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Saturday, June 24, 2017

(What) the devil's art history

Digital pattern by Selkis

E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1815-16 novel The Devil's Elixirs is set in the late 18th century, partly in Germany partly in Italy. But the origin of this dark story of incests, murders, and Doppelgängers dates back to an Italian painter called Francesko [sic], who lived in the Renaissance. He is said to have been a disciple of Leonardo Da Vinci, and that's where the historical problems begin. First of all, Leonardo's personality as described here does not fit in well with his actual personage, and moreover, Hoffmann seems to ignore that he spent his later years in France, where he also died. But especially, Francesko's "genius and excess" lifestyle -- see Caravaggio -- and the very art market he works for recall the Baroque Era rather than the early 16th century. As a matter of fact, a brief mind calculation of the years from the main events back to Francesko's time period gives as a result the 17th century, too.

Now, a master of the weird tale like Hoffmann can do whatever he likes best with history, but the impression is that he did not twist the data on purpose, he simply followed German Romantic commonplace in his recreation of "Renaissance Italy." More consistent are the references to another star of 15th-16th century art: Hieronymus Bosch.

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