Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth: Vico and Neapolitan Painting

Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth: Vico and Neapolitan Painting

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth: Vico and Neapolitan Painting
    Book Description:

    Can painting transform philosophy? In Inventing Falsehood, Making Truth, Malcolm Bull looks at Neapolitan art around 1700 through the eyes of the philosopher Giambattista Vico. Surrounded by extravagant examples of late Baroque painting by artists like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena, Vico concluded that human truth was a product of the imagination. Truth was not something that could be observed: instead, it was something made in the way that paintings were made--through the exercise of fantasy.

    Juxtaposing paintings and texts, Bull presents the masterpieces of late Baroque painting in early eighteenth-century Naples from an entirely new perspective. Revealing the close connections between the arguments of the philosophers and the arguments of the painters, he shows how Vico drew on both in his influential philosophy of history, The New Science. Bull suggests that painting can serve not just as an illustration for philosophical arguments, but also as the model for them--that painting itself has sometimes been a form of epistemological experiment, and that, perhaps surprisingly, the Neapolitan Baroque may have been one of the routes through which modern consciousness was formed.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4974-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xi-xv)

    The epigraph to the first chapter of E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion is a quotation from the eighteenth-century Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard: “Painting is the most astounding sorceress. She can persuade us through the most evident falsehoods that she is pure Truth.”¹ Gombrich argues that painters persuade viewers through their mastery of the techniques of illusion. This book explores another aspect of painting’s magic: not its ability to simulate truth, but its capacity to change our perception of what truth is.

    According to the Egyptologist Jan Assmann, the formative distinction in European civilization is the Mosaic one between religions...

  5. ONE Vico
    (pp. 1-42)

    Giambattista Vico (figure 1.1) was born in Naples in 1668, the son of a bookseller.¹ Due to ill health, his education was a little haphazard, conducted partly at home and partly with the local Jesuits. He was an able student, however, and from 1686–95 he was employed as a private tutor, spending much of his time outside of Naples at the Rocca family property at Vatolla. During this period he was also enrolled in the faculty of jurisprudence at the University of Naples, from which he graduated with a doctorate in canon and civil law in 1694.

    In 1699...

  6. TWO Icastic Painting
    (pp. 43-68)

    Vico’s alignment of epistemology with the theory of painting and the narrative of prehistory was not purely speculative. It addressed recent intellectual and artistic controversies, and was designed to show that “God shines even in the darkness of errors.”¹ In the seventeenth century, Naples had been full of errors both artistic and philosophical.

    According to Bellori, icastic painters and portraitists followed no idea and were subject to the ugliness of the face and body. The prime culprit in this regard was Caravaggio, who “copied bodies purely as they appear to the eye, without selection.”² His work may have served a...

  7. THREE Fantastic Painting
    (pp. 69-100)

    The Theatine church of San Paolo Maggiore stands on Via dei Tribunali at the junction with Piazza San Lorenzo (figure 3.1), one of the busiest crossroads in the center of the city. It was built on the site of the ancient Temple of the Dioscuri, so the new dedication was appropriate—Castor and Pollux had been the name of Paul’s ship in Acts 28, and Peter and Paul had replaced them as patron saints of travelers.

    The portico of the old temple, complete with its ancient Greek inscription on the architrave, became the porch of the new church, and as...

  8. FOUR Theological Painting
    (pp. 101-120)

    As befitted someone who compared himself to a painter and claimed that human truth was like a painting, Vico took the opportunity to give visual expression to the theoretical ambitions of the New Science. For the second edition, he composed what he called la dipintura (figure 4.1). It was designed by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro and appeared as a frontispiece in the third edition as well.

    Vico explains the ungainly composition as follows.¹ The luminous triangle with the seeing eye represents God with the aspect of his divine providence. The woman with winged temples standing on a celestial globe is Metaphysic,...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 121-126)

    Exploring Vico’s analogy of painting offers a perspective on his work from within the visual world of the Neapolitan baroque and vice versa. Beyond that, it may suggest something unexpected about the way in which philosophy and painting are related. Within art historical scholarship, it has long been commonplace to assume, sometimes on the basis of quite limited evidence, the influence of trends in philosophy upon contemporary developments in painting. From the influence of Neoplatonism upon the Florentine Renaissance to that of Bergson on the cubists, such interaction is always assumed to go in one direction, as though artists were...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 127-140)
  11. Index
    (pp. 141-144)