Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth: Vico and Neapolitan Painting (Essays in the Arts)
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Can painting transform philosophy? In Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth, Malcolm Bull looks at Neapolitan art around 1700 through the eyes of the philosopher Giambattista Vico. Surrounded by extravagant examples of late Baroque painting by artists like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena, Vico concluded that human truth was a product of the imagination. Truth was not something that could be observed: instead, it was something made in the way that paintings were made--through the exercise of fantasy.
Juxtaposing paintings and texts, Bull presents the masterpieces of late Baroque painting in early eighteenth-century Naples from an entirely new perspective. Revealing the close connections between the arguments of the philosophers and the arguments of the painters, he shows how Vico drew on both in his influential philosophy of history, The New Science. Bull suggests that painting can serve not just as an illustration for philosophical arguments, but also as the model for them--that painting itself has sometimes been a form of epistemological experiment, and that, perhaps surprisingly, the Neapolitan Baroque may have been one of the routes through which modern consciousness was formed.
traveler Charles Cochin saw a thin man “not in the air but passing his guards on foot . . . like a convict escaping from his jailers.” Such a depiction of the central event of the Christian faith, was, as De Dominici said, a “base idea indecent to represent.”7 The controversy surrounding the Sant’Anna dei Lombardi Resurrection highlights the wider ideological implications of the debate about Caravaggio’s style. According to Bellori, the Caravaggisti were like the classical atomists: Those who
you’re the one to command.” To Nero he said: “This man Peter is truthful, you and yours are seducers.” Peter said to Paul: “Paul, raise your head and look up.” When Paul looked up, he saw Simon flying and said to Peter: “Peter, what are you waiting for? Finish what you’ve started because the Lord is already calling us.” Then Peter said: “I adjure you, angels of Satan, you who are holding Simon up in the air, I adjure you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Stop holding him up and let him fall.”
first man.”9 Vico had always maintained that “our own corrupted nature . . . points out to us those studies which we must cultivate . . . [and] the order and path by which we shall approach them.”10 And in the New Science he applied the principle not just to the student curriculum but to the education of humanity as a whole, explaining that “God has so ordained and disposed human institutions that men, having fallen from complete justice by original sin . . . have been led . . . to live like men
as though artists were hyperreceptive to every snatch of philosophical conversation they might overhear, but philosophers blind to the potential significance of any artwork they might see. In this case, however, the influence goes the other way. If painting in Naples served not as an illustration of philosophical arguments but rather as the model for them, then perhaps it, too, should be considered a form of epistemological investigation. And if what subsequent philosophers learned, directly or
contrasted Michelangelo’s terribilità with Raphael’s maniera leggiadra e gentile and criticized Michelangelo for forgetting that painting, like literature, required a “temperate measure.”41Aretino also compared the three painters, distinguishing Titian from the other two by his brushwork: Divino in venusta fu Rafaello; E Michel Agnol più divin che umano Nel disegno stupendo; e Tiziano Il senso de le cose ha nel pennello.42 [Raphael was divine in beauty / And Michelangelo more divine than human