Georg Gombosi: "Among those artists who worked together on the pictures in Lionello d'Este's famous studio is one who appears to be especially distinguished, but whom we have known hitherto only from documents. this artist is Angelo di Pietro da Sienna, also called Maccagino, but more generally known by the name of Angelo Parrasio, given to him by his contemporary and admirer, the humanist Ciriaco d'Ancona.
While Arduino da Baiso, assisted later by the brothers Conozzi da Lendinari, was occupied with the chairs of the workshop and Rogier van der Weyden was working on his famous Entombment, Angelo Parrasio was painting his muses and goddesses for the studio and filled the coveted office of official Court painter.
Angelo1 was a native of Siena and, before he came to Ferrara, he worked in Umbria. In the year 1439 he was the subject of an active correspondence between the community of Sienna and Cardinal Vitelleschi. The painter was then in the prison of the town of Nocera on account of a murder committed in Camerino, and the townsmen of Sienna intervened on his behalf with Vitelleschi. Angelo "illud homicidium non-fecit corruptus pecunia … sed … rixe juvenum" (the painter was then very young). But the Cardinal refused their petition; "Si deliquerit igitur punietur."
Happily, he appears to have relaxed his severity later on for, after November 7 1447 we find the artist in Ferrara, the favourite of Lionello, and afterwards of Borso. In 1449, he received from Lionello a suit "di pano roxado de grana" as a gift. On November 9, 1452, his lodging in the house of M. Antonio Cervarola is mentioned and also the pictures at which he was working for the Belfiore studio: "le tavole che lui fa per lo studio di Belfiore de lo III, mo N.S."
This document is of special importance, and it is supplemented by a report of Ciriaco d'Ancona, who visited the artist in 1449 and described the pictures of nine muses, which he was painting for the studio, with great enthusiasm. At that time only two were finished, but it is significant that Ciriaco describes the painter, together with Galasso, as a follower of Rogier's in the art of oil-painting. It may be assumed therefore that the pictures of the Muses were painted in oils. But more of this later.
In the year 1455, Angelo was given a house by Borso, to whom every year on Whit Sunday he had to present a painted flower "per ragione di feudo." He had therefore left the house of Cervarola. But he was not long to enjoy his new possession, for the next year, August 5, 1456, he made his will and died.
Who were Angelo's successors in the office of Court painter?
In the year 1457, the youthful Cosimo Tura returned home after a fairly long absence. He worked for the Court, but only did insignificant work of a utilitarian nature, for which he received equally insignificant pay. But in 1460, his salary was doubled, he was inscribed as one of the officials permanently attached to the Court, and he was given the title previously borne by Angelo. From 1460 to 1463 he worked for the ducal studio and was called "Depintore per lo studio." It is practically certain that his beautiful Goddess Enthroned was produced about this time [Plate 1, A].
There was also another artist who must have been Master of the Studio - Michele Pannonio, a man of Hungarian origin, who appears to have been Gentile da Fabriano's assistant in Florence. He was some time in Ferrara in his early days after 1415, and settled there definitely later on. His Ceres [Plate I, B] in the Budapest Gallery may be recognised as a production of the studio by the Este emblems, and by its character as a companion to Tura's picture - one of the same series.
Now Michele Pannonio was still alive in 1459, but, according to documentary evidence, he died before 1464. If we bear in mind that, in the meantime, in 1460, Tura was promoted from a subordinate position to the office of Court painter, it is reasonable to assume that Michele's death occurred during this year. The order of succession of the Court painters at the Court of Ferrara may be therefore given as follows; Angelo Parrasio 1447-56, Michele Pannonio 1456-59, Cosimo Tura 1460-63.
Besides the Ceres by Michele Pannonio and the other Goddess Enthroned by Tura, two other pictures of the same type are known to us. Although they do not bear the emblem of the Este family, they must be regarded as belonging to the same series.2 Both are by the same artist. They were formerly in the collection of the Marchese Strozzi in Florence, where Adolfo Venturi discovered them and made them known as works of "The School of Tura" [Plate II, A and B]. In these two pictures we seem at first to recognise the hand of Parrasio - that Parrasio who, like Michele Pannonio, was no pupil, but a forerunner of Tura and belonged to an earlier generation.
Venturi bases his appreciation of them on the supposition that the whole series was produced under the direction of Tura, who painted the London picture himself, but entrusted the others to his pupils or assistants. In this way not only are the two works once in the Strozzi Collection ascribed to "The School of Tura" but Michele Pannonio himself, according to Venturi, appears as a pupil of Tura.
Now Michele Pannonio is mentioned in the records of Ferrara as a finished master in 1415. Tura was born about fifteen years later, and when he was mentioned as a painter for the first time, the older master had at least forty years' honourable work to his credit, and was sixty years old.
