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A Pleasure Grove of Italian Renaissance Art

ISSUE:  Winter 2002

Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance and Mannerist Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Two vols. MacMillan Reference Limited. $400.

Connoisseurs of one of the most glorious periods of Western culture can now avail themselves of an authoritative and comprehensive guide. These two volumes present in more accessible and affordable form material initially included in the Grove Library of World Art (European Art series), itself an offshoot of the award-winning 34-volume Dictionary of Art. The spin-off volumes, however, offer much to entice readers: revised and updated entries by the specialists who authored the original entries; rewritten biographies on many artists; re-edited articles on cities and towns in which the art of this period flourished; and increased illustrations, roughly 200 additional color illustrations alone. Together the two volumes contain 1722 entries and 1108 illustrations covering all the major artistic achievements in Italy from c. 1400 to c. 1600.

Readers will not be disappointed with the wealth of material covered. Entries on individual artists are logically arranged to include information on his or her life and works; working methods and techniques, writings (if any), character and personality, and critical reception and posthumous reception. An extensive bibliography on each artist follows; in the case of major figures such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, or Titian, helpful subject headings (i.e. Documentary and Bibliographical Sources; General; Specialist Studies; Monographs; and Catalogues; Drawings) within the bibliographies direct readers to areas of related scholarship. Cross-references within the entries direct readers to other relevant entries.

In addition to the entries on specific artists, the volume also contains entries on important patrons of art such as the Medici, Delia Rovere, Este, and Gonzaga families, collectors and writers (e.g. Petrarch and Marsilio Ficino), as well as articles on art forms (e.g. cartoon, cassone), building types, Italian cities with important Renaissance traditions, decorative art forms, and specialized terms (e.g. disegno e colore, paragone). The editors and advisors have done an outstanding job in selecting specialists for the entries. To name but some of the experts who have contributed to the volumes: Robert Hughes and Caroline Elam co-authored the entry on Michelangelo; Charles Dempsey wrote the entry on Botticelli; Janet Cox-Rearick the ones on Bronzino and Pontormo; and Julian Kliemann the one on Vasari. All these scholars have written extensively on the figures whose achievements they have distilled. Richly informative, many of the entries are calculated either to inspire further reading within the encyclopedia or a desire to revisit the works themselves.

Some authors have been more diligent in updating their original entries than others. While Janet Cox-Rearick’s entry on Bronzino includes a reference to a 1999 article on the painter’s famous Allegory of Venus, other authors’ bibliographies contain notable omissions. The entry on Eleonora de’ Medici, Cosimo I de’ Medici’s wife, for example, while noting that the chapel bearing her name in the Palazzo Vecchio is “perhaps the most complete extant indication of Eleonora’s own taste,” contains no reference to the most substantial study of the chapel, Cox-Rearick’s Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora (1993). Similarly, the entry on Vasari contains no reference to the most important recent monograph on this artist, Patricia Rubin’s Giorgio Vasari: Art and History (1995).

Few admirers of the greatest of all Renaissance artists will fail to find pleasure in Hughes’ and Elam’s entry on Michelangelo. Justifiably one of the longest entries—30 pages—it documents meticulously not only Michelangelo’s achievements in sculpture, painting, drawing, and architecture, but seamlessly weaves in contemporary and modern theories concerning the significance of his achievements, traces the phases of works such as the Tomb of Julius II and the New Sacristy, and explores the famous “non-finito” aspect of many of Michelangelo’s works. Entries on flamboyant figures such as Baccio Bandinelli and Benvenuto Cellini are no less compelling and informative; the authors of these two entries provide brisk accounts of how the megalomaniacal tendencies of the former and arrogance and cantankerousness of the latter often impeded the realization of some of their projects. Even entries on relatively minor figures such as Bacchiacca, a contemporary of Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo, prove highly illuminating as the analysis of his “limited talents” clarifies the nature of more successful artistry.

The Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance & Mannerist Art is a masterfully assembled and beautifully produced reference work. It provides a wealth of information to specialists and enthusiasts alike. Students and scholars can follow the development of artists’ careers, incisive characterizations of their extant and lost works, and the critical tradition on these achievements. More casual admirers of Italian Renaissance art, on the other hand, can learn much about favorite works of art and the world in which they were produced. The Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance & Mannerist Art is an indispensable work for all libraries and a rewarding investment for serious students of Italian Renaissance art and culture.


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