Art history - Italian style

July 23 2012


A reader alerts me to the above video, in which the Caravaggio 'discovery' story takes a sinister turn. Check out the table banging at the end too.  The reader writes:

On July 12 2012 you described the debate over the "new" Caravaggio discoveries as "an academic bitch fight of epic proportions..."  Some of your readers may have imagined you guilty of hyperbole, but in Italy unfortunately, there is an alarming tendency toward behaviour among some scholars that can only be described as unprofessional. Things took a turn for the worse when the researchers behind the new discovery - Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli - presented their findings at a press conference in Leno, near Brescia earlier this week. 

As the  video highlights, a member of the audience was singled out by Ms. Conconi Fedigrolli  for his smile of disbelief, and then directly confronted by Mr. Bernardelli Curuz, with members of the audience having to intervene. 

In the several videos posted so far, the full presentation is not shown. Subsequently we only see the most contentious parts of the discussion, and we are left to wonder at the context of some of the statements and behaviour which resulted in the altercation. The crux of the matter seems to be that audience member Professor Marco Vallora expressed that the findings of the the pair were an expression of opinion rather than a standard of proof. 

This incident causes us to reflect on how art historical research in Italy is portrayed to the world at large. There are many serious, hard-working scholars and technicians whose work barely rates a mention in local or international press - yet when the likes of Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz, or Maurizio Seracini (searching for Leonardo's "Anghiari") are embroiled in squabbles around major artists such as Caravaggio and Leonardo (respectively), such news travels fast. At some point, when the clamour subsides, we may hope that substantive evidence becomes the focus of such announcements.

Moral of the story? Never trust an art historian with no cufflinks. Also, beware scholars presenting drawings as 'studies' which bear no relation to the finished painting. 

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