Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pius XI Art Historian

Fra Antonio da Monza (active 1492/1503 ) 
1492 - 1503
Miniature on Parchment
33,5 x 27,7 cm
Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria

Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti) (31 May 1857 – 10 February 1939), was Pope from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939.

Before he became a diplomat, he was a scholar of no mean repute

He was at the Ambrosian Library (the Biblioteca Ambrosiana) in Milan, from 1888 to 1911. He was made Prefect in 1907

In 1911, at Pope Pius X's invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.

While in Milan, he  transcribed and published codices and rare archival documents. He reordered the Library of the Certosa di Pavia, the Library and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana,as well as  the Museo Settala

He recovered and restored the codices and manuscripts of the Chapter of Milan Cathedral which had been damaged by fire

As Pope he founded the new Vatican Pinacoteca, in a special building near the new entrance to the Museums. He also founded the Missionary-Ethnological Museum in 1926, arranged on the upper floors of the Lateran Palace before it was moved elsewhere

Occasionally one comes across articles and works from his early period in Milan

There was an interesting debate in which he took part concerning the Lombard miniaturist and Franciscan Fra Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)

His Pentecost (above)  is now in the Albertina

It was for a  Festmissale for the then  Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope whose features also adorn the work. The choir books were a gift by the Pope for Santa Maria in Aracoeli and  the Observant Franciscans within the Church

Fra Antonio appears to have been a member of the Observant Franciscans

Antonio's artistic style was influenced by the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Scholars have attributed several liturgical books, as well as some miniatures in the Sforza Hours and in Antonio Minuti's Life of Muzio Attendolo Sforza, to him. Minuti was a notary and chancellor to the Sforza family

Here are some works where positive attributions to him have been made

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
Initial R: The Resurrection
From Introit for Easter, Gradual:  Ms. Ludwig VI 3 (the Ludwig Aracoeli Manuscript,)
late 15th or early 16th century
Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment bound between original wood boards covered with brown leather
64.1 x 43.5 cm (25 1/4 x 17 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
The Crucifixion
c. 1492 - 4
From The Christmas Missal of Pope Alexander VI Ms. Borg. Lat. 425, folio 38v
Missa in Nativitate Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, hora tertiarum Pontifice Maximo celebrante
 Gouache, ink, and gold on vellum,
46.5 x 32.4 cm
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. Vatican

The work and identity of Fra Antonio da Monza was only revived by researchers in the late nineteenth century, but little is known about his life or career

He is a mysterious figure

Art historians have attempted to piece together the oeuvre of Fra Antonio da Monza or cited individual works as successful examples of hybrid compositions 

One of these historians was the great German art historian Paul Kristeller (1863 - 1931) not to be confused with the great Columbia University scholar of the Italian renaissance, Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-1999). {But of course they often are and the works of the earlier are often shown as works of the latter)

Kristeller as one of the leading art historians of the Italian Renaissance became interested in Fra Antonio

In 1901 he published a monograph Fra Antonio da Monza, incisore  in  Rassegna d'arte I (1901), pp 161-164 and wondered whether on the basis of two hitherto unattributed prints he discovered in Milan whether Fra Antonio had also been an engraver and printer

The evidence he adduced was slight and unconvincing but his view was taken up by some art establishment figures such as S. Arthur Strong, Librarian to the House of Lords and at Chatsworth, Sir Sidney Colvin (Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum) and Arthur Mayger Hind (later Keeper of the Department of Prints, British Museum) 

They also prayed in aid the views of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Monsignor Ratti

This seems to have been the final straw

He poured cold water on the idea, demolished the reasons given for the attribution and clinically advanced reasons why on the basis of the existing evidence Fra Antonio could not have been the engraver

Why the bother ?

Possibly a number of reasons can be envisaged

He wanted the truth to come out and be established according to the hard facts and evidence and be established in a positive rational way and not on the basis of pure subjective opinion and reverie

The thesis which he attacked ignored the possibility or even probability that around 1500 there was in his beloved Milan, his beloved Lombardy a mature and thriving market for art filled with mature and sophisticated artists and their customers

For Kristeller was firmly of the view that the peak of Italian woodcut was to be found in Venice and Florence and that outwith Rome and Naples there were no local schools of woodcut in Italy

Of course he also wished to guard the academic reputation of the highly regarded Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Here is his article with the illustrations:

A work of great erudition and scholarship but both are lightly worn by the very learned author

This was written before the time when academics had research assistants and students who did first or second drafts

One notes the pointed ending with the Classical allusion

The reply came from Kristeller in his Die Lombardische Graphik der Renaissance. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1913.  - in a large passage and a footnote:

The First World War put an end to the debate

However in the 1940s and beyond Father Ratti`s view held sway and Kristeller`s was overruled