Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists : a Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution

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New York Review of Books, Nov 28, 2006 - Art - 344 pages
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A rare art history classic that The New York Times calls a “delightful, scholarly and gossipy romp through the character and conduct of artists from antiquity to the French Revolution.”

Born Under Saturn is a classic work of scholarship written with a light and winning touch. Margot and Rudolf Wittkower explore the history of the familiar idea that artistic inspiration is a form of madness, a madness directly expressed in artists’ unhappy and eccentric lives. This idea of the alienated artist, the Wittkowers demonstrate, comes into its own in the Renaissance, as part of the new bid by visual artists to distinguish themselves from craftsmen, with whom they were then lumped together. Where the skilled artisan had worked under the sign of light-fingered Mercury, the ambitious artist identified himself with the mysterious and brooding Saturn. Alienation, in effect, was a rung by which artists sought to climb the social ladder.

As to the reputed madness of artists—well, some have been as mad as hatters, some as tough-minded as the shrewdest businessmen, and many others wildly and willfully eccentric but hardly crazy. What is certain is that no book presents such a splendid compendium of information about artists’ lives, from the early Renaissance to the beginning of the Romantic era, as Born Under Saturn. The Wittkowers have read everything and have countless anecdotes to relate: about artists famous and infamous; about suicide, celibacy, wantonness, weird hobbies, and whatnot. These make Born Under Saturn a comprehensive, quirky, and endlessly diverting resource for students of history and lovers of the arts.


“This book is fascinating to read because of the abundant quotations which bring to life so many remarkable
individuals.”–The New York Review of Books
 

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User Review  - giovannigf - LibraryThing

Despite the authors' insistence that they don't want the book to be a collection of meandering (and contradictory) anecdotes, it's largely what it is. And that's what makes this hilarious, gossipy, and slightly cracked book so great. Read full review

Contents

CHAPTER
1
CHAPTER
17
CHAPTER THREE
42
Obsession with Work
53
Creative Idleness
59
Creation in Solitude 53 59
63
CHAPTER FOUR ECCENTRIC BEHAVIOUR AND NOBLE MANNERS
67
MichelangelosDistress of Mind and Temper
71
Adam Elsheimer
118
Francesco Duquesnoy
120
Carlo Dolci
122
Was Franz Xaver Messerschmidt insane?
124
CHAPTER
125
SUICIDES OF ARTISTS I 33
133
Rosso Fiorentino
136
Francesco Bassano
139

Leonardos Aloofness
75
Tribulations of Mind and Body
78
Cleanliness Mania
83
Alchemists and Necromancers
84
Weird Hobbies
88
Sixteenth Century Critics of Eccentric Artists
90
The Image of the Noble Artist
93
Rubensthe Perfect Gentleman 06
96
CHAPTER FIVE GENIUS MADNESS AND MELANCHOLY
98
The Saturnine Temperament
102
Hugo van der Goes Case History
108
Seventeenth Century Melancholics
113
Mastelletta
115
Francesco Borromini
140
Pietro Testa
142
Marco Ricci
143
CHAPTER SEVEN
150
CHAPTER EIGHT
181
CHAPTER NINE
209
CHAPTER
229
CHAPTER ELEVEN
253
CHAPTER TWELVE
281
notes
295
b1bl1ography 314
333
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About the author (2006)

RUDOLF WITTKOWER (1901-1971) was a German-American art historian. He was on the staff of the Warburg Institute, London, and became professor at the University of London. He then headed the Department of Fine Arts and Archaeology at Columbia. His highly original works in English include Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600—1750, Essays in the History of Architecture, Essays in the History of Art, and Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution.

MARGOT WITTKOWER (1902-1995) was born in Berlin and established herself as an interior designer. After moving to London with her husband, she became an expert on neo-Palladian architecture. She collaborated on a number of books with her husband, including Born Under Saturn and The Divine Michelangelo.

JOSEPH CONNORS is past Director of the American Academy in Rome, and currently is Professor of Art History, Columbia University.

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