Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Pintoricchio's Self-Portrait in the Cappella Bella: Patronage and the Artist's Image

Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Pintoricchio's Self-Portrait in the Cappella Bella: Patronage and the Artist's Image

Article excerpt

Few scholars who have noted Pintoricchio's extraordinary 1501 self-portrait, an autonomous image painted in trompe l'oeil and inserted in a fresco of the Annunciation in Spello's collegiate church of Sta. Maria Maggiore, in a space aptly known as the "Cappella Bella," have carefully considered how the painter came to place himself so prominently in such a prestigious location (Fig. 1). (1)

Since the portrait was painted at a time when many Italian artists were pursuing a higher social status through intellectual and artistic self-fashioning, it is easy to attribute Pintoricchio's self-inclusion to a similar endeavor (Woods-Marsden 5). While the assent of Troilo Baglioni, the chapel's patron, would have been necessary for this extraordinary self-portrait to appear, the desires and concerns of the patrons of commissioned cycles have seldom been considered in discussions of embedded self-portraiture. It is not necessary to reject entirely the notion that Pintoricchio intended his image to reflect both his sense of self-worth and his local fame. However, by examining Pintoricchio's self-portrait in relationship to Troilo Baglioni and his rival Perugino, we can better understand the motivations of both Pintoricchio and his patron.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

At the heart of this investigation lies the fact that researchers examining embedded self-portraits have not sufficiently questioned how both a patron and other contemporary viewers might have understood the insertion of an artist's self-portrait in a painting or sculpture. Nor have scholars questioned what benefits a patron, whether an individual or a corporate body, may have derived from allowing the image of the artist into the work they commissioned. In her monograph investigating Italian Renaissance self-portraits, the only book-length study on the subject to date, Joanna Woods-Marsden argues effectively that autonomous self-portraits represent artists' attempts to increase their social status and posit themselves as self-fashioning subjects. While this argument has an obvious appeal, it tends to foreclose the context of such self-portraits. Woods-Marsden's chapters on artists' embedded self-portraits seek only to explain what the artist gained by the insertion of a self-image into a commissioned work of art. Concerned as she was with the artist's point of view, Woods-Marsden's argument does not require her to formulate a rationale for a patron's acceptance of the insertion. Research on surviving contracts indicates that Italian artists of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries seem generally to have had some discretionary power over a work of art regarding its subject matter and composition (O'Malley 163-93). Nevertheless, scholars rarely acknowledge that any self-portrait introduced into a commissioned work remained there at the patron's discretion, something especially true in Italy in the fifteenth century before the shift from the popular conception of the artist as craftsman to that of the artist as a creative intellect gathered more support. It does not seem credible that something as visible as a self-portrait of the artist frequently in the context of a sacred event with or without other embedded portraits would have been permitted without there being some means in place by which the audience would have understood its presence. Put in simple, albeit anachronistic, terms a modern bride would not tolerate her wedding photographer in the w,edding photos without a very good reason. It therefore seems necessary to flip the coin and address the obvious acceptance and interpretation of self-images by others, both patrons and other viewers.

Our knowledge of the Cappella Bella, its artist and its patron, has grown as a result of recent study. (2) In September of 1499, Wroilo Baglioni of Perugia, a career ecclesiastic and highly positioned member of one of the region's most powerful families, was invested as prior of Sta. Maria Maggiore in nearby Spello, a position he held briefly, from April of 1500 to August of 1501, before leaving it to become Perugia's bishop until his death in 1506 (Fratini, "L'arte" 200). …

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