Painting as Business in Early Seventeenth-Century Rome
Painting as Business in Early Seventeenth-Century Rome
“A book that will overturn many long-held assumptions about the nature of art production in Rome.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Winner, 2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
Patrizia Cavazzini’s extensive archival research reveals a substantially different situation. Cavazzini presents lively and colorful accounts of Roman artists’ daily lives and apprenticeships and investigates the vast popular art market that served the aesthetic, devotional, and economic needs of artisans and professionals and of the laboring class. Painting as Business reconstructs the complex universe of painters, collectors, and merchants and irrevocably alters our understanding of the production, collecting, and merchandising of painting during a key period in Italian art history.
“A book that will overturn many long-held assumptions about the nature of art production in Rome.”
“The book, rich and variegated, is very enjoyable and often funny. But it also, in many important ways, challenges past assumptions and presents an entirely new portrait of the production and diffusion of art in Rome. Pleasurable, challenging and informative, this is an important book, which stands as a complement, and at some points as an adjustment, to Haskell’s celebrated Patrons and Painters.”
“Beautifully written and produced with instructive illustrations, this lively book provides a new, immensely compelling conception of seventeenth-century Rome.”
“In its own quiet way, this book offers a novel and groundbreaking reinterpretation of the art world of seventeenth-century Italy that could have a profound and lasting impact on our current understanding of the subject.”
Patrizia Cavazzini is an independent scholar. She is the author of Palazzo Lancellotti ai Coronari: Cantiere di Agostino Tassi (1998).
List of Illustrations
1. Artists and Craftsmen
3. The Diffusion of Painting
4. The Market
Seventeenth-century biographies of Italian artists, often written by painters concerned with elevating the status of their profession, have fundamentally shaped our understanding of the period. Since the Renaissance, theoreticians had argued, on the basis of antique precedents, for the inclusion of painting among the liberal arts, distancing it from the mechanical crafts. Many painters strove to raise their own social status through their calling, and many succeeded. In Rome, in 1600, the Cavalier d’Arpino was one of the first to obtain a knighthood for his artistic merits, while some of his colleagues, unable to reach this goal, only pretended they had. For example, in 1635, the painter Agostino Tassi had his apprentices call him cavaliere, even though the appellation had no basis in reality.
Biased by the writings of the time, we have long believed that in Italy, and in Rome in particular, paintings were luxury goods, largely produced by major artists working on commission for the most important patrons, whether wealthy aristocrats, major ecclesiastics, or learned connoisseurs. Past and present research has strengthened this belief, especially in the case of Rome, as it has largely concentrated on individual painters and collectors more than on broad sociological studies. Simon Schama, Svetlana Alpers, John Michael Montias, and many others have presented us with a multifaceted image of the art production, marketing, and collecting in Holland, but no comparable breadth of analysis exists for Rome in the early seventeenth century. Patrons and Painters by Francis Haskell, which remains the seminal work for the study of collecting in Rome, focuses largely on elite patronage, as did Luigi Spezzaferro’s research, which, one hopes, will be published in the future. Renata Ago’s works on fashion and on the economics of Seicento Rome are fundamental for any investigation of the period, but her brief study of ordinary collections examines too broad a period, at a time when taste for painting was changing significantly, to answer many questions relevant to art historians.
Traditionally we have assumed that in Rome the diffusion of painting was more limited than in the Netherlands, where cobblers, blacksmiths, butchers, and bakers could all adorn their houses with paintings. Very few scholars—an exception is Serenella Rolfi—have examined the acquisitions of art by artisans and small businessmen in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Only for the small canvases by the Bamboccianti, painters of realistic descriptions of daily life, which became popular in the city from the 1630s, has a wider dissemination among a broad spectrum of the population been hypothesized (fig. 1). Again in contrast to what went on in the Netherlands, the role of the market in the trading of pictures in Rome has been seen as negligible, at least until the second half of the century. Consequently the commercialization of paintings in the early decades of the Seicento has not been investigated, although later in the century it has been addressed by various scholars—particularly useful are Loredana Lorizzo’s articles on the art market and the dealer Pellegrino Peri.
