Thursday, September 24, 2015

David Mayernik's Mission

Two new books have been added to the Palette and Chisel bibliography (and library) by new member, David Mayernik, who can  sometimes be found drawing in my Monday night workshop, at least during the Summer.

..... and ......

An Associate Professor in Notre Dame's School of Architecture, he is a man on a mission: the promulgation of Renaissance standards  in art and architecture.

Or something like that.

This is an example of his architectural design -
 located on the campus of the one of the world's most expensive boarding schools.

In his earlier book, he presented five northern Italian cities as examples of good urban planning -- at least as regards to their central city plaza. The buildings surrounding that plaza are shown to complement each other, both visually and conceptually. (or as the author himself would say:"the point of the book was meaning in the urban realm, which is something more than good urban planning")

In his recent book, he advocates the practice of emulation: "I would argue that emulation is the key to understanding what the most adventurous artists and architects were mostly doing in the Renaissance and Baroque. Knowing how emulation operated then unlocks the possibility of recovering that culture today"

Many examples are offered, the most fascinating being his own work -- like the above variation that he made of Bernini's self portrait.  (the original is the one on the right).  This is one art historian who is capable of illustrating his own books!

(correction: David reminds me that his above drawing  is an example of "imitation" rather than "emulation")

full color version of David's copy of the Bernini

And here is one of the most detailed examples that he offered from art history:
(though, as he notes, it is his "most challenging, not normative example")


Agostino Cornacchini's Charlemagne in the narthex of St. Peter’s opposite Gianlorenzo Bernini's sculpture of Constantine has suffered critique from the moment of its unveiling, sustained even now in the scholarship on the period. Placed to oppose what is considered a masterpiece of equestrian sculpture, Charlemagne has paled in the inevitable comparison with the agitated, expressive, rearing monument to the founder of both the Basilica and the state sanction of Christianity. Cornacchini, to be sure, knew from the start that the Constantine would be his rival, and he deliberately sought to reset the terms of the emulation to avoid falling into the trap of a too-literal imitation. In fact, there is no mystical experience of Charlemagne's that could have served as the concetto to match Constantine's vision of the cross before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, the scene Bernini inevitably chose to represent. Cornacchini thus chose not any particular moment-such as Charlemagne's crowning in the basilica at Christmas of 800AD-but rather a stately representation of regal presence. It is precisely the combination of lack of narrative or drama, combined with an overtly theatrical stagelike context, that called into question Cornacchini's decorum. It was not his ability-manifest in the refinement and variety of his sculptural technique that was in question, but whether what he chose to sculpt was appropriate for that place; and that question was begged by his predecessor's performance at the opposite end of the narthex

I would like to reconsider Cornacchini's achievement in light of his emulative approach, considering not whether he should have done what he did, but why he did .what he did. When we have recalibrated our understanding of the performance, perhaps its reception can also be reconsidered.

Not long after the unveiling of the Charlemagne, and to counter the.negative comments by many in Rome (motivated, in some cases, as much by jealousy of the young, relatively untried sculptor as by objective judgment), Pope Benedict XIII who inherited the project from his predecessor Clement XI, charged the scholar Francesco Bianchini with preparing a lavishly produced volume on the work. It begins with an account of the context, invention and development, along with an appreciation of its merits, followed by an extensive apparatus of poetic praises. These, indeed, far outweigh the length of the actual description.Not long afterwards, at Cardinal Ottoboni's theater in the Cancelleria, an opera of Carlo Magno was given, its sets documented in a lavishly illustrated volume whose frontispiece shows Cornacchini's composition behind the musicians of the opera, rendering the sculptural ensemble even more theatrical and arguing precisely for its dramaturgical intent.

To understand the Charlemagne, . it is important to appreciate those characteristics of the Constantine that were considered by Bernini and his contemporaries to be exceptional. First, Bernini combined two seemingly incompatible types: the mystical vision, and the equestrian monument. Perhaps surprisingly, this is motivated in part by historical accuracy: unlike the fresco of the scene by Raphael's equipe in the Vatican palace, Bernini represents the vision on horseback as it happened before the battle, according to Eusebius, when Constantine was marching toward Rome and saw the cross above the sun with the Greek words XXXX (or in hoc signo vince as it is more usually rendered in Latin), that is, "Conquer in this [sign)" (the full meaning of which was later revealed to the emperor in a dream on the eve of battle). Bernini thus represents a specific event, indeed a precise moment, one that would have profound effects on the future of Christianity. This is perfectly consistent with Bernini's emphasis on the idea, or concetto, as the generator of a work of art, but l' also suspect that Bernini the artist was attracted to the possibility of representing a rearing horse, something technically jmpossible to do in free-standing marble, and difficult enough in bronze. And in fact, this is how Constantine is represented in the vast fresco of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Giulio Romano et aL: with front legs rearing, and a crowned Constantine looking very much like Bernini's figure.

