Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti
Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, historian and scholar of the theory of art, was born in Lucca on 18 March 1910, dying in Florence on 3 August 1987. He completed his studies in Pisa, following the teachings of Matteo Marangoni, and taught in Pisa until 1972. He was in the front line in the struggle against Fascism and took part in the Resistenza, subsequently being among the founders of the Partito d'Azione; from 8 September 1943 he organised the armed resistance in Tuscany. He was the president of the Tuscan CLN (National Liberation Committee) and the head of the provisional government that liberated Florence (11 August 1944). He was nominated undersecretary to the arts and theatre during the Parri government, and later worked on institutional problems concerning university reform, the training of educators and protection of the art heritage. He also played an important role in the introduction of the teaching of history and criticism of cinema in Italian universities.
Carlo L. Ragghianti's educational background was influenced by Croce's aesthetics and the theory of "pure visibility"; he was a close follower above all of the theories of Konrad Fiedler, Alois Riegl and Julius von Schlosser, expanding and elaborating on their approaches.
His career as a scholar opened in 1933, with an essay on the Carracci brothers published in La Critica, which was at that time directed by Benedetto Croce, a study on Vasari and various essays on cinema and the performing arts as expressions of figurative art. Thus even in his early works, his interest for all manifestations of visual language was apparent. Ragghianti cultivated this interest throughout his life, as shown by the three volumes on the Arti della visione[Arts of Vision] (1974-1979), embodying an overview of his research on cinema as figurative art, on theatre and the philosophy of art. In 1935, together with Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, he founded the journal Critica d'arte[Art criticism], which also hosted contributions by Roberto Longhi. From 1952 to 1965, together with his wife Lica Colbi and with the financial support of Adriano Oivetti, he directed the journal of art and cultural information seleARTE, one of the most important cultural publications of the postwar period, which achieved a circulation rising to as many as 55,000 copies.
Ragghianti's interests in the field of the theory and methodology of art are testified by his works Commenti di critica d'arte (1946)[Comments on art criticism] and Profilo della critica d'arte in Italia (1948)[Profile of art criticism in Italy], while his studies on historical-philological themes feature significant works such as Arte in Italia (1967)[Art in Italy]; he was also active in the field of the interpretation of contemporary art, on which he published Impressionismo (1946)[Impressionism] and Mondrian e l'arte del XX secolo (Premio Viareggio, 1963)[Mondrian and XXth century art].
Ragghianti founded and supported many cultural institutions, among which the l'Istituto di Storia dell'Arte[Institute of Art History] and the Raccolta nazionale di Disegni e Stampe[National Collection of Drawings and Prints] of the University of Pisa, and the International University of Art of Florence (1969). In 1980, together with his wife, he founded the Licia and Carlo L. Ragghianti Foundation and Study Centre on Art, to which he donated his library and his photothèque.
An extremely important aspect of his work was the production of the cinematographic series seleARTE, which was linked to the journal seleARTE. This series includes eighteen out of the twenty-one critofilms Ragghianti produced between 1948, when he made La deposizione di Raffaello, and 1964, when the series ended with Michelangiolo. Ragghianti's great achievement was to transform the cinematographic medium into a tool of critical investigation and cultural information. The critofilms addressed a wide variety of themes, ranging from the sphere of art history: from Renaissance painting (Andrea del Castagno, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli) to twentieth-century artists (Rosai), from Etruscan art to Roman art, also exploring architecture and town planning (Lucca, Venice, Pompeii), and culminating in his finest accomplishment, Michelangiolo.
CARLO LUDOVICO RAGGHIANTI'S CRITOFILMS
During the later postwar period, when Ragghianti commenced the experience of the critofilms, the art documentary was at the height of its popularity: there was widespread confidence in the potential for aesthetic revival offered by cinema and in Europe many leading film directors had produced, and were still undertaking, documentaries on art. Such films revealed a broad diversity of attitudes to the understanding of art, and frequently sparked animated debate on the relations between cinema and the figurative arts. Ragghianti's cinematographic approach remained solidly anchored to the critical-interpretive dimension: with the expression "critofilm", which he himself coined, he had in mind a form of "art criticism (penetration, interpretation, reconstruction of the process that is intrinsic to the work of art or the artist) achieved by cinematographic means rather than through the medium of words" (Film d'arte, film sull'arte, critofilm d'arte in Arti della visione, I: Cinema, Einaudi, Torino, 1975, p. 225-240).
