RENAISSANCE ROME: ARTISTS IN THE SERVICE OF
THE OVERSEAS MISSIONS, 1542–16211
Gauvin Alexander Bailey
Few phases of the history of Italian Renaissance art have been so poorly served by stylistic labels as the last three decades of the sixteenth century, a period which falls uncomfortably between Mannerism and the Baroque. Style periodization has long had a stranglehold on discussion of the art of this extremely prolific era of patronage, resulting in a complicated and often fussy collection of usually derogatory terms ranging from 'Counter-Maniera' to 'anti-Maniera,'2 so that scholars have sometimes seemed more concerned with labelling than with the art itself. Yet few phases in the history of Italian painting deserve such careful attention. For one thing, the period ca. 1570 to 1600 rests at the threshold of two major artistic styles and can shed some light on how that transformation took place. For another, it is a period of particularly intense and extensive activity with the massive painting cycles of popes Sixtus V (1585–90) and Clement VIII (1592–1605) in Rome, but also major projects elsewhere. Finally, few periods provide such a clear paradigm for the crucial role played by the visual arts in the service of religion as the decades after the Council of Trent (1545–63), when the Catholic Church seems to have redefined its relationship to the arts with the passing of every pope, borrowing from the past and experimenting with new styles and iconographies. It is an era of constant striving and reinvention, one which is remarkable for its diversity of styles and approaches.
1 I was able to undertake the fieldwork for this paper in Peru and Chile thanks
to grants from the Higgins School of Humanities at Clark University, and I did
the final writing as a fellow at the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for
Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence.
2 See the introduction to my forthcoming book, Between Renaissance and Baroque:
The First Jesuit Paintings in Rome, 1564–1610. This problem has also recently been
discussed by Marcia Hall in Hall (1999), an excellent reassessment of Cinquecento
painting. Hall chooses to abandon some of the terms yet retain others, such as
[Counter-Maniera,] while admitting that she does this mostly for convenience.