Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rule, the Bible, and the Council: The Library of the Benedictine Abbey at Praglia

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rule, the Bible, and the Council: The Library of the Benedictine Abbey at Praglia

Article excerpt

The Rule, the Bible, and the Council: The Library of the Benedictine Abbey at Praglia. By Diana Gisolfi and Staale Sindling-Larsen. [College Art Association Monograph of the Fine Arts, Volume LV] (Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1998. Pp. xiii, 201; ills. 73 [4 in col.]. $55.00.)

The subject of this monograph is the cycle of twenty-four paintings created ca. 1570 (according to the author's reasoning) by Battista Zelotti (ca. 1526-1578) for the earlier sixteenth-century library room at Sta. Maria di Praglia near Padua. The Renaissance monastic complex there was the result of the Benedictine reform movement begun by Ludovico Barbo (1381-1443), the abbot of Sta. Giustina at Padua. Before they can turn their attention to the paintings, however, the authors must reconstruct the architecture and furnishings of the original room-compromised in the eighteenth century-and reassemble the complete cycle, including the wall paintings now in the refectory, all of which they achieve by means of their examination of the existing space, their reinterpretation of the documents, and the magic of the computer. The result restores to historical knowledge a characteristic Cinquecento library with two rows of reading benches, paintings alternating with openings along the walls, and a geometrically framed painted ceiling.

Had the authors set out to do nothing else, this would be a welcome study, as the inventory is short indeed of well-understood Renaissance monastic library rooms. Judging by their bibliography, only a little has been added since my own student survey of a third of a century ago. It is the program of Zelotti's work, however, that is the center of the authors' interest. The paintings represent allegories and scenes from the Old and New Testaments, but they find the program doctrinal rather than narrative. Their exploration of the intellectual, spiritual, and institutional context in which Zelotti worked reveals sources that are stated succinctly in their title: the program relies upon the Rule of St. …

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