Artibus et Historiae no. 77 (XXXIX)

2018, ISSN 0391-9064

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KRISTOFFER NEVILLE - Virtuosity, Mutability, and the Sculptor’s Career in and out of the Low Countries, 1550–1650 (pp. 291–318)

This article examines a group of sculptors active in northern Europe c. 1550–1650 who worked in a variety of manners, or styles, according to the requirements of their various commissions. Each was highly regarded in his lifetime, but has since fallen into obscurity. This is in part because art history as a discipline has traditionally valued a consistent and unique manner as an indicator of artistic quality and legitimacy, and the sort of accommodation evident in these projects has been seen either as a sign of a weak ‘artistic personality’, easily susceptible to influence from other practitioners, or, alternatively, as an approach in which the sculptor produces whatever the patron wishes, in whatever style, thus compromising authorial integrity. However, a group of early modern sources extols precisely this kind of skill as a particular form of virtuosity. Early penmanship manuals provide a particularly useful point of reference. They present scribal practices both as an applied skill and as a virtuosic art. Unlike the sources that have been privileged by art historians, however, they recognize a group of categorically different scripts, each equally valid and with its own uses and aesthetic qualities. Crucially, the authors of these manuals argue that a good calligrapher should be able to move easily among the different scripts, much as the sculptors discussed here moved from one manner or style to another.

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