2014 | 14 | 99-122
Article title

Fantasia and ritrarre. On the Beginnings of Portraiture in Lombardy around 1400

Title variants
Fantasia i ritrarre. O początkach portretu w Lombardii około roku 1400
Languages of publication
The present paper investigates the beginnings of portraiture as an independent genre of art. Contrary to the Vasarian tradition, which associates the beginnings of portraiture with the birth of maniera moderna in Tuscany, the present author focuses his particular attention on two important centres of court art and culture, namely those of Pavia and Milan, which throve for the most part thanks to the patronage of the Visconti family. Thus the importance of Lombardy has been emphasised, as a place that had played a significant role in the birth of portraiture in Italy at the turn of he fifteenth century. Written accounts found, among others, in the works of north-Italian humanists and art collectors (e.g. Bartolomeo Fazio and Marcantonio Michiel) directly or indirectly testify to the crucial role played by the artists associated with the court of the Viscontis in the dissemination of the new art genre, that is, of portraiture. In this regard, the names of three artists: Giovannino de Grassi, Gentile da Fabriano and Michelino da Besozzo come to the fore, as of painters who enjoyed famę both in their lifetime and posthumously. Particular attention has been focused, however, on a text that originated outside the main humanist discourse, namely, on Cennino Cenninis treatise II Libro delTArte. It was written around 1400 by a Tuscan painter who, nonetheless, was well acąuainted with the reality of north-Italian courtly circles. The author of the treatise underscored that avere fantasia e hoperazione di mano’ were two ąualities indispensable for practising the art of painting. The term fantasia seems to have here a similar meaning to that of the Latin ingenium (mentioned, for example, by Theophilus Presbyter) or the Italian ingegno (which later occurred in the works of Vasari). Fantasia appears to be the artists main asset which allows him to bring together the things observed in naturę according to his own liking. What is, however, equally important is the fact that nonę of the transformations done by means of the fantasia would have been possible without a preceding observation of naturę. It is in this very context that the word ritrarre, used by Cennini, should be interpreted. For Cennini this word meant not that much a simple copying of a thing perceived, but, rather, a process taking place in the artists memory. A painter who follows the ‘triumphal gate of naturę does not act automatically, but uses his intellect: first he assimilates, or, to put it in other words, memorises, a given thing, and only later does he re-create it on paper. Finally, the author goes on to demonstrate, on the basis of the analyses of selected works of art and written tradition, that the success of Giovannino de Grassi, Gentile da Fabriano and Michelino da Besozzo in the courtly circles of Pavia and Milan, and later also in other parts of Italy, was due to a large degree to their skills in exhibiting the quality that Cennini had called fantasia, and to their ability to produce portraits, that is to immortalise in the visual medium things observed
Physical description
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.