Daniele Di Cola
Tradition, Modernity, and the “lois eternelles” of Style: Gustave Soulier’s Definition of Renaissance Art, from “Tintoret” (1911) to “L’Inspiration et la technique de Michel-Ange” (1937)
Daniele Di Cola studied art history at Sapienza University of Rome, where he obtained his PhD with a dissertation on the American art historian Leo Steinberg (1920-2011). In 2018, during a six-month fellowship at the Centre A. Chastel in Paris, he developed his current research on the art historian Gustave Soulier. His interests concern the historiography of Renaissance art, with a specific focus on art historians who worked on both Renaissance art and nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. In 2019, for a fellowship at the Hertziana Library in Rome, he investigated the representation of Islamic carpets in Italian religious art of the Renaissance, considering the functions of their flat, abstract ornamentation in early-modern representational art.
The French art historian Gustave Soulier (1872-1937) has not received sufficient attention in the historiography of the field. Soulier spent his life in Italy (in Florence and Naples), studying different aspects of Renaissance art. Because he was also engaged with modern art in Paris – aesthetically involved with Symbolist art as well as new tendencies in decorative art (Art Nouveau) – he developed an unusual approach to the interpretation of earlier art. From his book on Tintoretto (1911) to his PhD dissertation “Les Influences orientales dans la peinture toscane” (1924), Soulier’s trans-historical interests led him to challenge traditional definitions of Renaissance style. In “Les Influences orientales,” for example, he rejects the centrality of naturalism and imitational skills usually attributed to fifteenth-century artists, proposing instead a more “decorative” interpretation of forms, an interpretation that both embraced Oriental art and was inspired by contemporary art practice. The project considers Soulier’s biography and writings in order to reconstruct his thinking, exploring his intellectual sources and artistic and cultural milieu, including unpublished materials. The latter will be published in a forthcoming monograph on Soulier; among them, his last book on Michelangelo’s sculpture, which offers a pioneering inquiry of the materiality and technique of artworks in relation to the artist’s psychology and religious devotion.