 Bernini chose to challenge the limits of the sculptural equestrian type by emulating a painted version. Since the sculpture would be in a recess, in effect he could brace the figure against the rear wall and deceive the eye into seeing the impossible; this, in part, explains the drapery, not there for narrative accuracy (in fact, it detaches the event from any notion of a "scene," or at best represents Constantine's tent), but as a sleight of hand that emphasizes the heavenward vision and energizes the event while it masks the physical connection to the wall. Rudolf Wittkower (Bernini) points out the care Bernini took in representing Constantine's features based on contemporary descriptions, although given the resemblance to the Vatican fresco of the battle apparently Giulio Romano did so as well. The notable difference in costume between sculpture and fresco is in fact with the horse: Bernini's is unbridled, and Constantine rides bareback, unlike the painted horse and rider with gilt reins and saddle.

Bernini had a number of other challenges to deal with that, in typical fashion, he turned to advantages. His sculpture had to be seen from both the narthex and along the Scala Regia (privileging those about to ascend the stairs over those descending). He also needed to allow passage to a secondary stairway behind the sculpture. Moreover, the cant of the main stairs partly sponsored the splayed jambs that open from the narthex and the corresponding niche that contains the sculpture. The perspectival "theatricality" of these splayed frames, in particular the one containing the Constantine, contributed to the sense that one was looking through a kind of proscenium onto a drama on stage.

This is the mise-en-scene that Cornacchini confronted: rearing horse, cascading drapery, royal rider consumed by an ecstatic vision framed from a distance in a theatrical view. He could not replicate the event with anything similar from Charlemagne's life, nor if he could have would his work be anything but a pale reflection of Bernini's. And yet symmetry demanded that his work reference its antagonist, which he did in a series of calculated ways.

We'll begin with the drapery. Bernini's falls from upper left to lower right, counterbalancing the diagonal implied by the rearing horse and alluding to the cascade of steps from the Scala Regia to the left. Cornacchini decides to employ drapery as well, and his falls less dramatically diagonally from upper right, thus mirroring the general disposition of the Constantinian curtain, if not its angle or linearity. But whereas Bernini's drapery serves to silhouette the ~, figure, and does not imply an opening beyond, Cornacchini's becomes quite literally a theatrical curtain, pulled back to reveal a triumphal arch opening to a distant landscape. While the earlier sculpture is all white, albeit with a damask pattern on the curtain, Cornacchini deploys a range of disparately colored materials, from the yellow marble of the curtain fabric to the grey stone of the arch to a landscape rendered in full color mosaic. As Bianchini's text states, "This background of an arch represents in principal a theater that, continuing the order of the main arch, extends toward an open field, with greenery done in the finest mosaic that easily deceives the eye, believing that, if it's not real, it is at least a painting." And yet he retains white marble for the horse and rider, reasserting their nature as sculpture. The artist would also deploy this mix of palette in the famous holy water basins inside the basilica, with their enormous white putti holding the reddish marble fonts. Whereas Bernini translated a frescoed figure into white marble, Cornacchini sculpts with the palette of the painter, engaging in the famous paragone of the arts by not shrinking from wedding their disparate characteristics; so while illusionism and color may be proper to painting, here they find a home in an integrated three-dimensional ensemble.

One can imagine a less insistent criticism of the scene if it had been monochrome. Cornacchini's choice of color only added to the dissonance with Bernini's work, and the accumulation of detail heightened the sense that he was more concerned with the parts than with the whole. But the author of the printed description is at pains to stress that the artist's attention to detail was a virtue, implicitly arguing that Bernini was perhaps less attentive to particulars, like equine anatomy. There is actually quite a lot of attention in the text to the horse and rider dynamic, and even more to the horse than rider, as this long quote reveals:

But, above any other ornament he made, the greatest sign and ornament of his intelligence was the talent of Cornacchini that shone through in everything regarding the figure of the knight and of his horse, since (regarding the former), simply reflecting Constantine's gesture opposite (which would have been conventional), i.e. representing it on the left side (meaning in the bridle hand) would have come out dry; and it would have, with his shoulder and his elbow, covered the majestic bust of the hero; and so he instead, with consummate grace, gave him a slight glance behind the left shoulder, and consequently pulled back his elbow and the bridle hand-in such a way as not to offend the sensibilities of masters of the arts of horsemanship-and by means of this gracious attitude rendered it such that the right hand, the arm, and the shoulder very naturally advance in an act of recognition of the triumphal arch, which is accompanied by the majestic turn of the head toward the spectator. Moreover, the figure sits correctly on the horse, according to the best rules of horsemanship: strong but not forced, comfortable, natural and unaffected, with the knee and the leg where they should be, and the body posed in perfect equilibrium.

