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Cavalcaselle, G.B.

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle

    Other Names:

    • Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1819

    Date Died: 1897

    Place Born: Legnano, Milan, Lombardy, Italy

    Place Died: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): Flemish (culture or style), Italian (culture or style), painting (visual works), and Renaissance

    Career(s): artists (visual artists) and museologists

    Institution(s): Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia


    Artist and art historian; collaborator with Joseph Archer Crowe on the first modern history of art to be written in English. Cavalcaselle studied studio painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice. He was born in Legnago, Milan, Italy, in the Verona vicinity. When his interests changed to art history, he moved to Milan and Florence to study renaissance art. In 1847 he met Joseph Archer Crowe, a British art historian in Italy. The following year, Cavalcaselle joined in the 1848 revolutions sweeping Europe. For his part in the Italian revolt, he was condemned to death and force to flee. He settled in London in 1850 working for George Scharf as a illustrator of art. He may also have worked as a restorer. Cavalcaselle’s reputation as a connoisseur was already great. Charles Lock Eastlake, then president of the Royal Academy, employed Cavalcaselle and two other eminent art connoisseurs, Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Johann David Passavant that same year to write about pictures for the catalog of the Permanent Gallery of Art in Liverpool. In 1851 Cavalcaselle supported Seymour Stocker Kirkup (1788-1880) in Kirkup’s attribution of a portrait of Dante by Giotto in the Bargello fresco of Paradise in Florence. The following year, Cavalcaselle was asked by Crowe, with whom he shared living quarters in London, to help with Crowe’s book on fifteenth-century Flemish painters. This resulted in their famous collaboration and the earliest work in English of serious art scholarship, A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century (1853). Cavalcaselle traveled throughout Europe, making the acquaintance of the art historian and dealer Otto Mündler in Paris, who was acquiring art for the National Gallery, London. Cavalcaselle made attributions for the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition catalog of 1857. In 1857, too, Cavalcaselle began research for an English-language edition of the masterwork by Giorgio VasariMost Excellent Painters, commissioned by Eastlake, the publisher John Murray, the amateur archaeologist Austen Henry Layard (1817 -1894) and the playwright Tom Taylor (1817-1880). His job was twofold: to examine the extant paintings mentioned in the Vite and compare Varsari’s claims with the documents in Italian archives. He worked until 1861 on the Vasari project, building on the research of Pietro Giordani (1774-1848) and Giuseppe B. Campori. Cavalcaselle soon developed an expertise in Italian art as he had for Flemish. Eastlake sent him on several buy trips for the National Gallery, one in 1858 which Eastlake accompanied him another the following year to evaluate a Roman sale. Cavalcaselle eventually abandoned the Vasari project for a new one with Crowe, a history of Italian painting. The ouster of religious authority in Italy by the new, unified Italian government allowed him to return, where he received a commission to inventory church holdings in the Marches and Umbria in 1861, together with the connoisseur and collector Giovanni Morelli. Cavalcasell became alarmed that the new Italian government was losing precious art through neglect and over-restoration. In 1862 to exhorted the government to establish an office within the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione to control Italy’s art treasures. Though the proposal went unheeded, Cavalcaselle continued to work toward this end. His trips to France and Austria in 1863, the German states in 1863-1865, and elsewhere expanded his knowledge an expertise. Crowe’s and Cavalcaselle’s New History of Painting in Italy appeared from Murray beginning in 1864 and soon after in a German edition, edited by Anton Springer. The groundbreaking work recast much of art history based upon their chronologies of the artist’s individual development. Two subsequent volumes, treating the north Italian schools, appeared in 1871. In 1867, Cavalcaselle was named Inspector for the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, in Florence. He continued to consult for the National Gallery, now under the direction of William Boxall, until 1869. He moved to Rome in 1875 to accept a minister-level position as Inspector General of Painting and Sculpture. As Ministerio, he oversaw the art restoration, including of the paintings in S Francesco, Assisi, advised on museum acquisition and structure. He was instrumental in the laws prohibiting exports of art, and set the government standards for restoration of paintings and mosaics. Impressed with his organizational talents and authority, he and Crowe were called to Austria to reorganize the Belvedere Gallery in 1873. In 1877, he and Crowe issued a biography, Titian: His Life and Times which was meant to cap the History of Painting in North Italy volumes. Between 1882-1885 the two also issued Raphael: His Life and Works. Cavalcaselle retired from the Ministero in1893, issuing a much enlarged Italian-language edition of A History of Painting in Italy, 1886-1908. The collaboration between Crowe and Cavalcaselle was one of the great teams of art history. The two traveled together, Cavalcaselle making notes on the pictures, and detailed drawings. Crowe appears to have written the text entirely himself, with much input on attribution by Cavalcaselle, although the true division of work has never been established.

    Cavalcaselle’s connoisseur’s sensitivity to the pictorial language of art history is documented in his drawings. He was adept at establishing on formal basis, the various periods within an artist’s oeuvre. Crowe’s autobiography (1895) discusses Cavalcaselle’s method in detail. A New History of Painting in Italy was the first serious study to cast personal experience of a large amount of art into a conceptual framework. The numerous new attributions and chronologies set their works as classics for nascent discipline of art history. Adolfo Venturi called Cavalcaselle a “second Vasari” and the most complete Italian art history since Luigi Antonio Lanzi.

    Selected Bibliography

    [all the following written in conjunction with: Crowe, Joseph Archer.]  The Early Flemish Painters: Notices of their Lives and Works. London, J. Murray, 1857, Italian: Storia dell’antica pittura fiamminga. Florence: Le Monnier, 1899; and Springer, Anton. Geschichte der altniederlaendischen Malerei. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1875; A New History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 3 vols. London: J. Murray, 1864, enlarged Italian edition, Storia della pittura in Italia dal secolo II al secolo XVI. 11 vols. Florence: Le Monnier, 1885-1908;  Titian: His Life and Times, with Some Account of His Family. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1877; Raphael: His Life and Works, with Particular Reference to Recently Discovered Records, and an Exhaustive Study of Extant Drawings and Pictures. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1882-1885.


    Moretti, Lino. G. B. Cavalcaselle: Disegni da antichi maestri. Vicenza: N. Pozza, 1973; Levi, Donata. Cavalcaselle: il pioniere della conservazione dell’arte italiana. Turin: G. Einaudi, 1988; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 44 (and n.88-9); Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 236; Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon. Munich: K. G. Saur, 1999, vol. 17, p. 358; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, pp.111-114.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Cavalcaselle, G.B.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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