115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Biographical Portraits in Word and Image: Francisco Pacheco’s Libro de retratos and Visual History in Early Modern Seville

Randall Meissen, University of Southern California

Francisco Pacheco (1564­–1644), the foremost Spanish art theorist of his generation, worked on his manuscript Libro de verdaderos retratos (Book of True Portraits) for over forty years.  This paper addresses three visual cultures or visual vocabularies that Pacheco used in his book.  Those were rooted in Seville’s reimagined imperial Roman past, in the visual conventions of renaissance humanism, and in Catholic Counter-reformation image theory.

Proposal: 

Francisco Pacheco (1564­–1644), was the foremost Spanish art theorist of his generation, a longtime member of Seville’s famed humanistic academy, and both father-in-law and mentor to two of the most prominent artists of the Spanish baroque, Alonzo Cano (1601–1667) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660).  Pacheco’s unfinished manuscript book, the Book of Description of the True Portraits of Illustrious and Memorable Men, currently held at the Lázaro Galdiano museum in Madrid, consists of fifty-six portrait drawings by Pacheco and forty-four short-biographical sketches of authors, artists, ecclesiastics and noble Andalusians.

Pacheco, as artist and author, deliberately intertwined visual and textual communication in the work, and a close analysis of his Book of True Portraits offers insight into questions surrounding visual history practices of the period.  Why was portraiture desirable for the preservation of historical memory and why did illustriousness of the past great men of Seville need to be shown rather than just said? How did text and image interact to historicize the likenesses of his subjects?  What were the visual and cultural traditions that shaped how someone like Pacheco in early modern Seville expected an illustrious past to look?

In addressing those questions, this paper explores three visual cultures or visual vocabularies that Pacheco deployed.  Those were rooted in Seville’s reimagined imperial Roman past, in the visual conventions of renaissance humanism, and in Catholic Counter-reformation image theory.

Pacheco’s fusion of those visual practices allowed him to realize the renaissance ideal of biography as portraiture to a highest degree.  Hence, Pacheco’s work moved beyond the other anthologized historical biographies that inspired his project, such as the illustrated 1577 edition of the Italian humanist Paolo Giovio’s Elogies of illustrious men of Letters, and Giorgio Vasari’s (1511–1574) Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.