Certainly the conventional assumptions remain valid for the most expensive canvases: a narrative painting by a celebrated author at the apex of his fame would indeed be commissioned by a wealthy and powerful patron, especially if it was largely or completely autograph. However in Rome, a large number of mediocre painters, minor collectors, and merchants also thrived, all operating in a substantially different fashion. Already by 1620 paintings hung in all sorts of households, not so much because artisans were willing to spend large amounts of money on works of art, but rather because a vast number of cheap canvases were available, often through tradesmen and intermediaries. Many more painters than the ones familiar to scholars made a living in the eternal city, producing some original compositions, endless replicas of famous pictures and of miraculous images, and numerous paintings of landscape and still-life, which had only recently become popular in Rome. Such canvases could sell for various prices, ranging from less than a scudo to 10 or 15 scudi, in contrast to the hundreds of scudi often necessary to buy a canvas by a major artist. (A scudo was the monthly rent for a small dwelling in cheap areas of the city, while 10 scudi a year would suffice to buy bread for one person). Some painters practiced the profession only on a part-time basis, combining it with other activities such as gilding, trading in art, or innkeeping, as a supplement to their income. Teaching pupils and evaluating canvases were other, more traditional, ways to augment one’s earnings.
No clear dividing line separated the trade, production, and acquisition of canvases of varied quality. Many ordinary painters did not perceive, or were not willing to admit, any difference between themselves and the most successful artists of the time. Academicians, worried about the market depreciation caused by the availability of so many cheap images, tried to limit the ordinary painters’ production, without achieving any substantial result; some of them even turned to manufacturing the same kind of inexpensive canvases, or had their assistants do so. Minor painters could easily become members of the artists’ Academy, or at least of the Campagnia (Congregation), a separate body within it, heir to the medieval guild. Consequently the rules of the Academy itself were often contradictory, as artists and artisans would hardly share the same goals. In any event these rules remained largely ineffective, at least for the early decades of the seventeenth century, for the Academy was hardly in a position to enforce them.
No longer bound by medieval guild regulations, the profession of painter in Rome was open to whoever decided to take it up. Anyone could declare himself a painter and work independently, as long as he could make a living. Aspiring painters learned their trade in a variety of ways, which often did not entail spending long years under the same master, as was the norm in Renaissance Florence. Indeed, as Renaissance Florence has been studied in much more depth than has Seicento Rome in all fields—historical, literary, philosophical, artistic—the knowledge of what went on there has, at times, led to assumptions about what happened in Rome. But the two cities, in two different centuries, cannot be compared. Many apprentices in seventeenth-century Rome changed masters often, and some were at least partially self-taught, benefiting only from rare contacts with a famous painter who would provide advice and corrections to their work and especially to their drawings. Other apprentices attended schools run by painters with whom they had no close relation or private academies where they learned to draw the human figure.
From the very beginning of the seventeenth century, notaries, doctors, apothecaries, pasta-makers, smiths, and laundry women filled their dwellings with canvases, often imitating what was common in aristocratic circles, but sometimes following individual preferences in ways that are never so visible or understandable in the major collections of the time. Certain subjects seem to have become popular first in relatively modest households and only later in palaces. Collections focused almost exclusively on a single theme—be it feminine beauty, vases of flowers, or landscapes—belonged to unknown personalities fifty years before the protagonists of the intellectual history of the century followed suit. Even though prominent collectors might have anticipated some of these fashions in their villas, probably with different intents, they did not do so in their city residences until much later in the century. Sculpture, on the other hand, remained more of an elite product, not so frequently displayed in artisans’ dwellings. Sparse mentions of marble or bronze busts and statuettes could be found only in the inventories of the wealthiest households examined here. These objects might represent Venus, Hercules, the Four Seasons, or more rarely a religious theme. In some cases one can reads of a “Madonnella di gesso” or a “Christarello di legno” (a small stucco Madonna, or a Christ Child in wood), or heads of saints used as reliquaries, also in wood. While in Renaissance Florence sculpture was widely used for objects of private devotion—such as the many cheap replicas of famous reliefs of the Madonna and Child—in Rome the use of the medium was more restricted, perhaps because it continued to carry pagan connotation, as Shelley Zuraxhas suggested.
