Il libro del cuore

Douglas Lewis

National Gallery of Art, Washington - emeritus. È membro del consiglio scientifico del Centro dal 1974.

Francis Haskell, Patrons and Painters, London, Chatto & Windus, 1963 (et seq.).

This is a book for which I was present during the writing, since I was a Mellon Fellow at the University of Cambridge from 1960 to 1962.  Though I was a scholar of Clare College, that ancient foundation had no professors in my fields of art and architectural history; so I was assigned to take my tutorials next door at King’s College, where I was supervised by one of its youngest and most promising Fellows, Francis Haskell.  Francis was already engaged in the creation of this book (in addition to carrying on a precarious love-affair with his future wife, Larissa, then a state employee of the Soviet Union, in the Italian drawings department at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad).  Francis’s affectionate inscription to me, on the flyleaf of an early-published volume, is “For Doug, who suffered much neglect while it was being written.” Actually I experienced no such thing; for my memory of those two magical years, of grindingly hard work amidst the cryptic handwritten catalogues of the University Library, then crossing King’s Great Lawn every Friday morning, to read my shockingly sophomoric interpretation of the week’s suggested topic to a bemused but tolerant ‘Professor Haskell,’ is one of being continually bewitched by his own incredibly wide understanding of ‘The Age of the Baroque.’

It was certainly no accident, therefore (although I had written my Cambridge BA/MA thesis on the Greek Revival), that upon my return to graduate studies—for my candidacy to which Francis had written a characteristically generous letter in my behalf, whose contents he rehearsed to me after graduation, over a man-to-man pub lunch—that I chose to explore in my doctoral dissertation one of the themes running, as an intriguing background, behind Francis’s own incomparable elucidations of Venetian painting:  namely, The Late Baroque Churches of Venice, which I interpreted above all in the context of their patronage.          

For Francis’s book is an incandescently brilliant study of the patronage of works of art.  In the late 1950s the world of Art History was tightly circumscribed by narrow explorations of artistic attribution; by ‘formal analysis;’ by social surveys; or (a particular favorite of the time) by typological studies of individual genres or classes of artifacts.  The latter preoccupation—which may have been appropriate to the unattributed abundance of the decorative arts—was also applied much less successfully to architecture:  the individuality of whose masters, as well as whose masterpieces, tended severely to suffer from such a compendium approach. My own instinct, after two years’ training at the feet of—essentially—the ‘pioneer of patronage,’ was that significant works of architecture invariably require funding by an enlightened patron, simply to come into being; and that an exercise of beneficent patronage is almost continuously required thereafter, to complete, improve, maintain, preserve, and (in sum) to cherish, the noteworthy monuments thus created.          

It therefore developed that I began writing my dissertation about patronage in Venice almost immediately; and that the Grand Design of what was meant to be my life’s work, a definitive tome on ‘Longhena and his Patrons’ (a topic optimistically assigned to me by the ‘outside reader’ of my dissertation, Prof. Rudolf Wittkower) in fact occupied me from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. But such is fate, that the same Rudi Wittkower nominated me to succeed him, as one of the American members of the Consiglio Scientifico at CISA.  My 1971 commission to write a volume for the original Corpus Palladianum, on the Villa Cornaro at Piombino Dese, was (inevitably) dedicated to the memory of its patron, “Zorzon” Cornaro—a gesture (however) toward which the redoubtable Renato Cevese took a decidedly dim view.  So that early manuscript about a triumph of Palladian patronage—whose publication might have cemented my reputation as a protagonist of Patronage in Architecture—still languishes today in its 1975 typescript.  My lead review of Deborah Howard’s Sansovino in the Burlington Magazine of 1979, though, with its understanding and sympathy (I almost said ‘friendship’) for four centuries of the Venetian patriciate, fully indicated the direction in which my heart was fixed.  And in the meantime my Drawings of Andrea Palladio [1981 and 2000] has allowed me to demonstrate just how much my interpretation of our mutual ‘genius of Renaissance patronage’ owes to my early tutor Francis Haskell, and to his incomparable book.

Douglas Lewis