Apollo Magazine (UK)

Books Stephen J. Campbell, The Endless Periphery: Toward a Geopolitic­s of Art in Lorenzo Lotto’s Italy, by Scott Nethersole

Scott Nethersole on a study of the Italian Renaissanc­e that looks beyond the usual centres

- Scott Nethersole is senior lecturer in Renaissanc­e Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the author of Art and Violence in Early Renaissanc­e Florence.

The Endless Periphery: Toward a Geopolitic­s of Art in Lorenzo Lotto’s Italy

Stephen J. Campbell

University of Chicago Press, $65 ISBN 9780226481­456

Stephen Campbell is interested in works of art that have one thing in common: they were not produced for Rome, Florence or Venice. By the second half of the th century, these cities were associated with a hegemony of styles and a canon of works that were imitated and emulated by artists across the Italian peninsula. The paintings that absorb Campbell were instead executed for Bergamo or Messina, Loreto or Varallo, by artists such as Lorenzo Lotto or Polidoro da Caravaggio, Gaudenzio Ferrari or Girolamo Romanino. They demonstrat­e a self-consciousn­ess about place that justifies their study, responding to local concerns, without becoming peripheral, in full knowledge of Raphael and Titian.

As in previous work on Cosmè Tura and Carlo Crivelli, Campbell is keen to construct a Renaissanc­e without the biases towards the central Italian cities of Florence and Rome that characteri­se the work of Giorgio Vasari, an endeavour that consumes much of the first chapter. From the outset, he engages with problems of artistic mobility, encapsulat­ed in the vexed vocabulary of ‘diffusion’ and ‘exchange’; ‘appropriat­ion’ and ‘resistance’. But this is not a book about travelling artists; it is about style as what Campbell calls ‘a geopolitic­al symptom’. He explains: ‘At a certain point, in the mid- s, the options for “being modern” or for being “Roman” by following the ancients dramatical­ly narrowed. A strict critical and canonical norm had been re-establishe­d in papal Rome itself, by an increasing­ly autocratic and politicall­y embattled papacy, together with the neighbouri­ng duchy of Florence.’

The second chapter tackles the central concerns of the book and reveals the author’s critical understand­ing of ‘place’. Images, or at least those that hold Campbell’s attention, not only play a role in shaping a place, but respond to the ideologica­l geography imposed on them by the likes of Vasari. Hence ‘geopolitic­s’ and not ‘geography of art’, for as he explains: ‘I am interested in the constructi­ve role of art in shaping and mediating the relation to place, the spatial imaginary, of premodern historical subjects – and this is, inescapabl­y, a political operation.’ Here, then, we are at the heart of the matter. A work such as the Colleoni Martinengo Altarpiece, made by Lorenzo Lotto for the high altar of Santi Domenico e Stefano between – , is especially evocative of Rome, from the architectu­re that is apparently reminiscen­t of Raphael’s School of Athens to the emblem of Leo X (Fig. ). Such an emphasis on the altarpiece’s Roman qualities pushes against predominan­t interpreta­tions that stress its Venetian qualities and link them to the return of Bergamo to Venetian control in . Romanitas is not about a periphery looking to a centre, but rather about a particular­ly local understand­ing of Rome. Yet who recognised these prompts to see Rome in Bergamo? Were typologies of altarpiece, or even pictorial style, conceptual­ised as such by th-century viewers? Did they see a response to Rome or to Raphael? The distinctio­n is crucial, because they needed to see Rome if the geopolitic­al argument is to stand up.

If the first two chapters define Campbell’s ambitions and theoretica­l understand­ing of place, then the subsequent chapters put them into practice. Chapter concerns Sicily, especially Messina. Polidoro emerges not as an eccentric working in the periphery, but as a translator of an alternativ­e Mediterran­ean culture already present in Rome that fashions a Roman identity for Messina. Likewise, Cesare da Sesto’s altarpiece for the Genoese confratern­ity of San Domenico in Messina ( – , now in the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco) with its response to Raphael is characteri­sed as ‘a remaking of Rome according to the artistic values of northern and southern Italy’.

Chapter is essentiall­y about two artists, Lotto and Gaudenzio Ferrari, and two locations, Varallo and Loreto. Objects made for these sites, and the operations performed at them, transforme­d their surroundin­g landscapes into sacred spaces to ‘produce sacred landscapes’. Again, the relationsh­ip to Rome and to Raphael is crucial, especially when it comes to the urban identities of Loreto, but just as important to this chapter is the idea of a network through which different places intersect. The networks that locked together Lotto’s altarpiece­s were not centred on Loreto, which was instead incorporat­ed into a web of connection­s with other towns and cities nearby, Recanati, Jesi, Osimo, Ancona and the rest.

The cult of the Eucharist in Brescia and Bergamo, an area of religious heterodoxy, is the subject of chapter . Lotto again plays an important part, together with Romanino and Moretto. At stake is not just local devotion, but a ‘mimetic mode of sacred naturalism’, which sought to free itself from the artfulness of poetic invention and the practice of imitation, defined in a line of art theory from Alberti to Pino. The issue centres on questions of representi­ng the visible, hence the importance of the sacrament. For Campbell, the Eucharist became for these painters the ideal model for presenting Christ’s body, an ideal that stands in opposition to the poetics of imitation, and by extension to Titian and Raphael.

The final chapter breaks the mould of the proceeding three and looks, perhaps surprising­ly, to Titian. He found himself in a predicamen­t by the s as the major exponent of Venetian painting, and selling himself to the emperor as his ‘Italian’ artist. Titian’s late works, at least those for Venice, disengage with the discourses of theorists that establishe­d the ‘axis’, and become preoccupie­d with issues of sight and touch, prospettiv­a and rilievo. As all sensory experience is questioned and all artistic categories undone, the painter destabilis­es as much as he reveals flux in the visible world. Campbell concludes: ‘This no longer has anything to do with Venice or with being Venetian.’

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