A flourishing market for pictures began to develop in the early years of the century and by 1630 was already well established. Many shops sold paintings; painters, pigment sellers, barbers, and tailors were most active in the trade. While some stores sold only very cheap images, others also marketed more expensive items. Although many artists wished to avoid transactions on the open market, which were seen as damaging in financial and social terms, they often had to resort to such dealings. Foreigners and painters of genre pictures, as well as some Italian figure painters of a certain renown, might all sell their works through a merchant. Princes, cardinals, professionals, and artisans could all buy paintings in a shop. The same merchant could be equally willing to buy an original by Caravaggio or a cheap copy, and the same painter could produce a canvas for the most illustrious patron or for a merchant, whether an original composition or a copy obtained through tracing. If it remains true that in Rome at this time painters of ambition preferred to work on commission for a nobleman or a prelate, that they often did so, and that they were certainly better paid when they did, still many paintings found their final destination only through a long chain of intermediaries and tradesmen. Merchants could also commission canvases from painters, even relatively well-known ones, only to resell them as quickly as possible.
The following portrait of the dynamics of painting in Early Baroque Rome, which certainly stands in contrast with the more traditional view, derives largely from court records. Historians have long ago discovered the utter fascination of trial depositions from centuries past—and at the same time cautioned us about their use as primary sources. While a judge questions a witness or a defendant, a notary takes down the testimony. Thus even the illiterate, or people who would never leave a written account of their existence, can produce a tangible record. These voices, often so vivid, add comments, opinions, and feelings to the narrative. Although trial records can hardly be trusted to tell us the truth about a specific event—anybody involved in a trial might have reasons for lying—they are among the best sources for documenting the daily customs and practices of a variety of people. Judges, looking for contradictions among different witnesses, ask all sorts of questions about occupation, earnings, family arrangements, housing, or use of one’s free time. Answers to these questions might be inaccurate or untruthful, but they at least have to be plausible.
Art historians have rarely looked at this material unless it involved major artists. For example, Caravaggio’s various scrapes with the law have been documented in minute detail, and the trial for the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated woman painter of the Seicento, has spurred an endless flow of writings, theatrical productions, and films. But in general, court records have been used only to investigate a specific artist or a particular event, not in order to obtain information about artistic practices at a certain time and place. Obviously court records tend to be focused on issues that are irrelevant to art historians, such as gambling, debts, insults, sexual offenses, assaults, and homicides. It is usually only in passing that they describe how painters operated their businesses or learned their trade; still they are invaluable, for much of what they can tell us is hard to find in other sources, printed or manuscript.
My interest in the records produced by Roman courts originated in my research on the career of Agostino Tassi, a painter of illusionistic architecture and landscape, now largely forgotten, and remembered only as Artemisia Gentileschi’s rapist. Famous in his time, Tassi was fundamental to the development of landscape painting in Rome, because in his workshop, which included artists of various nationalities, substantially different pictorial traditions merged. Constantly involved in civil and criminal litigations, Tassi left behind hundreds of pages of testimony, as did his friends, enemies, lovers, collaborators, customers, and merchants. From their depositions I had hoped to learn more about Tassi’s production and about his contacts with various artists who worked with or for him. But I was evidently asking the wrong questions of the material, and my search proved almost fruitless. In the rare instances where a canvas was mentioned, the notice was often too general to provide an identification. Moreover, all of the most significant details about the painter’s artistic contacts had already been found by nineteenth-century archivists, especially by Antonino Bertolotti, who looked through thousands of pages of Roman court records and haphazardly published much of what related to famous artists.
Captured by the immediacy of the depositions, I kept reading and, with time, I became aware that I had learned much about the dynamics of production, collecting, and merchandising of pictures in early Seicento Rome. Most of what had come to light contradicted beliefs long held by art historians about painting in this time and place and in Italy in general. In order to understand whether certain practices were peculiar only to Agostino Tassi’s circle of friends and patrons, and were perhaps related to his shady character, I broadened my search and started looking, often with the help of the existing literature, at all the court records involving painters or paintings. I concentrated, in particular, on the three pontificates of Paul V, Gregory XV, and Urban VIII (1605–44); these were crucial years for the development of painting in Rome, as new styles and new genres were established or became popular, and spread to the rest of Italy and Europe. It soon became evident that people in Tassi’s circle followed customs that were common in Rome; they were unusual only in the volume of detailed information they generated through their frequent encounters with justice. Certainly no other artist—and perhaps no other person in Rome at that time—appeared as frequently in a courtroom as did Agostino Tassi. It is for this reason that his entourage is mentioned so often in the following pages.
