Lanzi, Luigi Antonio
Abate Luigi Lanzin
14 June 1732
30 March 1810
Monte dell'Olmo, Treia, Marche, Italy
Historian of classical and renaissance Italian art; father of modern art history in Italy. Lanzi was educated as a Jesuit priest at Fermo and Rome, joining the Order of St. Ignatius. He taught classics at various schools and came under the classicizing spell of Anton Mengs and the art historian J. J. Winckelmann, both of whose work appeared at that time. Lanzi survived the suppression of the Jesuit order in 1773 having been in Siena for health reasons, to be appointed by Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany (1747-1792) to the office of antiquities assistant at the galleries in Florence in 1775. The following year he was appointed curator of the museum, where he published Guida alla Galleria di Firenze, a guide to the newly reorganized collections in 1782. During these years Lanzi had also studied archaeological sites, particularly the little-known Etruscan finds. After nearly five years in Rome preparing his work, Lanzi published his Saggio di lingua etrusca e di altre antiche d'Italia in 1789, a summary catalog on Etruscan life and art. The book formed a comprehensive collection of the Etruscan language and customs. But his assertion that Etruscan language derived from Hebrew was strongly criticized and never gained acceptance. Lanzi continued to study Italian art as a private scholar. In 1790 the Grand Duke recalled him to Florence to resume his antiquarian work. However, Lanzi spent much of the following years traveling and taking notes for his next project, a history of Italian painting. His monumental Storia pittorica dell'Italia appeared between 1795 and 1796. The Storia was the first treatment of the history of Italian art viewed as a succession of stylistic developments rather than fit into the biographies of the artists. It begins with a bold refutation of the claim of Giorgio Vasari that painting had been "altogether lost" before Cimabue. Lanzi had met and exchanged ideas with many of the important scholars of the time, including Bartolomeo Gamba (1770-1841), Mauro Boni (1746-1817), and the collector/art historians Pietro Brandolese (1754-1809) and Giovanni de Lazara (1744-1833) as well as the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen. In 1806 Lanzi's work on the so-called Etruscan vases appeared, correctly identifying their Greek origin, and refuting many errors current with the mania of things Etruscan at the time. His findings were convincingly confirmed by Eduard Gerhard in 1831. Lanzi put together a collection of Etruscan antiquities which now forms the Archaeological Museum in Florence. In 1809 his second edition of the Storia appeared, which is considered his masterpiece. He is buried in Florence at Santa Croce next to Michelangelo. Lanzi employed connoisseurship and a systemization derived from his classification of sculpture as a means to distinguish and organize art into a coherent vision. He saw the artist as an independent creator, defining the styles and manner of artists and epochs with the artist and less of their time. His rigorous scientific method to the study objects and languages fit the Enlightenment age of which he was a part. His revisionist view of Vasari was supported by the work of Carl Friedrich von Rumohr in his Italienische Forschungen, 1827-1831. The philologist Wilhelm Corssen (1820-1875) called Lanzi "the father of ancient Italian studies." Rudolf Witkower, in the introduction to his Art and Architecture in Italy, termed Lanzi's work as "still unequaled." His work inspired the Berlin school of art historians, Rumohr and especially Waagen.
Storia Pittorica della Italia dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fin del XVIII secolo. 3 vols. Bassano: Remondino, 1795-1796; La Real Galleria di Firenze. Florence: Francesco Moücke, 1782; Saggio di lingua etrusca: e di altre antiche d'Italia, per servire alla storia de' popeli, delle lingua, e delle belle arti. Rome: Pagliarini, 1789.
An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, pp. 659-60; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 89; Bernabei, Franco. Dictionary of Art.