Are images reflected on the surface of mirrors signs?
Naturally it would be necessary to establish, first,
what is intended by “sign” and what is intended for “mirror”.
(Umberto Eco, Mirrors)
The concept of absolute originality, with regards to previous works
And to the rules of their genre, is a contemporary concept
Born during the Romantic age.
(Eco, The Innovation of the Series)
The title of this essay is not intended to be provocative, neither suggestive nor evocative. Together with its subtitle, it should be read in an “auto-semiotic” manner, in the words of Umberto Eco – that is, as a title that, on its own, encloses and showcases its field of enquiry concerning two paintings from seemingly the same time and with the same subject matter, the Conestabile Madonna by Raphael from the Hermitage collection, and its quasi-doppelgänger belonging to a private owner from Tortona, northern Italy. As the latter is ichnographically similar to the Hermitage canvas, it has been named with the same name, as a mimesis of its Russian counterpart. The subtitle of the present article also emphasises the myriad of interpretative possibilities that aim at identifying the dialectic relationship between the two paintings and poses the question as to whether the Tortona Madonna could be somehow related to the painting righteously attested to Raphael or it has its own autonomous identity.
In spite of any discussion on authorship or attribution, the theme of this painting seems to be self-determined. The methodological issue arises from the already demonstrated attribution to Raphael of the canvas in the Russian museum. If the two canvases had been compared two centuries ago – or any time before such ascription – we would have today a fairer metre of judgement. Following such hermeneutics, one wonders which of these two Conestabile Madonnas is the epiphany of the other, whether the celebrated painting is the by-product of what is being presented in this article or it is simply a posthumous trace that gained its fame from its matrix. Today, the already popular becomes dogmatic, apodictic, biased and it is almost redundant to pose such questions, as it embodies the archetype vis-à-vis the res which is yet to appear, which is not yet classified and has not gain authority. The semiotic discourse should precede any consideration on the diachronic attribution of a given work considered in terms of another, specular work, and should evaluate their features, both in terms of similarities and differences, in a dialectic and synoptic fashion. Which canvas is the reflection, the mirror of the other? This intentionally rhetorical question is heuristically provocative, as a painted object can never be a mirror; it is unique. It is possible to say that an object is the “mirror” of its time, but, in this case, such statement does not apply as the two paintings seemingly share the same time frame, the end of the Quattrocento, the time of Raphael’s youth in Umbria, full of references to Perugino.
Recent analyses conducted by the University of Verona confirm the presence on the Tortona Madonna of pigments present in other works in this period. These are white lead, cinnabar, azurite, copper, iron and gold. From a visual and formal perspective, the dimension, proportions and the scene represented, including all its details and setting, in this canvas are almost identical to the Hermitage Madonna. The tones of the Virgin’s mantle are also identifiable with the painting’s Russian counterpart. The slavish imitation is not a character ascribable to the Tortona Madonna; it shows slight variation in specific details, such as lighter tones used for the creases of the Virgin’s mantle, especially on the right-hand side. This seems to keep the Tortona Madonna at a distance from those works that slavishly “imitate even when it is not necessary”. The most striking difference lies, however, in the Virgin’s hair colour, in Tortona, she has an auburn hairdo, while in Saint Petersburg it is of a darker-brown shade. If the former had been a mere copy of the latter, this would have been a foolish inaccuracy.
It is possible, from such compositional freedom, to postulate a relation between the two paintings, with the Tortona Madonna being produced at an earlier time. These differences, semantically equivalent to those found in Hayez’s The Kiss, inevitably pose the question of chronology; is the Tortona Madonna the “sign” or the archetype of its Russian counterpart? The reductionist prejudice, which needs to be challenged, is prevailing in society and tends to diachronically put off the novelty in comparison to the more socially accepted, more eminent and stronger. Dialectic relations ought to be studied in retrospective, diachronically even. Of course, if one chooses to abide by the dogma according to which famous equals to antecedent – therefore new equalling to subsequent, the most plausible attribution for the Tortona Madonna must necessarily be a pupil of Raphael’s, or an unknown copycat. Such hypothesis, too, would leave many questions unanswered, both because Raphael had several contemporaries who, despite being as popular, had been influenced by his work, and because precisely the fame he attained during his life discouraged the presence of coeval copies of his works. Who would have dared to copy the Master just after his passing? The example of Sassoferrato, who emulates the Conestabile Madonna in what can be read as a melange of homage and challenge to Raphael. By reprising the genius of the master, Sassoferrato reveals the charisma of his authorship.