In reality, the stylistic elements of the Ceres, which are still in many ways Gothic in character, are older historically than those of Tura's work. Although the picture is a late work of Michele Pannonio, produced during Tura's lifetime, there can be no question of a relationship as from master to pupil in the Venturi sense, but rather the other way round.
Similar considerations oblige us to attempt a new interpretation of the two "pupils' pictures" formerly in the Strozzi Collection, also from the point of view of the history of style. We must therefore give a short survey of the whole development of style up to Tura's time, and a brief account of the history of art in Ferrara during a few decades.
During the trecento and at the beginning of the quattrocento, Ferrara was of no particular importance in Italian art history. But no sooner had Lionello d'Este begun his function as Patron of the Arts than four painters appeared in Ferrara in rapid succession - men who had not their equal in the whole of Europe:- Pisanello, Rogier van der Weyden, Piero della Francesca and finally Mantegna. the influence of these masters modified and controlled the development of local art also.
Pisanello was the moving spirit in the case of Bono da Ferrara and Oriolo, as may be seen from their pictures in London. In 1449 Rogier appeared in Ferrara and introduced the technique of painting in oils. The above-mentioned Ciriaco d'Ancona says that Angelo Parrasio, as well as Calasso, were Rogier's pupils in the art. The whole group of paintings that we are now considering, together with Pannonio's Ceres, constitutes, in fact, the first-fruits of oil painting in Italy.
Still more decisive was the influence of Piero, who came to Ferrara about the same time and introduced a new "statuesque" composition and also a new transparency of atmospheric effect which was well adapted to oil painting and finally ousted Pisanello's "Ornamentalism." In the fifth decade of the century Piero was the most influential artist in Ferrara. This is exemplified by the later work of Bono in Padua, that of the brothers Lendinara, and certain anonymous frescos in the Ferrara Museum, etc., although all these were for surpassed by Galasso's Autumn [Plate III, A]. Finally, as will appear later, Parrasio also was an immediate follower of Piero. But however widespread his influence, the local connexion with Padua and a priori with "Squarcionism" was much to strong to be eradicated without difficulty.
Ferrara was bound by a common "spiritus loci" to Padua, and this prepared the way for Mantegna, whose influence asserted itself in the generation born about and after 1430, that is to say, at the end of the fifth decade. Tura led the way. He apparently lived for a long time in Padua and Venice, and when he returned to Ferrara in 1457, he was an out-and-out follower of Mantegna.
The names of the great foreigners stand therefore like milestones along the road of the development of Ferrarese painting, and they can be used as a table of measurement by which a Ferrarese picture may be chronologically placed. Michele Pannonio3 is a case in point: his Ceres is still Gothic in the build of the body, in the type of the head, in the solution of the problems of articulation; it is "Squarcionesque" in the figure which is drawn so as to appear to a certain extent as though seen from below, in the ornamental surroundings of candelabra, fruit, putti and humanistic inscriptions; the influence of Rogier lies above these strata - in the technique of the oil painting and in the charming miniature-like execution of fascinating detail; nothing is to be seen of Piero's statuesque greatness or Mantegna's plastic severity. By the above analysis the date of the picture may therefore be accurately determined, and it is clear that we are here dealing with a master much older than Tura.
Other works recently ascribed to Michele confirm this; the three panels of an altarpiece in Ferrara Muesum (reproduced in Venturi) and in an Italian private collection which have also been assigned to "The School of Tura." But they are wings with a gold background of an old-fashioned and in many ways Gothic ancona; Gothic in the type of head, in the movement of joints; Squarcionesque in the position of the figure drawn to a certain extent as though seen from below, and in the decorative surroundings, such as the candleabra.
But Rogier's influence cannot be traced here. The pictures are somewhat earlier than the Ceres and were produced shortly after 1450. There is absolutely no sign of Piero's or Mantegna's teaching. The ascription to "The School of Tura" is therefore incorrect. Even if the form of composition, over-laden with superfluous flourishes and scrolls, is common to Tura also, the whole stylistic construction of the pictures is of an earlier day, and not yet affected in the slightest degree by Tura's stylistic system. (Compare my arguments in the article referred to in Note 3.)
By means of this historical survey, we believe that we have discovered by which the date of a given picture may be determined, and now we return to our subject; the consideration of the four sitting goddesses of the Belfiore studio. We have been able to identify two of the artists long ago; Tura for the London picture, and Michele Pannonio for the Budapest picture.
The two other pieces once in the Strozzi Collection are anonymous. Let us endeavour to place them stylistically. Compared with Tura's and Michele's over-decorated and agitated works, they appear serene and almost classically simple. That is due to the influence of Piero della Francesca which toward the end of the fourth decade, overshadowed everything in Ferrara.
