An alternative candidate for Disegno?

Alex Allegory, Art-Science, Instruments and machines, Mathematics 3 Comments

Disegno from the Linder Gallery

Disegno from the Linder Gallery

It is by no means clear whether the figure of Disegno in the Linder gallery is intended to be generic or a specific portrait.  Michael John has suggested Kepler as a possible candidate – which is certainly plausible, although I have yet to be convinced of the similarity between known portraits of Kepler and the features of the Linder gallery figure, and (frustratingly) there is no evidence that either Oddi or Linder was especially interested in Kepler and his works. An alternative possibility is that the figure of Disegno is in fact modelled on Mutio Oddi’s first tutor in the visual arts, the famous painter Federico Barocci of Urbino.  Barocci’s features, as depicted in his self-portrait of ca. 1600 are close to those of Disegno in the Linder gallery, if we imagine Barocci 20-30 years older (for the gallery was painted in the late 1620s).  Barocci would have been an ideal model for Disegno – he was internationally renowned as a master of design and  was the brother of the celebrated mathematical instrument maker, Simone Barocci, whose works Oddi distributed in Milan to patrons and friends – including Linder.  In fact, as Ian Verstegen has shown in a recent article, Federico used his brother’s instruments (notably the reduction compass) in making his drawings and paintings.  Thus, Barocci could be thought of as a figure for whom mathematics underpinned drawing, and the arts in general.  Oddi – who was exiled from Urbino – was always eager to promote his homeland (indeed, he circulated Barocci drawings in Milan).  What better way of doing this than by incorporating one of its greatest (but recently deceased) artists into the painting he helped to devise?  Just a thought…

Federico Barocci, Self-portrait (ca. 1600)

Federico Barocci, Self-portrait (ca. 1600)

Comments 3

  1. michaeljohn

    Alex, two immediate thoughts on this. First, I suggest that there is clear evidence that the artist who painted the picture was familiar with Kepler, given the two Kepler books, Tabulae Rudolphinae and Harmonices Mundi, placed prominently on the green table and the third Napier book. Napier’s logarithms were a key for both Kepler books and Kepler dedicated his Ephimerides of 1620 to Napier. See eg The question of where the artist drew interest or likeness in Kepler from (whether Oddi or Linder or just from flicking open the Rudolphine Tables and glancing at the frontispiece) is an interesting but separate question.
    Secondly, if you look at the visual evidence, I don’t see a strong physical resemblance between Disegno in the Linder Gallery and Federico Barocci. I’d be interested to know what others think but I think the physical resemblance with Kepler is far more compelling, see
    Nor do I see any other supporting elements in the painting pointing directly to Federico Barocci.
    Therefore, while I agree the case for Kepler has still to be proven conclusively I remain sceptical that Barocci is a plausible alternative!

  2. Post

    Michael John – a comment on your comment. The thing with ‘visual’ evidence is that it is often – and certainly in this case – pretty ambiguous. We’ll have to agree to disagree about the extent of a likeness between the figure of Disegno and portraits of Kepler. I certainly see very little similarity indeed to the Achen portrait, but can see a case (though I have yet to be convinced) for the similarity to the Tabulae engraving (even though that print is pretty loosely drawn, i.e. is it precise enough to have been the model for Disegno?). Then there’s the nagging problem of there being no evidence that either Linder or Oddi was especially interested in Kepler. Isn’t it odd that Kepler isn’t mentioned once in Oddi’s thousand-odd letters, where he discusses cosmology, instruments, mathematics, painting, etc…That doesn’t disprove a Kepler connection, of course, but it gives one pause for thought. Plus, it seems to me that the books don’t occupy a position that is any more or less significant than any other objects in the gallery. As such, I think we should be cautious about giving them more weight than they might be due. On the other hand, we do know that Oddi was very interested in Barocci, having been his pupil (and I happen to think his features – cheeks, eyes, nose, hair, no? – are at least as similar to Disegno as the Achen portrait, if not more so). I’m certainly not pushing him as an identification, just submitting him as a another candidate. Many of the objects included in the painting (the portrait medals, the double portrait, the beam compass and mirror, etc.) point to this being a very personal image, so why wouldn’t Oddi have chosen someone close to him? Then there’s the fact that Barocci was considered by many of his contemporaries to be an embodiment of Disegno, who, it turns out, was more mathematically inclined than we’d thought.

  3. Jennifer Drake-Brockman (Speake)

    The fixity of the gaze of the old man proposed as a portrait of Kepler suggests to me that he is blind – or nearly so. The droop of the left eyelid may suggest that he has suffered a stroke.

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