Sassoferrato’s Conestabile Madonna appears more bombastic and chromatically more boastful than its formal archetype. This is a properly Mannerist work, completely detached from Raphael. The paradigm has shifted, as we are now in the time of the “taste” and of art schools, rather than in the time of the Great Masters. In trying to conceal his creativity by submerging it in the Raphaelite manner, the artist glorifies his own artistic persona. Sassoferrato is to Raphael what Perugino is to Raphael; while Raphael perfects and idealises Perugino, Sassoferrato appropriates Raphael and makes his own the style of the master, thus revealing the essence of his oeuvre as truly Raphaelite. The two oeuvres are no longer a mirror of the same epoch. Rather, the Tortona Madonna does not show the rhetorically Mannerist signs of homage to a master, typical of the celebrated copies from important authors. It does not appear as a commercial replica either, as it could be said for any eighteenth-century copy from Raphael, as the Tortona Madonna lacks the chronological, interpretive and imitative prerequisites to be considered as such.
This discourse is complicated by the necessity of finding the elements to be compared, which is made problematic by Raphael’s evolution as an artist. Which phase of his artistic career needs to be compared vis-à-vis the Tortona Madonna? Although the differences in his pictorial style are not as marked as many of his contemporaries, it is still possible to clearly phases of his artistic journey, from the Umbrian period, when Raphael was pondering on Perugino, to the more recognisable works in his Roman period. In the middle, however, lies yet another Raphael, that of the Florentine period, a transitional moment influenced by Leonardo. The Esterhazy Madonna is the emblem of a “third Raphael”, less recognisable, more fluid and warmer, experimenting in the footsteps of Leonardo, with typical anatomical twisting.
Which of these three Raphaels ought to be compared with the canvas in Tortona? Is this thought as a juvenile composition by the artist, one which is created in a moment when he is still engaged with appropriating and surpassing the style of Perugino, or as a product of Raphael’s Roman period, a canvas so famous to prompt an imitation, now at the Hermitage? The painting does in fact appear as a model that could serve as a pedagogical design, ideal for a young pupil to train on; a typical Madonna of the Graces, with half-closed eyes and a generic landscape background, a painting that is easily repeatable and marketable, a canvas for private devotional use.
The rear of the Tortona canvas is not of any help, as the seals from the Vatican cannot help to ascribe the work to a particular time. These works have been moving in the past as much as they move now, for business, as part of inheritances, dowries and gifts. The several trips in and out of the Vatican taken by the Tortona Madonna do not shed light on its peculiarities, which a formal analysis could help to untangle. While the Russian painting offers more claritas, the Tortona Madonna is an example of superior visual tenderness and intimacy. To offer a righteous hermeneutics, the analysis should free itself from the authority of the Russian canvas. The dialectic relation is almost inverted, from a more recognisable Raphael and a Raphaelite Madonna with her own features, a more accentuated warmth, different from the more distant rigour and precision which characterise the Hermitage painting.
Thence a discourse on the semiotics of recognisability of Raphael’s works. How significant is this aspect? Paradoxically, it could be said that the “Raphael-ness” of the Hermitage Madonna makes the painting less interesting than the subtle stylistic variant presented in this article. The Masters both had an internal evolution, characterised by self-quotations and improvements, and an external one – that is, welcoming other masters’ influences; does Leonardo’s Portrait of a Musician not contradict the Last Supper? What is meant with this is that considering the Conestabile Madonna from Saint Petersburg as the archetype could not necessarily and heuristically be the appropriate way to ascribe (or not) the Tortona Madonna to Raphael. In comparing the two works, if one is already elevated as the “model”, we are not looking at a real comparative analysis, but at a mere reduction ad unitatem. A proper evaluation of Raphael’s profile and of his endeavours could be necessary before approaching the analysis of the Tortona Madonna.
Before classifying the Tortona Madonna as a mere token of an already recognised type, it is necessary to consider them as two independent unities, so that each canvas acts simultaneously as a token and as a type. The former is defined as unique, while the latter is seen as passive if it reprises already existing canons and active if it acts as a model.
