The Art of Competition: From the High Renaissance to the Baroque

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The Art of Competition: From the High Renaissance to the Baroque

<p>In early-modern Italy the stakes for patronage were high, the contest often fierce and the gloves, well and truly off. See the art world like never before. From injuring your opponent by tampering


In early-modern Italy the stakes for patronage were high, the contest often fierce and the gloves, well and truly off. See the art world like never before. From injuring your opponent by tampering with their high level scaffolding for frescoes, to careers sabotaged with poison, or to the public circulation of spiteful poetry, the period has it all. In addition, we will also look at competition from the broader and more indirect perspective of regional civic pride and aesthetic/stylistic concerns.


  • Rona Goffen, Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).
  • Jonathan Jones, The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  • Matthias Wivel, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, (London: National Gallery Company, 2017).
  • The Lives of Caravaggio, (London: Pallas Athene, 2006).
  • Elizabeth Cropper, The Domenichino Affair: Novelty, Imitation and Theft in Seveneteenth-century Rome, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
  • Christopher R. Marshall, Baroque Naples and the Industry of Painting, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
  • Jake Morrissey, The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the Rivalry That Transformed Rome, (London: Duckworth Overlook, 2005).


  • Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo – Clash of the Titans: The sixteenth century biographer of Italian artists, Giorgio Vasari, stated that the two men felt ‘an intense dislike for each other.’ The culmination of their rivalry played out within the very civic heart of the city of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, in two opposing and never to be completed grand battle scenes.
  • Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo – Art Transfigured or Resurrected?: The other great rival to Michelangelo was the painter, Raphael. Their rivalry will be examined within the context of the papal court and culture of early sixteenth century Rome. We will also discuss Michelangelo’s friendship with the Venetian trained painter, Sebastiano del Piombo. Michelangelo assisted Sebastiano with drawings for the commission of a giant painting on panel. The subject was the resurrection of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus; painted in opposition to a work on the Transfiguration of Christ by Raphael.
  • Benvenuto Cellini and Baccio Bandinelli: The rivalry of two sculptors in Ducal Florence – We examine the lives of two leading sculptors who were intense rivals for Medici patronage in mid-sixteenth century Florence. Cellini responded to the success of Bandinelli’s giant Hercules and Cacus – made as a pendant to Michelangelo’s David – by describing its muscular form as nothing more than ‘a sack full of melons’. While Bandinelli would be no less invective, loudly declaring in the presence of the court of Duke Cosimo I, that Cellini, well known for his broadly illicit sexual interests, was a ‘dirty sodomite!’
  • Federico Barocci and the poisoned picnic: On a day in 1563, a young painter from the hill town of Urbino, who had been experiencing moderate success in Rome, was lured to a picnic by his rivals. Here, it said that he ate a salad laced with poison. Precisely what occurred is unclear. However, the resulting effect was more than physical, sending the artist into a state of reclusive seclusion in his home town of Urbino. We will explore the great irony, that while a brush with death left the artist in a state of semi-permanent neurosis, the new style of painting that came from his hand, following this experience, would well and truly place Urbino firmly upon the contemporary artistic map of late sixteenth century Europe.
  • Caravaggio and Baglione: Derogatory poetry and a lawsuit for libel – In 1603, the highly successful painter, Giovanni Baglione, sued Caravaggio and three other painters (Orazio Gentileschi, Ottavio Leoni, and Filipo Trisegni) for spreading a derogatory poem throughout the city of Rome, which attacked Baglione’s character and artistic reputation. The insulting poem, was in part, likely the result of Baglione being the first artist to adopt Caravaggio’s tenebrist style – with its striking contrast of light and dark passages – in a work which was completed a year before, entitled Sacred and Profane Love. In this this class, we will look at artistic competition within the broader context of early seventeenth century Rome.
  • Domenichino and Lanfranco: A battle between former students – In 1620s Rome, rumours had circulated that the Bolognese painter,Domenichino, had attempted to murder Giovanni Lanfranco, by partially sawing through the scaffolding the artist employed to paint frescos, metres above the ground within one of the city’s towering churches. Lanfranco also made strident attempts to defame the reputation of his perceived rival, in spreading accusations of Domenichino plagiarising the work of one of their teachers, Agostino Carracci. We will see how the sometimes competitive and turbulent culture inhabited by the workshop assistant could, side by side with success; spill out into the wider theatre of cultural influence, artistic commissions and patronage.
  • Bernini and Borromini: Without question, the most successful artist in seventeenth century Rome, was the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. However, Bernini’s cultural hegemony of the art world came at a price. While he was admired as a child protégé, his overarching influence could also foster deep resentment. None more so, than in his architectural rival, Francesco Borromini. This final lecture will be centred on the competition for church and civic architectural patronage in seventeenth century Rome.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain an understanding of how artistic competition and rivalry relate to early-modern regional, trans-Italian and European culture and identity.
  2. Understand the visual culture of the period from the perspective of rivalry.
  3. Relate artistic competition to issues of patronage; aesthetics and style, the culture of the painter’s workshop, legal records, letters and poetry.
  4. Gain an understanding of how to visually analyse works of art.
  5. Relate artistic rivalry to other broader questions of art history.