Early Modern Sources in Translation: Carlo Cesare Malvasia's Felsina pittrice

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Malvasia project team, Washington, 2014: Elizabeth Cropper, Nathaniel Silver, Lorenzo Pericolo, and Mattia Biffis

Directed by Elizabeth Cropper, dean of CASVA, this project will result in a full critical edition and annotated translation of Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice (Bologna, 1678), one of the most important early modern texts on Italian art. Felsina pittrice, or Lives of the Bolognese Painters, provides a history of painting in Bologna that both emulates and challenges Giorgio Vasari’s Lives (1550/1568). Indeed, it provides a seventeenth-century Bolognese alternative to Vasari’s Tuscan-Roman account of Italian painting. The Felsina pittrice has never been translated into English in full, and no critical edition has appeared since 1841–1844. This edition and translation, undertaken by a team of international scholars, will appear in sixteen monographic volumes. Each of the projected volumes will include transcriptions by Lorenzo Pericolo (University of Warwick) of the relevant manuscript notes made by Malvasia in preparation for his book, and now in the Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio, Bologna. Professor Pericolo will also provide a new critical edition of the Italian text. The series is published for the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and the National Gallery of Art by Harvey Miller Publishers.

Critical Edition and Project Coordinator: Lorenzo Pericolo
Research Associate: Mattia Biffis
Assistant to the Program of Research: Hayley Plack

Publications

Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice: Lives of the Bolognese Painters
Volume 1, Early Bolognese Painting

Critical Edition by Lorenzo Pericolo; Introduction and Translation by Elizabeth Cropper; Bibliographical Essay by Carlo Alberto Girotto; Historical Notes by Elizabeth Cropper, Lorenzo Pericolo, Giancarla Periti, and Jessica Richardson, assisted by Alexandra Hoare

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Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia's Felsina pittrice, or Lives of the Bolognese Painters, first published in two volumes in Bologna in 1678, is one of the most important sources for the history and criticism of painting in Italy. This richly illustrated volume provides a translation and critical edition of the opening part of the Felsina pittrice, which focuses on the art of late medieval Bologna. The text is unusual in the context of the Felsina pittrice as a whole in that it seeks to record what survives in the city, rather than focusing on individual artists. In response to Vasari’s account of the Renaissance of painting in Florence, Malvasia offers a colorful and valuable portrait of Trecento painting in Bologna, noting the location and condition of destroyed or whitewashed frescoes, dismantled polyptychs, and paintings for which no other record survives. Malvasia provides crucial information on works by important fourteenth-century painters such as Lippo di Dalmasio, Simone dei Crocefissi, and Vitale da Bologna.

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Malvasia project meeting, Washington, 2011: Jessica Richardson, Alex Hoare, and Lorenzo Pericolo

Included in the volume are historical notes to the text and to the transcriptions of Malvasia’s preparatory notes, the Scritti originali, published here in their entirety for the first time. The notes enrich our understanding of individual works and identify the sources Malvasia used. Elizabeth Cropper’s introductory essay serves to establish the significance of Malvasia as a historian of art, while Carlo Alberto Girotto’s bibliographical essay analyzes the production and reception of the Felsina pittrice as a whole.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice: Lives of the Bolognese Painters
Volume 13, Lives of Domenichino and Francesco Gessi

Critical edition by Lorenzo Pericolo; translation by Anne Summerscale; essay by Elizabeth Cropper; historical notes by Anne Summerscale, Alexandra Hoare, Lorenzo Pericolo, and Elizabeth Cropper, 2013

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This critical edition and English translation of Malvasia’s lives of Domenichino and Francesco Gessi from his Felsina pittrice offer access to the life and work of two great masters of seventeenth-century Bologna. Domenichino’s life plays a seminal role in Malvasia’s definition of the "fourth age" of painting in Italy. From the very beginning, Malvasia pits against each other Guido Reni and Domenichino, the two champions of the vanguard style that emerged from the Carracci reform of painting. If Guido becomes the idol of the Lombard and Bolognese school, "more attuned to tenderness and audacity," Domenichino embodies an ideal of perfection more in keeping with the Florentine and Roman school, "fond of finish and diligence."

Malvasia Project Team

Malvasia project meeting, Washington, 2008: Giovanna Perini, Marzia Faietti, Alessandro Nova, Anne Summerscale, Elizabeth Cropper, and Alessandra Galizzi

Malvasia reports that he did not know Domenichino, and his reconstruction of the career of the master as he moved among Rome, Naples, and Bologna stands in stark contrast to Giovan Pietro Bellori’s more sympathetic account, published in 1672. If, to redeem the supremacy of the Bolognese school, Malvasia downplays the problem of Domenichino’s "erudition" and "fertility" of invention, he does so with hesitation and among unresolvable contradictions. His assimilation of Domenichino’s art to the Roman and Tuscan canon is, then, profoundly polemical. In this light, Malvasia’s life of Domenichino can be defined as the most tormented and ultimately unsuccessful eulogy in the Felsina pittrice: a great piece of art-historical criticism about an artist whose greatness Malvasia could not deny.

Malvasia’s assessment of the artistic personality of Francesco Gessi turns upon the painter’s rivalry with his master, Guido Reni, whose perfection in painting nevertheless remains unmatchable. In relating how Domenichino snatched away the highly talented Giovan Battista Ruggeri from his previous master, Francesco Gessi, Malvasia turns the conflicts inherent in Domenichino’s life into a generational struggle between artistic factions. In the process, Malvasia provides important biographical information about Giovan Giacomo Sementi, another of Guido’s disciples and Gessi’s lifelong rival.