Mozzati, Tommaso: Giovanfrancesco Rustici, le Compagnie del Paiuolo e della Cazzuola. Arte, letteratura, festa nell’età della Maniera (Fondazione Carlo Marchi. Studi, vol. 22), 22,5 x 30 cm, xiv-516 pp. con 24 ill. n.t. e 338 figg. f.t., ISBN 978 88 222 5725 3, 150 euros
(Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence 2008)
Compte rendu par Huub Van der Linden, European University Institute (Florence)

Nombre de mots : 1540 mots
Publié en ligne le 2009-03-10
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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Tommaso Mozzati’s hefty tome (514 pages) discusses the work of the Florentine sculptor Giovanfrancesco Rustici (1474-1554), who spent his life divided between Florence and, from 1528 until his death, France. The point of departure for this book is the biography of Rustici in the second edition of Vasari’s Vite. Mozzati gives special attention to the two formalized groups of fellow artists, artisans, tradesmen, and nobles of which Rustici was a member, the compagnie del paiuolo and della cazzuola, both of which figure prominently in Vasari’s account of Rustici’s biography. Despite the fact that in the introduction the author places his work in the “twilight of the post-modern” (crepuscolo del postmoderno), and although he warns that the variety of material presented in the volume “may alarm” (possono spaventare) those readers more inclined to traditional art-historical writing, surely only the most conservative of such readers will be taken aback by this monograph. Of postmodernism there is nothing to be detected in this book. No questions are asked about the construction and performance of identity and/or gender, or about what meanings Rustici’s sculptures may have had for its various intended audiences, to name but some ‘post-modern’ questions that have become quite common in art history. To be clear, this is in itself no reproach, but given Mozzati’s own suggestion in the introduction that suggests otherwise, the reader does come to wonder what exactly is to be made of this claim.

That being said, Mozzati’s monograph has much other use for those interested in Rustici and in renaissance sculpture in general. The first chapter on Giovanfrancesco Rustici e Firenze starts with a rapid overview of the fortune of Rustici in art-historical writing from the mid-eighteenth to the twentieth century, and what follows suit is a more or less chronological account of Rustici’s life and works, narrated in conjunction with the topographical reality of the workshops and habitations of early fifteenth-century Florence in which the sculptor worked and lived. In discussing these, Mozzati backs his affirmations up with solid archival research, but when the documentary evidence is scarce, he also does not shy away from careful deductions and hypotheses. As said, one narrative strand is fed by the physical places within the city, as well as its connection to the networks of contacts (comprising teachers, students, colleagues, and patrons) through which Rustici worked. On the other side, most space (both of the main text and the many and often long footnotes—over a 1000 in the first chapter alone) goes to the discussion of Rustici’s works. In these sections, Mozzati remains squarely within a long line of traditional scholarship and connoisseurship. Besides documentary evidence on the commission or ownership of works when available, he adduces compositional and motivic comparisons with other works, discusses technical, stylistic, and compositional details, and in the footnotes gives the previous bibliography of the works he discusses complete with full lists of previous attributions from around the 1900’s up to the most recent citations. Mozzati here does well in showing Rustici’s own artistic merits, as well as the connections of his inventions and the details of their sculptural execution to previous models and/or masters, or at times subsequent influences of Rustici’s work on others, such as the connection between the Pharisee to the left of Rustici’s well-known St. John the Baptist preaching and Michelangelo’s Moses sculpted for the tomb of Julius II.

