Fra Carnevale

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Exciting in its detectivesque scholarship, From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master rediscovers a long neglected artist. Mentioned by Vasari, Giovanni di Bartolomeo Corradini was born in Urbino where he would later return. Moving to Florence in his twenties, Corradini joined the workshop of Filippo Lippi. The Brera-Metropolitan venture investigates early Renaissance rules of apprenticeship, workshop practices, and patronage. It reaffirms the status of Medicean Florence as a visual arts metropolis. Interestingly, it makes the viewer aware of linguistic diffusion and geographic adaptation. The catalogue, however, does not clearly address the interaction of the artists represented and the Guild of St. Luke (Compagnia di San Luca o dei pittori). It does not study in depth the artistic dialogue between painters and Florentine architects.

Professor Keith Christiansen, Emanuela Daffra, Andra de Marchi, and Matteo Ceriani extend a vector of inquiry from Fra Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca. In the process, the viewer discovers lesser known artists: the Pratoveccio Master, the Master of the Castello Nativity, and Rovezzano. Their work illustrates the shedding of the Italo-Byzantine, proto-Renaissance hieratic idiom and the adoption of XV century Florentine naturalism. The conflict is clearly evidenced in Da Camerino’s opus. Could one not argue the same about Gentile da Fabriano, Bicci di Lorenzo, and Lorenzo Monaco? They are surprisingly absent. (The Metropolitan owns Monaco’s Nativity and the Uffizi his 1422 Adoration of the Magi.) Fra Carnevale, trained with a Late Gothic painter in Urbino, made the transition clearly illustrated in the Crucifixion, Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Francis polyptich reunited at the Metropolitan.

The Making of a Renaissance Master also brings together the Barberini panels. Along with the Annunciation, they are responsible for the characterization of Fra Carnevale as the author of architectural fantasies. The artist uses architecture to create perspective and establish the axes that organize space. The contrast of columns with arches and arcades imparts dynamism and excitement. The setting and characters are tools for theological speculation and symbolism.

Florence’s early XV century visual output is a conversation with architecture. A Vitruvius manuscript was found in 1412. Brunelleschi, Alberti, and Michelozzo did not go unnoticed by Masaccio (1420’s Cappella Brancacci fresco, 1425’s Holy Trinity), Fra Filippo Lippi (1930’s Tarquinia Madonna and Barbadori Altarpiece), Fra Angelico, and Domenico Veneziano (another import). Alberti’s Treatise proved influential in articulating a new artistic paradigm.

Fra Carnevale, upon his return to Urbino, advised Federigo da Montefeltro on matters architectural and found himself involved in several projects (Monastery church of San Domenico, Palazzo Ducale). In Florence, he used architecture as the stage for the dramatic representation of the sacred. He acquired a profound respect for a discipline that gave visual expression to the Renaissance ideals of geometry and rational order as bases of beauty.

From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master closes May 1st at the Metropolitan Museum.

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