Giovanni Morelli e l’estetica positivistica

Paolo D’Angelo


Bernard Berenson used to refer to Giovanni Morelli as «the founder of the Method». With these words, he meant that Morelli was the scholar who, first, transformed connoisseurship in a science, giving to the discipline a stringent method. Does Morelli’s theory of painting really deserve this praise? To answer this question, this paper examines in the first part the philosophical and scientific background of Morelli’s doctrine, showing how its original debt payed to romantic philosophy went replaced by a neat positivist orientation. In the second part, the Method itself is discussed, asking in which measure it was anticipated by the intuitions of art experts such as Giulio Mancini or Luigi Crespi and discussing the nature and epistemological relevance of the so-called “morellian details”, that is the forms of the nails, of the ears, of the hair’s curls in paintings. Are these details really sufficient for the attribution of a painting to an artist? Which role play the documents in connoisseurship? And, more generally, how important is aesthetic value in the morellian “Method”?


Aesthetics; history of art criticism; connoisseurship; Positivism

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