Friedman, David - Gardner, Julian - Haines, Margaret (ed.): Arnolfo’s moment. Acts of an international Conference (Florence, Villa I Tatti, May 26-27, 2005). 17x24, xxxvi-302 pp. con 94 tavv. f.t. di cui 10 a colori., Rilegato (Hardcover), isbn 978 88 222 5820 5
(Olschki, Firenze 2009)
Compte rendu par Emanuele Lugli, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence

Nombre de mots : 1195 mots
Publié en ligne le 2011-07-12
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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          In 2005 Arnolfo di Cambio, the in-demand master-mason of the late thirteenth century, was the focus of a large exhibition at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the first to be dedicated exclusively to the artist. Taking advantage of the momentous occasion, as well as a plethora of other celebratory initiatives, the Harvard University center for Italian Renaissance Studies invited some of the most eminent art and architectural historians of the Italian Middle Ages to assess his oeuvre from an interdisciplinary perspective.


          The papers presented at the conference have now been collected in a volume with impeccable standards (crisp pictures, clear layout, and velvety paper). Its formal characteristics however only enhance an ambitious intellectual pursuit: expanding from specific issues about Arnolfo’s sculptural production (the focus of the exhibition and of most of the scholarship) to conjure up his historical and cultural contexts.


          I should say from start that specialists who have been following progress on Arnolfo’s scholarship will not find dazzling discoveries. Most of the papers are built on data published in articles and dissertations dating back to as much as thirty years ago. Yet, the strength of the volume is interpretative. Not only does this book show, more clearly than other publications, the point where research now stands on Arnolfo - turning it into a convenient reference for graduate students and specialists alike - but the speakers took time to study their material within a wide referential horizon, so that this publication also succeeds at showing where Arnolfo stood within his times.


          Much of the credit for converging the speakers’ efforts goes to the editors - David Friedman, Julian Gardner and Margaret Haines as well as Fiorella Gioffredi Superbi, the editorial coordination of the I Tatti publications - who conceived this volume less as a mere printing of conference papers than as a tightly-structured book. The five years of delay from the conference are then justified as the invited speakers clearly profited from the discussion and retouched their papers, intertwining their arguments with those of their fellows. The reader, whom I advise to read the texts in the order in which they are presented, will enormously benefit from such an attentive revision.


          Indeed, the structure has been changed from conference to publication. Two papers have been omitted and the four original panels have been merged into two sections: ‘Arnolfo and his Contexts’ and ‘Florence and its Cathedral.’ The order of the papers has also been altered, and conveniently so, as the data presented by an essay often serves as an introduction to the following. The book, for instance, starts with the excellent pairing of Marvin Trachtenberg’s reconnaissance of Florence’s bursting architectural activity (which he vividly describes as ‘the roaring 1290s’) and Franklin Toker’s critical assessment of Arnolfo’s biographical evidence. Together these essays offer an ideal starting point as they both characterize the mentality of the time as well as marshall a broad amount of evidence upon which the reader will later call. Other transitions are worth noting. Najemy’s argument that the erection of the cathedral was an efficacious anti-magnate move devised by the Popolo government (1291-1301) is counterbalanced by Dameron’s study of the involvement of the clergy in its construction thanks to the regional scale of its financial resources. These essays, both historical in focus, work well in pair as together they show the very complex social negotiations that the planning of such an enormous and highly symbolic building required. A third great pairing involves Sible de Blaauw’s reconstruction of the spatio-visual conditions of Arnolfo’s Roman ciboria and Julian Gardner’s detailed analysis of their sculptural components, which he compares to the rest of Arnolfo’s oeuvre and studies in relation to his web of international patrons.


          This brings us to the key point of Arnolfo’s ‘contexts.’ The texts agree in taking Rome and France (also via the Anjou court in Naples) as Arnolfo’s cultural references. This corroborates much of the past scholarship, which presents his artistic identity as oscillating between a fascination for the classical and an interest in the ‘gothic,’ a combination best exemplified in Arnolfo’s design for the façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, arguably his most prestigious commission. Interestingly, this is also how Florence’s artistic profile is characterized and Marica Tacconi’s essay, which unveils how in the 1330s its cathedral adapted its liturgy to the Roman calendar, proves a case in point here. Given these readings, Arnolfo and Florence appear as an ideal match, which help to further explain why so much scholarly emphasis has been placed on the artist’s activity in the Tuscan city despite his many commissions across central Italy. Arnolfo’s cultural orientation may also be better defined, as many other centers must have played a role. Pisa, for instance, despite its crushing defeat by the Genoese in the Battle of the Meloria (1280), maintained a glowing international status. Arnolfo’s training after all took place there under the Pisani and the city’s dazzling architecture must have remained one of his paradigms. The bi-chromatic buttresses Arnolfo attached to Florence’s San Giovanni in 1294 may have derived from Pisa’s stripy baptistery, which influenced the thirteenth-century architectural production of the whole region.


          The importance of France’s artistic production should also be argued rather than assumed. We know that the traveling of the curia between the Italian peninsula and northern Europe provided an on-going transmission of ideas and that artists such as Filippo Rusuti - a contemporary of Arnolfo and his co-worker in the Lateran - moved to France. Yet, given the international background of patrons who hired Arnolfo and the contextual goals of the conference, it seems important to provide a somewhat clearer view of the European intellectual network of the time. This seems particularly important as after many papers insisting on Arnolfo’s receptivity of French innovations, Claudia Bolgia convincingly rules out Arnolfo as the author of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and Santa Croce, two buildings with gothicizing gabled apses. Bolgia’s detailed paper implies that knowledge of French architecture on Italian soil was less infrequent than it is assumed, thus hinting at a need for a repositioning of late-Duecento and early-Trecento artists working in Italy within a wider European and Mediterranean perspective.


          Bolgia’s reduction of the corpus of architectural works Vasari attributed to Arnolfo meets the support of the other scholars (as well as being an outcome of a transversal art historical suspiciousness of connoisseurship). Friedman, after a much-needed survey of architectural plans and charts of the period, also concludes that Arnolfo’s only secure architectural work was on the cathedral and the baptistery’s surrounding space, and Gardner goes as far as questioning Arnolfo’s training in architecture (which however clashes with the ‘architectus’ epithet inscribed on Boniface VIII’s tomb). Paradoxically for an interdisciplinary conference aiming at doing justice to this artist’s many talents, Arnolfo emerges out of this volume less as a Renaissance man than as a sculptor.


          This and other shortcomings (like some nebulous passages in Romano and Bellosi’s essays) however do not detract much from an otherwise major publication, which ambitiously aims at broadening our perspective on Arnolfo’s production while, from an editorial perspective, reduces the traditional looseness between conference papers.