Two Parallel Realities of Alberti and Cennini - The Power of Writing and the Visual Arts in the Italian Quattrocento

Author: Troncelliti, Latifah
By challenging the traditional assumption that the historian’s expertise may allow for a superior understanding of the artwork, this study has wide-ranging implications that will make it relevant to many fields. The book examines the art treatises of Cennino Cennini and Leon Battista Alberti. In the official interpretation Alberti’s On Painting is the most important events for the development of Renaissance artistic style. Instead Cennini is repeatedly considered a representative of a medieval school of painting, the earliest artist-writer on the borderline with the medieval period; thus, the prevailing historical picture is one of progressive evolution, from the elementary conception of Cennini, mostly preoccupied with technical problems, to Alberti’s superior theoretical understanding of the painting process. The official interpretation of Cennini and Alberti exemplifies in essence the confusion between art practice and art theory which has been amplified and perpetuated from the Renaissance to the present. In fact, while the importance of Alberti’s writing for Renaissance art is overblown, the official interpretation of Cennini’s work contains serious flaws. It represents a clear case in which the excess of theoretical projection has obscured factors of the utmost importance for the understanding of Renaissance art practice. This work demonstrates that Cennini’s historical position has been misinterpreted and that his treatise, the Libro dell’arte, belongs to the same period in which Alberti wrote his On Painting. It also suggests that the progressive expansion of theoretical speculation has hindered our ability to perceive Renaissance art in a historically-informed, period-appropriate way.


"In this study, Professor Troncelliti has posed a challenge to the conventional divide that defines Art History as a discipline: that by exercising the expert gaze, the critic may hold a position above the artist. In this subtle, thoughtful and beautifully written account, both the artisan and the intellectual - at times one and the same - come to life through their work, reconfiguring the divide between theory and praxis in art ... The result of this highly original approach is an often playful tension between the artisan and the scholar, yielding implications for disciplines far beyond the arts as to the importance of skepticism regarding periodicity, expertise, and the critical importance of practical knowledge. This is a work to be enjoyed." - Dr. JoAnne Brown, Program Director, Maryland Humanities Council

"Scholars of the Renaissance, art historians in particular, will find The Two Parallel Realities of Alberti and Cennini an important contribution to the study of Quattrocento art and art theory." - Prof. Phillip Earenfight, Dickinson College

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Progressive Separation of Art Theory and Art Practice
2. Changing Perspective
3. The Making of Cennino Cennini
4. The Libro dell’arte and On Painting
5. Cennino Cennini and Leon Battista Alberti on Color
6. Conclusion