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Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Conte

    Full Name: Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Conte

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1616

    Date Died: 1693

    Place Born: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

    Place Died: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): biography (general genre), Bolognese, Italian (culture or style), and painting (visual works)


    Wrote a history of painting in Bologna through biographies of Bolognese artists in 1678. Malvasia was born to an aristocratic Bolognese family. He gained early fame for his poetry and dabbled in painting as an aristocratic pursuit under Giacinto Campana (b. 1600) and Giacomo Cavedone and the literary academy dei Gelati. After graduating with a law degree, Malvasia went to Rome in 1639 where he further participated in the literary academies (degli Umoristi and dei Fantastici) and meeting Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Ginetti, Cardinal Bernardino Spada (1594-1661) and the artist Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654). From 1647 onward he lectured in Law at the university in Bologna. After publication of an essay related the theological aspects of a painting, Lettera a Monsignor Albergati, 1652, and obtaining a theology degree in 1653, he was appointed a canon in Bologna Cathedral in 1662. Malvasia’s appointment took him to the capitals of the Italian states and contacts with the cultural administrators of the land, including Marco Boschini and Nicolas Régnier, and Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici (whom he advised on his collections) and, in 1665, Pierre Cureau de la Chambre, who gained him entré into the French court of Louis XIV and the Académie Royale. During this period, Malvasia collected and researched the artistic life of his native Bologna. This resulted in the 1678 Felsina pittrice, Malvasia’s narrative art history of painting in Bologna. Organized through biographies of Bolognese artists, it is the core primary document on Bolognese artists of the Baroque. Conscious of lives-of-artists books such as the 1550 work of Giorgio Vasari and Giovanni Baglione, Malvasia’s attempts to place Bolognese art at the fore, attracting Florentine supremacy and highlighting Bolognese innovation. He divided his book into four sections, beginning with the primitives, then Francesco Francia, then the Carracci and, ending with the great baroque artists of Malvasia’s generation, Guido Reni, Domenichino, Francesco Albani and Guercino. In 1686 he published Le pitture di Bologna, a “gallery guide” for the artists about whom he had spoken in the Felsina. The guide was tremendously popular and was reprinted seven times in the next hundred years. In 1694, his final art commentary, Il Claustro di S Michele in Bosco di Bologna, on the Caracci school artists, appeared. Malvasia’s strong argument for Bologna caused controversy. Filippo Baldinucci attacked Malvasia’s stance in an Apologia of his Notizie di professori del disegno, as well as the Venetian Marco Boschini (1613-1678), and in 1703, Vincenzo Vittoria (1650-1712) in his Osservazioni sopra il libro della Felsina Pittrice per difesa di Raffaello. Malvasia’s methodology concentrated on documents without forcing a single conclusion, as much of the other art historical encomia had previously done. Giovanni Pietro Bellori, who, in his Vite, used historical material to support his classicist position, whereas Malvasia’s Felsina Pittrice is more empirical and allows a greater freedom of aesthetic viewpoints. Malvasia’s work suffered much in the centuries since its publication. Parts of his work were attacked as forgeries, others decried his idea of eclecticism for the Carracci. Since the 1980s, Malvasia’s work has undergone a period of reassessment and the value of his original ideas and scholarship once again valued. Felsina Pittrice remains one of the core primary texts of the Bolognese Baroque.

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Sorbelli, Albano. Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1933, p. liii; Lettera a Monsignor Albergati [. . . ] in ragguaglio d’una pittura fatta ultimamente dal Signor Giovan Andrea Sirani. Bologna: s.n., 1652; Felsina pittrice: Vite de’ pittori bolognesi. 2 vols. Bologna: Per l’erede di Domenico Barbieri, 1678, partial English translation [Reni selections], Enggass, Catherine, and Enggass, Robert, eds. The Life of Guido Reni. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980, and [Caracci selections], Summerscale, Anne, editor. Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000; Le pitture di Bologna che nella pretesa e rimostrata in hora da altri maggiori antichità ed impareggiabile eccellenza nella pittura, con manifesta evidenza di fatto rendono il Passaggero disingannato ed instrutto. Bologna: per Giacomo Monti, 1686; Il Claustro di S Michele in Bosco di Bologna dipinto dal famoso Ludovico Carracci e da altri maestri usciti dalla sua Scuola. Bologna: Per gli eredi d’Antonio Pisarri, 1694.


    Enggass, Catherine, and Enggass, Robert. “Introduction.” The Life of Guido Reni. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980; Perini, Giovanna. Dictionary of Art; Perini, Giovanna “Central Issues and Peripheral Debates in Seventeenth-century Art Literature.” World Art: Themes of Unity in Adversity. Acts of the XXVI International Congress of the History of Art: Washington, DC, 1986, pp. 139-43; Mahon, Denis. Studies in Seicento Art and Theory. London: 1947; Dempsey, Charles. “Malvasia and the Problem of the Early Raphael and Bologna.” Studies in the History of Art 17 (1986): 57-70


    "Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Conte." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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