Preferred Citation: Brunette, Peter. Roberto Rossellini. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.


35— The Age of the Medici (1972)

1. As usual, Rossellini used largely nonprofessional actors in most of the roles. The actor who played Cosimo, like Rossellini's Pascal and Socrates, was chosen for his resemblance to existing portraits, and his unhandsome, flat features remind one of the uninflected face of Louis XIV. The actor who played Alberti (Virginio Gazzolo) played Bishop Alipio, Augustine's colleague, in the director's previous film. Locations were chosen with great care, and many scenes were filmed in Florence and its hilltop neighbor, Fiesole, and in small villages like Gubbio and San Gimignano in Tuscany, which have largely kept their medieval aspect. Some scenes were filmed on location at the Medici palace at Careggi, outside Florence, which again served the purpose of ontologically bridging the past and the present.

Financing was even more precarious than usual because the French ORTF, which had originally agreed to act as cosponsor, dropped out. Interestingly, the film was shot in English, as Rossellini still entertained hopes of breaking into the American television market, and he was aware of American sensitivity to the lack of lip synchronization. The effect must have been rather comic, as many of the actors did not know a single word of English and thus often had no idea what they were saying. The voices were dubbed later, and thus the "original" version of this film, if that term has any meaning in the Italian industry, is in English. Unfortunately, the timing of the phrases in English is rather awkward, even beyond the slow, painfully measured cadences of standard Rossellinian dialogue. The mixture of British and American voices in the dubbing presents an additional unnecessary problem. As might be expected, the film has never been shown on American television.

2. The tension between the two eras is nicely thematized late in the film when the Byzantine hierarchy comes to Florence for the conference on reunifying the Church. The splendor of their apparel dazzles the men of the early Florentine Renaissance, and Ciriaco, Alberti's curial colleague, compares the color and decoration of these costumes to those in the early medieval mosaics at Ravenna. Alberti is proud, however, that the Florentines have surpassed this era.

3. Roberto Rossellini, Utopia, autopsia 10 10 (Rome: Armando, 1974), pp. 86-87.

4. Rossellini was apparently unable to film the actual frescoes, probably because of their fragility and the smallness of the chapel, and his reconstruction of them is a disappointment. The copy is second-rate, and the Rendering of the Tribute Money has been moved from the top row to the bottom row, presumably so that it could be more easily seen.

5. Scaffa and Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini , p. 296. All further references to this book will be found in the text.

6. Interview in Cinéma [Paris], no. 206 (February 1976), 70.

7. Samuel Edgerton, The Renaissance Re-Discovery of Linear Perspective (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p. 39. It must also be remembered, however, that these ideas were not completely new with the Renaissance. Thus, Michael Baxandall quotes Dante's view that "geometry is lily-white, unspotted by error and most certain, both in itself and in its handmaid, whose name is Perspective" ( Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy [New York: Oxford University Press, 1972], p. 124).

8. It should also be kept in mind that linear perspective was not consciously adopted by Renaissance artists because it was more "realistic" or "objective," but because it was another manifestation, like mathematics, of the perfection of God and the perfectability of man. As Edgerton puts it: Renaissance artists used perspective "because it gave their depicted scenes a sense of harmony with natural law, thereby underscoring man's moral responsibility within God's geometrically ordered universe" (p. 56).

9. Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), pp. 29-31. The quotation from Francastel comes from Études de sociologie de l'art (Paris: Denoël, 1970), pp. 136-37.

10. Michael Silverman, "Rossellini and Leon Battista Alberti: The Centering Power of Perspective," Yale Italian Studies , 1, no. 1 (Winter 1977), 141.

11. Another reason for this technique, of course, is that Rossellini is pointing to his visual sources, as we have seen him do in so many other films. Thus his incredibly static characters are often arranged in fixed compositions that suggest specific paintings and frescoes of the period. (One scene of Cosimo with his back to the camera, for example, recalls the back of the figure in Masaccio's Rendering of the Tribute Money .) At other times the characters stand in front of seemingly empty landscapes or cityscapes in paintings and frescoes, as though Rossellini were suggesting the historical and ontological provenance of these characters. Figures continually present themselves in the most stylized manner to the camera, thus making us more aware of the process of filmmaking and its relation to other forms of visual representation, especially in conjunction with the dedramatized acting and the antidramatic plot.

12. The question of self-reflexivity is greatly complicated by the fact that this is one of the sloppiest films Rossellini ever made. Thus, the editing is sometimes careless, as for example when, after we watch a speaker from his side, the reverse shot includes his back, producing a disconcerting, almost jump-cut, effect. At other times the framing is inattentive, as when one character, totally obscured by a tree, speaks for a few seconds in the scene of the debate concerning Latin and the vernacular. Other awkward spots, clearly unintentional, foreground the film's artificiality, as for example when the tax man looks directly at the camera during his scene. At other moments, some of the actors can be clearly seen looking beyond their interlocutors at some out-of-camera-range cue cards. During the sermon in the church, the bodies are obviously rearranging themselves in front of the camera as it dollies back. Throughout the film, in fact, there is a great deal of distracting body movement that seems motivated only by the need for greater visual variety. The presumably unintentional self-reflexivity of these moments is augmented by others that seem more conscious. Thus, the camera at times seems to be intensely, almost perversely, static, and at other times, nervous, continually zooming in and out. In the scene of Cosimo's party, the effect is very stylized, as the camera stays absolutely still watching one group of speakers after another move in front of it to say what they have to say. (In many of the other films, the camera and zoom will themselves move to discover the different groups, but the effect, in any case, is to underline the artificiality of the whole process.) The acting, as well, is stiff and stylized, almost more than in any other of the didactic films, and there is even less concern than usual to convince the viewer that "you are there."

13. Trasatti, Rossellini e la televisione , p. 109.


Preferred Citation: Brunette, Peter. Roberto Rossellini. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.