Friday, March 07, 2008

What is Mannerism?

The ever-erudite Cranky Professor explains with the help of a Vasari fresco in Rome's Palazzo della Cancelleria... the Sala dei Cento Giorni to be precise:
The name of the room comes from the funniest anecdote in Renaissance art history (a field of striking solemnity and self-importance, I usually find). Vasari, now better known as a biographer than a painter, showed the room to his old master MIchelangelo and bragged that he had completed the work in 100 days. Michelangelo said, "It shows." I rather liked it, but then I have decadent tendencies. Paul III surveying New St Peter's dressed as the Jewish High Priest really made me happy! There was a scene of the distribution of cardinals hats to semi-nude men in advanced states of ascetical skinniness that made no sense at all - that's Mannerism for you!
Not finding any pictures of that on the web, I managed to snap one myself. Apologies for the quality... the lighting in the room is really unusual and my primitive digital camera did the best it could. Click on the picture to enlarge.
Note the little stack of mitres and galleros in the bottom right hand corner, the cornucopia pouring forth gold coins and the unusual snake-eating nude. Anyone willing to explain this picture of Paul III creating Cardinals is welcome to do so in the comments.


Jeffrey Smith said...

St. Jerome wannabes, perhaps? Not bad, for Vasari.

Zadok the Roman said...

Yes, I did think of St Jerome. Perhaps he's being presented as the ideal of Cardinalocity?

Jeffrey Smith said...

Could do far worse.

Zadok the Roman said...

If I recall correctly, devotion to St Jerome had a resurgence in popularity around about the time the fresco was painted.

Clare Krishan said...

_Autodidact_ (you have been warned) that I am, this is an educated guess at the personages depicted:

Note the only two faces that look Heavenward: the pagan Muse cast in stone at extreme stage left (traditionally the quadrant of art of the Metanoia event (to turn right, anticlockwise and proceed on our eternal peregrination of life or turn down off to the left to perdition) and perhaps a self portrait of the artist in the personage of a St. Peter-like priest (green robed) kneeling a the left armrest of the Papal Throne?

The only "honorable" nakedness is that of the humanist classicist pagan personages (not well enough versed to hazard a guess who they might be). Note the mutilated real life character lauding the Pope in the quadrant lower right that would contain any hagiography (as if the painter could find none to be recorded here). His arms have been severed as if they were merely a marble edifice recording the "good 'ol days"). Calls to mind the verses attributed to St Theresa of Avila "Christ has no Body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours." But perhaps there is a saint in waiting in the piece?

Wikipedia tells us some of the cardinals: Alessandro Farnese, Ascanio Sforza, in the grand tradition of nepotism, Gasparo Contarini, Sadoleto, and Giovanni Pietro Carafa my guess for the guy on his knees (and the future Pope),

Reginald Pole, looking quite grey and queasy at the price his family paid to maintain the honor of Catharine of Aragon and the Church for England deosn't seem to fit in with the Roman clique - he stares out at the viewer, the last living personage almost hiding behind the other muse statue extreme stage right, yet in front of the off -canvas source of the illuminating daylight from an imaginary setting sun in the distance (this last quadrant top right traditionally represents the escatalogical denouement of our eternal reward in Heaven.)

Note the many male-intimacy-suggesting pairings - the only other two faces that stare out at the viewer are those of the Pope and perhaps his cardinal nephew.

The episcipol mitres look like dead fish in a cauldron waiting to be cooked!

Not sure what to make of the Phyrgian caps, other than to think perhaps humanists hoped for a Vatican II style "agiournamento" under the democratic forces of the enlightment a la Erasmus et al? They were to be sorely dissappointed in Carafa.

The playful choirboys kick the cornucopeia of gold currency collected from the sale of indulgences to pay for the construction of the new basilica (the painting seems to depict the barell vauted, Solomon's temple columns colonnaded interior of the old)
My take? the fresco is an underhanded slap in the face from a humanist who resented the hypocrisy of the ascetical (Roman inquisition and all that) reforms of contemporanous -- but as depicted, lying yet in tht future -- career of the Theatine Pope Paul IV who is being given the red hat by the previous papal incumbent Paul the third.
While reform was necessary, as this mural depicts, the only Saint it produced was "in spite of" their not because of a return to holiness...

(DISCOLSURE: I am rather biased since as a British Catholic my intuitions are rather anticlerical... the times weren't ones with a good track record of fidelity in our bishops !

Anyways what think ye?

Zadok the Roman said...

Gosh! I'm not qualified to judge your interpretation, Clare, but it's certainly intriguing.

Thank you!