Hanging by a Misprint: How I Thought a Second Time about Pietro da Rimini
This week a frustrating search of the Louvre’s website for online reproductions of paintings by Pietro da Cortona (Pietro da Berrettini), 1597-1669, led me to a work that I looked at less than a month after starting my Louvre project, Deposition of the Cross by Pietro da Rimini (ca. 1300-ca. 1350). I’m going to include here, with just a few revisions, what I wrote about the painting when I first looked at it.
“Pietro da Rimini, ca. 1300-ca. 1350 Deposition of the Cross. The reproduction was very small, but I was touched by the gesture at the foot of the cross and looked closer. A man is holding a tool toward Christ’s feet, thus catching the deposition in the moment when Christ’s upper body has been freed, but his feet are still fastened. The image of Christ’s cheek touching Mary’s cheek as the body is lowered is also very affecting. The body of Christ is nude (surrounded by people who are clothed), long and treated more as an abstract shape than as a body, except for the things I’ve mentioned, which are both rendered so realistically. The whole picture has something of the same dichotomy between the treatment of the body and the treatment of the soul; the faces are alive, but their bodies are swathed in fancy cloth. There is also a sensitive use of repeating images: the head of the man lowering the body, for example, is in an exact line with Christ’s head and repeating much the same gesture of head lowered to the right side. His body, too, is part of the dynamic of action captured in what is at the same time a very ordered arrangement, with similar human figures on either side of the cross and no landscape material at all. One other thing: Pietro da Rimini’s name doesn’t appear at all in the index. Rather, his picture is attributed to another Pietro, Pietro da Cortona, from the 17th century. This is reminiscent of, but even sadder than, the Unknown Italian Painter from the 14th century, who was assimilated into an Unknown Italian Painter from a later century. What a wonderful experience to look at this painting, and also sad.”
I am sad now to think that I might never have revisited this experience if I hadn’t come across da Rimini’s painting while looking for something entirely different, online reproductions of the works of da Cortona, which eventually I found on the Louvre website, but in the French language version and only under da Cortona’s original name, “Berrettini.” Before trying the French language version of the website, I had looked at the DVD, which does include da Cortona under that name, and then at the book itself, just to be sure that I had located all of da Cortona’s pictures. Three page numbers appear for da Cortona in the index: 24, 158 and 162. The first page number looked peculiar, because it placed one painting so far away from the others. When I flipped back, I found that it was da Rimini’s picture that was on page 24. I had noticed this error when I first looked at da Rimini’s Deposition; I mentioned it in what I wrote back then, but I didn’t remember it when I reached da Cortona’s actual pages last week.
Da Rimini took me back to where I started. His painting appears only seven pages after the works of Giotto, whom I wrote about in my fourth blog post. Between Giotto and da Rimini, the Louvre book presents works by 15 painters; of them, 13 are artists with only one painting in the collection. That is, looking at da Rimini’s work was part of the process that made me interested in this large corps of Louvre painters, those represented by only one work. I am a little discouraged at yet another proof of how little of what I think and write about a particular painting turns out to be easily brought up from memory. I was also impressed by the emphasis I placed on my own visual impressions of the painting; I hadn’t gone looking for alternative reproductions or biographical information or a critic’s explanation.
There was one other link between this week’s experiences with Pietro da Cortona and the notes I took on Pietro da Rimini: the mention of an artist identified as “Unknown” and the way the artist index of the Louvre book treats anonymous painters. Just as with the Unknown Italian Painter I mentioned when writing about da Rimini (one of four “Unknown” painters from the first month), the Unknown Roman Painter from this week does not get his own index line but instead is grouped together with anonymous artists from two other periods. His Still-Life with Grapes and a Pomegranate (ca. 1630) is notable in itself for the lovely rendering in two dimensions of three-dimensional objects but also as the very first still life that I have encountered in the book. A quick look ahead revealed that I was entering a zone of still lifes. In fact, the painting hangs in Denon, floor 1, room 18, which is entitled “Still-Life in the 17th Century.” The photograph of the room shows the painting, but at an angle; the reproduction here comes from the DVD, because there wasn’t one in the Atlas entry on the painting. I was disappointed with Atlas, because it had taken a lot of experimenting to find the way the French language version of the website rendered terms like “unknown” and “still life”. Score one for the DVD.