Osteria Veneta’s wine menu is heavy. The cursive script has to be deciphered line by line. The only white available by the glass is a Bianco di Custoze. The menu lists the varieties it is made from: Garganega, Fernanda and Chardonnay. It’s the 2014 vintage and costs €7 for a glass (€28 for the bottle). This is comparatively good value—a liter of Acqua Minerale costs €6,50. The red on offer is a Valpolicella Ripasso: Corvina, Rondinella, Merlot from 2012 at €8 a glass or €32 for a bottle. The wine-list says the producer for both is “Campo Reale”, which isn’t much information to go on, but probably refers to “L’azienda Agricola CampoReale di Mario Lavarini,” a producer who specializes in Valpolicella wines.
Does it matter where a wine is from; how old it is; how much it costs? Carpe diem: work, drink, eat, live. Life is about doing something, not being someone. Judge a wine by what it “does” to you. It’s either tasty or it isn’t.
Renaissance humanists took the opposite view. It’s about being someone not doing something: let us not simply follow a recipe book, but understand what it is we are trying to do. As the humanist movement developed, Cennini’s recipe book on how to paint evolved into Alberti’s theory about what painting is all about.
We begin by following instructions, then we reflect on what it is we are doing. Finally, we develop an historical awareness of where we fit in. Who were the important painters of the past? How did their ideas develop? Do we have anything of value to add to the passing stream?
Ghiberti’s eclectic second treatise gave the first taste of historical perspective in the study of art. And yet it was a self-serving account, not the work of a fully-fledged humanist. The auto-hagiography culminated in Ghiberti portraying himself as the apogee of all art that had been “done” so far.
It was Giorgio Vasari who completed the journey from recipe to character study. Vasari was an artist who had cut his teeth in the workshops of Andrea del Sarto and Baccio Bandinelli. He was a painter and also an architect. The first designs for the Uffizi are by his hand.
Vasari moved among Tuscan aristocrats, painters, sculptors and architects with ease. In Vasari’s account, his idea to write a history of biographies developed in 1546 during a dinner conversation. One of the diners at the table was Paolo Giovio (1483-1552), a medical doctor and lover of the arts, who owned a villa on lake Como, known for its large collection of portraits. What was missing, Giovio told Vasari, was a guidebook to put his collection into perspective. He wanted a catalogue of all the most important artists since Cimabue.
The catalogue for Giovio’s museum got Vasari started. But he soon decided that what he really wanted to do was to preserve the memory of all the artists he knew and cherished.
I do not expect to become famous as a historian or as a writer. It has never crossed my mind, because I am a painter first and foremost. My only desire for this work, this record, sketch, collection of memories, call it what you will, was to create material to be used by the writers of the future. By those writers who will possess the spirit to celebrate and make immortal those artists whom I, in turn, have served by raising them from the dusty layers of oblivion to which many of them had already succumbed.
trans. from Giorgio Vasari, Kunstgeschichte und Kunsttheorie, Wagenbach 2010.
The desire to preserve art for a future audience brings to mind Marcel Proust’s reflections on the artist’s second life after death.
I wished that I could leave this behind me to enrich others with my treasure. My experience in the library which I wanted to preserve was that of pleasure but not an egoistical pleasure or at all events it was a form of egoism which is useful to others (for all the fruitful altruisms of Nature develop in an egoistical mode; human altruism which is not egoism, is sterile, it is that of a writer who interrupts his work to receive a friend who is unhappy, to accept some public function or to write propaganda articles).
Osteria Veneta’s chef Lionello Zaccaron, Giorgio Vasari and Marcel Proust share the idea that the essence of art is its ability to re-invent itself. Art stays forever young. Tastes may come and go, but dust on an old master serves only to preserve its freshness…
In Vasari’s Lives, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael form a frontier of artistic perfection, each, in his own way, a master of re-invention. Leonardo da Vinci represented the beginning of a new era, the maniera moderna. He introduced a new standard of perfection by gracefully transcending established rules of ‘doing’. Established rules guided his work, but did not constrain him. He used them as a reference and moved beyond them, and moved effortlessly. Michelangelo was the master of disegno, a complete artist, able to bring his ideas into the world in architecture, sculpture and painting. Raphael embodied the spirit of sprezzatura. He was the master painter, able to absorb the lessons of the great masters before him through tireless study. He was the model gentleman painter, his efforts were never strained; his paintings glow with graceful lightness.
A short walk can make all the difference: an Italian food megacenter is located less than fifty meters NW from the Osteria. This is Munich’s Eataly, part of a global chain of Italian food-halls. It is nestled against the back of another industrial feeding-hall, which is run by the brewer Hacker-Pschorr. Eataly has interactive cooking events, at least three restaurants and a large wine, beer and liquor store which you enter through a columned gateway of flowing chocolate. There’s lots to do and keep you busy: buy a cookbook, spoon your affogato, eat a Pizza, attend a cooking class.
In Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza, Jep Gambardella is a sixty-five year old journalist. He is the king of Rome’s high-society. In his youth he wrote an acclaimed novel called The Human Apparatus and has surfed the frothy wave of society life ever since. He is an architect of society events, a sculptor of mundane conversation. His life is a painting of going nowhere. In one scene Jep visits a botox party. Botox aficionados lounge in a half-lit room, waiting. They applaud when le professore delle botulino arrives. The master wears a white lab-coat over a red adidas sweatshirt. The customers hold tickets with numbers. The numbers are called up one-by-one and the injection takes place in the same room. “Don’t call me professor,” he tells one of his regular patients, “call me friend or my love.” He injects the botox. “Do you want to go back thirty years when it rained at the end of August?” Another shot of botox. There is no natural beauty in any of these people, trying hard to stay forever young, until we get to the last. A beautiful nun takes her seat in front of the Professor. I am here for my hyperhidrosis, she says and receives the injections to dry the overstimulated palms of her hands.
I saye, that beawtie commeth of God, and is like a circle, the goodnesse wherof is the Centre. and therefore, as there can be no circle without a centre, no more can beawty be without goodnesse. Wherupon doeth verie sildome an ill soule dwell in a beawtifull bodye. And therefore is the outwarde beawtie a true signe of the inwarde goodnes, and in bodies thys comelynesse is imprynted more and lesse (as it were) for a marke of the soule, whereby she is outwardlye knowen: as in trees, in whiche the beawtye of the buddes giveth a testimonie of the goodnesse of the frute. And the verie same happeneth in bodies, as it is seene, that Palmastrers by the visage knowe manye tymes the condicions, and otherwhile the thoughtes of menne.
From Sir Thomas Hoby’s 1561 English translation of Baldassare Castiglione‘s Il Cortegiano.