The pure outlines, the noble profile, the bright landscape with the little chain of hills in the distance, as in Piero's Montefeltro pictures, are all due to his influence, and, more than that, the pictorial qualities of the two paintings, the clear transparency of the atmosphere, which lends depth to the pictures but, at the same time, diffuses a rich colour over the surface. Tura's goddess, with her resemblance to a closely analysed model, her energetically emphasized reflexes, and the superabundance of surrounding detail, makes an almost abstract and cold impression in comparison. Tura had to pay dearly for Mantegna's teaching; he had to sacrifice to form value the ancient beauty of surface and pictorial material, as Mantegna himself was obliged to do.
The painter of the two Strozzi pictures did not make this sacrifice. He still possessed the ancient culture of Piero della Francesca, and he stands in respect to Tura's Mantegnesque stylistic programme as the old to the new. After this can he still be regarded as a pupil of Mantegna? Would the stylistic innovator Tura have permitted his assistant to pay not the slightest attention to his innovations, but remain true to the older style of Piero, to that style which the master himself opposed with all his might?
The assumption that the four Enthroned Goddesses were produced in the Belfiore studio under the direction of Cosimo Tura and executed by him and his "pupils" and "assistants" will not hold water. Like Michele Pannonio the master who painted the two Strozzi pictures was Tura's forerunner historically and not his follower. Tura's London picture, if judged in accordance with the history of style, is the youngest of the four goddesses of the studio.
So the author of the two Strozzi pictures must be looked for not amongst the "pupils" of Tura, but among those masters who followed Piero della Francesca, and, to draw the line closer, among those who preceded Tura as head of the studio. And, as Michele Pannonio must be ruled out on account of his style, the only possible artist is Angelo Parrasio.
We know that Angelo worked in the studio of Castell Belfiore from 1447-1456. Ciriaco d'Ancona mentions him as a pupil of Rogier in the art of oil painting; as a matter of fact, the Strozzi pictures are typical incanabula of oil painting.4 Moreover, Ciriaco connects him with Galasso. Now, Galasso, in his Berlin picture, appears as a pupil of Piero della Francesca, and historically it is quite possible that he was also a fellow-pupil of Angelo. This increases the likelihood that it was Angelo himself who painted the goddesses once in the Strozzi Collection.
We have thus established a portion of Angelo Parrasio's activities with probable correctness. But we have also found another starting point which will lend support to our assertion and which, at the same time, will enable us to complete our knowledge of this oeuvre.
We have already mentioned that the humanist, Ciriaco, visited the master in his house in 1449, and described two of the pictures of The Nine Muses, on which Angelo was working at that time for Lionello's studio.
Several of these pictures of the Muses belonging to the early period of Ferrarese art still remain to us:- two of the series in the Budapest Museum [Plate III, B and C]. They, together with the Autumn in the Berlin Museum, have been attributed to Cossa, and Venturi is right in disputing these attributions and assigning the pictures to a generation earlier. We thereby gain a work for the genial Galasso, to whom the Berlin picture must surely be given. The Budapest pictures are, in fact, very closely related to the Autumn in Berlin, but the force, the clear precision and broad spacial development of that monumental development are wanting. Our master is a little less developed, more timid, but, for this reason, perhaps, more sensitively refined and somewhat superior to his colleague in colouristic qualities - two great masters, subjected to to the same stylistic influences, but of distinct individuality.
The two Budapest figures are called Angels playing on Musical Instruments, and Venturi thought they might have formed the sides of an Annunciation. This is quite wrong. According to traditional iconography, angels should have wings and, not only that, but entirely different garments and arrangement of the hair. The type of the two women is much more in keeping with contemporary ideas of the appearance of the Muses as laid down in the Ferrarese (or Bolognese, but hardly Venetian) engravings of the Tarocchi; morever, on the pedstal of one of the figures Greek letters may be seen, which at one time could certainly have been completed to form the name of a mythological personage. They are therefore Muses, and, as we now know, on the one hand, the Angelo and Galasso are stylistically related and, on the other, that our pictures of the Muses are closely connected with Galasso's Autumn in Berlin, we may assume with tolerable certainty that the Budapest pictures belong to the series which Angelo Parrasio painted for Lionello's studio in Belfiore.
We must now co-ordinate the results of our two lines of thought. If they are congruent, i.e., if the Strozzi Goddesses and the Muses in Budapest are similar in style, then one line of thought proves the other.
Let us attempt a brief comparison. Let us compare the manner in which the figures are drawn as though seen from below; the horizon; the peculiar hilly landscape; the sky with a similar kind of cloud; the heads and the hands; the folds of the garments drawn with convincing realism, and their angular, wavy movement; the treatment of light and shade; the similar colour scheme, visible even in a photograph. For the rest, let the reproductions speak for themselves.
