Written in the Margins: Interpreting Early Modern Artistic Literature

Early modern artistic literature is a crucial source for the study of art between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Treatise writers such as Vasari, Pacheco, Baldinucci, and Palomino were crucial to the construction and future interpretation of art and their texts, most of them of hagiographical nature, provide insight into early modern artistic theory and practice, while offering a glimpse of the lives and works of artists.

This session focuses instead on the readers and owners of these texts, many of whom have left annotations, scribbles, drawings, and poems on the book. Much can be learned from these comments written in the margins. For instance, the copies of Vasari’s Vite which were annotated by El Greco, Scamozzi, or Carracci, indicate how artists interpreted the text. Thus, through an interdisciplinary approach, the session seeks to deepen the study of art treatises (whether in their original language or translated) as key factors of knowledge transfer and we welcomed proposals that examined either manuscripts or printed books as an object, their readers in the early modern period (up to 1850), or their annotations.

Session Convenors:

Mario Zamora Pérez, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Patricia Manzano Rodríguez, Durham University


Lorenzo Bartoli, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid 

Le officine delle Vite: new philological observations on the Magliabechiano manuscript XVII, 17 and Vasari’s Lives 

The debate around the authorship of the Lives has emerged as one of the central themes of Vasari studies in recent years. At the margins of this debate, one of the crucial issues – for the study of the genesis of Vasari’s Lives, in particular, and for the reconstruction of Renaissance art historiography, in general – is the question of the relationship between the sixteenth-century Magliabechiano manuscript XVII, 17 of the BNCF (the so-called Anonimo Magliabechiano or Anonimo Gaddiano) and Giorgio Vasari’s Lives. The study presented here analyses the relationship between these foundational texts of the Renaissance art-historical tradition, demonstrating the philological link that binds Vasari’s Lives to the Magliabechiano manuscript XVII, 17. 

Maria Giulia Aurigemma,  Università di Chieti 

“et dichi pur giorgio quel che gli piace”. Zuccari on Vasari 

Having been closely familiar with Zuccari’s very personal handwriting since the first half of the 1990s, I have transcribed and analysed his autograph additions (partly unknown) to the Giuntina edition consulted by Gaetano Milanesi, in a forthcoming paper. Zuccari overlooks the first two volumes of the Lives and comments on the third one on 16th-century artists, as a painter and militant witness of the contemporary art, expressing his concise opinion on drawing, intelligence, grace, imitating the true, the natural, fatigue and diligence, notomies, on contemporary artists, on the author of the Lives: these are cues of a thought not yet settled but very clear-cut, more related to the reaction to the reading of the text, to his own experience as a painter in various cities and to academic practice, but already tending towards concepts with personalised contents as a theorist in nuce. 

Macarena Moralejo Ortega, Universidad Complutense de Madrid  

Toledo as a possible meeting place for Domenico Theotocopuli and Federico Zuccari: Interlocutors, reading and annotations of the Lives of Vasari 

Since the discovery of the copy of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives annotated by Federico Zuccari, Domenico Theotocopuli and Luis Tristán, now in the National Library of Spain, art historiography has put forward various hypotheses to reconstruct the meeting in Toledo between the Cretan artist and the Italian. To date these hypotheses have taken into account Zuccari’s documented trip to Toledo during the celebration of Corpus Christi in 1586 but have not considered other possible journeys and/or dates or the possible presence of other interlocutors at the meeting between the two painters. The talk will describe these possibilities and reflect on how the meeting with other interlocutors in Toledo may have determined the reading and the frenetic pace of annotations in certain passages of the book written by the most international painter from Arezzo. 

Mariaceleste di Meo, Fondazione Memofonte – Accademia della Crusca 

Rediscovering the Notizie in the original edition: Baldinucci’s annotations in the margins 

Baldinucci’s Notizie represent one of the most important Italian art treatises of the early modern age. Its best-known critical edition was published in the mid-nineteenth century by Ferdinando Ranalli. Perhaps as a kind of cleaning reading, Ranalli’s editorial choices altered some strategic elements of Baldinucci’s communication in the original edition. Despite the criticisms expressed by Pouncey-Tovey (2005) and Franconi (2020), it is still consulted worldwide. 

The original edition of the Notizie featured extensive annotations in the margins of the page. According to a widespread tradition in the early modern age (e.g., Ridolfi’s Lives, the Bottari edition of Vasari’s Lives, Lanzi’s Storia), comments in the margins represent an additional critical legacy in art treatises, which is still little studied by scholars today. Ranalli’s removal of these annotations partly undermined knowledge of Baldinucci’s method. In the margins he explained the literary sources to which he referred, sometimes even specifying the edition, chapter, or page of the book. Similarly, he accurately described the location of the manuscripts and archival documents consulted, even pointing out the particular filza and paper. In some cases, he also made considerations about the state of preservation and paleography. Through these annotations Baldinucci communicated his research path and interests, which were completely forgotten in the Ranalli edition. 

This talk therefore focuses on the original edition of the Notizie for the case of the annotations in the margins. Although these are not manuscript annotations, but included in the first printing of the work, their analysis will provide new insight into early modern art theory and Baldinucci’s Notizie as a key factor in knowledge transfer. 

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