Ventisette: A Fabulous Find in the Archive

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Remember the research Sheila asked me to complete at the Kunst? Well, this blog post is all about that amazing, one-of-a-kind, totally unexpected project!

This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.
This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.

One day at the Archive, I was reading a volume of incoming and outgoing letters (from the Archivo Mediceo del Principato, in the Carateggio Universale, specifically, between the years 1694 – 1699). Sheila came over to see how my work was going, and after reading through some of the letters with me, we stumbled upon a very interesting document. Sheila is incredibly skilled at searching for keywords within archival material, and she immediately saw that this letter included the name Federico Barocci, the name of a well-known Italian Baroque artist. In reading through it together – although I must say, Sheila is the one who placed it in context for me – we realized that the author of this letter, a man who called himself a Pittore da Urbino, an artist from Urbino, was writing to Cosimo III de’ Medici about a painting he had gifted to the Duke’s mother, Vittoria della Rovere before she had passed away. He described this painting as a small portrait of the Duke’s grandfather, Francesco Maria II della Rovere, and he stated his purpose for writing as being one concerned with knowing whether or not the Duke’s late mother had received his gift.

Content alone this letter was a fascinating find, particularly for me. Going a step further, Sheila had me conduct a search for portrait paintings by Barocci in the Catalogo delle Opere on the Polo Museale Fiorentino website so that we could try to identify the painting to which this letter referred. Alas, we found it: a round miniature (diametro 8.4) in the Uffizi collection! The Polo Museale Fiorentino had summarized the known history of the painting, suggesting that it arrived in Florence in 1631 when Vittoria della Rovere came to the city. However, based on the letter Sheila and I held between our fingertips, it would seem as though this painting came into Medici possession in 1693 – a difference Sheila and I believed to be worth writing about.

Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter.  What an amazing find!
Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter. What an amazing find!

And that is how I was given yet another incredible opportunity at the Archive: the chance to first transcribe this letter and then write an article about the information it contained. Seems simple enough, correct? Such a small piece of new information does not warrant that much extra research, right? Wrong! I needed to exhaust secondary source material on Barocci, his portrait paintings of Federico della Maria, and discern what had already been published in regards to this miniature painting. There was no better place to begin than at the Kunst, and so Sheila helped me search online for the books, articles and exhibition catalogs I would need to read at the Kunst.

I spent much of the following two weeks at the Kunst, reading sources that were both in English and Italian, compiling notes on each, and looking for extra information on art agency. Sheila had recently heard that a conference was being developed around the notion of art agency, and because this obscure artist had gifted a painting (by the hand of another artist) to the Duke of Florence, it could very well fit inside the schema of artist agency. Taking detailed notes, I spent a great deal of time writing and revising before I showed Sheila my first draft of the article. She was impressed with the way in which I opened the topic, but clearly, as a student with undergraduate writing experience, there was much work to be done. That would have to wait, however, because the following weekend, July 10-12, I was traveling to Milan for some art travel and to see my family, who was flying in for their first ever visit to Italy ever and who had come to see me in my state of complete bliss.

As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!
As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!
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