The horse itself seems, to be sure, alive and real, and formed with great daring: expectant, not rearing and transitory, but studied and well finished in all its parts, perfectly imitating nature and obedient to the truth of anatomy, and according to the rules of horsemanship. His head is erect, like the Ginnetti breed [from Andalusia], without a pronounced jaw but with a powerful neck, such that the head has its place, not ornamented nor hooded, but well-supported and locked in, and restrained. He looks to be all of fire, and sincere in his eyes, while his nostrils snort with pleasure, with a superb coat, and gracefully restrained with the left hand, almost in the act of circling, such that you see him turning up to his shoulder-which suggests he is at the trot, although not at a riding school, but instead prancing in triumph; the rear leg in the back is raised as if in motion, while the leg in front and the opposing one in the background are set on the ground, paired at the point of alternating his gate. The whole composition of the parts of this Royal Breed [the Cavallo di Regno, from Naples], and in those from Denmark, [are] accompanied by the four criteria which one looks for in a horse-strong, light of foot, stout of heart, and sensitive. His wavy mane, and the tail, are worked with incredible care, and the whole group, which rests on only two feet flat on the ground, and the other two raised, without the aid of any supporting post but only by means of an artful deception, makes one realize that the modern geniuses have known• how to think of, and execute, something more than the ancients, while the colossi [the horse tamers] that today we see on the Quirinal and the Campidodglio depend on such supports, which offend not a little the eye of those who consider them.

This can only be a pointed answer to a presumed flaw in Bernini's horse, and his Constantine's horsemanship. Cornacchini did lavish great attention on the mane and tail, and his horse does have well-defined musculature in contrast to Bernini's rather schematic rendering. Indeed, not only here but in his ill-fated Louis XIV equestrian monument, the great seicento master did seem to have relied on caricature in the expression and articulation of his mounts. Subsumed to the energy of the event, Constantine's horse is not meant to be a primary foeus, and no doubt Cornacchini here saw a chance. By loving attention to detail, not only in the horse but in the trophies piled behind him (derived from the base of the Column of Trajan), the young sculptor took every opportunity to show his mastery of form and material, leaving nothing rendered in shorthand.

One has the sense, partly sustained by the gesture of Charlemagne, that the real subject of Cornacchini's composition is the triumphal arch and its inscription. Exaggerating to make a point, I might say that the figure is really a foil to the trompe l'oeil architectural view, and the message contained in its inscription, "Charlemagne Defender of the Roman Church." The monument is, in a way, not about the Holy Roman Emperor, but about what he represents: kingship in deference to the Church. Whereas Bernini represented a transitory moment whose political implications had to be played out in the mind of the viewer, Cornacchini shows us explicitly what Charlemagne stands for.

Was Cornacchini's Charlemagne, therefore, doomed to fail against Bernini's Constantine? Only if the two works are operating on the same competitive field, according to the same rules. If Cornacchini failed, it was in not establishing a sufficiently distinct framework for his sculptural ensemble to allow it to be evaluated on its own terms. Imagine, for example, if his work had preceded Bernini's: would his have been appreciated within the framework he established? And would the latter have been understood differently, evaluated otherwise, if it was expected to have responded to the serene, noble Frankish king? The double bind for Cornacchini is that he was at once forced to reference Bernini's all-too-visible precedent across the way, and to distinguish his work typologically, iconographically, and formally. Perhaps if his work had been known by a descriptive rather than a nominative title-something like Kingly Deference to the Roman Church-the perception would change automatically. If we don't succumb to the natural instinct to see the Charlemagne as a weak, overwrought version of the Constantine, but rather as a richly conceived miseen- scene-perhaps more happily compared to Coysevox's relief of Louis XIV on horseback in the Salon de la Guerre at Versailles - Agostino Cornacchini can be recognized for the most sumptuous bel compos to in Rome of the eighteenth century, and a legitimate rival of Bernini. ... David Mayernik, "The Challenge of Emulation in Art and Architecture - Between Imitation and Invention", pages 86-92


Coysevox presents royalty.  Bernini presents divinity. To me, both are quite convincing.

But what is the subject of  Cornacchini's 'Charlegmagne"?


That's the subject addressed by  Francesco Bianchini  and Mayernik, and I'm  amazed that they consider this a defense of  any piece of sculpture.   Their critiques would apply to installations at a museum of natural history, not a piece installed at an entrance to Christianity's  most important church.

