Artibus et Historiae no. 60 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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ROSAMOND E. MACK and MOHAMED ZAKARIYA - The Pseudo-Arabic on Andrea del Verrocchio's David

This article examines the design and the execution of the pseudo-Arabic inscriptions on the tunic of Verrocchio's bronze David, as well as the genesis and significance of such Islamic style garments in Italian Renaissance art. Verrocchio's letter shapes derive from the cursive Arabic script commonly used in contemporary Egyptian and Syrian art, but only a few letters are recognizable among the small repertory of forms and patterns that Verrocchio recombined and repeated. His likely models were Islamic or Italian pseudo-Arabic. Like other Italian pseudo-Arabic, which varied by artist, Verrocchio's conveys no linguistic information. The representation of sacred figures in garments decorated with bands of pseudo-Arabic originated in Tuscany during the second half of the thirteenth century among the pioneers of Renaissance style. Inspired by prestigious textiles and garments of the Holy Land, the Italian versions were invented for expressive purposes: to place persons and events in the East during biblical and early Christian times. Because the Tuscan pioneers also used the same pseudo-script to represent the writing of those times, they intended it to be recognized as such. It is proposed that the scholarship and legend of Saint Jerome contributed to a widespread European misbelief in the antiquity of written Arabic. In Tuscany, furthermore, the popular painted wooden cult statues, which were often dressed luxuriously for feast days and processions, could have promoted a strong mental and visual association between Islamic textiles and the Holy Family and the saints.

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