Same same but different. – Another post about a detached fresco in the V & A, Andrea Mantgena and the idea of progress

I’m aware that some bloggers have already switched to Christmas mode, but while I do have a Christmas-y post up my sleeve, it will be a few more days before I lay it on the table. For now, here’s a sort of follow-up post to my last entry. Again, it begins with a detached fresco I saw on my recent visit to one of my favourite museums, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum:

Floriano Ferramola, A Tournament in the Piazza Grande in Brescia, c. 1511, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (Image © Wikimedia Commons)

As the museum’s website puts it, “this is the largest of a series of at least 17 frescos painted by Floriano Ferramola in Palazzo Calini at Brescia.” Executed c. 1511, these paintings were detached in the 19th century, and most of them are now held in the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia. What they show are various scenes of contemporary court life and entertainment. On the panel in London we see a tournament in the Piazza Grande in Brescia where such displays of knightly prowess had been held from c. 1480 onwards.

As already mentioned in an earlier post, tournaments were incredibly popular well into the 16th century, especially in the cities. It is little wonder therefore that a scene like this should appear in the decoration of a palazzo from that time. Unlike other depictions of jousting in late medieval and early modern art, however, Ferramola’s fresco doesn’t present the combatants parallel to the picture plane but facing one another in deep perspective:

Floriano Ferramola, A Tournament in the Piazza Grande in Brescia, detail, c. 1511, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

This unusual composition is clearly indebted to Andrea Mantegna – yes, him again – who had been experimenting with perspective arrangements like this as far back as 1448/1449 when he painted his famous frecoes in the Cappella Ovetari in Padua:

Andrea Mantegna, The Martyrdom of St. Christopher, c. 1448/1449, Cappella Ovetari, Padua (late 15th century copy in the Musée Jacquemart-Andrè, Paris - the original fresco was heavily damaged in WWII) Image © Wikimedia Commons

It’s unlikely that Ferramola (c. 1478 – 1528) was familiar with Mantegna’s Paduan work but it’s highly likely that he received his training as a painter from Vincenzo Foppa (c. 1430 – c. 1515) who, in turn, was heavily influenced by Mantegna. So basically, most of the things I said in my previous post applies here to. Ferramola may have come up with an unusual, experimental way to depict a tournament scene, but on the grand scale of things his composition wasn’t all that innovative – rather, it was based on innovations made by others more than half a century ago.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat it one more time: When we say things like “North Italian court art at the turn of the 15th and 16th century” what we usually mean is something like “all that fancy, progressive stuff Leonardo da Vinci did for the Dukes of Milan in the 1490s”. But at the same time, in smaller courts and aristocratic circles all around Milan, in towns like Brescia or Bergamo, both artists and patrons were still want to base palace decorations on artistic ideas first expressed by Mantegna half a century earlier. Personally, I must admit that I agree with them: Mantegna is one of my all-time favourite painters, and there just can’t be too many paintings based on his style and his ideas…

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One Response to Same same but different. – Another post about a detached fresco in the V & A, Andrea Mantgena and the idea of progress

  1. Pingback: Searching for the Crucifixion (a google experiment) « L'Historien Errant

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