Because the judicial system in early seventeenth-century Rome was convoluted, it is useful to provide a few facts concerning its procedures and the impact on painters. A number of different criminal and civil courts existed in the city, often with conflicting jurisdictions. The most important court for criminal cases was the Tribunale della Governatore and for civil cases the Tribunale della Senatore, even though each had a civil and criminal branch. The Curia di Borgo had jurisdiction mostly in the area around Saint Peter’s and at the same time specialized in misdemeanors and violations of sexual codes of behavior. The Tribunale dell’A. C. dealt with offenses involving the Apostolic Chamber and members of the clergy—but it progressively acquired broader competences especially for civil cases—while the Tribunale della Vicario often dealt with religious violations. There were other courts with very specific roles, for example, the Tribunale dei maestri delle strade, which dealt with issues concerned with building. In the Curia Savelli, justice was largely administered by a private family; this court, which often addressed offenses related to prostitution, became relatively unimportant during the Seicento and was abolished in 1652.
All of these tribunals produced vast quantities of paper for each case that came to their attention. Lawsuits, police records of arrests, preliminary investigations, proper trials, witnesses for the defense, and sentences all were filed in separate volumes. Usually one cannot assemble all of the various pieces and reconstruct exactly how a trial began, developed, and ended. Much of this material has disappeared, for some courts, such as the Tribunale della Vicario, in its entirety. Lawyers’ arguments are also completely lost. For the period under consideration, the best preserved set of records is that of the Tribunale Criminale della Governatore, which is also the easiest to study, mainly because nineteenth-century archivists researched it in some depth. In particular, its trials have been summarily indexed, and, even though the indexes are far from being exhaustive or completely reliable, they do provide a sound starting point. Unfortunately, many volumes from this court have vanished, and in some preserved testimonies, the handwriting is difficult to read, much more so than is that of notarial documents.
Court records offer a distorted and bohemian impression of painters’ lives. Their contacts with illustrious patrons or information about family life is rarely discussed in these documents, where instead are recorded in sharp focus artists involved in minor—and occasionally major—crimes and litigations. That Federico Zuccari, Caravaggio, the Cavalier d’Arpino, and his brother Bernardino all had serious trouble with Roman justice is well known, but many other recognizable names appear in these pages, often for irrelevant matters. Painters show up as defendants, as victims, as witnesses, or as friends of friends, in ever-widening circles. Thus we find Prospero Orsi—Caravaggio’s friend who traded in the Lombard painter’s early pictures—denouncing the theft of his clothes from his house; Bartolomeo Manfredi squabbling with a barber over payment; or Angelo Caroselli refusing to pay rent for a house where he kept his wife and children, while he lived elsewhere, presumably in more pleasant company, as he was rumored to spend much of his time with various lovers.
With remarkable consistency, some artists—first and foremost the Carracci and their followers—stayed well clear of justice, at least during their Roman stay. Annibale, Domenichino, Guercino, Guido Reni, Francesco Albani, Antonio Carracci are rarely mentioned in court records and never appear in person, perhaps because for many years personal contacts between them and other painters active in Rome were minimal. While it is often said that foreigners kept to themselves, Flemings with Flemings, Frenchmen with Frenchmen, there was much contact among different nationalities, including Italians. For example, Paul Bril, from Antwerp, married an Italian, acted as a witness at the German painter Adam Elsheimer’s wedding, and worked and established partnerships with Italian artists. Herman van Swanevelt, said by Passeri to be in touch only with his compatriots, was instead at the center of a wide circle of acquaintances and friends of all nationalities. But painters from Emilia-Romagna indeed lived largely apart from the rest. Giovanni Lanfranco was the first to break the ice, when he collaborated with Carlo Saraceni and Agostino Tassi in the Sala Regia at the Quirinal Palace in 1616. His integration into the Roman world is suggested by his complaint that in Naples it was not the custom to meet and talk with fellow painters in streets and taverns, as he evidently did in Rome. It might be a coincidence that he is the single painter from the Carracci circle who does appear in a criminal case—as a witness in the famous Valguarnera trial, for having exchanged some of his paintings for stolen diamonds.