There can be no doubt that the four pictures are by the same master hand, and that master is Angelo Parrasio.
They are the pictures which he, as official painter for the studio, painted for the Castell of Belfiore; first the Muses by command of Dukev Lionello, and then the sitting Coddesses by command of Duke Borso - a series which, after his death in 1456, Cosimo Tura continued.
In the art of Angelo di Pietro da Siena, called Maccagnino or Angelo Parrasio, there is no trace of any conservative, Sienese, element. Before he even came to Ferrara, he had worked in diverse ways in Umbria (Nocera, Camerino), where he came into contact with Piero della Francesca. Perhaps he was just his pupil and, as such, came to Ferrara. And here he became a favourite of Lionello at a time when Pisanello, Rogier van der Weyden, Piero della Francesca and Mantegna were at the ducal Court."
1 With regard to Angelo Parrasio see:- Milanese: "Docum. per servire alla d'Arte Senese," II, p. 187 and 293. Lanzi: "Storia pittorica della Italia," I. 301. Campori: "I Pittori degli Estensi," Modena, 1886. Venturi: "I Primordi del Rin. a Ferrara," Roma, 1886. See also note 3.
2 The picture of Charity in the Poldi-Pozzoli Museum may also belong to the series, but we cannot say anything definitely here. It is thought that Galasso's Autumn was part of the decoration of the studio in Castel Belriguardo - not of Belfiore. The iconographic connexion of the studio decoration is not quite clear. At all events, the subject matter was taken from that humanistic-cosmic range of ideas which has been handled most exhaustively in the Ferrarese engravings of the Tarocchi:- gods, goddesses, muses, sibyls, virtues, the liberal arts, etc. Tura's goddess in London, recognizable as a sea-diety by the dolphin motive, may perhaps be taken to represent Amphitrite.
3 With regard to Michele Pannonio's place in history and the new attributions, see:- Gombosi "Michele Pannonio und die Anfange der Renaissance in Ferrara" (Budapest Yearbooks, Vol. VI, 1931, with German excerpt.) For documentary information, see Note 1 and: Venturi: "L'Arte," III, 1900. Poggi: "La Capp. di On. Strozzi," p.20. Colasanti: "Gent. da Fabr." p. 82. Gerevich: "Kolozsvari Tamas," Budapest, 1923. Compare also: Venturi: "Storia dell' Arte," VII, III.
4The author knows the Strozzi pictures only from photographs. The conclusion that they belong to the same series as the pictures of Tura and Pannonio is based on Venturi's report; the conclusion with regard to the technique of the oil painting is based on the characteristic cracks which are distinctly visible in the photographs.
The Angelo Parrasio Hypothesis (Kenneth Clark)
The article of Gombosi was answered by Kenneth Clark, who pointed to Angelo Parrasio, in The
Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 62, No. 360 (Mar., 1933), 142-143. The action created the Angelo Parrasio Hyothesis.
"Sir, - In reading Professor Gombosi's very interesting article on, Angelo Parrasio in your last number many of your readers besides myself must have been struck by the likeness of Parrasio's work to the series of instructional prints known as the Tarocchi of Mantegna, E series. Since Professor Gombosi does no more than mention Tarocchi in a footnote, I may be permitted to enumerate some of the points of resemblance. First of all there is the general similarity of the drapery apparent on comparing almost any of the female figures in the Tarocchi with the four pictures by Parrasio reproduced. It is, ofcourse, the drapery which gives the Tarocchi their Ferrarese look, and this likeness might be due to nothing more than a common origin in Ferrara. But writers on the Tarocchi have always pointed out that they have Umbrian or even Tuscan characteristics which do not agree very well with a purely Ferrarese origin. Some of the landscape backgrounds, for example, are not North Italian (Squarcionesque) but Umbrian. This can be accounted for if the designer were Parrasio.
Indeed, the landscapes of many of the Tarocchi, for example Urania XII and Luna XXXXI, are very similar to those shown in the Parrasio pictures. I might also draw attention to the resemblance of the faces; compare, for example, the Muses at Budapest with Euterpe XVIII and Poesia XXVII. Comparison of the hands is made uncertain by the cramping medium of engraving; but compare the Muse with the haut-boy to Caliope. [See Plate]
Should this suggestion be well founded, we shall not only have named the author of the Tarocchi; we shall have to give them a new date. Hitherto they have been dated c. 1465; but Parrasio died in 1456. There is no serious reason why these prints should not be dated ten years earlier than is usually supposed, and it much increases their importance as documents in the history of engraving.
Transcribed from the original by Murray Menzies Jan 2005
Muses in the Studiolo of Belfiore
Artikel to Muses (Italian)