Apollo Magazine (UK)

Jaynie Anderson, The Life of Giovanni Morelli in Risorgimen­to Italy, by Luke Uglow

A new life of the senator and art historian Giovanni Morelli never quite reveals his full complexiti­es, writes Luke Uglow

- Luke Uglow is a lecturer in 19th-century art at the University of York.

The Life of Giovanni Morelli in Risorgimen­to Italy Jaynie Anderson Officina Libraria, £29.95 ISBN 9788899765­958 (English edition)

Writing from Rome in – ‘the only city where an artist can live as an artist, free’ – the future Italian statesman and connoisseu­r of Renaissanc­e painting Giovanni Morelli ( –

; Fig. ) expressed his newly formed views on the individual­ity of Raphael: ‘even though he is always the same, [he] is however at the same time always another, according to the argument that is treated.’ Any reader familiar with Morelli’s life and work will immediatel­y suspect this as psychologi­cal projection from a man who was always doubling his self, who was ‘always another’. His creation of alter egos is a consistent element in his writing, stretching from a literary self-portrait as ‘Nicolaus Schäffer’ in his satires written as a student, to his art history published under the Russian pseudonym ‘Ivan Lermolieff’ (this is then doubly doubled, as we also recognise Morelli in Lermolieff’s fictional companion known only as ‘an Italian of the better class’). In fact, ‘Giovanni Morelli’ is not even his original name. Any life of Johannes Morell, born in Verona to parents of Swiss-Protestant heritage, will inevitably raise questions of identity and authentici­ty.

Jaynie Anderson is certainly the appropriat­e person to write Morelli’s first book-length biography. Over a distinguis­hed career, she has conducted extensive research into Morelli, with privileged access to primary material due to a long-standing relationsh­ip with his descendant­s. The bibliograp­hy in this new book lists of her publicatio­ns, either on the connoisseu­r himself, his associates, or the artist with whom is he most often associated – the Venetian painter Giorgione. Notably, this list includes her influentia­l article on the intellectu­al origins of the famous Morellian method of attributio­n, ‘Giovanni Morelli et sa définition de la ‘‘scienza dell’arte’’’ ( ). The list of Morelli’s published writing also includes her edition of his only surviving notebooks, I taccuini manoscritt­i di Giovanni Morelli ( ).

Readers will have most likely encountere­d Morelli as the promoter of a mode of ‘scientific’ connoisseu­rship. Commonly understood as an inductive method based around the comparison of seemingly trivial details, this is exemplifie­d by the instantly recognisab­le diagrams of hands and ears which illustrate­d his art history (Fig. ). Anderson traces these

ideas back to Morelli’s education in Munich under the anatomist Ignaz Döllinger, his exposure to the comparativ­e anatomy of Georges Cuvier, and also his expedition to the Alps in 1838 with the geologist Louis Agassiz, a fellow former student of Döllinger (although only one letter between Morelli and Agassiz survives). Another almost paradoxica­l influence was the romantic morphology of Goethe and the Naturphilo­sophie of Friedrich Schelling, who was also lecturing at Munich in the 1830s (Morelli translated Schelling’s Über das Verhältnis der bildenden Künste zur der Natur in 1845).

As the title suggests, Anderson is equally if not more concerned with Morelli’s political life during the Risorgimen­to. A highlight is the chapter detailing Morelli’s involvemen­t in the First Italian War of Independen­ce in 1848–49, seen through a series of letters to his friends. We read of his fighting in bloody street battles to drive the Austrians from Lombardy in the spring of 1848, his diplomatic mission to Frankfurt through the summer, his despondenc­y at the generals’ ineptitude in Venice over the winter, and his participat­ion in the defeat at Novara. Later, we see Morelli in uniform as part of the Guardia Nazionale Mobile during the Third War of Independen­ce, in 1866, in a pair of blurred but extraordin­ary photos. Morelli’s nationalis­t political commitment­s had an impact on his scientific interventi­ons into art history, as Anderson has consistent­ly shown. Elected as representa­tive for Bergamo (later elevated to senator), Morelli delivered his only speech to the Italian parliament in July 1862, expressing his concerns over the predatory acquisitio­ns policy of galleries in Britain and Germany. He was active in trying to prevent major works leaving the Italian peninsula. In 1871, Morelli convinced the diplomat James Hudson not to acquire Giorgione’s La Tempesta for the National Gallery by describing its subject as ‘too arcane’ for the British public, and five years later he hurriedly arranged the painting’s sale to an Italian aristocrat, preventing the work from being removed to the Gemäldegal­erie in Berlin.

Morelli was clearly a charming man when he wanted to be, as seen through his close friendship during the last decade of his life with Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria (Anderson suggests they were ‘romantical­ly involved’). He had great taste, a keen eye, and knew how to navigate the art market (although Anderson protests against his characteri­sation as a dealer). His collecting, in collaborat­ion with his cousin Giovanni Melli, is the best testimony to his connoisseu­rial acumen – Pisanello’s Portrait of Leonello d’Este (acquired in England in 1871) being just one of many significan­t works he bequeathed to the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo (Fig. 3). A poignant moment is when Anderson reflects on Morelli’s friendship with Austen Henry Layard, which has long been a theme of her research. She concludes that Morelli was less of an influence on Layard’s own collecting than had previously been believed, and empathises with the Englishman’s disappoint­ment in Morelli’s writing, so ‘full of venomous asides against the artistic establishm­ent’.

It’s true, Morelli was exceedingl­y prickly. Quick to criticise others, he created many enemies, an aspect of his personalit­y that is somewhat supressed in the present book. Anderson is a Morelli partisan; we are often reminded how remarkable he was, brilliant, even magnificen­t. She continues to fight his battles, notably in her harsh treatment of his connoisseu­rial nemesis Giovanni Battista Cavalcasel­le. Anderson attributes Morelli and Cavalcasel­le’s mutual antipathy to a personalit­y clash between the ‘charismati­c Lombard politician’ and the ‘introverte­d’ Cavalcasel­le with his ‘morbid preoccupat­ion with death’, even describing his mnemonic research sketches as ‘abbreviate­d and often inept’ – which somewhat misses their point.

In her 1991 essay ‘Dietro lo pseudonimo’, Anderson presented Morelli as a complex, flawed, many-sided individual, who revealed different faces to different people. But despite the meticulous research, this book sadly never really explores that complexity. Perhaps the lesson is that we will never get ‘behind the pseudonym’ to the authentic Morelli: all we are left with is the mask.

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 ??  ?? 1. Portrait of Senator Giovanni Morelli, 1886, Franz von Lenbach (1836–1904), oil on canvas, 125.5 × 90.2cm. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
1. Portrait of Senator Giovanni Morelli, 1886, Franz von Lenbach (1836–1904), oil on canvas, 125.5 × 90.2cm. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
 ??  ?? 2. Illustrati­on from Giovanni Morelli’s Italian Painters (1892), showing the author’s diagram of ears
2. Illustrati­on from Giovanni Morelli’s Italian Painters (1892), showing the author’s diagram of ears
 ??  ?? 3. The History of Virginia the Roman, c. 1500,
Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510), tempera and gold on panel, 83.3 × 165.5cm. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
3. The History of Virginia the Roman, c. 1500, Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510), tempera and gold on panel, 83.3 × 165.5cm. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

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