Portraits of Men and Ideas. Images of Science in Italy from the Renaissance to the Nineteenth Centuryby P. Mason

Journal of the History of Collections


Conservation / Museology / Visual Arts and Performing Arts





Alessandro Tosi , Portraits of Men and Ideas. Images of Science in Italy from the Renaissance to the Nineteenth Century . Translated by Lisa Chien . Pisa , Pisa

University Press ,  .  ----.  pp.,  col. illus.,  b. & w. illus. € .

One of the earliest of the settings that combined a portrait gallery of famous scholars and scientists with intarsia representations of scientifi c instruments – the whole displaying a familiarity with the scientifi c principles of perspective – is the studiolo that was completed for Federico da Montefeltro at Urbino in the s. It has been suggested that Botticelli supplied the cartoons for the intarsia . At about the same time, we fi nd several of these instruments, which were rarely represented in paintings of this period, in the same artist’s fresco of Saint Augustine that he executed for the church of Ognissanti in Florence in the s (perhaps commissioned by Giorgio Antonio

Vespucci, in view of the latter’s interest in scientifi c investigations). Soon afterwards the mathematician

Luca Pacioli, who frequented the court of the Duke of Ur bino and recorded several discussions on perspective with Botticelli, was to have his portrait painted along with the instruments of scientifi c demonstration in what Martin Kemp has called ‘ the most substantial and evocative record of any man of at K arolinska Institutet on M ay 30, 2015 http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/

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B O O K R E V I E W S were succeeded in time by an eclipse of the image of

Galileo by that of Newton, only to be followed by an emerging Romantic myth of Galileo in which anecdotal renderings, particularly of his trial, imprisonment and death, were enlisted in the cause of nineteenth-century positivism.

There is some jostling among these scientifi c ‘ heroes ’ too. If Mattioli is the new Dioscorides, Aldrovandi becomes the Pliny or Aristotle of Bologna; in a eulogy by Lorenzo Crasso of , we fi nd Aldrovandi (posthumously) even usurping the fi eld of mathematics and astronomy that had been the preserve of Galileo; Napoleon appreciated Aldrovandi’s collection enough to have valuable parts of it taken to

Paris; and in , a portrait of Aldrovandi going back to the Benini painting is combined with a eulogy of the great scholar as a model for young men and a paragon of civic virtue. As these examples show, these images appear in a bewildering array of contexts and have a longue durée , admirably traced by

Tosi down to the late nineteenth century and even beyond. This depth of time is paralleled by an equally wide-ranging knowledge of the images of these scientists that appeared outside the format of the bust portrait (for example, within larger fi gurative compositions).

When the portrait of Galileo by the Flemish artist

Justus Sustermans was placed in the Tribuna of the

Uffi zi by Cosimo III in , Filippo Baldinucci recorded that it would allow the erudite to see ‘ two stupendous miracles of nature, in the person of he who embodied it when alive, and also in the artistry of the painting by Justus ’ . As in the studiolo of the Duke of

Urbino, art and science were inseparably intertwined.

All citations in Italian appear in translation in the footnotes. The extensive annotation is solid and up to date. (The article by Federico Tognoni on Galileo’s portrait-icon and the equally important article by

Alessandro Tosi himself on Galileo’s infl uence on the arts, both published in Galilæana vol.  () appeared too recently to be included.) The scholarship is impeccable. And all this for only £! British publishers should take note.

Peter Mason monti@fastwebnet.it doi: 10.1093/jhc/fhn014

Advance Access publication 23 June 2008 science from the early Renaissance ’ . Not only in

Urbino but also in Venice and Florence too, the renewal of the fi gurative arts through the application of mathematics and the laws of perspective coincided with the emergence of a new type of portrait, that of the man of science.

It is with these personalities that Alessandro Tosi introduces his survey of portraits of Italian scientists. After the introductory chapter celebrating what might be called the annunciation and the nativity of the genre, he turns to a brief study of portraits of the physician and naturalist Pietro Andrea

Mattioli. The third, much more substantial chapter, surveys portraits of the Bolognese polymath Ulisse

Aldrovandi. The thread running through the fourth and fi nal chapter is formed by the fi gure of Galileo


Both Mattioli and Aldrovandi shared an eagerness to be portrayed: Mattioli decided to have himself depicted by Giorgio Liberale, the same artist who executed the drawings of plants and animals for

Mattioli’s illustrated catalogue of the natural world;

Aldrovandi asked for his portrait to appear in the frontispieces of his illustrated books, and left his scientifi c collections to the University of Bologna along with a portrait of himself intended to form the centrepiece of the museum’s decoration. That painted portrait, the work of the Florentine Lorenzo Benini, dispensed with all iconographic references to the sitter’s profession; instead it presented, in Tosi’s words (p. ), ‘ a work whose connotation was the sitter himself, chosen and proclaimed neither botanist, zoologist, physician nor antiquarian, but a “ philosopher of nature ” ’ .

If Aldrovandi and Mattioli can be said to be concerned with a form of self-fashioning, in the case of

Galileo we see complex processes of the fashioning of an image being carried out by third parties. During his lifetime, Galileo was known primarily as an astronomer and inventor of scientifi c instruments, to which artists like Jusepe de Ribera and Lodovico

Cigoli were soon to refer. After his death, however, the deft manipulation of the Galilean legacy by the