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The early modern age placed great weight on historical evidence in effecting a revival of the ancient art of the past. To an unprecedented degree, this nascent historical consciousness subscribed to the truth value of visual evidence at the same time that it entertained skepticism about the reliability of written history. (1) Notorious instances of altered or misinterpreteel documents encouraged the belief that images provided more reliable insight into historical fact than written sources.
The considerable attention devoted by the post-Triclentine ecclesiastical program of reform to the image's subject matter fostered a self-imposed medieval character. The reform program sought to regulate not only the format and function of devotional images but also aspects of their istoria in the treatment of many commissioned artists. The post-Tridentine assertion of venerable traditions expressed itself in the creation of artifacts that directly referenced their reflexive contexts, a mechanism that enlisted (he specifics of old images to the system of Catholic truth visually argued. Thus, Cardinal Federico Borromeo found theological and didactic value in the engravings made by the sixteenth-century Antwerp artist Marten de Vos that portrayed important chapters of church history, and these became one of the principal instruments of his canon of sacred art at the Ambrosiana Academy in Milan. (2) Early modern artists resolved to reform such post-Tridentine hermeneutical discourses through the expressive models of a substitutional logic meant to self-consciously repurpose antique features in ways that transcended the specific moment of their creation. The substitutional effectiveness of Federico Zuccari's S. Prassede altarpiece The Encounter of Christ and Veronica on the Way to Calvaty of L594 (Fig. 1) emerged from his ability to recover ancient prototypes and present them as recognizably old with the aid of Renaissance altarpiece paradigms celebrating the artistic merits of Early Christian images.
Despite their differing aims, both ecclesiastical figures and artists set religious images at the core of debates surrounding the veracity of historical sources. After the Reformation imperiled the historical legitimacy of the Catholic Church, and a generation of powerful popes, such as Paul II and his successor, Sixtus IV, made classical antiquity a key area of research, historical religious art acquired the task of shedding new light on the past. (3) Writing from the vantage point of the Counter-Reformation work of devotion, Peter Paul Rubens pointed to the efforts of Antonio Bossio to convey how the catacombs demonstrated the ungainly and substandard qualities that characterized Early Christian art in the views of many ecclesiastical patrons and theorists. (4) An artist with exceptional scholarly and antiquarian insight, Rubens suggested that he could not defend the visual worthiness of Early Christian images against the grace and excellence of classical antiquity in Bossio's illustrated folio Roma sotterranea (1636). Taking Rubens's conclusion one step further, it was left to the early modern artist to reconcile the devotional power of Early Christian art with its visual crudity in the creation of sacred images. This reconciliation was especially urgent given the new status of visual evidence as the preeminent historical source for the study of early Christianity.
Scholars generally regard die work of Zuccari as an essentially controlled expression of the classicizing aesthetics of early modernity, rather than as the achievement of an independent artist whose intellectual appetite did not need the stimulation of continuous contact with classical antiquity. (5) Not. surprisingly, art historians have located Zuccari within the classicist framework expounded by Giovan Pietro Bellori, the distinguished scholar, connoisseur, and theorist who set himself the task of uncovering the errors of ancient scholarship with a view to elaborating his conception of beauty as associated with ideas, or modes of knowledge. (6) Bellori propounded classicism as an approach to form and an aesthetic theory of beauty that had a sustained counterpart in (lounter-Reformation humanism. Prior to this, Giorgio Vasari had initiated an early modern discourse on religious painting in accordance with notions of decorum and appropriateness, (7) asserting that artists were to confine themselves to the imitation of the timeless values and perfect style of the ancients. (8) Yet imitation in Vasarian terms did not square with the Renaissance practice of vmuatio, keyed to (lie transmission and re-creation of an authoritative source. (9) Even though the advent of print had driven a wedge between reproduction and imitation, early modern theorists and theologians found it impossible to conceive of art outside the parameters of Counter-Reformation antiquarian culture. Central to the project of the Counter-Reformation was the confident highlighting of the age and history of cultural artifacts, regardless of their relative artistic merit. Insisting like Vasari and Giovanni Bat-tista Armenini on the retrograde character of Early Christian art, Bellori simply dismissed the significant number of Greek icons present in the west after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. (l0) Bellori yielded in fact to the temptation of classicist aesthetics and restricted himself to laying stress on the massive unearthing of Roman statues, especially those associated with Italy, and their presentation as foundational in early modern art. He railed against the crudity of ancient artifacts other than those of classical Greece and Rome, asserting the aesthetic qualities of classical antiquity as the driving forces of early modern discourse.
