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Histoires d’œils

Philippe Costamagna

It is of common knowledge that so-called “noses” preside over the preparation of fragrances for perfumes. Fewer people know that “eyes” are capable of recognizing the hand of a master in a painting or an anonymous drawing. Philippe Costamagna, a curator at the Fesch museum in Ajaccio, is one of them. As he details his personal memories –such as the famous identification of a Bronzino at the museum of Nice in 2005, with his friend Carlo Falciani-, he traces the history of those art detectives, through famous figures such as Bernard Berenson, Roberto Longhi and Federico Zeri. Connoisseurship means the training of the eye, the hours spent in drawing cabinets, trips throughout the planet to look at a significant page and to carry out a reference monograph on Pontormo, friendships, as well as petty rivalries. The author speaks honestly about the ambiguous role of said knowledge in an art market that has become absurdly speculative (the attribution of a painting can multiply its value by 100%) but he repeats that his profession can only be nourished by passion. While his heart can skip a beat when discovering a work by Andrea del Sarto, he can be just as energized by extending the corpus of forgotten artists from the Renaissance such as Tommaso di Stefano or Giulio Clovio. The contents of his book clearly reflect the promise included in its title – a transparent reference to Georges Bataille -, but of course we regret the absence of an index.

Histoires d’œils, by Philippe Costamagna, Grasset, 2016, 272 p., €20.

Histoires d’œils - Philippe Costamagna

Review published in the newsletter #457 - from 26 January 2017 to 1 February 2017

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