Morten Steen Hansen: Infernal Rome: 'Anti-Classicism' Revisited in Pontormo and Polidoro da Caravaggio


When central-Italian Mannerism was reintroduced as a subject of study in its own right in the first part of the twentieth century, it was as an art of crisis. Max Dvořák and others theorized the style in terms of 'Geistesgeschichte', which Arnold Hauser later accommodated to his version of Historical Materialism. With John Shearman's thesis from the 1960s of Mannerism being a "stylish style," indifferent to historical unrest of any sort, the crux between Mannerism and crisis was put to rest. I will be claiming that an extra-artistic crisis indeed can become a hermeneutics for some of the strangest Christian paintings produced during the Renaissance: Pontormo's frescoes in the Certosa del Galluzzo done after the outbreak of the plague in Florence, and Polidoro da Caravaggio's church paintings in Naples and Messina in the aftermath of the Sack of Rome. Walter Friedlaender's concept of a Mannerist anti-classicism productively identified an adversarial element in pictorial practice. More recently some scholars have identified aspects of Mannerism with a subversion of artistic canons. My approach differs by linking reactions against the bella maniera to specific ruptures in the social fabric, and I shall be arguing for a homology between Pontormo's and Polidoro's ways of working and penitential practices. The Sack of Rome resulted in a profound crisis of the image when the relics and holy images, mistreated by the imperial troops, ceased to work. In that light I consider how Polidoro let painting approach an act of violence, making the holy image suffer.

Morten Steen Hansen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, received his Ph.D. in 2002 from the Johns Hopkins University. Before moving to California he held curatorial positions at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and for a year he was post-doctoral fellow at the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Studies. He has published on Mannerist and Baroque painting and sculpture in edited volumes and journals, including 'Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte' and 'Art History'. Image theology, eschatology and the Jewish minorities, mythology and the erotics of princely self-representations, and the production of social identities are among the topics that he has worked on. His forthcoming book 'In Michelangelo's Mirror: Del Vaga, Da Volterra, Tibaldi' claims that the imitation of Michelangelo could either be a way of claiming an artistic and spiritual concordance with the older artist, or an ironic exploration of Michelangelo's increasingly controversial status. Currently he is working on the book 'Ariosto's Challenge: The Orlando furioso at the Hands of Artists, 16th-17th Century'.

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