- The Life and Art of Luca Signorelli by Tom Henry
Yale, 456 pp, £50.00, ISBN 0 300 17926 X
There used to be a widespread practice in Italy, particularly in the 1960s and in Tuscany, of removing baroque additions of all kinds from old churches, in a usually implausible attempt to restore them to something resembling their medieval appearance. This led to the destruction or dispersal of many fine works of art, and often gave the restored buildings an empty appearance they had probably never previously had, or been meant to have. The practice was not new. Already, in the last quarter of the 19th century, the huge gothic cathedral of Orvieto, whose façade has been imitated in religious buildings from Beijing to Guadalajara and the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, was emptied in much the same way. Besides alterations to the façade, a series of large and mostly rather dull baroque altarpieces and their elaborate frames on the side altars of the nave were removed, together with two rows of large and fine marble statues of saints. Without these late and supposedly inappropriate additions, the nave now has something of the feeling of an aircraft hangar. Fortunately, most of the decoration of the east end of the building was spared, presumably because it dated from before the then despised era of the baroque. But what survives demonstrates that already in the Renaissance simplicity and lack of decoration were not highly valued by the Church authorities.