Alessandra Baroni, Manfred Sellink, curator Till-Holger Borchert (one of the members of the exhibition committee), and a team of scholars have collaborated to produce this informative and handsome catalogue of works by Joannes Stradannus, the Flemish artist also called Jan van der Straat or Giovanni Stradano (Bruges, 1523 – Florence, 1605). Resulting from an exhibition in Bruges’ Groeningemuseum, this book provides a much-needed updating about Stradanus’s drawings, prints, paintings, and tapestries, including some new attributions.
Stradanus boasts an impressive pedigree and a large, varied oeuvre. Active from the mid-1540s until his death, he trained first under his father and then most notably under Pieter Aertsen. He went to Italy and spent most of his maturity at the nerve center, Florence, executing important commissions for the Medici. He worked within a milieu that included Vasari, Bronzino, Allori, and Salviati. With them, Stradanus co-founded Florence’s Accademia del Disegno, which he also served as consul. He played a key role in designing Michelangelo’s funerary sepulcher. His paintings show a deft synthesis of Netherlandish and Italian approaches. His designs for prints and tapestries broadcast his vast pictorial intelligence and close involvement with Medici humanists; few sixteenth-century prints are as erudite and monumental in scope as the Nova Reperta, designed in collaboration with Haarlem engraver Philips Galle and Florentine humanist Luigi Alamanni. Stradanus also drew favorable notice from major early modern art writers: Vasari, Borghini, Van Mander, and Baldinucci.
Unfortunately, the body of scholarship on Stradanus is scant, even within the modest attention devoted to other Netherlanders who ventured south. He fares poorly with Hoogewerff (1935) and receives no attention in Nicole Dacos’s sprawling catalogue, Fiamminghi a Roma (1995), though she discusses some Italians in his Florentine circle, including Jacopo Zucchi. Besides three sustained studies – an early dissertation by Orbaan (1903), Bok-van Kamman’s exploration of the artist’s hunting imagery for Poggio a Caiano (1977), and finally, a groundbreaking monograph by Baroni (1997) – nearly two century’s worth of modern art history has produced mostly case studies and short entries in the catalogues of general exhibitions. Since Baroni’s book, things have begun to percolate. Dorine van Sasse van Ysselt began a steady stream of insightful iconographic and contextual studies during the 2000s; in 2005, Lisa Goldenberg Stoppalt discovered Stradanus’s last will and inventories in the archives; and Marjolein Leesburg has compiled a Hollstein volume of Stradanus’s prints (2008). Nonetheless, Stradanus needs more studies.
Why has Stradanus been neglected? Scholars have traditionally favored neither the Netherlandish artists between Bruegel and Rubens, nor the Italian ones after Trent and before Caravaggio. Moreover, unlike the line of Netherlanders extending from Gossart to Goltzius, Stradanus put down roots in Italy and adapted his native practices to an Italian milieu, never returning north to exploit his antiquarianism on the home front. He is thus exceptionally atypical, doubly jeopardized. His terminally abroad status prompts questions we are unused to considering.
Thankfully, this volume’s concise essays provide a jargon-free source for understanding crucial aspects of Stradanus’s career. Sandra Janssens carefully traces the artist’s early movements and delivers insightful commentary on how his Florentine milieu inflected his manner. Lucia Meoni builds on her previous work on Stradanus’s tapestry practice for a fascinating essay essential to the topic. With breezy eloquence from her years of experience with this topic, Baroni analyzes selected drawings to reveal Stradanus’s working method. Likewise, Sellink brings his unsurpassed expertise on Philips Galle’s print studio to consider Stradanus’s collaboration with Galle. Gert Jan van der Sman uses the Nova Reperta and other erudite prints to argue for Stradanus’s intellect and his ingegno as a print designer. Finally, Leesburg contributes an accessible essay on a complex problem, which must have vexed her as she compiled Stradanus’s Hollstein: later generations’ copies after Stradanus prints. The catalogue that follows contains beautiful reproductions and concise entries by the aforementioned authors, plus Alessandro Cecchi, Robert G. La France, and Albert Elen.
The rudimentary state of Stradanus studies prior to this publication probably explains why our authors frequently find themselves preoccupied with questions of influence or its related binary of a northern style versus an Italian one; by now deemed old-fashioned, these issues are still unsettled where Stradanus is concerned. Some passages still bear the residue of the nationalism that clouded so much art history written during the early twentieth century. For example, Jannssens insists that despite being “strongly influenced by…Vasari, Salviati, and Bronzino, [Stradanus] never lost his essential Flemishness.” (20) When we look at Stradanus’s paintings, we know what Jannsens means. But their synthetic nature suggests something much richer than his maintenance of his Flemish manner in Italy. It invites us to seek links between Stradanus’s imagery in relation to both his patronal and theoretical milieu.
Taken together, the paintings suggest a deliberately collaborative consciousness. Bronzino’s Van Eyckian surfaces, the similarly northern bent to many of Salviati’s works, and canvases bearing Stradanus’s and Salviati’s hands offer evocative amalgams. Inversely, Stradanus’s deft incorporations of a Zuccari-esque, Florentine-Roman, post-Tridentine idiom, may also signal a late Cinquecento “Medician style” of sorts, developed to broadcast Cosimo I’s European omniscience. Perhaps the best way to establish such lines of inquiry would have been the inclusion of an essay situating Stradanus at the Accademia del Disegno. No essay addresses this important topic with any depth. To be fair, however, these are small problems and future agendas compared to this book’s vast successes.
The depth of challenges in Stradanus’s oeuvre provides fertile soil for a vital discourse. As we will continue to consult this book for some time to come, we will also remain indebted to Baroni, Sellink, et al. for enriching the field with grace and insight.
Arthur J. DiFuria
Savannah College of Art and Design