Uomini Illustri: the revival of the author portrait in renaissance Florence
This study examines the revival of author portraits in the humanist book of fifteenth century Florence. With roots in the classical tradition, the placement of a portrait of the author at the beginning of a text survived into the Middle Ages, although with significant changes. With the waning of interest among Christian Europeans in pagan literature, manuscript copies of the works of ancient Greek and Roman authors rarely included author portraits. Only the writings of the most revered Christian authors were decorated in this manner. Portraits of the four evangelists were often spectacular full-page illustrations, while other Christian writers, such as the early Church fathers and later apologists, were often represented in much smaller portraits squeezed into the empty spaces of the opening initial, a location with no antique precedence. With the mass production of summaries, commentaries and translations of classical literature for the university classroom during the scholastic period, portraits of pagan authors once again began to appear in copies of their texts. The opening initial of the text was decorated with an image of the contemporary scholar lecturing to his students, while an image of the ancient classical author, if included, was always relegated to the back pages of the text.It was not until the next classical revival in fifteenth century Italy that the portraits of ancient pagan authors once again attracted the attention of the miniaturist, as new editions and translations of classical texts were once again produced for the Italian humanists. The center of this book production in Italy was Florence, and it was the Florentine miniaturists who developed a new iconographic system for identifying authors. The iconographic solutions developed for these authors indicate that the Renaissance illuminator was intent upon creating a new iconographic system that would invest the earlier generic portraits of classical authors with an individuality that would reflect the classical author's new status in Renaissance thought and letters. This new system divides authorship into several broad categories based upon the cultural origins (e.g., Patristic, Roman, Greek or Italian) and literary genres (e.g., poets, orators, historians, or philosophers) of the authors.
- Art history