A Failure of Attribution
Why We Can't Trust Victorian Re-Drawings of
One day while I was visiting my (then) A&S
officer, we were looking at books - what SCA-er doesn't? I had picked up a copy
of Auguste Racinet's History of Western Costume and was idly turning the pages
when I found this gorgeous re-drawing:
At the time I had very little in the way of late
16th century depictions of Venetian dress, so I snapped up a scan of this
drawing. As you can see the original is attributed to Veronese. Going by memory,
the only information on the picture in the book is that Racinet saw a painting
by Paolo Veronese, which he re-drew. I was quite happy to take the words at face
value. It didn't occur to me that he could be wrong, or indeed that perhaps
someone else was responsible for that attribution.
Months passed. My site grew and grew, and yet
this picture, the only image I had of dubious merit for the study of historical
clothing, bugged me. Elements of the outfits depicted bothered me - such as the
method of dressing the hair and the jewellery - it seemed too French to me,
which I wasn't sure I should put down to the cultural origins of the artist, or
to a supposed Venetian following of French fashion. At this stage I was more
inclined to put it down to the former. Damn, I wanted to see the original
painting! Despite many searches I was still empty handed. One day during another
of my research web-surfing binges I hit the jackpot. I found this:
This is "The Venetian Ball" by Hendrik
Goltzius, circa 1584. I had stared at this wonderful engraving for a full five
minutes before I was certain that I wasn't imagining things - this great scene
of a Venetian celebration is the source for the Racinet re-drawing above it, or
rather, a small part of it is. Just to left of centre you can see two ladies
seated to the right of the small table, between three gentlemen. To the left of
the small table are three seated ladies. In front is an earthenware basin in
which a bottle of wine is being kept cool in water. These are the elements
included in Racinet's re-drawing. But...this was no Veronese, it wasn't even by
a Venetian. Perhaps Goltzius was one of the many visitors to Venice who had
studied art with one of the masters. Finally tearing my eyes away from the
picture I turned to the text and read. No, this engraving is itself a reworking
of a drawing of the same subject given to Goltzius by another artist, one Dirck
Barendsz. Curiouser and curioser! The inscription Goltzius used reads:
"Behold the great nuptial rites of Antenor [the
legendary founder of Venice], in the manner of the patricians of the Venetian
Senate: the crowded fete at the site of the wedding, the ceremonial torches, the
solemn triumphal procession through the city, and moreover, the magnificent
vestments of the ladies, imbricated with gold and radiant with precious stones,
as never before seen and unknown in other lands. Now it all can be seen and
admired throughout the world."
So. Definitely Venice - that at least was
reassuring. According to the museum this is housed in, Dirck Barendsz was a
Netherlandish artist who studied under Titian whilst in Italy. Titian, not
"Although its theme has been the subject of
considerable debate among art historians, a plausible interpretation proposes
that the scene depicts the wedding of the daughter of the Venetian painter
Titian in 1555. It has been noted that the bearded figure in the left foreground
resembles Titian (see inset) and that the man behind him may be Barendsz
I was starting to wonder where Veronese came in.
Also, there was the fact that some elements are different in Racinet's drawing:
the ladies all wear patterned dresses, unlike the Goltzius where some wear
patterned and some wear plain dresses, and the detail of dress embellishment was
missing. The hair and jewellery look wrong - the ladies wear be-ribboned
hairstyles and funny looking little hats or caps. Only one wears something
resembling a small crown. The jewellery likewise looks wrong for Venice, the
necklaces and earrings all being represented as something textured and metallic
looking, like metallic beads.
On the other hand, the Goltzius version has
almost all the ladies wearing little crown-like jewelled headdresses, with one
or two wearing pearls twisted through their coiled hair, and pearl jewellery -
much more Venetian.....
But was this drawing, this interpretation by
Goltzius of yet another drawing, accurate? Certainly the ladies are all
represented as a little more busty than I was used to seeing with Venetian
artists, and that is one difference. Would there be more I wondered. What
differences would I find in Barendsz's drawing? This has proved to be a
marvellous source of detail on garment embellishment especially...would I find
that this picture was wrong? Without seeing the original by Barendsz I would
never really know - and that I couldn't put up with for long. So a new search
began to find the Dirck Barendsz version of the "Venetian Ball".