Ragghianti was not the only art historian to turn to cinema in those years (restricting attention to Italy and professional art historians, one may recall the experiences of Roberto Longhi, dating from the same period). However, unlike his colleagues, Ragghianti extended the concept far beyond the traditional role of consultant or author of the commentary. He took over complete responsibility for the film and undertook actual production of critofilms, building on the meticulous and in-depth theoretical reflection on cinema that had characterized his scholarly activity since the early 1930s, together with his work as a historian and theoretician of art. "As a scholar of art and also of cinema, I have long been convinced of the appropriateness, if not the necessity, for the art scholar to acquaint himself with this experience and to acquire thorough familiarity with it, not out of any snobbish pretentiousness or desire to ostentate innovation, but for a more profound reason: so that active and conscious use of this language, which is essentially akin to "figurative" language, can increase and render more precise the scholar's capacity to investigate and analyse works of art. For my part, I have no hesitation in recognising that study of film as expression, as language, has helped me considerably in focusing more precisely the terms of critical reflection". (Ibidem)
From as early as his essay on I Carracci e la critica d'arte nell'età barocca [The Carraccis and art criticism in the Baroque age], Ragghianti had suggested the possibility of transferring the Crocean distinction between poetry and prose onto the plane of the figurative arts, putting forward the theory that criticism could be accomplished in pictorial form, that is to say, through a visual tool. The definition of cinema come arte figurativa[cinema as figurative art], advanced in his first essay on this subject, Cinematografo rigoroso [Rigorous cinema], would subsequently shape the entire development of his cinematographic theory and practice. His argument was that cinema should be studied with the tools that are intrinsic to the history of art. The identity between cinema and painting, which initially seemed to be underpinned by predominantly ideological motivations (concerning cultural legitimation) was then gradually given a more refined clarification through a more rigorous definition of the spatial-temporal structures of these two media. Time, in the sense of the temporality of the work and the temporality of the vision, is one of the central themes of Ragghianti's critical reflection, indicating the area shared by his activity as a theoretician of figurative arts and cinema. In painting, time is represented, but not reproduced as in cinema; however, in the figurative work of art there exists a temporal succession that is given by the time of vision or reading. It is a form of temporality activated by the spectator, by the path and duration of the spectator's gaze: a temporality whose measure and scansion arise from the very structure of the work. It is on this plane that Ragghianti elaborated his most convincing theoretical arguments in favour of the identity between figurative arts and cinema. The project of a "filmic" approach to the visual arts thus derives from a preliminary recognition of a homogeneousness between cinema and painting. Through the process of editing and the movement of the cinecamera, cinema becomes a method for "simulating" the modes of viewing the work: cinema as an "objective correlate" of a gradually unfolding reading, of a critical method.
His first critofilm, Deposizione di Raffaello[ The Deposition by Raffaello], presents a range of potential on which Ragghianti meditated for many years but did not translate into film medium until the 1950s, when he was able to utilise the means made available by an enlightened producer, Adriano Olivetti. Then between 1954 and 1963 Ragghianti shot no fewer than 18 critofilms for Olivetti. In comparison to the visual aspect, the verbal commentary was given a low-key role - in fact it was left until last, once the phase of shooting and editing had been completed. "An art film is always, in ideal terms, silent: concrete in its own language, the cinematographic medium, without any other addition". (Film d'arte, […], in Arti della visione, I, Einaudi, Torino, 1975, p. 225-240).
By virtue of their research method and clarity of exposition, Ragghianti's critofilms are veritable forms of criticism and history achieved through an image-based reading, which varies from film to film by adapting to the specific subject, the individual artistic event. To put into effect the aims he sought to achieve, Ragghianti was a ahead of his times from the technical point of view as well, making use of photographic equipment that was extremely advanced for his day: cinemascope, aerial views, and special trolleys for movements of the cinecamera, which enabled him to recontextualise the work of art by including external aspects and the surrounding environment. On the subject of movements of the cinecamera over and around the work of art, Ragghianti stated: "The shots and views must, like criticism, be obedient to the formal expression following the manner in which it has exclusively been configured. It is therefore necessary to take up a position and attitude as close as possible to the situation of the operating artist, and I would say almost to replicate his gestures, aligning oneself with the visual prospects traced and imposed by the artist as a result of his vision and taste, adhere to the artist's choices of the point or points of view, of static constraints or the dynamic lines of the visual contours, whether univocal or multiple, whether detached or linked, whether stationary or in movement, whether attracting or enveloping, whether emanating or centrifugal, and so forth (ibidem, p. 225-240).