Bizarre Maladies: The Phisiology of Artistic Creation in the Renaissance
Stefano Cracolici is Professor of Italian Art and Literature at Durham University. He received an MD degree from the Albert-Ludwig Universität in Freiburg, a laurea in Literature from the Università di Trento, a PhD in Italian Studies from the University of Toronto. He has worked at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania, and published on Alberti, courtly poetry, the medical and humanistic discourse on love, the Arcadian Academy, and on nineteenth-century art in Europe and Latin America. He has been Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute, visiting professor at the University of São Paulo, UK-Mexico Visiting Chair at the UNAM, and director of the Zurbarán Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art at Durham University.
The word ‘bizarre’ is a key to understanding novelty in art. Vasari linked this novelty to something that stands out as unique and extravagant, in describing, for instance, the infernal dinner in the “Life of Giovan Francesco Rustici” as ‘bizzarre stravaganze’. Its most common meaning is associated with a fanciful creation, as a volatile product of fantasy that defies the stability of a canon. This project is less interested in this meaning and focuses instead on the feeling surrounding the term when used to qualify the emotional frenzy associated with the act of artistic invention. Rather than tracing the history of a word, it investigates the physiology that subtends its usage—bizarre, in short, might describe more a state of mind than the artistic quality of an object. Dictionaries rendered the term with ‘capricious, fantastical, freakish, maggoty’, linking it to people ‘naturally inclined to anger’ as in Dante’s Filippo Argenti (‘spirito bizzarro’). The enquiry will pay attention to agents that stimulate such bilious restlessness—the irritability provoked by the sting of a gadfly or the bite of a spider, but also by colours. The relation between these and music is explained in the treatise by Matteo Zaccolini (1618-22), in the Laurentian Library, where the physiology of the bizarre engenders a series of ‘passioni colorate’ provoked by the bite of a tarantula. The most ambitious goal of this project is to explore the temperamental role of anger in the process of artistic creation.