Conferences & Lectures - Kress

Megan Holmes

"New Perspectives on the Reception of Florentine Panel Painting: Interpreting Scratch Marks"

Location: Florence, Italy

The seventh annual IAS/Kress Italian Lecture series took place on 1 June 2016 at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Megan Holmes (University of Michigan) was the featured lecturer. 

This paper will explore an understudied feature of Florentine Renaissance panel paintings: evidence of the intentional scratching, with a sharp implement, of the pictorial figuration and imagery. These scratch marks, found across a variety of genres and formats, and display contexts, can rarely be documented and or dated with any precision. Similar intentional markings can also be found in works of art in other global, historical cultures. I will argue, nonetheless, that these scored Italian Renaissance panel paintings constitute an intriguing body of historical evidence that offers insights into the dynamic and motivated manner in which people interacted with images in daily life in their religious and social practices, in public and private spaces. The practice seems to have been more widely prevalent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, tapering off in the sixteenth century. I will attempt to theorize and situate these scratching acts, looking at both Renaissance period perspectives and current scholarship on global “iconoclasms.” These deliberate markings are part of what Michael Camille called “the archaeology of the image and its subsequent reception” and they need to be more in evidence in collections, photographic reproductions, and the art histories that we write. See the flyer.

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