Art, Religion, and Diplomacy in the life of Costantino de’ Servi (1554 – 1622)

Reviewed by Iris Aikaterini Frangou

In “Art, Religion, and Diplomacy in the Life of Costantino de’ Servi (1554 – 1622)”, Davide Martino quite brilliantly recreates a somewhat obscure historical figure, while offering insights into different components of early modern cosmopolitan life. He thereby manages to both reconstruct Costantino as a truly multi-faceted and multi-versed individual, and to provide in-depth outlooks on the early modern epoch of the 16th and early 17th centuries by addressing aspects including, but not limited to, architecture and painting, diplomacy and politics, means of communication and travel.

The paper is composed of three chapters, each sub-composed of sections addressing different aspects of Costantino’s pursuits, through which Martino reveals various features of early modern cosmopolitan life. The main source from which the paper draws its material is Costantino’s own letters to the grand-ducal secretaries, written while he was conducting his travels around Europe. The diversity of the letters’ subject matter, ranging from letters composed to King Henri IV of France to ones sent to the overseer of the Grosseto grain trade, is very much representative of the spirit of miscellany that characterizes the paper as a whole, and which constitutes one of its most remarkable feats.

Chapter I paints a rich picture of Costantino as not only an architect, but also a “skilled courtier” and an unflagging traveler, in his own right. Martino largely achieves this, by approaching the “cosmopolitan Mannerist artist’s” writings not as a pellucid manifestation of who he is but rather, as a means of self-projection. The adoption of such a disposition towards Costantino’s works enables Martino to make statements about the notion and perception of the early modern self during the epoch under examination.

This focus on the question of identity is constitutes the central theme of Chapter II. The divergence between the self and the reflection of the self facilitates the exploration of art education, of financial life, and of religion, in regard to both Costantino and the general historical context.

Although Chapter examines Costantino’s informal diplomatic activity, demonstrating the connection between art and politics in the Medici Grand Duchy. Therein, Martino results in an evaluation of the role of artists in early modern marriage negotiations.

At times, the paper could benefit from less analysis of the errors of previous biographers’ reconstructions of Costantino; a notable example is the frequent references to such errors by Baldinucci in Chapter II. Another is the misplaced focus of previous biographers on Costantino’s “Italian” identity. Nevertheless, the paper is unique in its masterful presentation of both the Costantino and early modern cosmopolitan life. Martino’s paper is a testament to the fact that historical depth and individual focus are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Read the whole paper here!

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