As with many of my findings it came about through
a stroke of luck. I decided that I had been spending too much time at home and I
needed to get out. I was working on my purple brocade dress for a Royal Feast
and thought that perhaps I should take a trip into town to my favourite bead
store to look for suitable glass beads for a new girdle for my dress. The glass
beads I wanted proved more expensive than I had money for right then, so I
consoled myself by looking in book stores - of course!
I had been wanting the Veronese volume of the
"Masters of Italian Art" series by Konemann. I had looked in several
book stores, but if they had any of the series it wasn't Veronese. The last book
store I looked I hit the jackpot - big time! Not one or two, but many, many
books from that series, as well as "Masters of Netherlandish Art" were
right in the doorway - on HUGE sale. $10 each book, down from $25. Well, I
bought my eagerly awaited Veronese on the spot, and my sweetheart put five
others aside for me as a Mothers Day present - including a volume on Tintoretto
and one on Titian. I got my books two days before Mother's Day (I couldn't wait)
and it was in the Titian book that I found this original drawing by Dirck
....along with much information on the drawing
and on Titian and his house. To say I was very happy would be an understatement!
The drawing is dated circa 1583-84. It is assumed
to have been taken by Barendzs from a view seen from Titian's house in Biri
Grande, parish of San Canciano, which he moved into in 1531. According to the
book the view across the canal takes in *Murano and the mainland, and on
particularly clear days even the Alps were visible from his house, which at the
time was set amid gardens and had an unspoilt view. As befits Titian's
unquestioned place as the very best of Venetian artists, his fame lead to his
house becoming an attraction in its own right - distinguished visitors from all
over visited him there - even Henri de Valois, the future King Henri III of
France, visited him there in 1574. It was known as Ca' Grande, the Grand House.
The two pictures - Goltzius' engraving and
Barendzs' drawing are almost identical in all respects, but there are minute
differences. Here is the same detail from the two artists' images:
As you see, they both drew very busty ladies,
which I'm not used to seeing in Venetian portraiture. I guess that it could be
that Venetian ladies wore their more modest gowns for portraits, and wore their
flashier ones for celebrations - with the likely result that a man who was not
used to seeing so much female chest in one place either consciously or
sub-consciously over-emphasised this aspect of Venetian womanhood.
Since I first wrote about this, a lovely
gentleman from the Netherlands contacted me regarding the
Goltzius engraving. He was lucky enough to have seen the
engraving at a Goltzius exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in
Amsterdam, and very generously offered to share with me his
translation of the accompanying info in the exhibiton catalogue.
I could not refuse such a wonderful offer, so, despite the fact
that it is months overdue, I present it here for your enjoyment.
“Hendrick Goltzius, Dutch Master (1558 –
1617) Drawings, Prints and Paintings”
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum March 7 – May 25 2003
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 23 – September 7 2003
Toledo (Ohio), Toledo Museum of Art, October 18 2003 – January 4 2004
after Dirck Barendsz
The Venetian Wedding, ca. 1584
drawing and engraving
As his name appears on the drawing and the print, the study on which Goltzius
based his engraving “The Venetian Wedding” was long time regarded as a work
of the Amsterdam artist Dirck Barendsz (1534 – 1592).
Barendsz travelled (aged 21) to Rome in 1555 and
also stayed, until 1562, in Venice for some years. According to Van Mander(*1)
the artist (practically a child) was taken into the household of the great
Titian and moved, well educated in literature and Latin as he was, in circles of
scholars and high placed people. The Venetian aristocracy is the subject of a
work, made by Barendsz probably long after he returned to Amsterdam. According
to the caption in the engraving a Venetian wedding is depicted, although it is
not at all clear which part. A Venetian bride was taught to dance after her
betrothal. A few days before the wedding she showed, with her dancing master and
other young women, her skills before her kin and guests in the so called parentado,
a mixture of dance performance and fashion show, during which the ladies more
than once changed costumes.
In the drawing the bride is pictured left from
the middle, with the traditional loose hanging hair. If the parentado is
reproduced here, the man on her side is not likely to be her groom, but rather a
dancing master, a ballerino.
The bride’s white dress was usually made of a damask fabric and furthermore
the ladies wore gold, pearls and other precious jewels. According to another
explanation, this work depicts the reception in the gallery or portego
of the palazzo of the bride’s father, a part of the Venetian wedding taking
place after signing the contract and before the church service and the banquet.
Maybe however this image is not an illustration of any specific event, but only
tries -as does the caption- to give an impression of a grand Venetian wedding.