This is the reason for the presence of the two quotes by Eco at the beginning of the article, where he tries to establish a hermeneutic relationship between the construction of the concept of sign and that of mirror, reminding us of the methodological necessity of defining both notions without either of them prevailing on the other. It is equally necessary to define the difference between work of art and artistic work, where the former shows both features highlighted by Eco, ambiguity and self-reflection (here intended as the work reflecting on itself). These traits are found in both paintings here discussed, while they are not found in the plethora of works that “derive” from the Great Masters, be it for the sake of copying or marketing them. For this kind of canvases, Eco’s critique of Hayez’s painting stands true; we are presented with a case of “sub-painting” which tends to give the impression of an archetype, by manifesting itself as recognisable, while the work of art presents still retains certain elements that will not go miss even when it is superimposed onto its “double”. The artistic work, on the contrary, is nothing but a technical exercise, which does not participate in the archetypical vision, but only reprises its form deprived, however, of its sign. The works belonging to this category are not self-reflective, as they are mere imitative products. Neither are they ambiguous, since they are limited to express a functional purpose; subalternity is their reason for being produced.
From the viewpoint of Eco’s ambiguity, also intended as polysemy, the iconographic simplicity in the differences between the two Conestabile Madonnas can be determined in detail, from the Madonna’s semi-opened eyes and her open book. The first detail represents an intriguing variation which expresses a mysticism that echoes Lombard painter Zenale, as well as reprises a type present in the Madonna of the Little Arch from the Marches, still in fashion at the end of the sixteenth century. Such type comes from the concept of spell as intended in the Song of Songs. The second detail seems even more widespread, as the Madonna of the Book expressed the same spirituality found in the Virgin Annunciate. The elements that are peculiar yet common in both canvases are several; first of them is the fact that the Virgin and the Child both read the same Book, thus generating a semantic triangle between Christ, the Virgin Mother and God’s Eternal Word received by mankind in a doctrinal praise of the Incarnation where the Word of God is the element of junction between Christ and his mother. Another one is the presence of two girdles of Isis on the Virgin’s robe, the canonical one at the waist, and a second one on her breast. The presence of a veil which leaves the majority of Mary’s hair uncovered is another peculiarity, almost an anomaly.
In spite of the presence of these three elements in both canvases and their spiritual importance, they all have a low polysemic significance. When a new painting with such affinity with the works of Raphael emerges, it must be compared with the entirety of his oeuvre, and only after this necessary step must it be studied against his imitators. When formal adherence is so present, the appearance of a painting as the one discussed here questions the entire body of the artist’s work. The Tortona Madonna is both Raphaelesque and newly emerged work and each appearance of this sort reveals a new face of the world, regardless of the discourse on the relationship between sign and likeness.
In his essay on the Innovation of the Serial, Eco reminds us of important hermeneutic differences by highlighting that the “serial” is a constant in ancient art and that such method can produce excellent and banal results alike. In other words, repetition per se does not offer a differential and aesthetic criterion, therefore the evaluation of the worth of these two works, which are “doubles”, must seek its foundation in other elements here mentioned, such as the comfort of stating who the author is, the absence of peculiarities that are derived from other works and a context which does not offer the opportunity for a coeval seriality which does not follow authorship. Eco helps us establish the procedure of typification and identification through his considerations on the audience. Each work can be appreciated as a message, in addition to being a sign, an object and a product. Which audience could be thought of for a faithful reproduction of a work by a young Raphael if not Perugino himself? If the receiver of the work is the chief of the workshop, then the author must be his pupil, who has yet not attained fame. Even more so that the preciseness of the Hermitage Madonna predates and qualifies as the mirroring matrix, but it is true that it is less careful in certain details such as the waves of the lake in the landscape, which cannot be perceived in the newly found painting in Tortona. We can thus say that is precisely the absence of these authorial traits and of its illusion, the placing of this work in a “depersonalised (or objectified) display” that puts in common the two paintings in a Raphaelesque charismatic semantics.
That the two works are from the same period – that is, from the end of the Quattrocento – is quite easy to infer. At this time, between the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, we witness a sudden yet decisive change in the visual paradigm. Raphael’s and Leonardo’s deaths catalyse this shift in the pictorial language. At the end of the Quattrocento, a precise balance assumes an intense internal coherence in the paintings; this is given by the co-presence of essential iconographies, a widespread “internal” reformulation, from Byzantine art or from a single successful author (oftentimes influenced by the North). Many are these painters – to name a few, Mantegna, Bellini, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Del Castagno, Rosselli, Lippi, Perugino – and they work at the same time. Thence an incredibly fertile artistic epoch which nonetheless conveys a homogeneous image with a myriad of variations. Everything looks alike yet is different. On the contrary, after the decease of the biggest workshop, that of Leonardo’s and his pupils, and after the passing of the venerable Raphael – that is, he who brought the Christian-Platonic idealism and technical perfectionism to the extreme – it is the time of Mannerism, which blooms instinctively, the epoch of the gesture that prevails on uniqueness, style on charisma, contamination on invention, and rhetoric on spiritual-ideal visions.
