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Storia dell’arte


The mid-seicento in Italy witnessed a sustained proliferation of writers on art scattered throughout more regions than had been common in the previous century, leading to an era defined by arguments over the qualities and values of style.1 In the Preface for his Vite de 'pittori, scultori ed architetti of ca.1673-79, Giovanni Battista Passeri lamented the fact that: «Today it is fashionable for painters to do nothing but squabble among themselves about manner, taste, and style, and this arose because the reasoning is not established according to solid principles ».2 The querulous nature of the age has made it difficult for scholars to reconcile the various and competing models for art production that multiplied in the Seicento; infighting, campanilismo, arguments over the role of antiquity in modem art, and even today's «idealist-historicist-relativist tenets of modem art history» have conspired to obscure the commonalities of art theory and criticism of the period prior to the advent of "normative aesthetics".3 In the numerous publications that touted the superiority of art in different regions, the role of nature in art figured prominently. Inherited from the Renaissance, the relative merits of reliance on nature as a model and to what extent artists were expected to improve upon it were both metaphysical and pedagogical issues.4 In the perceived quest for stylistic perfection, artists often modified their styles, radically at times, throughout their careers. In the · case of Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-,\ 666), nicknamed il Guercino, the painter progressed from an early style grounded in the naturalism of the Veneta-Lombard tradition (FIG. 1) to one that favored the precepts oftl1e classical Roman baroque (FIG. 2). Denis Mahon first noted the phenomenon and offered the most comprehensive analysis of the change beginning in tl1e 1620s that was announced by a brighter key and became increasingly composed in a sequence of parallel planes on a stage-like space.5 Although the later Bolognese biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia wrote a complete biography of the artist, 6 the most insightful treatment that elucidates the critical environment in which the artist was working during his own lifetime comes in the form of a very enigmatic publication in defense of Veneto-Lombard painting, which Mahon also treated most extensively.

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