Inventions of the Studio, Renaissance to Romanticism.

Author:Holman, Beth
Position:Book - Critical essay


Inventions of the Studio, Renaissance to Romanticism

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. 264 pp.; 8 color ills., 110 b/w. $49.95

Artists have been defined by their inner nature and outward practice: genius and melancholic, scientist and poet, courtier and entrepreneur. Inventions of the Studio, Renaissance to Romanticism shifts the parameters of this inquiry to site: the studio as a crucible for fashioning identity as well as objects. In a sense, the book might be considered part of domestic studies, for the studio represents a domestication of art. I mean this in the abstract as well as the literal sense. Artists' studios were often attached to homes, and images of studios were filled with domestic clutter. More important, professional practice moved from the corporate workshop toward a personal identification with the work of art and the work of art with the personality of the artist, just as the home evolved into a site of individualized formation and display.

Inventions of the Studio consists of an introduction followed by four case studies, beginning with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the newly invented studio space began to be distinguished from the workshop, and ending in the nineteenth, when the studio became the locus of Romantic social alienation. In the first essay, the two editors of the volume, Michael Cole and Mary Pardo, map out the terrain, moving from a sphere of private, contemplative research to that of public, performative display, bringing together examples of artists' studios from Cennino Cennini through Peter Paul Rubens. Christopher Wood then examines two new types of artistic study--life and landscape drawings. Walter Melion treats three sixteenth-century meditational treatises as "workshops" for "crafting" the soul, while H. Perry Chapman analyzes early modern self-portraits as statements about creativity and advertisements of artistic personae and production. The book concludes with Marc Gotlieb's essay on the frustrated and alienated artist in nineteenth-century life and art. Thus, over the course of the book and the centuries, the actual and notional studio drastically alters from a site of restorative and creative solitude to one of self-destruction.

In "Origins of the Studio," Cole and Pardo survey various functions of the studio, including study, reception, collection, and display. They begin by defining the term studio, which turns out to be rather elastic. Indeed, the authors admit to a certain anachronism in the title and theme of the book. As Wolfgang Liebenwein established in his 1977 monograph, Studiolo: Die Entstehung eines Raumlyps und seine Entwicklung bis um 1600, the study (room) was invented in the fourteenth century as a secular, domestic space for solitary reading, writing, and contemplation as well as storage of important papers and treasures. The term was not used for the artist's workplace until the late seventeenth century in Italy and nineteenth century in England. Still, Cole and Pardo argue, the concept of an artist's "locus of scholarly work" (p. 1) operated in earlier centuries. (An intriguing question, then, is how and when "studio" reverted in meaning from study to workshop/office, as in modern architectural practice.) This slippery terminology gives rise to some contradictory and even questionable applications--for example, to the representation on the Florentine Campanile of an architect seated at his desk with a compass (pp. 13-14, 23, fig. 1.5). At the time (1330s), the study/room was rarely documented in residential spaces, let alone workshops. It is true that studiolo was a term for desks and built-in cubicles later, toward the turn of the fifteenth century, but if furniture is the criterion, then the "invention of the studio" would extend back to antiquity. Conversely, names are not necessarily conclusive evidence of spatial function, particularly in an era when the single-purpose room was rather rare. Based on the sixteen shelves (mensote) of stucco models and two shelves (palchetti) of wax models recorded in Giambologna's ground-floor studio in 1608, Cole and Pardo deduce that it was both a "workshop" and a "private room in which the artist made designs" (pp. 17-18). The adjacent scrittoio (literally, "writing space") also held little models on a small (display?) shelf (palchettino) that ran around the room as well as framed paintings. (1) Gian Lorenzo Bernini's postmortem inventory of 1681 likewise lists a ground-floor "studio where [Bernini] studied," and its contents--two roughed-out marble statues of angels, a marble Saint Sebastian by an assistant, terracotta models, and various gesso heads and body parts--suggest that it was a workshop for carving. (2)

