Artibus et Historiae no. 80 (XL)

2019, ISSN 0391-9064

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CAROLYN C. WILSON - Nunc faber alter adest: Cristoforo Bianchi’s Emblematic Engraving from 1597 and the Saint Joseph Altarpiece of 1603 by Giovanni Barbiani of Ravenna (pp. 241–268)

Although he has long been characterized as a Counter-Reformation saint, the importance of Saint Joseph’s liturgical cult veneration in the late pre-Tridentine period in Italy, following Sixtus IV’s attention by 1479 to the saint’s feast, and often in response to social crisis, is attested by ample documentation of the establishment of altars, chapels, churches, and confraternities of devotion in Saint Joseph’s name, as well as his frequent embrace as civic and personal patron, and by contemporary liturgical, theological, and devotional writings. The surge of activity in establishing new sites of Saint Joseph’s liturgical cult in Italy appears to taper off toward the middle of the sixteenth century, with papal interest revived during the late 1590s. With the aggrandizement of Saint Joseph’s feast by Gregory XV in 1621, his cult veneration was recast with attention to the charism of Teresa of Ávila, who was canonized the following year.

Awareness of the extent and tenor of the liturgical cult veneration of Saint Joseph during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and over the course of the sixteenth, along with familiarity with contemporary clerical writings on the saint, enriches our understanding of iconographic choices that contemporary artists made to represent and honor the saint as potent intercessor and to convey exegesis. Following a summary of the critical doctrine on Joseph set forth by Bernard of Clairvaux, a brief review of relationships between specific graphic and painted works, most created as accessories to the saint’s liturgical cult, serve to illuminate our ‘reading’ of them and to suggest how devotional meanings and related compositional motifs recur, were shared across time, and were disseminated as the liturgical cult of Joseph evolved and spread. The second of Cristoforo Bianchi’s emblematic engravings, each inscribed with a Latin epigram and distilling aspects of the accompanying text, that appear in the first editions (1597, in Rome under the auspices of Clement VIII, in Spanish and in Italian) of Jerónimo Gracián’s Sumario de las excelencias del glorioso San José and Sommario dell’eccellenze del glorioso S. Giosef is here recognized as the source for Giovanni Barbiani’s high altarpiece of 1603, designed for the former church co-titled to Saint Joseph and Saint Peter in cattedra in Ravenna, and is key to our interpretation of it.

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