Joris van Gastel

Distributed Hands Cartari in Bernini’s Shadow : Portraits and Bozze tti

In the fifteenth chapter of his popular Ricreazionde del savio of 1659, the Ferrarese letterato Danielo Bartoli gives extensive praise of the human hand. The hand, tool of tools, as Aristotle would have it, is ‘as a craftsman’ to the mind, bringing into executing what later thinks up. Yet, between mind, hand, and tool, so suggests Bartoli, a slippage may occur…the hand [is] first among the instruments; or better still, [it is] not just the one [instrument], […] but as many as it, for every which art, shapes and employs, becoming one with them, as it imbues them with that motion from which they have, together with [the hand], almost a soul and intellect… If only hesitantly, Bartoli recognizes how the hand, and in its extension, the tool—his list runs from hammer to chisel to brush to plectrum—may gain a life of their own. The artistic mind is extended into the hand and the tools it employs. But we need not stop here. Indeed, looking at seventeenth-century art literature, the hand often appears to gain a life beyond the artist’s own body. In Baldinucci’s Vita of the sculptor Ercole Ferrata, for example, we read that the sculptor ‘with the assistance of Bernini himself made by his own hand the models for the two putti that carry the keys on that chair [of the Cathedra Petri].’ And if we may already wonder what ‘by his own hand’ means here, when Bernini’s assistance was involved, it is all the more surprising that, when Baldinucci discusses the Cathedra Petri in his biography of Bernini, he claims that it was Bernini who ‘made the models in clay all by his own hand…’ Rather than discrediting such sources as the result of confusion or ignorance, this paper will argue that such a displacement of hands may be deemed indicative of a practice in which the sculptor’s hand is distributed over various actors. Looking at some of the later works of the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and the role of his favourite assistant Giulio Cartari (ca. 1641 - 1699) in making these works, this paper will discuss the ways in which an artist such as Bernini aimed to extend his mind into the hands of his workshop assistants, focussing in particular on the role of sketches in clay, or bozzetti. At the centre of the discussion will be the splendid portrait of Bernini kept at the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, long considered to be a self portrait, but recently attributed to Cartari. This portrait, so it will be argued, not only gives us a likeness of the sitter, but embodies a practice in which artistic identity is mediated both through portraiture and through the hand.