Critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
October 29, 2015
Francisco de Hollanda and Alice Sedgwick Wohl On Antique Painting University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013. 312 pp.; 10 b/w ills.; 10 ills. Cloth $39.95 (9780271059662)
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Francisco de Hollanda (1517–84) begins Da Pintura Antigua (1548) by closely paraphrasing Vitruvius’s introduction to book 6 of De Architectura, in which the Roman author notes that the best preparation for the whims of Fortuna is knowledge—both education and the mastery of one’s profession. Hollanda’s knowledge of the theory and practice of art, however, seems to have offered him little protection from a poor critical fortune. After his work was finally published in the nineteenth century, many historians of art dismissed it as that of a pretentious and parochial artist. This reception, which is usefully outlined by Ángel González García in his critical edition of Da Pintura Antigua (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1984) and more recently analyzed by Laura Camille Agoston (“Michelangelo as Voice versus Michelangelo as Text,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36, no. 1 (2006): 135–68) had much to do with the fact that the Portuguese miniaturist used the figure of Michelangelo to voice many of his ideas in three of the four dialogues that comprise book 2 of Da Pintura Antigua, usually known as the Roman Dialogues (also see the translator’s note, xi–xiii). Unlike the treatise comprising book 1, these lively dialogues—also featuring Vittoria Colonna—have been translated into several languages since their first publication in French in 1846. Aubrey Bell (London: Oxford University Press, 1928) and Grazia Dolores Folliero-Metz (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 1998) provided English translations of all four Roman dialogues, while Charles Holroyd (London: Duckworth and Company, 1903) only translated the first three, in which Michelangelo appears. Alice Sedgwick Wohl’s new volume, however, is the first to render the treatise of book 1 into English, together with book 2. For this alone, scholars of early modern culture and the history of art owe her thanks. That her translation is clear and elegant, painstakingly attentive to the two early manuscripts available today, and sensitive to Hollanda’s ideas and milieu substantially increases our debt to her.

In addition to her translation of the forty-four chapters in book 1 and the four dialogues in book 2 (followed by lists of famous artists and architects), Sedgwick Wohl provides a translator’s note, a brief essay on the historical landscape of Hollanda’s Portugal, a glossary, and two appendices: one tracing the relevant generations of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families and the other listing Hollanda’s works (in book or letter form) and the date of their first publication. Her translation is accompanied by Hellmut Wohl’s helpful notes, which focus on the historical context and literary sources of Hollanda’s work rather than on secondary literature. The bibliography is also useful, though it lacks some recent scholarship on Hollanda. Preceding the translation, two introductory essays by Joaquim Oliveira Caetano and Charles Hope astutely examine Hollanda’s intellectual foundations and the theories articulated in his treatise. Their focus on the text of book 1 reverses a scholarly pattern of neglecting the treatise for the dialogues, whereby authors have either sought to resurrect Michelangelo or to reject Hollanda’s ideas because they do not fit with those of the historical Florentine. Sedgwick Wohl observes that this pattern partially developed from the 1846 publication of Hollanda’s dialogues in French by Count Atanazy Raczyński, who found little of interest in the treatise (xi–xii). Aside from the methodological problem of mining a Renaissance dialogue for historical facts, critical readings of Hollanda’s works have been compromised by considering them separately or out of the order in which he arranged them; doing so weakens the reader’s sense of his voice as a theorist and the rhetorical purpose of the dialogues, which were designed to reinforce the ideas introduced in the treatise. Sedgwick Wohl’s translation and the accompanying essays in this volume equip the Anglophone reader with the means to remedy this problem.

The location of Hollanda’s original manuscript is unknown. A Portuguese manuscript that might have been it was last documented in late eighteenth-century Madrid, but two other manuscripts are available to scholars: a copy of the Portuguese text made in Madrid around 1792 by Joaquim José Ferreira Gordo now in Lisbon (Ms. 651-azul, Academia das Ciências) and a Castilian translation (Ms. 361/13, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid) by the Portuguese artist and courtier Manuel Denis in 1563. The extent of Hollanda’s influence in Portugal and Spain between Denis’s translation and the eighteenth century is difficult to establish. A Castilian text would not only have expanded Hollanda’s readership in Iberia but also demonstrated his potential as member of Philip II’s court; and he might have worried that the Comentarios de la Pintura (begun around 1560) of Felipe de Guevara (ca. 1500–1563) would displace his treatise, which Hollanda claimed to be the first of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula.

Sedgwick Wohl’s translation makes good use of the two existing manuscripts, thoughtfully comparing them and noting words or phrases that seem unclear. The care with which she indicates where there is a deviation in the texts and the reasons for her choice between them is among the strengths of her edition. In one example from chapter 32 of book 1, “On Painting Purgatory and Hell,” she notes that in the Castilian translation the word “devoto” replaces the Portuguese “doutissimo” (most learned) in a passage that draws a parallel between the artist’s judgment and the subject matter. Hollanda writes, “The admirable and most solemn painting to which at this point I would call the attention of the contemplative and most learned painter is the likeness and most sacred image of the awesome day of judgment, for in this most famous and memorable historia the great master will find much to work on and to ponder, and much more to give others to ponder in his work” (123). Sedgwick Wohl has privileged the Portuguese original in keeping with Hollanda’s characteristic emphasis on the learned artist, and I think that she was right to do this for a text written in the 1540s. What she offers the reader and scholar, however, is the opportunity to question whether this was the right choice for a text translated in 1563, just as the Council of Trent was closing and the controversy of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1536–41) was coming to a head.