In Domenichino’s case—as in Poussin’s—it is easy to imagine that he led a rather different life from that of idle walks, impromptu theatrical performances, dinners in taverns, gambling, card playing, relationships with prostitutes, and street fights, which emerge so picturesquely from trials involving artists in early seventeenth-century Rome. But some Emilian artists must have had similar lifestyles: Guido Reni was addicted to card playing, and it was rumored that Annibale Carracci owed his death to illicit love affairs, typical activities that might get a person into minor scrapes with the law. It was perhaps because of a patron’s protection that Emilian artists stayed clear of justice, not simply because they avoided bad company. Intellectual pretensions were not necessarily consistent with clean living: Pietro da Cortona never appeared in court, nor did Claude Lorrain, while more learned or more intellectually ambitious artists, such as the architect Martino Longhi the Younger, Pietro Testa, or Federico Zuccari, were often in trouble. Their learning evidently did not shield them from misdemeanors or crimes. Testa, for example, spent a night in prison for having refused to disclose his name to a policeman at a time when he was working for Cassiano della Pozzo. He was accused by the same Cassiano of having kept an advance on some canvases he did not produce and was seriously injured in a street brawl in 1637.
A patron’s intervention could be helpful in a painter’s dealing with justice, but on the whole the courts worked efficiently in seventeenth-century Rome. All sorts of people resorted to them, occasionally for gratuitous motives, showing that they had faith in the system. A painter called Pietro Lancinano sued someone who had sung an obscene song accusing him of masturbating; a prostitute took to court the architect Martino Longhi the Younger for having lifted her skirt in the middle of the street, without apprehension of his much superior social status. But judges could be influenced or corrupted—apparently even by the gift of a painting—and in any case punishment was doled out according to the perpetrator’s and the victim’s ranks. A preliminary investigation could be stopped—for instance, the little-known painter Giovanni Battista Greppi, arrested for possession of a loaded firearm, tried to prevent any further proceedings by saying that he was a member of Cardinal Maurizio di Savoia’s household. The scheme did not work in this case—the crime was too serious, and the cardinal did not care to intervene—but in other cases interference succeeded. A memorandum written by an influential person to the Governatore, head of the court, could lighten the case—as Cardinal Sfondrato tried to do for Bernardino Cesari, accused of having consorted with bandits. Perhaps because of similar interventions, many cases were abruptly dropped; many other trials that were not brought to completion seem instead to have been settled out of court.
Intervention could also occur at the very end of a trial. An offending party could be pardoned, or the sentence not carried out, at least not in its entirety. What happened to Agostino Tassi in the case of Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape is instructive. Throughout the trial the judge was obviously serious and determined to get at the truth of the matter. After months of questioning, the painter was eventually sentenced to a five-year exile from Rome. Even though, in theory, the breaking of exile would have dire consequences, as the sentence would be commuted to the dreaded galleys, in practice this did not always happen. Tassi neither left the city, nor did he bother to hide from justice. Three months after his conviction, he voluntarily testified in favor of a friend who had been a defense witness in his rape trial. Soon after, the painter was involved in an armed fight and again sentenced to a five-year exile, this time not only from Rome but from the Papal States, under threat of the galleys. Agostino left for Bagnaia, thirty miles from Rome and well inside the Papal States, where he worked for Cardinal Alessandro Peretti Montalto, one of the wealthiest and most famous Roman patrons, who had also sheltered the Cavalier d’Arpino when he was a fugitive from justice. After two years, Tassi was back in the city and again working for Pope Paul V, as he had been at the time of the rape and the trial. In his case, it is easy to suspect that the Pope personally intervened to lighten his sentence.
