Le vite de' pittori, scultori et architetti moderni
By Giovanni Pietro Bellori
Le vite de' pittori, scultori et architetti moderni was written by Giovanni Pietro Bellori and was published by Mascardi in Rome. The volume available in the Metropolitan Museum Library is a 1672 edition, inspired by the biography of artists Le vite de'piu eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti of Giorgio Vasari (1550, 1568) and Le vite de’ pittori, scultori & architetti, (1642), of Giovanni Baglione. Bellori dedicated his book to the French statesman and supporter of the arts Jean-Baptiste Colbert, called here on the title page Giovanni Battista Colbert. 1
The edition we reviewed is Volume 1 of what was intended to be a three volume set. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired this copy through a fund provided by Jane E. Andrews in memory of her husband William Loring Andrews, who was a trustee of the museum from 1878 to 1920 and an honorary librarian from 1880 to 1920.
The book was printed in octavo format, measuring 24 centimeters, and includes 43 engravings. For such an old book, the condition is remarkably good. There is some visible water damage on the cover and on many of the pages, particularly in the back. There is also water damage on the binding, which appears to be a more recent rebinding. According to WorldCat, the book has been produced in multiple editions and translations with the most recent printing in 2010. We found translations available in French, English and Romanian.
Giovanni Pietro Bellori was born in 1616 in Rome and died in the same city in 1690. An antiquarian, biographer, critic, theorist and iconographer, he authored, coauthored and edited more than 25 volumes in his lifetime; he also served as curator for Pope Clement X and as librarian to Queen Christina of Sweden. 2 Art historian Julius von Schlosser called Bellori “the most important historiographer of art not only of Rome, but of all Italy, even of Europe, in the seventeenth century.” 3
Acting as an heir to the traditions of Vasari and Baglione, Bellori composed a selective history covering the lives of twelve artists of his own time, consisting of nine painters, two sculptors and one architect. The artists included were: Annibale and Agostino Carracci, Domenico Fontana, Federico Barocci, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Francesco Duquesnoy, Domenichino, Giovanni Lanfranco, Alessandro Algardi and Nicolas Poussin. Bellori distinguished himself from Vasari and Baglione in that he used ekphrastic, or graphic and dramatic, description. Compared to his predecessors, Bellori provided a richer visual account of the artworks he chronicled. 4
In his theoretical philosophies, which he included in his Lives, Bellori sought a balance between the exaggerations of Mannerism and the naturalism of artists such as Caravaggio, advocating for a combination of Platonic and Aristotelian thought. He established himself as a defender of what would later come to be called “classicism,” and his “idealist” art theory championed the imitation of nature in a
selected and idealized manner. 5
Bellori began a sequel to his Lives and finished sections on Guido Reni, Andrea Sacchi and
Carlo Maratti, but unfortunately he was unable to secure funding and the project was never completed. 6 After his death, his descriptions of Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican Stanze as well as the Villa Farnesina were published. While Bellori was unsuccessful in completing subsequent volumes of his Lives his legacy is unmatched and his contribution to the world of art history is of immeasurable value.
“Bellori, Giovanni Pietro.” 2013. Dictionary of Art Historians. Accessed June 10. http:// www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/bellorig.htm.
Chanu, Patrick Le. 2013. “Jean-Baptiste Colbert.” Grove Art Online.
Ostrow, Steven F. 2004. “Art History in the Age of Bellori: Scholarship and Cultural Politics in Seventeenth-Century Rome by: Janis C. Bell and Thomas C. Willette.” Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 57 (No. 1): pp. 191–193.
Ostrow, Steven F . 2006. “Giovan Pietro Bellori. The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: A New Translation and Critical Edition.” Renaissance Quarterly 59 (4) (December 1): 1192–1194. doi:10.1353/ren.2008.0537.
Pace, Claire. “Bellori, Giovanni Pietro.” Grove Art Online.
Raben, Hans. 2006. “Bellori’s Art: The Taste and Distaste of a Seventeenth-Century Art Critic in Rome.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 32 (2/3) (January 1):126–146. doi: 10.2307/20355327.