Tuesday, 8 February 2011

M/M National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings, Volume 1: Brescia, Bergamo and Cremona

Image courtesy of Yale University Press. All rights reserved.

Review by Nicola Linza

The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. 1 created by Nicholas Penny for the National Gallery in London (distributed by Yale University Press) is an essential tool that will aid fine art scholars, curators, art restorers, and serious connoisseurs of Italian art.

The cover states, "The National Gallery Catalogues, the first of which appeared in 1945, have been justly regarded as among the foundation stones of scholarship in art history. This series is now being completely revised and extended. Within each School of painting, every picture is the subject of a full scholarly entry with discussion of technical matter, subject, authorship, provenance and art historical significance, and each volume is fully illustrated. The artists include Lorenzo Lotto, Moretto, and Moroni, along with less familiar ones such as Bartolomeo Veneto and Callisto Piazza. Distinguished scholar and curator Nicholas Penny provides detailed information about each artist's painting technique and materials, conservation and condition, and subject and iconography. What is important is the inclusion of the painting's original patronage followed by a discussion of changing tastes, interpretation, and how the picture was esteemed (or neglected) over the centuries."

An interesting and important educational aspect included in this work is the detailed descriptions of frames and framing which reflects the growing interest in the field of antique frames among both curators, and private collectors. The information included in this particular work on frames and framing provides a solid base for both curators and private collectors to expand their knowledge, and distinguish to a degree on their own merit which frames reflect true rarity and quality, craftsmanship; an ultimate base for having the power or quality of deciding real value. This comes at an important time when select dealers have emerged to market so-called rare 'antique' frames once a reasonable addition to compliment a fine painting, today honest (as well questionable) antique picture frames are being offered (and sometimes reported sold) at extraordinary prices - at times, surprisingly exceeding the value of the work being framed.

One third of the paintings catalogued are portraits. Entries include fascinating sections on contemporary dress, furnishings, and accessories. The volume also includes an appendix providing an illuminating account of some of the great collectors, and collections of the past.

The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. 1 has been highly anticipated in the art world as an important catalogue encompassing Italian artists active in cities often characterized by artistic interaction between artist and city, and the overall influence Venice had on both, cities including Bergamo, Brescia, and Cremona. The volume also contains biographies of the artists providing valuable information for the researcher and collector alike, as little is known of some of those included. These biographical sketches of the artist's character and career are a useful source to a comprehensive understanding of the artist's entire oeuvre.