In contrast to his contemporaries, Zuccari, in his painting The Encounter of Christ and Veronica, still in situ in Rome at the S. Prassede Basilica, openly affirmed icons and prints as source material for the modern altarpiece. Zuccari employed the profile portrait of Christ to recall a period of purer Christian art and rcarticulate a different kind of ancient image within a modern painting. He inflected his devotional message in terms of a self-conscious backward glance, dependent on deliberate medievalisms that reinscribc earlier Christian imagciy into the edifice of the altarpiece. Zuccari took pains to reconcile these ancient forms with cultic function, deriving his work securely from Early Christian sources while at the same time engaging with urgent contemporary concern over true likeness in the realm of religious images. Xuccari's specific sources for Christ's profile in the S. Prassede altarpiece were medal lie portraits transmitting Christ's features as they had been preserved in other media and a late medieval Italian woodcut recognized in the early modern age as an authoritative early modern source for the replication of Christ's image.
Zuccari thematized die relation of prototype to copy in ways drat directly responded to the long-standing concern over the authority of religious images in the decades following the Council of Trent. Johannes Molanus, the famous theologian and iconographer of Louvain. had contended. following Thomas Aquinas, that veneration directed to a religious image was nothing other than idolatry if the image did not offer an authentic representation of Christ and the saints. Molanus offered guidance in his 1570 Treatise on Sacred Images on how to represent Christ by accentuating the evidence of his true likeness recorded in proconsul Lentulus's letter to the Roman Senate and in a bronze portrait described by Patriarch Nikephoros Callistos in the last chapter of his Historia. (11) Nikephoros, writing in the ninth century, had said that icons produced in his own day were not invented but were true depictions of Christ, invested with the authority of age, contiguous with antiquity and the proclamation of the Gospels. (12) His observations provided the model and spur for a definition of the icon as artifact, built on his claim of the direct relation between icon and archetype. As Charles Barber pointed out, the key terms introduced by Patriarch Nikephoros in the formalist discourse of Byzantine art allowed for the understanding of the icon as a representation formed in the likeness of an archetype. (13)
Remarkably, Zuccari managed to reconcile this cultic argument with his adaptation of religious concerns to fit a narrative drama, building on the impetus for the reform of the altarpiece given by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Lorenzo Lotto. Zuccari visualized these points in The Encounter of Christ and Veronica, a scene portraying the dramatic moment when Veronica extends to Christ her famous cloth. Veronica kneels in front of Christ while Simon of Cyrene lifts the cross from his shoulders, presenting the veil in a narrative framework seldom explored in the frontal, centering treatment of other altar paintings that include the relic. This assimilation of the veil to a narrative had been instead the realm of prints and antiquarian culture, at a remove from the altarpiece project of presenting the true likeness of Christ derived from a tradition of achciropoietic images. A telling example likely familiar to Zuccari was The Altar of Saint Veronica made between 1524 and 1527 by Ugo da Carpi for Old St. Peter's Basilica. Like the famous, albeit much contrasting, drawing by Parmigianino at the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, the altarpiece shows Carpi's effort to present a portrait of Christ that would imitate Rome's vera icon, the sudarium of Veronica. (14) A family of a lew portraits of Christ professing to have descended from the veil of Veronica, a cloth that had been pressed against Christ's bloody face, pretended to be the sudarium or the double of the Byzantine Mandylion. The original Mandylion represented the most prestigious acheiropoietic portrait of Christ, having come to Constantinople from Edessa in the tenth century; it resurfaced in two versions simultaneously in Rome and Paris after the fall of Constantinople in 1204. A third portrait said to be the true Mandylion appeared in Genoa in the fourteenth century, where it is still venerated in the church of S. Bartolomeo degli Armeni. (15)
In the late sixteenth century, El Greco responded to the emphasis on the achciropoietic dimension of Christ's face with images of the living appearance of Christ on Veronica's veil. There are several versions, one for the high altar of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo and others with Veronica holding the cloth (Fig. 2). El Greco was heir to a tradition that would continue into the seventeenth century and beyond in the work of Francisco de Zurbaran and numerous other Spanish artists. Zurbaran, in his frequent repetitions of the theme, appropriated the conventions of trompe l'oeil to impart a convincing sense of the real presence of Christ, materialized before our eyes like the face miraculously imprinted on Veronica's cloth (Fig. 3). (16) The painter's archaism expresses itself in an imitation of the achciropoietic portrait, reproducing in paint features of the original Mandylion. Zurbaran and El Greco secured the authority of their copies by referring back to the substitutional logic of the most venerated ancient prototype, the true likeness of Christ in the Mandylion. By contrast, Zuccari reminded his viewer that the veil is the bearer of a story that precedes the relic venerated in a reliquary at St. Peter's, Rome. Late sixteenth-and seventeenth-century painters did not share his treatment of the vera icon, nor did it have an established tradition in Renaissance altar painting. But, like his contemporaries, Zuccari took pains to make explicit claims about the origins of his painting. His image belongs to the time in which it was made and at the same time to its restagecl context, thus narrating its own production history without pushing it into the realm of imitation and emulation. Zuccari's motif had enjoyed its greatest popularity in the late Middle Ages, when Veronica was a character in Passion plays. Her role spoke to a ground-swell of popular devotion and a hunger for narrative detail. Zuccari's dramatic and narrative solutions responded directly to this late medieval sensibility and its attendant embellishment of textual evidence in religious imagery. Jacobus de Voragine's The Golden Legend provided the source for Zuccari's pictorial representation of Veronica's entry on the scene to offer Christ a cloth to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. In Zuccari's hands, medieval imagery acquired a renewed efficacy in the creation of compelling modern narratives. (17)