The impressive figure in the right foreground is a senator, dressed in a toga
with a gold brocade stole over his left shoulder and a capuccio on his head.
Scattered through the image are more senators but the company mostly consists of
very elegant men and ladies. In the lodge on the right three pipers are playing,
one sackbut and two different shawms. On the left two well-known commedia
dell´arte characters (ciarlatani) make an entrance: Magnifico and his
assistant Zanni. The women in the window diagonally above them, seem on the
verge of throwing an egg to the comedians.
The view over the lagoon in the background, with
the characteristic facade of San Cristoforo as eye-catcher and behind it the
islands of San Michele and Murano and the spur of the Venetian Alps, is
confirmed to be the view from Titian’s house in the Birri part of town. A
panorama likely to be well known by Barendsz. The Doric architecture of the
gallery, however Venetian, does not correspond to that of Titian’s house.
Van Mander described Dirck Barendsz as being the first to introduce the Italian
way of painting "puer en
onvermengt" (*2) in the Netherlands and his works as being of "een treflijcke Titiaensche en Italiaensche
handelinghe" (*3). Long time the image is considered to be an example
of Barendsz´s preoccupation with Venetian subjects and style. Nowadays the
attribution of the drawing to him is doubted. His print designs, as well in
drawing as in oil-sketch, show looseness and a ready touch and do not correspond
with the much detailed way the figures in the Venetian Wedding are depicted. The
drawing has all the characteristics to be designed especially for printing: the
somewhat mechanic, accurate contours, the “screen pattern” on the left, the
reproduction of light and shadow in the costumes with a brush. Comparison with
Goltzius´ drawings and especially made print designs, such as the Banquet of
Sextus Tarquinus, makes it (more) likely that the pre-drawing of the Venetian
Wedding is by his hand. The way of drawing the woman in profile, under the Doric
column on the right – eyes, nose, neck and chin – is very comparable to the
face of Doctrina, which is from 1583.
Remains the question however after which example
Goltzius worked, for that he disposed over a work by Barendsz, not only appears
from the writing “Theodorus Bernardus Amsterodamus. Inventor” in the
engraving, but also from the architectural picture in the background that shows
details which the engraver - then unfamiliar with Venice – impossibly could
have depicted based upon a sketched panorama. Instead of a drawing – an oil
sketch seems out of the question due to the subject and details – the example
could, for instance, have been a, probably much larger, oil painting. This would
explain why Goltzius could not have worked immediately from a Barendsz original,
but had to make the extra step of a drawing in which the costumes are worked out
in great detail with a brush, in blue.
It has been suggested that the pompous image
represents human vanity. In Cornelius Schonaes´ text under the engraving – in
which is talked about many more festivities then are depicted – the splendour
and richness of Venetian feasts are emphasised as is the magnificent appearance
of the matrons, yet there is no sign of an undertone pointing a moral in it.
Text and picture relate to the admiration for the Serenissima and the greatness
of its inhabitants, which in the Dutch Republic in general and especially in
Amsterdam created a feeling of affinity and identification.
It is striking that this early image of a
Venetian feast by a Dutch artist, would inspire the great Tiepolo 150 years
later for his “Arrival of Henry III at the Villa Contarini” (ca.1745).
Translated from Dutch, from the exhibition catalogue by Arie KOELEMIJ, Utrecht,
*1 Carel van Mander wrote a book on the lives of Dutch, Italian and German
painters from antiquity until his days: “Het schilder-boeck” , published in
*2 pure and not at all mixed
*3 a striking Titian-like and Italianesque action
So there you have it. The question still remains
in my mind whether these "Venetian Ball" pictures were drawn from
life, or from yet another work - perhaps one drawn by the master himself,
Titian. In any case, Racinet's drawing does not live up to these two 'period'
sources. Which is, of course, the 'moral' of the tale - always try for
"the" source, not just "a" source!
*Since writing this I have been informed that
both the drawing and engraving were in an exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in
Venice. The catalog of the show entitled "Il Rinascimento a Venezia e la
Pittura del Nord ai Tempi di Bellini, Durer, Tiziano" (Bompiani Editions),
"...the the island in the lagoon behind the
wedding scene is San Cristoforo (which, in fact, was visible from Titian's
house) and not Murano... The moment is the presentation of the bride to her
husband-to-be just before signing the documents necessary (notary acts,
etc.which, at that time, constitued the marriage)" My thanks to Martin
Donach for this information.