According to Karel Van Mander, the painter Cherubino Alberti was pardoned from a homicide “in consideration of his brother’s art,” just as Bernini did not have to pay the heavy fine imposed on him for the slashing of his unfaithful lover Costanza Bonarelli. One did not have to be a famous or favorite papal artist to be pardoned for a crime, as various professional and religious associations could intervene in a culprit’s favor. Onorio Longhi’s sentence of exile for his role in the assassination of Ranuccio Tommasoni was revoked in 1611, at the request of the Confraternity of the Crucifix at San Marcello. Similarly in 1625 the painters’ Academy succeeded in commuting Giovanni Battista Greppi’s galley sentence into exile. Guilty of having killed a fellow painter in a brawl, Greppi was soon writing to the Pope imploring to be allowed to return to Rome “because there is no other place where I can practice my profession as conveniently.” The episode does not seem to have left a stain on his character. When he was injured by a rival, we hear that “he behaves well in his profession” even though “he is somewhat weird,” and are told almost in passing that “he has killed a certain Paolo painter.”
If not pardoned outright, artists could receive punishment that still allowed them to work. In seventeenth-century Rome, jail sentences were rare: they could be imposed by civil courts for debts or by ecclesiastical courts. Exile was common, as were fines, bodily punishments such as whipping, or executions for major crimes. But house arrest was also a possibility: for having assaulted a courtesan and threatened to shoot her servant, Agostino Tassi was sentenced to be confined in the Patrizi Palace (now Palazzo Costaguti) where he was frescoing in Domenichino’s company.
Painters at times claimed to be ignorant not only of the law, but also of the sentences imposed on them. During the course of an investigation, a defendant was usually imprisoned. If found guilty, he was read the punishment in front of a judge and subsequently freed. Further threats of fines or of the galleys should have made the culprit comply with the judgment, but the system was far from being foolproof. When in 1612 Giulio della Papa, a painter from Palermo, was captured by the police in Rome, he was evidently under a sentence of exile for theft. But he claimed not to know about it: “I do not know why I have been captured; the policemen told me I have been banished from Rome, but I am not informed about it. . . . When I was released from prison I was told nothing, neither that I had been banished, nor anything else.” Rather sarcastically the judge answered that he believed that exactly the opposite had happened. Giulio della Papa, presumably shrugging his shoulders, answered: “I never heard such a thing, and if it is written in your papers I do not know what to do about it; too bad.” We do not know whether his insouciance helped him; in any case a few years later he was again working in Rome.
But papal justice could not be taken lightly. As explained by the greatest jurist of the seventeenth century, Giovanni Battista della Luca, it was rather arbitrary. While many artists were granted pardons, Caravaggio died before he could obtain one, and the miniaturist Cesare Franchi was executed, even though his colleagues had petitioned that his life be spared. Protection by powerful figures might be ineffective, certainly so if the aggrieved party was better connected than was the culprit. Moreover anybody was vulnerable to anonymous accusations that could wreak havoc in one’s life. Suspected of having organized Pomarancio’s slashing, the Cavalier d’Arpino lost all of his valuable paintings because the police were anonymously informed that he owned firearms. Relatives, friends turned enemies, even spiteful neighbors could present false accusations. According to Tassi, unpaid debts or personal animosity was behind a number of fraudulent denunciations and depositions against him: in at least one case, he was proved right.
Being so discursive, court testimonies are more informative than many of the sources traditionally used in art history, such as records of payments, contracts, and inventories. The results of my investigation of this material were so inconsistent with accepted wisdom that only with time could I discern the patterns that were emerging. I have focused on patterns of production, collecting, and merchandising derived from the materials of the trials, particularly those that could be confirmed by other documents, mainly inventories and early statutes of the artists’ Academy. Once certain practices had been clarified by the narrative accounts of many witnesses, they became evident also in printed sources that have long been familiar, for example, the biographer Giuseppe Passeri. His disparaging remarks about merchants or his snippets on artists’ training become much more understandable within the ambience provided by trial documents. Even though he lived in the second half of the seventeenth century, he seems to have been well aware of what went on before his lifetime.