That Hollanda’s humanism and theoretical idiosyncrasies might have become problematic by this period is suggested in an introductory essay by Joaquim Oliveira Caetano entitled “Francisco de Hollanda (1517–1584): The Fascination of Rome and the Times in Portugal” (7–44). Following the foundational work of John Bury and Sylvie Deswarte-Rosa, he presents Hollanda as a well-educated man slightly out of sync with the cultural climate of Portugal, ahead of his time before his trip to Rome in 1538, but then behind the times as the impact of the Counter Reformation shifted the Portuguese court away from the humanism that characterized the reign of João III. Oliveira Caetano’s study offers a coherent sketch of Hollanda’s intellectual development, his collection of drawings, the principal ideas of his treatise, and his career at court. His comments about the changing atmosphere of late sixteenth-century Portugal offer a new way to approach the devotional content of Hollanda’s writings. Especially thought-provoking are his points about the potential exchange between Francisco de Monzón and Hollanda (32) and the differences between the language of Da Pintura Antigua (1548) and Da Sciencia do Desenho (1571), which was censored by the Inquisitor Frei Bartolomeu Ferreira. The essay also makes a strong case for the discomfort that Hollanda’s Neoplatonic bent might have induced in 1571 (35–38).

Charles Hope’s essay, “Francisco de Hollanda and Art Theory, Humanism, and Neoplatonism in Italy,” examines the extent to which Hollanda was informed by Italian art theory. His systematic consideration of the text’s best-known ideas is lucid and particularly valuable for its ability to measure them against those written in Italy. Hope also makes clear that the dialogues, as a particular Renaissance genre, were not intended to be “reportage” (46). Specific doubts raised about the time that Hollanda took to write Da Pintura Antigua and the sources known to him, however, are debatable. Hope’s contention that Hollanda probably wrote his treatise between 1547 and 1548, arguing that the one part (book 1) would not take eight years (from 1540 until February of 1548) while the other (book 2) only took eight months (from February to October 1548), does not consider the possibility that Hollanda was writing both pieces simultaneously but completed them consecutively. The drawings known as the Desenhos das Antigualhas, which Hollanda began in Rome between 1538 and 1540 and finished and arranged in Portugal over the next decade, indicate that he envisioned over a long stretch of time an ambitious work that made his points in different ways: by treatise, dialogue, and image.

Although Hope is perhaps too quick to dismiss Hollanda’s knowledge of certain texts and their use in Da Pintura Antigua, he provides a critical alternative to Oliveira Caetano’s endorsement of Deswarte-Rosa’s important argument for the Portuguese theorist’s Neoplatonism. Hope makes a strong case for a more syncretic foundation for Hollanda’s philosophical interests. Certainly, there are Aristotelian and perhaps Epicurean elements in Hollanda’s conceptualization of forms. Still, Hollanda’s possession and annotation of an edition of Cristoforo Landino’s Disputationes Camaldulenses, his use of the term idea, and his citation of Platonic sources make it difficult to reject entirely his interest in Neoplatonism and intention to connect Platonic forms with Divinely inspired artistic creation. Just as Hope’s essay will wisely guide future studies to cast a wider philosophical net in trying to understand Da Pintura Antigua, especially considering contemporary texts in Italy, Oliveira Caetano’s consideration of the potential controversy of Hollanda’s ideas in Counter-Reformation Portugal offers a productive direction for new scholarship.

Both essays and the introductory comments by Sedgwick Wohl add an important corrective to the tendency to focus too much on certain aspects of Hollanda’s writings, be it its accuracy as a historical document or its connection to Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna. Hollanda’s text may be at times philosophically muddled and idiosyncratic, but it was ambitious in its attempt to be both a reliable source of current ideas in Italy about modern and ancient art and an original work able to demonstrate his value to his king and other royal patrons.

Hollanda’s meaning often may be gleaned in the small changes made to his extensive citations; in the case of the Vitruvian passage noted at the beginning of this review, he adjusted the ancient architect’s point that knowledge is a foreigner in no land, a welcome citizen in all cities, by adding “and a good courtier at any court” (68). This final phrase links Hollanda’s project and world to that of Vitruvius’s treatise and Imperial Rome, but it also reminds the reader that Hollanda spent his life negotiating his position at court. Such an environment often subjected men to shifts in fortune, as Oliveira Caetano observes. Hollanda’s attempt to demonstrate theoretical and cultural authority and to translate the Italian artistic canon to Portugal seems to have suffered almost immediately from limited readership. Sedgwick Wohl’s translation and the accompanying essays now ensure that his work will receive further consideration.

Elena M. Calvillo
Associate Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Richmond

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