Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Rhetoric and Ruthlessness

TLS May 29 2009

from Brian Vickers' review of Renaissance Figures of Speech, edited by Sylvia Adamson, Gavin Alexander and Katrin Ettenhuber:

Sylvia Adamson discusses synonymia, a figure that was central both to classical courtroom eloquence, as a device of vehement emphasis, and to Renaissance writers seeking copia verborum, fertility of utterance. . . . Reading rhetoric depends on recognizing a figure's form and function, and the failure to detect a synonym may have created "one of the notorious oddities of St. Matthew's Gospel," where Jesus is described as riding into Jerusalem on two animals at once: the disciples "brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon" (Mt 21:7). Adamson points out that Matthew had failed to realize that Zechariah, the Old Testament prophet whom he cites as prefiguring the event, used the figure synonymia to emphasize the lowliness of the Messiah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion . . . behold, they King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass" (Zech 9:9). Renaissance schoolmasters, dailing dinning into their pupils a knowledge of the schemes and tropes . . . could have saved Matthew from his error.


from Theodore K. Rabb's review of "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rovals in Renaissance Venice," at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, until August 16:

The emblematic story in the relationship of these three artists . . . took place in early June 1564. One of the rich and powerful charities of Venice, the Scuola San Rocco, was determined to make a splash by commissioning the finest decorations for its magnificent headquarters. Accordingly, a competition was announced for the oval canvas at the center of the ceiling of the albergo, the room where the Board met. As was customary, the finalists (Tintoretto, Salviati, Zuccaro and Veronese) were asked to come to the albergo with drawings of their proposed entries, which the assembled Board would judge. The four competitors appeared with their drawings, except for Tintoretto, who, when asked for his design, had the cardboard covering the ceiling removed to reveal his finished painting, "St Roch in Glory", in situ. Thanks to an accomplice on the Board, he had been able to install it secretly a few days earlier. To complete his triumph, he offered the picture to the confraternity as a donation, which they were bound to accept (though twenty of the fifty-one Board members still voted against it--another indication of the factions that swirled through the city). The consequences of this episode dazzle us to this day: the bast array of Tintorettos throughout the Scuola, of which he became a member, and particularly the enormous "Crucifixion" in the albergo, which Ruskin and others have considered the finest painting ever made.

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