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    Re-viewing counter-reformation art

    Caldwell, Dorigen (2006) Re-viewing counter-reformation art. [Book Review]

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    Nicola Courtright: The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Gregory XIII's Tower of the Winds in the Vatican (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2003), 10 colour illns, 214 b&w illns, 312 pp., hardback ISBN 0 521 62437 1, £65.00, $85.00. Nicola Courtright's book represents an interesting and useful contribution to the study of Counter-Reformation Rome, providing the first detailed examination of the suite of rooms in the Vatican Palace known as the Tower of the Winds. Built by Pope Gregory XIII (1572–1585), the Tower comprises seven rooms, which are arranged over three storeys and crown the same pope's extension of the corridor along the Western side of the Cortile del Belvedere. Rising above the continuous façade of the courtyard, the Tower would certainly have enjoyed a position of prominence when first built, but with the construction of the Vatican Library by Gregory's successor, Sixtus V (1585–1590), it was effectively isolated from the main body of the palace. The library cut across the courtyard, closing the vista down its length and obscuring the view of the Tower. According to Courtright, its rooms were soon appropriated to the needs of the library, and their identity as a separate apartment, with a coherent programme, was lost. She sees this quirk of fate as one of the main reasons that the Tower has attracted so little previous scholarly attention; this and the relative disinterest in the later sixteenth century on the part of mainstream art history. This latter point is undeniable, although the present volume is a welcome addition to a growing bibliography seeking to bridge the gap between traditional categories of Renaissance and Baroque. Denigrated by the academic writers of the seventeenth century for its divergence from the classicism of what has become the ‘High Renaissance’, the art of the second half of the Cinquecento has suffered at the hands of schematic definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art. Moreover, artists who flourished after the second edition of Vasari's Lives of the Artists (1568) suffer automatic obscurity in relation to the role-call of names immortalised there. And yet this is a fascinating period in the history of Italian art, with religious imagery not only defended against Protestant iconoclasm but also enlisted as one of the primary tools of propagation for the Counter Reformation, leading to extremely sophisticated and knowing solutions. Not only should this appeal to those interested in the cultural dimensions of art history, but the resulting artistic output also deserves re-visiting for its aesthetic merit.


    Item Type: Book Review
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Dorigen Caldwell
    Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2022 10:19
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:19


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