All of my sources were difficult to analyze in a statistical fashion. Court records tend by nature to be anecdotal, and even Roman inventories, found in the records of the notarial offices, do not easily lend themselves to analytical study, especially in the period under consideration. Usually these inventories give no valuation of single items or of the total wealth of an individual. Preserved in volumes containing endless other records, inventories are time consuming to assemble in significant numbers and difficult to collect as unbiased samples. Ideally one should consult all of the notarial offices, as the various notaries addressed themselves to clients belonging to different socioeconomic levels. I have instead concentrated on those offices that contained more of the inventories necessary for my project. Statistical analyses have often been used by historians, especially when examining collecting practices in the Netherlands. They remain, however, somewhat baffling to art historians, as scholars in other disciplines often pay little attention to the development of painting at a certain time and place. Moreover, in the inventories I examined, the variation from the mean could be so significant that averaging the number of subjects owned by minor collectors seemed more misleading than revealing.
It is difficult to know whether Roman customs differed from those in the rest of Italy and Europe, or whether the former anticipated the latter. Certainly the decades under study mark a watershed in the diffusion and merchandising of painting in the city of Rome. In the Cinquecento, similar patterns might have been relevant in the trade of antiquities, as we might suspect from Barbara Furlotti’s study of a family of tailors who ran a brisk business of selling such objects. But Francis Haskell, whose research has been so fundamental to our understanding of the period, was partially mistaken when he thought that foreign buyers were the source of an increased demand for art sold through dealers in the second half of the century: much of the demand originated within Rome itself.
For other Italian cities in the Seicento, there is no comprehensive analysis of the world of painting at large, even though the gap is rapidly closing. Scholars such as Raffaella Morselli, Gerard Labrot, Christopher Marshall, Isabella Cecchini, to name just a few, have examined similar questions for Bologna, Naples, and Venice, often for slightly later periods. Many essays in the volume The Art Market in Italy are also extremely helpful in understanding different aspects of the art-trade, even though, as the book covers three centuries and many locations, it cannot present a unified view. It is certainly possible that collecting paintings by the middle and lower-middle classes was common throughout Italy, at least in the Seicento. As Raffaella Morselli has pointed out, for Bologna it was Malvasia’s decision to focus on aristocratic collections that has distorted our perceptions. There, too, merchants and professionals were actively assembling paintings, especially Bolognese ones, sometimes only to make money from their resale. Simple compositions by Guercino and Reni, in particular half-figures, which were obviously cheaper than paintings with many characters, could easily end up in rather modest households.
Contemporary travelers sometimes remarked on the singularity of the Netherlands, where cobblers, blacksmiths, butchers, and bakers would adorn their houses with costly paintings. Research has shown that even in Metz, which was far from being a celebrated artistic center, ownership of paintings was widespread. Was it then the quality of the canvases owned by cobblers and blacksmiths in the Netherlands that made travelers notice a difference? While this is likely to be the case, we should keep in mind that also in Rome artisans and merchants could occasionally own paintings that would be much valued today. They could buy landscapes and still-lifes of fair or good quality, which were usually cheap, or they could obtain figure paintings, even by relatively famous artists, in exchange for services rendered. If the bulk of paintings worth less than a scudo must have been of abysmal quality, some of those worth 10 or 15 scudi might well have been interesting.
Thanks to Antoine Schnapper’s volume on Paris, some comparisons can be made with that city. For example, gilders shared a similar role in Paris, and there are analogies in painters’ apprenticeships and training. But to some extent, Rome was unique: no other city in the world was considered so essential for the education of an artist, and none at the time offered so much hope of employment for a painter, coupled with such a complete lack of restrictions on the profession. As a consequence, none housed such a great number of foreigners, who imported to Rome practices common in their native countries and took some foreign ideas home with them when they returned. For example the accademie del nudo, communal gatherings of artists who assembled to draw from a nude model, may not have begun in Rome, but it was certainly from Rome that academies spread to the Netherlands and to Paris, where they later became the key to artistic instruction. Even the relative openness of the market in Rome—obvious in comparison to Venice, which followed suit only many decades later—may have derived in part from the influx of so many Northerners. The market dynamics remained substantially different from those in Holland—fairs and sales at auctions in the early seventeenth century in Rome were only incidental—but it is significant that so many shopowners were foreigners.
If many questions cannot properly be answered by the material I have mentioned above, I hope that the problems that can be explored provide a rich, variegated background for the achievements of the major painters of the time. Certainly the early careers of artists like Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi can be better understood in the context of the production of cheap images meant for the market, rather than in the traditional world of courtly art.
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