And what does it say about "emulation" if  prioritizing horsemanship was Cornacchini's emulative approach? Did he emulate Bernini by trying to make something far less important?

If that is "emulation", why it should be promoted?

This example, and indeed, the entire book,  has left me completely puzzled -- but not bored! 

Our new member is steeped in  architectural history, and he writes quite fluently about it.

I am sure to remember many of the details that he shared,  and  may take along a copy of both books the next time I visit Italy.


I'm especially fascinated by Maynerik's sketches of the "Dying Gaul" because I sketched it myself in the Capitoline Museum the last time I was there (1970?). - and I well  remember the dynamic geometric pattern that Michelangelo designed for the Capitoline hill nearby.  Mayernik's chapter on Rome in "Timeless Cities" gives a very informative discussion of Michelangelo's entire plan for that public space.

Which is just to say -- that I love his two books -- however much I disagree with them.

Rivalry is key to Mayernik's notion of emulation, but to me, rivalry is only necessary for spectator sports.

Art can be about something far more important.


Another,  more normative  example

The very clear  impression created by Annibale's Pieta is of Michelangelo's Pieta existing in time, as though the Virgin, emotionally drained or unconscious, has released the body of Christ, allowing Him to slide from her lap----- were Michelangelo's Virgin to relax her hold on Christ's body, that side would fall precisely the way it does in Annibale's Christ, and the same for the other arm ad the rest of the figure...Carl Goldstein,"Visual fact over Verbal Fiction", 1988

What is "better" about Annibale's interpretation of the scene, by something like his own standards, than Michelangelo's? His Madonna's drapery ripples, folds, and follows her body more naturally and less obtrusively, reinforcing and focusing the composition (this is something which Bernini would later' develop to even greater effect). He sustains Michelangelo's rocky outcrop (a hint of the later non jinito), but turns it from something ostensibly naturalistic (the raw stone of which the figures are carved) into more severe, cut blocks of the implicit tomb: these function as clear contrasts to the supple figures, heightening their relevance both compositionally and meaningfully. Mary is slightly older than her ;:narble model, and her mournful expression (derived in part from the study of Correggio's ability to capture emotion) makes of her a more expressive actor and makes the painting as a whole, therefore, more expressive. At some point, likely in the seventeenth century, two bronze cherubs were added hovering over the marble group, a Baroque response to what by then must have seemed a somewhat unanimated mise en scene (and may in fact have been motivated by Annibale's painting).

At the Palazzo Farnese, Annibale and Agostino had their greatest Roman stage, and Annibale in particular was stretched by it to such an extent that his tepid recompense from the patron sent him into a four-year melancholy that would ultimately kill him. Much has been written already about what is now known as the Carracci Gallery,32 but I want to focus on a few aspects relevant to emulation: the role of the gallery in the palazzo; its relationship to the Villa Farnesina across the Tiber; and the extent to which it is both referential of the greatest landmarks of High Renaissance painting and establishes new criteria for the future of mural painting.

Ever since their completion, Raphael's frescoes in the Chigi villa later bought by the Farnese became a virtual school for artists. Taddeo Zuccaro, younger brother of Federico who would found and direct the Accademia di San Luca in the years just before the Caracci were called to work in Rome, struggled to develop his apprentice's skills under an ungenerous master; Federico, who venerated his brother and mourned his early death, draw a series of images of Taddeo's early trials and eventual successes. One shows him eagerly drawing the loggia of the Farnesina by moonlight, and immediately behind him in the act of drwing he is shown again, asleep against a pier of the same space. The devotion that Raphael engendered among his own students transcended his early demise, and later artists would flock to the Farnesina, as they would to the Vatican stanze, to learn from the master. Against this tradition the Carracci would position their own self-educations and their rivalry of the Renaissance's role models. .. David Mayernik,  p. 74

I remain puzzled by the notion that someone can compete by excelling at  "something like his own standards" - unless those standards are identifiable and sharable with others.

Thankfully, Mayernik has  pointed out variations whose excellence is achieved by "heightening their relevance both compositionally and meaningfully".  But no further explanation has been offered - so it remains unproven whether  "emulation" can ever be a productive notion when comparing works of art.

And though I am atheist, I don't see how religious art works can be compared without discussing religious ideas, even if to dismiss them.

I like the comparison that Goldstein began - but would add that Annibale has moved his subject from heaven to earth -- from supernatural to natural - as he paints a Christ who actually looks dead and a mother who is expressing human emotion.  Even as he keeps the remarkable idea that Mother and Son are the same age.


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