saint Carlo Borromeo and Saint Filippo Neri (1703) adorned one of the church’s side chapels. Guido Reni’s Meeting of Christ and Saint John the Baptist and a Flight into Egypt were housed in the Girolamini’s sacristy, along with works by Ribera and Domenichino, among others (13). Vico knew some of the painters well, among them Solimena, also an architect and a poet. Vico was also friends with Bernardo de Dominici, known as the Neapolitan Vasari, for his Vite dei pittori, scultori ed architetti napolitani (1742–45). Several of Vico’s associates were important collectors of paintings as well as books. Vico’s pupil from 1710, Giambattista Filomarino in the gallery of his Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca owned 200 paintings and 300 small portraits, including Reni’s four evangelists (15). Vico himself owned almost a hundred unidentified paintings: mostly still lifes, several landscapes, some popular religious subjects, portraits of his family, one of Charles of Bourbon, and a Cleopatra. As Bull notes, a modest and, for Naples at the time, conventional collection (17). So Vico lived with paintings all around him, and held conversations with artists and collectors, and even read in the history and theory of art, including Vasari’s Lives (1550). In his commentary on Horace...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 465-475
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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