Artibus et Historiae no. 74 (XXXVII)

2016, ISSN 0391-9064

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FRANÇOISE VIATTE - Paul Joannides, a Connoisseur at Work (pp. 13–23)

Any attempt to paint a portrait of Paul Joannides as a scholar in broad strokes brings us back to the time he spent in Paris in 1990–1991 (followed by several months in 1993), certainly the longest period that we have had the pleasure of seeing him and the privilege of sharing in his work. His wife, Marianne, accompanied him during this sojourn, made possible by the freedom accorded by a sabbatical year from his University commitments.

Already well familiar with the collection of drawings in the Louvre, he undertook, at our suggestion, a study of drawings by Michelangelo and his school in the Département des Arts Graphiques. This scholarly research, which quickly extended more broadly to the collection in general, resulted in a publication: the sixth volume of the Inventaire général des dessins italiens, published by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux in 2003 with the title, Michel-Ange, élèves et copistes. In a relatively short period of time, Paul Joannides succeeded in studying over four hundred sheets, including the copies after the master, as well as the works which he regarded as not by him.

In trying to sum up our impressions of Paul Joannides at the time, one realizes how valued his contribution was to the study of our drawing collection, long studied and continuously brought up to date. What we call the ‘reclassement’, that is to say the modifications – the attributions and reattributions – of works in artists’ portfolios, is the result of a broad collective effort, to which foreign scholars have long contributed. The presence of Paul Joannides in the Louvre, his ‘portrait’, belongs within this tradition of shared knowledge and intellectual rigour. But is it even possible to attempt a portrait of a scholar like Paul Joannides, in his objective quest for knowledge which rests on shifting sands of constant reappraisal? It would not suffice to focus only on the corpus of his discoveries to describe his personality. We also must attempt to understand the drawing itself, its sequence of notations, in order to come close to those who have studied it before us, sharing their doubts and hesitations. The hypotheses of Paul Joannides are marked by their relativity. As he himself affirms, they elude the idea that an attribution can ever be submitted to ‘absolute proof’. On the other hand, he presents the drawings, whoever the presumed author may be, attempting to analyse their possible role in the creation of a specific project. The evidence is subtle – the style, the pressure of the hand, the orientation of the sheets – all of which may provide evidence of their final destination be it, for example, a bas-relief or painting.

Paul Joannides presents forty-three drawings as originals in Michel-Ange, élèves et copistes. Seven of these represent recent discoveries, but three were attributed by him to the master for the first time. There is a connecting thread in the research of Paul Joannides: that of the reception of the work of Michelangelo, the way in which his sheets were copied, imitated, collected. For whom is the artist working? How does one recognise and define a youthful work? At what moment in time and how were the drawings assembled and used as models? In this way Paul Joannides arrives at a kind of ‘cartography’ of Michelangelo’s œuvre. Drawing on this, he would consider the role played by his few pupils, then to the artist’s followers. An additional group of twelve drawings, distinctly set apart from the copies, were presented in the volume with bold new attributions. For these works he argued at length, proposing to identify the hands of various artists including Piero d’Argenta, Pietro Urbano, Antonio Mini and Raffaello da Montelupo.

If one considers Paul Joannides’ place in this quest for ‘knowledge at all costs’, one would not limit oneself to the sum of his discoveries, even when these have significantly modified the old established order. Rather one would linger together with him in the questions that he has posed, which have often remained unanswered.

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