It is always tempting to search for "firsts," including early examples of artists' studies. It is not clear, however, that the literary references in Lorenzo Ghiberti's mid-fifteenth-century Commentarii means that he actually owned those manuscript sources, let alone had a separate room for them (p. 14). The authors are on firmer ground when they cite Cennini's Il libro d'arte, which recommends drawing sgraffito decoration on glass in a "studietto where no one may inconvenience you in any way, possessing a single cloth-covered window, at which you will place your desk, like those used for writing" (p. 15). It is generally believed that this treatise was composed while the artist was in Padua in the 1390s, but in her book The Two Parallel Realities of Alberti and Cennini (2004), Latifah Troncelliti argues for a date decades later, based on the (only) manuscript's inscription stating that it was written or finished in the Florentine prison, Le Stinche, on July 31, 1437. Another early reference, not mentioned in Inventions of the Studio, is the 1455 inventory of the Paduan painter Francesco Squarcione. It lists two studies in his home: the large study held reliefs and drawings and the small one had reliefs "and all things related to the art of painting." These references highlight the early association of the study with the university (also called studium); Padua was a university town. More significantly, Cennini's treatise and Squarcione's inventory explicitly identify the artist's study with drawing. As early as 1431, Squarcione's contracts for taking on apprentices/students stipulated that their training included access to his collection of drawings. (3)

I bring up drawing because Cole and Pardo make the important point that, in the quattrocento and through the seventeenth century, the artist's "study" was associated with drafting and modeling rather than execution of the final work, which took place in the larger, more public workshop. In 1648, Carlo Ridolfi wrote of Jacopo Tintoretto:

when he was not painting, he would retire to his studio, located in the most remote part of the house.... [There] he spent the hours destined for rest amid an infinity of reliefs, composing, through the working of models, the inventions he was to carry out in his works. Nor would he allow anyone in there, not even a friend, except on rare occasions.... (p. 15) The 1686 postmortem inventory of the Roman sculptor Ercole Ferrata documents a "studio where one models" and a separate "studio where one works [studio dove si modella ... studio dove si lavora]" (pp. 22-23). This differentiation of spaces is illustrated by Michelangelo's plan of about 1545 for his residence (fig. 1.7), with a "bottega" (workshop) at the front of the house and a much smaller "studiolo" toward the rear.

In various sections of their essay ("The Artist as Student" and "Manual Study and the Book"), Cole and Pardo rightly emphasize the ultimate origin of the artist's studio in the culture of the university. They connect theoretical and manual art treatises to scholarly "learnedness" and literary production. The cursus of training and organization in artists' academies, first founded in sixteenth-century Italy, also echoed traditional educational structures. The studio as a locus of study is also imprinted in a series of images beginning in sixteenth-century Italy and expanded on in the Lowlands. Cole and Pardo focus on the intersection of painters and scholars in Rubens's self-portrait with Justus Lipsius in Four Philosophers (ca. 1602, Galleria Palatina, Florence, fig. 1.1) and Gerrit Dou's Man Writing by an Easel (ca. 1630, private collection, pl. 3), in which an old man seated in an artist's studio writes in a large tome. Dou also painted himself with books and other paraphernalia associated with learning (Artist in His Studio, ca. 1630-32, Colnaghi, London, and Self-Portrait, 1647, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Gemaldegalerie, Dresden, figs. 4.15, 4.16). By then, the artist's studio had become a distinct genre in seventeenth-century Holland, where, it has been proposed, these paintings functioned as advertisements in a competitive open market system. But, if so, then what was Dou (who commanded high prices by 1641) selling by representing himself as "pictor doctus" (Chapman, p. 133)?

This question can be answered, at least partly, by the notion of intellectual labor, a theme raised repeatedly, but not fully addressed, in the essays by Cole and Pardo (pp. 12-14, 23, 28), Wood (pp. 38, 49), and Melion (passim). The paintings of artists' studios by Dou, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer, discussed by Chapman, illustrate mental as well as physical exertion and craft. Yet the authors do not explicitly articulate the multivalent significance of...

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