However, in some sense this book, and especially this first chapter, reads as an uneasy marriage between a traditional catalogue raisonné and a more cultural-historic approach. While Mozzati says “consciously” not to opt for “the consolidated forms of the monograph and catalogue raisonné”, (le forme consolidate della monografia e del catalogo ragionato) this seems to have affected the form more than the content. In fact, as will be clear from what has been said above, all that one expects from a well-researched catalogue of works is found in this book. However, the discussions of works throughout the first chapter result in long footnotes that contain long lists of earlier mentions in the art-historical literature and previous attributions. At times this puts considerable strain on the chosen form of a continuous narrative, such as when the different versions of a group of Fighting soldiers and a horse, related to Leonardo’s famous Battle of Anghiara, is discussed. Given the connection to Leonardo and the work’s own quality, the work has been much discussed before, resulting in three subsequent footnotes of references that fill over two entire pages (pp. 46-48, nn. 229-231). Another example is the group of St. John the Baptist preaching to a Levite and a Phariseeh which Rustici made for the North side of the baptistery in Florence. It is Rustici’s best-known work, and it is thus not that surprising that leads to one four-column long footnote that fills almost two entire pages (pp. 78-79, n. 380). Why not put all this in the form of a catalogue raisonné, a form that is used precisely because it is the most apt and neat way of presenting this type information?

The second and third chapters and the appendices, in fact, better match content to form. Here Mozzati recounts the cultural-historic and social context, precedents, parallels, and function of the compagnia del paiuolo and the compagnia della cazzuola in Florence. The two compagnie, which among other things periodically organised feast dinners for its members, represents a formalized cluster of social contacts that, as Mozzati convincingly shows, had its influence throughout the career of Rustici and other artist members of the group such as Rosso Fiorentino. The third chapter is already a kind of appendix. Here, Mozzati proposes a number of occasions/works on which the members of the compagnie worked together or used their contacts in some other way to obtain commissions. The festive entry of pope Leo X into Florence in 1515, the decorations at the abbey of San Bartolomeo (or del Buonsollazzo) at Borgo San Lorenzo, the connections of Bandinelli and Rosso fiorentino to the artists at the sapienza (the multi-functional complex connected to SS. Annunziata, and at the time closely associated with the Medici), and the latter’s arrival in France, which had previously been related to the intervention of Pietro Aretino, but which Mozzati convincingly connects to the environment of the compagnia del paiuolo and those appartaining to it (including Rustici) who already worked in France.


What follows are three copious appendices with literature related to the two compagnie (carnival songs, plays, etc.), some of them in complete transcriptions, and a useful catalogue with information on all the members of the two compagnie. Mozzati’s curiosity and his interest not only in Rustici himself but in the two compagnie in this section has led him to beyond the call of duty, and this can only be admired. Not only does he trace the few texts that can be connected to the compagnia della cazzuola, but he also provides a complete transcription (pp. 309-323) of the hitherto unpublished  anonymous play Filogenia, preserved in a manuscript at the Biblioteca Comunale in Siena. A second, briefer, appendix dicusses the connection of Petronius’s Satyricon. The final appendix provides biographical information on the known members of the two compagnie. Many of these are people of which very little is known, and Mozzati has admirably pieced together results from his own archival research with snippets of previously known bits of information.  The book ends, aptly, one is inclined to say, with no less than 338 b/w photographs of Rustici’s work (and those by other to which Mozzati compares them), often giving us multiple different angles at the sculptures. Often this proves very useful indeed. The series of photographs that documents Rustici’s group of St. John the Baptist preaching to a Levite and a Phariseeh shows the saint himself as well as the two lateral figures as an ensemble, as full figures from all sides (including the back, which is invisible to the viewer), and in close-ups of the heads and other details. These sets of images allow some sense of the three-dimensionality of the works, and they are at the same time eloquent testimony to the justly high reputation that Rustici enjoyed.

One wishes that Mozzati had left aside some of the ill-founded talk of postmodernism and interdisciplinarity, and had given us much of the information in the first chapter in a catalogue raisonné rather than have it burden the narrative flow of especially the first chapter. But apart from that, he has provided with this book an important contribution to the study of Italian sculpture around the end of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries, as well as to the social organisation of artists and artisans (and others) in the urban tissue of Florence. Mozzati’s double focus on both Rustici himself and the two compagnie, and the material in the appendices offers many points that ask to be explored farther. This is also borne out by the recurrent use of “proposals” (proposte), “notes” (appunti), “proposta” (proposta), and “towards …” (per) in the titles and subtitles of the chapters. Precisely for having opened new lines of investigation, Mozzati’s monograph is a contribution that will no doubt remain a key point of reference on Rustici.