Domenico Beccafumi:The Good Thief
BECCAFUMI, Domenico di Pace, called Domenico. Valdibiena 1485-Siena1551. With Sodoma (q. v.) the most important representative of Sienese Mannerism; one of the great painters of the 16th c., insufficiently acknowledged. His style is characterized by the fluidity of his beautiful and strange color, by a romantic pathos in the expression of his figures, and by a subtle play of dark atmospheres. Typical works: Christ in Limbo ( Siena, Pinacoteca); St. Michael ( Siena, Chiesa del Carmine); Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law ( Pisa, Cathedral).
The legend that dubbed artists Mannerist, because they painted "alla maniera" of Raphael or Michelangelo, thus implying that these artists were merely belated followers and ungifted imitators of their great predecessors, was based in the first place upon a confusion of meaning. The fact is that the word maniera originally carried with it no stigma and certainly no suggestion of imitation. For Vasari, the author of The Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters and Sculptors ( Florence, 1550) the word maniera was more or less synonymous with style. For Vasari, to have maniera was to have style, or as we would say today, to have artistic individuality. Certainly Vasari esteemed above all else the gran maniera of Michelangelo, but there is nothing to suggest that this was for him the only possible maniera. Thirty-four years later, another writer, Raffaello Borghini, in his treatise Il Riposo ( Florence, 1584), employed the word maniera in the same definitely positive sense. For example, he regretted the absence of maniera in the work of certain artists. It was only much later, toward the end of the seventeenth century, that maniera began to take on the sense of uninspired technical competence and studied imitation of the masters. This new interpretation appeared for the first time, it would seem, in Pietro Bellori's Le vite de' pittori ... moderni ( Rome, 1672), a treatise on the lives of the Italian artists of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This pejorative meaning of the word maniera soon acquired widespread currency, lending its new sense to the foreign derivations of maniera (maniéré, maniériste and maniérisme in French; Mannerist and Mannerism in English; manieriert and Manieriertheit in German). From that time on Mannerism became another word for academicism, hollow affectation, and artificiality. It became more than an art historical term, it became an insult. The Grand Larousse du XIXe siècle defines Mannerism as a "defect in the artist who abandons himself to the mannered style (genre maniéré)."
It was not until the third decade of the present century that the history of art or, to be more exact, a few art historians rediscovered these hundred lost years. The restless and disordered era following the First World War was predisposed to show understanding for the mental confusion and disquiet of the Mannerist epoch. In his Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte (1928), Max Dvorák was the first to assign--or rather to reassign--a positive meaning to Mannerism and to realize that Mannerism was not simply an Italian school but an entire European movement, in which artists as different as Bruegel and El Greco were involved. This conception was developed authoritatively between the two World Wars by the work of Frederick Antal, Hermann Voss, Hans Hoffmann, Nikolaus Pevsner, Werner Weisbach and Walter Friedlaender. The Encyclopedia Italiana in 1934, and the Grosse Brockhaus in 1936, devoted important articles to Mannerism which they defined as the dominant European style between the High Renaissance and the Baroque.
The rehabilitation of Mannerism is not, then, simply one of those ephemeral fashions which are so frequent in art appreciation. On the contrary, it is a real revolution in the history of art, which henceforth presents itself in an entirely different perspective.
This new perspective has thrown open a vast and hitherto scarcely inventoried treasure house. It has enabled us to discover, during the course of the last few decades, the true dimensions of artists such as Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch, Albrecht Altdorfer, Jan Gossaert Mabuse, Maerten van Heemskerck, Lucas van Leyden, Rosso Fiorentino, Domenico Beccafumi, Hernando Yañez, Jacques Bellange and so many others who, although never totally forgotten, had nevertheless been relegated to places far below their worth. With this new light on Mannerism we have also been able to rediscover a whole host of talented painters who really had been forgotten, such as Jean de Gourmont, Antoine Caron de Beauvais, Luca Cambiaso, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Monsù Desiderio, and Baugin. But the reader has only to glance through the biographical dictionary at the end of this volume to get some idea of the incredible number of Mannerist painters who are seldom or never mentioned in standard histories of art. Who, outside of the specialist, knows the names of Bracelli, Lucas de Heer, Adriaen van Cronenburg, Sebastian Stosskopf, Lorenz Stoer, Benedetto Pagni, or Jacopo Zucchi? Yet, as the reader may judge by studying the works reproduced in this volume, each of these painters is more than a mere artist of talent: he has brought something genuinely original to the enrichment of culture.
The most original religious movement of the sixteenth century, Anabaptism, was conceived among the urban proletariat, and its prophets and leaders were workers. Many workers made great efforts to acquire learning, some with remarkable success. It may suffice to mention the example of a certain Thomas Platter, from a peasant family, who was first a servant in Alsace, then a rope maker in Basel. He became so fired with enthusiasm for humanism that without aid he learned Latin and Greek and became a distinguished Hebrew scholar. One should also remember that many painters were of modest origin. Jan Gossaert Mabuse was the son of a bookbinder, Jean Bellegambe the son of a cooper, Sodoma the son of a shoemaker, Salviati the son of a weaver; Girolamo Genga, in his youth, was an apprentice wool-stapler, and Girolamo da Carpi a plasterer; Maerten van Heemskerck, Giorgione, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder all belonged to peasant families; Domenico Beccafumi herded sheep as a child. We may well conjecture that the work of these artists reflects, to some extent, the invironment from which they emerged.
The development of the art of print making (woodcuts, engravings and etchings) permitted the production of a large number of copies of a work of art at a moderate cost, in a form which was easily distributable. By this means artistic notions were exchanged extremely rapidly from one end of Europe to the other. As a young man Albrecht Dürer was strongly influenced by the engravings of Andrea Mantegna. And if we are to believe Vasari, Dürer's prints were destined, in turn, to lead Jacopo da Pontormo to change his style. The prints made after the works of Raphael by Marcantonio Raimondi spread the knowledge of Raphael's style throughout Europe. Similarly, works of Parmigianino were made known through prints by Gian Jacopo Caraglio, Giulio Bonasone, Fantuzzi, and Domenico Beccafumi. A whole group of engravers, notable among them René Boyvin, Fantuzzi, and Jacques Ducerceau popularized the style of the School of Fontainebleau.
Among the many variations in the depiction of the light effects of the atmosphere is the rendering of soft and hazy contours or surfaces, known as sfumato. The creator of sfumato was Leonardo da Vinci, and his influence is easily recognizable in the works of his followers, such as Sodoma. Sfumato was particularly developed as an expressive device by Correggio and above all Domenico Beccafumi. As employed by Mannerist artists, sfumato was an artificial, cerebral atmospheric effect, used less for the portrayal of natural light phenomena than, for example, the evocative surface treatment of the female body. Correggio was celebrated for his sfumato treatment of the nude. His works such as the beautiful Danaë in the Galleria Borghese in Rome had great influence on other artists. The pale half lights which bathe the tender, vibrant body of Venus in Ippolito Scarsellino's Venus and Cupid owe much to Correggio's use of sfumato.