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


Malvasia project team, Washington, 2019: Tiffany Racco, Elizabeth Cropper, and Elise Ferone

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
Postdoctoral Research Associate: Tiffany Racco
Assistant to the Program of Research: Elise Ferone


Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice: Lives of the Bolognese Painters, Volume 9, Life of Guido Reni, 2 volumes
Edited by Elizabeth Cropper and Lorenzo Pericolo; Critical Edition, Translation, and Essay by Lorenzo Pericolo; Historical Notes by Lorenzo Pericolo, with Elizabeth Cropper, Stefan Albl, Mattia Biffis, and Elise Ferone; Corpus of Illustrations established by Lorenzo Pericolo, with Mattia Biffis and Elise Ferone


Celebrated by Malvasia as the creator and promoter of the new maniera moderna, Guido Reni (1575–1642) introduces the fourth age of painting: a period marked by an original and sometimes bold elaboration of the notion of artistic perfection developed by the Carracci and embodied more specifically by Ludovico’s "synthesis of styles." Art in Italy could have declined once again after the deaths of the Carracci, but thanks to Guido and Domenichino, Francesco Albani and Guercino, painting is restored to its full blossoming, and, as a result, the Carracci lesson spreads and triumphs throughout Italy.

In assessing Guido’s role in promoting this artistic vanguard, Malvasia finds himself in a theoretical impasse. On the one hand, he cannot resist his infatuation with Guido’s work. Endowed with spellbinding powers, Guido’s paintings constitute the greatest luxury of modernity insofar as they reflect an endless search for aesthetic refinement and transcendental beauty both in the representation of the human body and in the orchestration of light, color, and impasto. On the other hand, Malvasia balks at embracing Guido’s "last manner." In Malvasia’s eyes, Guido’s final production is both exceedingly sophisticated and tainted by its very sophistication: delicacy verges on feebleness, transcendence coalesces into purposeless abstraction, divine vision engenders incompleteness, and sprezzatura turns into apparent negligence. Furthermore, for Malvasia Guido is both a paragon of virtue and the self-indulgent victim of the gambling demon. With acuity, Malvasia praises Guido the money maker, the self-confident artist able to overhaul the mechanisms of the art market by exponentially increasing the value of painting. And yet, Malvasia cannot help but condemn Guido the money squanderer, the indebted painter who gambles away his reputation and jeopardizes the quality of his sublime output.

Illustrated with numerous color images, these two volumes provide a critical edition and annotated translation of Malvasia’s life of Guido. Based on a radical reassessment of the historical documentation and a profound investigation of Malvasia’s art criticism, these volumes offer the most thorough treatment to date of the artist’s work.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina pittrice: Lives of the Bolognese Painters, vol. 2, pt. 2, Life of Marcantonio Raimondi and Critical Catalogue of Prints by or after Bolognese Masters, 2 vols.
Edited by Elizabeth Cropper and Lorenzo Pericolo; Critical Edition by Lorenzo Pericolo; Introduction, Translation, and Notes by Naoko Takahatake with the Critical Edition of Roger de Piles's Annotations to Malvasia's Festina Pittrice by Carlo Alberto Girotto; Illustration volume with the support of Mattia Biffis, 2017


Malvasia’s life of Marcantonio Raimondi includes Malvasia’s critical catalogue of prints by or after Bolognese artists, from Giulio Bonasone to Giovan Battista Pasqualini. A great connoisseur and avid collector of prints, Malvasia recognizes the intelligence and novelty inherent in Giorgio Vasari’s life of Marcantonio with its list of prints produced by the Bolognese engraver. In republishing Vasari’s life, Malvasia not only adds valuable new information, but also completes Vasari’s list by cataloguing all the prints unnoticed by his Florentine predecessor. Aware of the interest of amateurs and collectors in identifying old and new prints, establishing their states, and building up an exhaustive collection, Malvasia undertakes the groundbreaking task of describing, one by one or by coherent series, the whole corpus of prints executed by or after Bolognese masters as far as he could determine. He describes the subjects of these works accurately, transcribes their inscriptions, specifies their techniques (whether engraving, etching, or woodcut), supplying their measurements in Bolognese once. In listing the works of Bonasone, the Carracci, Giovan Luigi Valesio, Guido Reni, and Simone Cantarini, among others, Malvasia often comments on their technical and aesthetic qualities, resorting to a refined and complex terminology that reveals his profound knowledge of printmaking.


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

In her introductory essay, Naoko Takahatake explains the historical significance of Malvasia’s innovative production of the first extensive print catalogue, shedding new light on the unique context of Bolognese printmaking in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In her notes, Takahatake identifies over eight hundred prints mentioned by Malvasia, almost all of which are reproduced in color in a separate volume, compiled with the support of Mattia Biffis. Underscoring the importance of Malvasia’s critical catalogue for amateurs and collectors, Carlo Alberto Girotto offers a critical edition of the annotations made by the French art theorist Roger de Piles to his own copy of the Felsina pittrice (now in the library of the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris). At the end of the translation and notes, Lorenzo Pericolo publishes the sections of Malvasia’s Scritti originali (Ms. B16, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio, Bologna) relating to Bonasone.

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, 2014


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.


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 (PDF 865KB)
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


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.