Modern Altarpieces Need the Print
In the S. Prassede altarpiece, Zuccari centered the narrative action around a beautiful image of Christ in profile, bearing the cross. The result bears witness to the survival of Zuccari's artistic influences: medieval portraits of Christ that circulated during the Renaissance as engravings and woodcuts. Sixten Ringbom recognized a half-length northern Italian woodcut of Christ carrying the cross from the late fifteenth century as a model without precedent north of the Alps, one that: would evolve into a major source for Italian Renaissance painting (Fig. 4). (18) It seems to have originated in Milan, where its inventor, undoubtedly prompted by new developments in the iconography of the Ecce Homo and Salvator Mundi subjects, created an original formula of a bust-length Christ in regal attire carrying the cross. The Milanese woodcut shows Christ in profile view, emphasizing his meditative stance in stark contrast to the cruelty of the narrative. In The Encounter of Christ and Veronica, Zuccari also portrays Christ in profile, but at a different moment in the earning of the cross. Zuecari's dramatic depiction reframes for narrative purposes the mystical features of Christ's face in keeping with the proportions and physiognomy of the woodcut. It represents a convincing attempt to appropriate Christ's image, as captured by the woodcut, for a rival undertaking that will forcefully assert Christ's character and individuality. The altarpiece is its own predecessor and simultaneously its referential context, such that the woodcut is no longer prior but present. The woodcut remains the documentary image to which Zuccari learnedly submitted his painting, thus inscribing it within a substitutional logic that squared his profile Christ with the renowned models of Renaissance antiquarianism.
Accompanying the rise of humanism, an exacting antiquarian preoccupation with true likeness evolved in close kinship with the urgent concern over authoritative religious images. Antiquarian discussions of the authenticity of the referred likeness aggravated worries about the dating of objects, and specifically about the authenticity of Byzantine imports. In this context, the evidentiary status of Christ medals in bronze allowed them to function as a documentary source for the modern religious image. (19) Emerging both from the reengagement with the Byzantine icon and the archaeological revival of antiquity, the bronze Christ medals derived their expressive power from the true likeness of ancient statues and inscriptions on coins.
For an antiquarian such as Enea Vico, the authoritative status of Christ's medallic portraits derived from a prototype likeness of Christ in the form of a Roman statue; in the same way, he argued, the portraits of kings and emperors on ancient coins were copies of their own freestanding statues. (20) In his Discorsi sopra le medaglie degli antichi (1555), the notion that the medallist works after the sculptor lay at the core of Vico's central numismatic argument, namely, that the original coin is a form of evidence that comes in multiples. (21) Vico fashioned a creative illustration of his thesis in a woodcut profile portrait of Christ (Fig. 5), placed in an inner roundel that alluded to the front face of a medal and revealed the image's borrowings from a series of renowned Roman statues, including the profile view in Michelangelo's Risen Christ at S. Maria sopra Minerva. That Vico's profile portrait of Christ is not an adaptation or a translation is stressed through a comparison With Hans Burgkmair's analogous woodcut of 1510 that replicates the true likeness of Christ transferred from a medallic documentary image. Burgkmair's profile Christ derives its persuasive power from a bronze medal Profile of Christ by Matteo de' Pasti (1440-50) and the description of Christ in the proconsul Lentulus's letter. (22) Vico and Burgkmair are therefore to be numbered among the real antiquarians who were also artists, rather than among the men of letters and interpreters of antiquity of the emerging Counter-Reformation age.
To an early modern artist like Zuccari, the ability of images of Christ to capture a true likeness derived from the principles of authenticity and inimitability inherent in the Byzantine icon, whose production history was equivalent to that of the woodcut. (23) Zuccari was familiar with Byzantine icons in his native Urbino and through the Venetian collections he was exposed to during his apprenticeship. The official display of sacred images in the post-Tridentine decades reworked the isolated viewing of the icon. The Counter-Reformation church put its most sacred images and relics on public view, blurring the boundaries between devotion and display during the exhibition of the sudarium at the 1575 Roman Jubilee and the 1578 ostentation of the Shroud of Turin. (24) This emphasis on the institutional display of the sacred marked the restructuring of an earlier attitude toward icons, when their collection and exhibition was the prerogative of the private collector and donor. The famous collection of Byzantine icons inherited by Lorenzo de' Medici from Pope Paul IT served as the primary source for the expressive systems of Renaissance dramatic paintings. (25) Such collections furnished an effective backdrop for Zuccari's rearticulation of the medieval image in the modern altarpicce. The icon, collected with the …