Quattrocento painting is an autonomous scientific art, while Mannerism is already the exemplary restitution of the social and historical reception of painting. The “history of art” is unheard of in Quattrocento painting, all is new and forthcoming. In Mannerism, painting dances inside a mirror room. The repetition of forms that gained success from homage or from virtuosity becomes a genre, as with Guido Reni and Daniele Crespi. While late-fifteenth-century authorship strongly transforms into art which is an endless variation of common and shared motifs, Mannerist authorship becomes spectacle, extroverted and aimed at mesmerising the audience. It is not the inner recognition of what is already known, but a new show. At the end of the fifteenth century, the work is at the same time a symbol and a ramification of a sign. In Mannerism, the sign disappears, and the work becomes an object, an allegory, a decorative pedagogical tool, an exhibition of authorship with gusto.
The two paintings discussed here, however, both express the essence of the late Quattrocento fully, and represent the two poles of the same formal spectrum, intimate tenderness of the surroundings in the Tortona Madonna, and technical (and artificial) technicality in the Hermitage Madonna. There is, in fact, nothing realistic in this painting of the Virgin, and the artifice of the variation and individualisation of the ancient model elevates the representation of the imaginary details which are rendered with simplicity. These are the waves on the shores of the lake in the distance, the two small figures walking along the lake (one of whom bears a large bright shield), and the transparent girdle on the Virgin’s breast, which should be as it is in an ideal vision that renounces validations. Quattrocento painting produces works that are both “signs” and “formal systems”, inclusive of both fabula and discourse. To paraphrase Eco’s Signs, Fish and Buttons, if what can be interpreted is a “sign”, then Mannerism generates works which are examples of a plain, one-dimensional allegory, which say what they indicate and indicate what they say, thus generating an interpretation that compares mutual stylistic influences. We have lost a common language. Mannerist painting is not sign but signal of its own style, its own gesture, decoration and self-referential presence.
Caravaggio was the last true follower of Leonardo, in that he superimposed gesture and vision, semantic and visual. He did so already when in the repetition of his success, only gesture remained. All of this is to say that the Tortona Madonna is Raphaelesque, fully and organically stemming from the Quattrocento, intensive and extensive in its coherent dimension which comprises style, pictorial and semiotic language. To attempt a conclusion, it would be necessary to widen the discourse on the foundation of hermeneutic on the authorial attribution in the history of art, with the aim of stressing on the interpretative act which calls for several issues and criticism, most of which had already been recognised by Eco.
How to define this exercise? Let us argue that a certain painting is by a certain author, something that is maintained without any document that attest either its authorship or the movements of such painting throughout history. This assertion is merely sustained by a subjective judgement maintained by a visual comparison between the iconography characteristic of the aforementioned author and the iconography of the above said painting. To compare these two identities, one objective and the other subjective (in turn, coming from a deductive reasoning that aims at including the painting in a previously neatly defined group of paintings), is a probabilistic operation and only aimed at giving a hurried qualitative judgement.
There are three unresolved methodological issues highlighted by Eco in his work The Limits of Interpretations (chapter Fakes and Contradictions – for the concept of context, Semantic. Textual Pragmatics and Semiotics). The first is described by Eco: “All criteria for establishing whether something is the fake of something original coincide with the criteria to establish whether an original is indeed authentic. Therefore, an original cannot be used to unmask its own contradictions”. This can be also be said in the comparative evaluation between a yet-to-be-attributed painting and one that has already been ascribed to a certain artist. The second one, in Eco’s words, states that “the authenticity judgements stem from a persuasive reasoning founded on plausible proofs which are not entirely irrefutable. We prefer accepting these proofs since it is more beneficial to accept them rather than to spend time questioning them”. The attribution, intended as the reason for simplistically reducing the “new” into something that has already been “ascertained”, is founded on a presumption rather than on a free and truthful interpretation. In the third methodological problem, the attribution aims at comparing the new work with a context defined by the totality of the works already attribute to the artist. The concept of “context” is defined by Eco as such: “the environment in which a given expression (one or more qualitative examples, for example) occurs together with other expression belonging to the same system of signs”. It is therefore a simultaneous sum of signs, a relational and environmental codex.
