5 JULY 1963, Page 17

Patrons' Progress

MR. HASKELL has thrown a flood of light on a highly important subject If at certain moments the light is somewhat blinding, this comes from the nature of the theme: the author has so much new material to lay before us that the book cannot be light reading; but, let it be said at once, it is hard to imagine that the facts could be presented in a clearer or more convincing manner.

Many of the details set out in the book are already known and are indeed taken from the obvious printed sources, mainly from the early biographies and guidebooks, but these facts take on a quite new significance because Mr. Haskell cuts his cross-section of them at a new angle. They are normally considered in relation to the artists to whom they refer, whereas he arranges them so that they build up a picture of patronage in general and patrons in particular. There is, however, also in the book a vast mass of un- published matter, though this is referred to so modestly that the casual reader might well over- look it. A single footnote may contain references to letters or document in a provincial Italian library, the discovery of which must have taken the writer many hours'or days of work. More- over, these indications will certainly help other art-historians, who may find in the documents indicated by Mr. Haskell information of interest to them which he has not used on the grounds that it is not relevant to his theme.

We all dimly felt that Italian patronage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was not quite as straightforward a subjcct as it appeared, and we had an uneasy feeling that the generalisa- tions that we were tempted to make were perhaps not as valid as we hoped. Now we have a means of checking, and our fears are realised.

It has been thought, for instance, that the old statements about the influence of the religious Orders on baroque art needed revision, but I doubt if anyone suspected how far they would have to be modified. Mr. Haskell shows that the case of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and the building of the Gesii in the sixteenth century was far from being exceptional, but that on the contrary inahe case of all the important churches built by the Orders in Rome the interference of the individual patron—were he Borghese, Barberini or Pamphili—was of such importance that it is doubtful whether one can properly speak of. say, a Jesuit version of the Baroque at all. The pattern produced by the interaction of Order, patron and Pope is fascinating to study, but the result must have been a tension highly disturbing to the artists involved in these great projects.

Mr. Haskell is particularly successful in deal- ing with the patrons of lesser rank who played an important part in the artistic life of Italy in the period—men such as Cassiano dal Pozzo and Camillo Massimi in Rome, or Consul Smith and Algarotti in Venice. In the case of the Roman patrons he brings out the importance of their protection for artists like Poussin, who were not suited to the rat-race of papal patronage with its constant changes of favour. Without the sympathetic atmosphere of learning which Pozzo and Massimi created, Poussin would probably never have been able to produce the masterpieces of calm and considered art which form for us the most important part of his work.

Mr. Haskell shows how much the relations

between the paintet and an individual patron varied even in one place and at one time. Bernini, for instance, was simply monopolised by Urban VIII and not allowed to work for others, except by special permission, which was very rarely given. At the other extreme Poussin seems to have enjoyed great liberty, almost certainly choosing his own subjects and demanding the right to treat them as he thought best. There is even considerable evidence to show that he frequently painted without commission, a habit which was very rare in the seventeenth century, though Mr. Haskell points out that Salvator Rosa did the same. We know from depositions in the Valguarnera case that, when he visited Poussin's studio, the dealer found paintings on which the artist was working and which he instructed him to finish, so that he might then acquire them. That Poussin worked for himself in this way is confirmed by the fact that X-rays have revealed in a surprising number of cases that Poussin re-used canvases on which he had already painted compositions for which, one must assume, he was unable to find a buyer. A particular problem is raised by the large Marriage of St. Catherine which belonged to Cassiano dal Pozzo. Mr. Haskell ingeniously suggests that this may have been painted in honour of one of Pozzo's nieces, who was called Maria Caterina, but this explanation is not altogether convincing. Is it not more probable that Poussin should have painted the picture for a patron who in the end did not take it, and that Pozzo may have snapped it up on finding it left in the studio?

The general pattern of patronage as delineated by Mr. Haskell is roughly as follows: complete dominance of Rome during the first three- quarters of the seventeenth century and then a rather rapid collapse in the patronage of that city; the situation saved by the intervention of foreign collectors, either great princes or less important people visiting the city; at the end of the seventeenth century an increase of patronage in the minor cities of Italy, partly as a result of the decreasing employment in Rome itself; and finally, in the eighteenth century, the upsurge of Venice, where, however, the most important artists worked at least as much for foreign as for Venetian patrons.

Mr. Haskell's last chapters deal with individual patrons in Venice, notably with Consul Smith, about whom he has many new documents to publish. In certain cases, however, events have overtaken him and the discovery and publica- tion of the Pelligrini inventory, for instance, confirms his guess that Smith's Vermeer came from that artist, whereas the Rembrandt did not.

In his preface Mr. Haskell explains that he has ignored Rome in the eighteenth century because this is a vast subject which would demand separate treatment. Let us hope that it will receive this treatment in a second volume from the same author.