Punning on Dal Pozzo’s name, Johannes Faber (friend of Federico Cesi and member of the Accademia dei Lincei) characterized the interest in nature of Cassiano and his brother Carlo Antonio as follows: ‘Their sole aim is to land the fish of truth, which lurks in so deep a well, from the well [pozzo] that gives them their name and coat of arms, and share it ungrudgingly with all students of nature’. The creation of Dal Pozzo’s paper museum and his liberality in showing and sharing it were, as Paula Findlen asserts, not only a sign of his passionate interest in nature study but also part of an élite culture of naturalia and antiquities collecting and display that strongly furthered Cassiano’s status and impressive Roman career. Vice versa, his position as protégé of the powerful Barberini Pope Urban VIII and the diplomatic missions to France and to Iberia on the latter’s behalf helped to expand Dal Pozzo’s network enormously and gave a crucial impetus to his range and European status as collector. Cassiano had a passionate interest in birds. He kept some quite unusual live ones in his home and courtyard. Birds also played an important part in his election as member of the Lincei, which followed shortly after he presented the Accademia with the Uccelliera (1622), a printed work on birds ‘ghost-written’ by Giovanni Pietro Olina on the basis of Cassiano’s information and illustrated with engravings mainly based on drawings that Cassiano had commissioned from his personal painter Vincenzo Leonardi. Cassiano’s task in the Lincei focused, as Findlen argues in her general introduction, on pittura filosofica, aiming to ‘create a complete description of an object or species’ in images multi-layered with information. His growing image collection helped to set standards in this field and several of the drawings published here show how natural history was beginning to transform itself from a descriptive to an anatomical science during his lifetime. Cassiano’s collection succeeded, as Findlen puts it, ‘in becoming, for a time, a tool developed by an entire network of correspondents, collectors and informants devoted to the perfection of the scientific image.’ Cassiano was both a researcher and a facilitator of research of others. This two-volume publication in the long and impressive series of Cassiano dal Pozzo volumes on natural history is, if possible, my favourite. Like the other volumes it is beautifully produced. The quality of the essays is excellent throughout, and the editors and authors have done an impressive job in organizing this recalcitrant and heterogeneous material, making it accessible, and lucidly explaining to what extent we can still discern traces of its original organization. This segment of Dal Pozzo’s paper museum comprises drawings of a wide range of naturalia (birds; some mammals; fish, crustaceans and molluscs; minerals, stones, corals, seeds and other plant parts) and of a few instruments. The volumes present a meticulous reconstruction of this corpus, reuniting in print the large number of drawings dispersed during the twentieth century (which now belong to various private collectors) with the main body of Cassiano drawings in the Royal Collection. Clear and well informed explanatory texts by a team of historians of science, art historians and specialists in ornithology, zoology and geology accompany each drawing. It is enormously helpful that they do not limit themselves to the identification of the depicted item, but also discuss how well naturalia are rendered, offer information about the species and the early history of its representation, and go into the question of image attribution (by no means all drawings are by Leonardi). In quite a few cases contemporary visual material (e.g. by Aldrovandi, Ligozzi) is illustrated and discussed, which turns several of these short essays into a new starting point for future analysis and comparison. Some 200 drawings of birds (many of them model drawings for the engravings in the Uccelliera) fill the first volume and testify to Cassiano’s great interest in them. They comprise a striking number of white or whitish (leucistic) exemplars – rarities that also fascinated Aldrovandi. Appendices in the second volume include transcriptions of Cassiano’s exchanges with Peiresc on pelicans, flamingos and other intriguing birds. The group of mammals, expertly discussed by Arthur MacGregor, is much smaller but comprises some unusual animals (e.g. Beisa oryx). Here in particular, parallels are pointed out with drawings by Anselmus de Boodt, painter-physician and copyist at Rudolf II’s court in Prague. In this respect the authors of the section on (mainly Mediterranean) fish have gone less far. Their comparisons are mainly limited to early modern printed fish illustrations and do not take into account contemporary collections of fish drawings. The close parallels of a few Cassiano drawings with fish engravings printed much earlier by Salviani (1550s) are intriguing, however. The section on stones, minerals, seeds, etcetera, is particularly rich and also includes some suggestive drawings of magnetic ‘scientific toys’, hinting at the theatrical world of scientific demonstration and experiment. The essays that introduce each of these subsections are truly excellent. McBurney focuses on Cassiano and birds, points out his strong interest in colour, and discusses painterly issues such as the visual format followed by Leonardi (elongated shapes, sometimes stiff poses, flattened tails, etc.) comparing him with contemporary Italian naturalia painters. Like Findlen, she points at a development in the direction of visual anatomy. Rolfe and Napoleone introduce Cassiano as a collector of minerals and stones, and set out the intricacies of the section on and the ordering of stones and minerals. They discuss their use in natural magic and, interestingly, point out that there are few indications here of the use of laboratory equipment, and less evidence of the use of the microscope than in Cesi’s plant drawings of the 1620s. With regard to all of these items, Cassiano’s collecting demonstrates particular attention to the unusual and curious, while Cesi (in earlier years) concentrated more on systematic collecting. Findlen’s two contributions are outstanding: the opening essay in the second volume discusses Cassiano and animals, while her brilliant general introduction on Cassiano as Roman virtuoso brings Cassiano studies up to date. Among the extremely useful appendices two should be mentioned in particular: the Skippon list (1665) of the drawings in Cassiano’s collection, which has played a crucial role in the modern reconstruction of his paper museum; and the concordances that will be an invaluable tool for future researchers into either single drawings or the history of this great collection. A top quality standard work for many decades! © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
Journal of the History of Collections – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 6, 2017
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