The relationship between context and work appears cyclical and not unambiguous. By following this logic, it is possible to flip around the relationship between a new work and works already attested and to start reading them backwards. A basic criticism that is not self-made still remains – the context – intended as identity. It is not a set of immobile data, but it is in motion like a “system of relations” that present an internal side (i.e. the relations between already attested works) and an external one (work that are similar, or works by the masters and other works by his pupils). A new work cannot therefore be understood as an “object which are passively subjected to the totality of works already attested” or as a “univocally validating machine”. The hermeneutical exercise is a circle and not a linear, asymmetrical and one-directional motion.
What is the basis of the comparison of each attribution? When the historical, technical and chronological frameworks are the same, then comparison ought to be done through style only. What is style, then? Is it the kind of brushstroke and the type of pigments used together with the most frequent types of iconographic variations? Style is a concept that is already problematic due to its synesthetic quality – that is, resulting from a variety of factors, techniques and languages. Do artists not change their style during their career? Do they not receive multiple influences by many others? Comparison should such be established between the traits of a given artist that do not vary and the features of a certain work.
How do we establish these unvaried traits? What makes Raphael visionary in his own time? Is there a core of Raphael’s artistic personality that does not mutate during his life? Does the late Raphael absorb his early counterpart? The reason why Eco’s definition of semiotics is here employed is because, from a linguistic perspective, it does not differentiate between a text or a painting when it comes to comparisons. We are always facing the challenge of piecing together a peculiar unity coherently with a larger, more well-defined context. This word already says it, context, woven together, a coherent unity with a relational system which is in turn defined by the coherent one. The context where to insert this new work ought to be delineated according to the semiotic tripartition proposed by Charles Morris, syntactical, semantic and pragmatic. The painting is thus understood as a linguistic variation, seen as a group of signifieds, and as the outcome of a process of construction and reception. We can thus complete this “discourse on attribution” with this definition of the identity-context circle – or, in other words, of the “singular identity/authorial identity” circle. A certain work can be ascribed to a certain author since the relationship of the work with itself generates the same profile of the attested work of the artist with themselves (with profile being the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic semiotics of the components of the work in its totality).
It is now clearer why it is necessary to be more coherent when trying to establish a methodology for attributing works. Does the Tortona Madonna present the triple homogeneity with Raphael’s oeuvre such that it can be read without being excluded as a new addition to his oeuvre? Each painting is in itself a work of language, a system of signs; it can also be seen as a “document” in relation to its historical time. No work, even when it is made by the same author at the same time of another, is a true “double” in the true sense of interchangeability. Inevitably, two works by the same artist will always present material and formal variations, as the artist is a human and not an industrial machine. We are talking here about “pseudo doubles”, or as Eco says, about the “typification of oneself” (Eco, Faith in Fakes).
Still, the finality of such imitation-double needs to be considered. While the original author is capable of “duplicating” one of his works for certain needs (for teaching his pupils, for example, or for commercial reasons), a different author is unlikely to be able to faithfully imitate the same “kind of work” for reasons different from paying homage, challenging the original artist, virtuosity or commercial reasons. When this last motivation is present, it is necessary to enquire how famous the matrix was and how recognisable as coming from Raphael’s genius this work is (this and others, if at all existent). The absence of recognised copies of a certain work, known worldwide as being by a certain author, is also a hermeneutically important. Although it represents its negative, it does not play to the advantage of the reading of such work as a copy of a different author. We ought to remember, in fact, that each evaluation of worth is also an evaluation subject to probability, and, therefore, to statistics. Also, it should be kept in mind, as Eco reminds when talking about authentication, that “[…] the techniques with which the characteristics of an original work are established are the same employed to identify a copy. In other words, in order to say that a reproduction is not the real Mona Lisa, someone is needed to analyse and authenticate the original Mona Lisa with the same techniques with which it is decided that its copy is a different work”. (Eco, The Fake in the Middle Ages).
This quote by Eco appears methodologically crucial, as it encourages us to keep an inquisitive and critical mind towards what is already known, and, at the same time, it lowers the possibility of relativizing in a relativistic way what is yet to discover. Other than this, such consideration helps us to understand how the relation between the original and the copy is and how it should always be reciprocal, cyclical and reversible, and how it is necessary to place the best authentication procedure at the centre of our hermeneutic inquiry and not the single work, already known to have certain features.
