book examines the life of the 16th century mathematician Jacopo Strada

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In the introduction to his complete two-volume work, Dirk Jacob Jansen deplores the fact that today Jacopo Strada, Mantua goldsmith, numismatist, publisher, merchant, imperial antique dealer and architect, is famous only for having his portrait painted by Titian. Certainly, the work, produced around 1566-1567 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, is one of the most magnificent and expressive portraits of the late period of the Venetian artist. Twentieth-century art historians, most notably John Pope-Hennessy and Augusto Gentili, saw in the distinctive way in which Strada looks on one side evidence of the characteristic deviousness of a merchant, if not personality traits. of a mafia boss – someone “you wouldn’t want to buy a used car from”.

Regardless of the discussion around the portrait of Titian, Strada interested art historians, for example, for his 1575 edition of Sebastiano Serlio’s seventh book and for his acquisition of Raphael’s vast body of drawings from the artist’s heirs. , leading to the conclusion that as a patrician he possessed a considerable private fortune. Jansen has already revealed various facets of Strada’s multiple activities in numerous trials. Yet with this book he wanted to merge these different aspects into a major insight that would establish once and for all the meaning of Mantua.

The first volume covers Strada’s life, from his birth in Mantua around 1515, through his upbringing, his marriage to a Franconian nobleman and his move to Nuremberg, supported by his longtime friend and patron Hans Jacob Fugger, his subsequent move to Vienna. and the first contacts with the imperial court, his appointment as imperial architect and antiquarian, until his death in Vienna in 1588. The second volume deals with the “Museum” of Strada, its term for his house, his library, his workshop and its vast art collections various objects, including coins, medals, Kunstkammer objects, antiques, prints, drawings and paintings. Finally, the role of Strada as an agent in artistic matters is discussed. A complete back-matter device concludes this richly illustrated book. This structure inevitably produces overlaps and repetitions. The real strength of the book lies in the infinitely rich detail of a well-researched and documented context. Jansen offers a fascinating insight into the production of ancient Italian art and art north of the Alps, increasingly influenced by Italy.

Strada demands that ancient art not only be studied, preserved and taken as a model in all spheres of contemporary art, but also shows the way by example: during his first trips, he already made acquisitions and charged young artists to make drawings. copy classical buildings and the reliefs of Trajan’s Column in Rome, as well as contemporary works such as the decorations by Giulio Romano for the Palazzo del Te and the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, and the loggias by Raphael in the Vatican. An artist in charge of this task was Giovanni Battista Armenini, famous for his work of 1587 De ‘veri precetti della Pittura, who lived in the house of Strada in Rome in 1555. Jansen also attributes to the influence of Strada the growing adoption of Italian architectural forms in the imperial projects of the Hofburg, Stallburg and Neugebäude in Vienna, as well than in many aristocratic buildings in Bohemia and Hungary. Strada’s own designs, however, only survive for the Munich Antiquarium which he designed for Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria. Strada has created his own magnificent residence in the center of Vienna, setting up there a workshop and, on the piano nobile, his “Museum” with its abundant and diverse artistic treasures – designed to make his ideas known to the emperor, the aristocracy. and the community of scholars and antiquarians.

Strada’s intention was that his collection of visual documentation – comprising drawn copies of classical or classical-influenced designs, portraits and architectural images on ancient coins and medals, to statues, busts and reliefs – be thematically organized and prepared for publication, to promote antiquity art as the ultimate aesthetic standard. This project and even more ambitious projects, such as a dictionary in 11 languages, were not carried out due to a lack of financial support. After the death of Emperor Maximilian II in 1576, Strada’s role as imperial architect and antiquarian came to an end. Emperor Rudolf II had secured the services of his disinherited son Ottavio (1550-1607) in Prague, whose daughter, Katharina, became the emperor’s mistress and bore him six children.

Readers may be surprised at how closely interconnected the worlds of scholars and antiquarians were during the Renaissance. What remains quite uncertain, however, is Strada’s connection to Italian imperial court artists, such as Arcimboldo, given that both participated, almost simultaneously, in the design of the court festivities and that Arcimboldo may have contributed to the decoration of the Neugebäude. Strada’s indignation that Wolfgang Lazius, physician and historian of Maximilian II, described him as a mere silversmith and not as a scholar, shows in itself that Strada saw himself above all as an antiquarian and an architect on par with scholars. . Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why it took so many pages to show his true accomplishments in their true light? In any case, Jansen successfully demonstrated the importance of Strada in the cultural transfer from Italy to the North. In the process, he assigned her a unique role as an “agent of change” in the cultural history of the second half of the sixteenth century, although this dovetails with Titian’s portrayal may continue to provoke heated debate.

Dirk Jacob Jansen, Jacopo Strada and cultural patronage at the imperial court: the antique as innovation, Brill, 2 tomes, Vol I, 544pp, Vol II, 525pp, 290 €, 334 $ (hb)

Sylvia Ferino is the Emeritus Director of Paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna


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