Details of 77 paintings in the Pinacoteca di Brera, on a 1:1 scale, in Ignazio Gadaleta's book

How does a painter of the present see the art of the past? This is the aim of the book Brera at the height of our gazes, written by artist Ignazio Gadaleta and published by Marsilio editore: the volume, in particular, explores seventy-seven details of as many paintings preserved at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. An analysis that starts from the assumption that, as Roger de Piles pointed out in his Dialogue sur le coloris, it is necessary to “know how to see ’up close’ and ’from a distance,’” and in particular the “up close” vision is preparatory to the recognition of the painter’s work, made up of signs and strokes: museum visitors, according to Gadaleta, are in fact accustomed to overall views of the work, and they often neglect a closer view, thus not paying attention to details that, however, can be fundamental to the understanding of a work, both in its formal and ideal aspects.

In addition, observing a work up close also allows one to establish an “emotional” vision that would otherwise be impossible with a glance from afar. Here, then, Gadaleta, by photographing in person the details of the paintings (the shots are in fact his own) gives life to “exercises of pure visibilism that are based on decisive awareness, but also on the empiricism of the painter’s own vision,” as he himself writes in the book’s foreword, pointing out that “they are the result of immersions in the depths of the thoughts of a connoisseur, who pursues possible connections of flashes of memories and intuitions, in the immediacy of the gaze.”

The images of the details are all on a 1:1 scale, and thus present the reader with a view from life with the intention of “highlighting the linguistic constitutions of painting and its possibilities of sensitive poignancy, soliciting amazement in the beholder in metolodogical analogy” to another book also written by Gadaleta, Points and Strands of Color in Italian Painting from Divisionism to the Present, published for Silvana Editoriale in 2018: in that case, too, Gadaleta’s focus had been on details of paintings to try to draw a line of continuity linking contemporary painting to Divisionism through twentieth-century art. For Gadaleta, the work of art is that “event and place of thought” referred to by the scholar Enrico Crispolti, who passed away this year (and to whom the book is dedicated), with the consequence that the detail is an opportunity to get a close look at the material that forms the basis of that “event” that is the work of art. For the director of the Pinacoteca di Brera, James Bradburne, who wrote the book’s preface, looking at art up close is “at once an act of devotion and commitment that gives art the value attributed to it by Fernanda Wittgens, the legendary Brera director who saw Europe reduced to rubble by a brutal war, the value of a solid social weapon against the bestiality of human beings.”

Within the book, the works are arranged in chronological order: we start with medieval art with artists such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Giovanni da Milano and Gentile da Fabriano; we move on to the Renaissance ( Piero della Francesca, Francesco del Cossa, Giovanni Bellini, Ercole de’ Roberti, Carlo Crivelli scroll through, and of course there is no shortage of Andrea Mantegna ’s Dead Christ and Bramante’s Christ at the Column ), from the sixteenth century (Paris Bordon, Dosso Dossi, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto, Veronese) to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by Caravaggio (with the Supper at Emmaus), Orazio Gentileschi, Guido Reni, Annibale and Ludovico Carracci, Guercino, Mattia Preti, Rubens, van Dyck, Salvator Rosa, Canaletto, and Giambattista Piazzetta. Gadaleta’s journey concludes with two paintings by Hayez: the Portrait of Teresa Manzoni Stampa Borri and the very famous Kiss). The volume also features a chapter, entitled To the Height of Our Gaze, in which the author traces his personal art history motivating individual choices of paintings. Worthy of note is the example of Mantegna’s Dead Christ, of which Gadaleta highlights not only, as is only natural, “the bold perspective foreshortening” and the “very successful solution of the difficult drawing,” but also “the essentiality of the lean tempera, with its warm and cold grays in subtle dialectic” and the “orthogonal texture of the canvas that emerges more in the parts uncovered by the thin pictorial layer” and therefore “feels like texture that clouds the image, suspending it.”

Brera at the height of our gazes is, in short, a journey through the Pinacoteca di Brera with the guidance of the eye of a painter who observes the paintings preserved in the Milanese museum with the awareness of a person capable of understanding at the same time the language of form and that of matter, offering the reader the opportunity to dwell on details that are sometimes neglected, with the intention of penetrating the essence of which the works are materially composed. All with high-resolution photographs that allow visitors to perceive the density of the brushstroke, the dense network of craquelure, and the warping of the canvas. Thus also spying visitors to a more conscious approach to the work (and to the museum visit itself).

Ignazio Gadaleta’s book, published this year, can be found in bookstores (physical and online) or can also be purchased from the Marsilio publisher’s website.

Details of 77 paintings in the Pinacoteca di Brera, on a 1:1 scale, in Ignazio Gadaleta's book
Details of 77 paintings in the Pinacoteca di Brera, on a 1:1 scale, in Ignazio Gadaleta's book

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