When it has been ascertained that the methodology should be the same for both works considered, it is important to reconsider the attribution of the ascertained work, that is – re-authenticate it. Failing to proceed in this way will result in a mere assumption and not a true comparison. This implies the presence of a third, common element, resulting from authentication, which is the totality of elements and analyses which have to take into consideration both works. Such procedure also has to consider other elements like a relative chronological difference (within the same timeframe), the presence or absence of other copies already attested as such, with which a comparison is possible, or the presence of unknown pupils or imitators of such work. Another relevant consideration is represented by the type of language used in the attribution process, which cannot be but a connotative language, and only apparently denotative. If the aim of such process is the attribution which is not yet done, then we are presented with a case of creative-constructive process. Language, too, should therefore clarified and used in a homogeneous way, in relation to both works (the attributed and the yet-to-be), together with the awareness of the nature of language.
Language denotes when it qualifies a work by adding on its qualities and features, and by contributing to definite the context therearound. Denoting formalises and considers its object as a fact to be included in a reference framework which is already given, while connoting considers its objects as signs and expresses a performative effectiveness, thus reframing the frameworks. In order to correctly denote, we should refer to an already shared system, appropriately used semantically, linguistically or technically. To correctly connote, it is necessary to follow certain criteria of semantic coherence, both internal and external. The more we denote, the higher the risk of ending in assumption which elude the hermeneutic and methodological core of the discourse. The aim of connotation is the same as that of attribution, to build (or not to) a new relational quality between two works, between an objective and an authorial (subjective) identity. To paraphrase Heinz Von Foerster, in denotation, those who look at the world do so through the lock of their own gaze, as if it existed a world beyond it, different from the onlooker. In connotation, the lock does not exist, those who look is part of the world and by observing it, they change it. Gaze is the epiphenomenon of the world.
A proper hermeneutic for ancient artworks (especially if we lack documentation about them) cannot but act with a reconstructive aim and start from the work itself, with its limits defining its identity and its physicality being the matrix of its possible interpretations. Eco, too, recognises this in his reflections on the relationship between fact and interpretation, which is applicable not only to texts but to paintings alike: “The text became the parameter to judge its interpretations, even though these could tell us what that text was. […] An interesting quality of facts is that they are resistant to interpretations which do not legitimise […]”.
Polysemy is therefore limitless, undetermined. Yet, it appears delimited implicitly by the structure of the work itself, and by the work itself as body and structure of polysemy. The same concept of meaning needs to be introduced in a discourse aimed at attributing in the strictly medieval sense of the term, “to make something a sign” – that is, to qualify, to give a direction, to interpret. To signify means to generate a relation between a certain work as res and the same work as sign.
As far as formal and stylistic comparison is concerned, the multiplicity of factors which function as component of such dimension needs to be reunited. The medieval (Thomistic) aesthetics, with its tripartition of the formal criteria of beauty (proportio, integritas, and claritas) aids us. At the end of the Quattrocento, in fact, a systematic and philosophic vision alternative to the Thomistic one is no longer necessary. Although it is not enough to comprehend the expressive and technical qualities of paintings coming from this period, it nonetheless represents the most perfected system of reading an image (and therefore of a relation between two images-objects) from a formal standpoint – that is, from a viewpoint of their autonomous structure considered vis-à-vis their significance or other derived interpretations.
These three attributes are aspects of the same concept of form, intended as internal organisation, organic unity, and determination of quantity. Both our works show an identical form, seen as proportion, both intended as the totality of internal relations of measure and as agreeing in their figure and symbolic as a devotional object, which expressed harmony (intended as unity and internal coherence, a continuous bridge between its essence and its existence). The two works appear identical even when analysed from the perspective of integritas, intended as completeness and equilibrium between what the subject of the paintings and what can or does provokes. It can also be intended as the relationship between the work as a whole and its parts. Such agreement can also occur between the work as a peculiar one and as corresponding to a typological model (Madonna of the Book).
When considering claritas, the two works can either get closer or further. If we intend claritas as the ability to convey a sense of luminosity, the two works diverge as the Tortona Madonna appears more luminous and the Hermitage Madonna darker and more “gilded”. If the, on the other hand, we intend claritas as expressive power, the two works are distinguishable, but they still present a remarkable expressiveness, a relational ability to convey their essence. In all these cases, claritas does not appear a discriminating factor, as the artist could have modified all these aspects by producing more works with the same subject, for different patrons or contexts. May the new be always capable of challenging the already established framework. May the new give a new dimension to what is always changing together with humankind. Only difference remains. What is identical is either metaphysical or illusion.