2017 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, Chicago
IAS-Sponsored Session

Altarpieces on the Move: Religious Art Redeployed in Early Modern Italy

Sat, April 1, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Palmer House Hilton, Seventh Floor, Burnham 1

Altarpieces for the Home: Tracing Shifting Collectors’ Tastes in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Rome

During the 1640s, Mattia Preti painted two large-scale, vertically oriented paintings with religious subjects that, given their format and subject matter, appeared to be altarpieces. Yet, the first, St. Catherine of Alexandria in Prison (1640-42), was documented in Don Maffeo Barberini’s collection by 1655. The second, Crucifixion of St. Peter (1645-46), entered Cristiana Duglioli Angelelli’s private picture gallery immediately upon completion. In short, these altarpiece-format paintings were never located in a chapel or church. Taking these canvases as case studies, this paper argues for a shift in seventeenth-century Roman collecting practices. I suggest that this new taste for large-scale, altarpiece-format pictures, which were commissioned for display in palaces, evolved from the earlier trend of collectors acquiring altarpieces from churches. Thus, this paper will demonstrate how the collection of altarpieces for the home profoundly altered trends in artistic production and the market for paintings by the middle of the seventeenth century. – Melissa Yuen, Rutgers University

The Rejection of Ludovico Carracci’sSt. SebastianandForzaas an Early Seicento Aesthetic Criterion

A letter from Maffeo Barberini to his brother in Rome provides the sole evidence for the decision to place Ludovico Carracci’s St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima (1612) in Maffeo’s own collection rather than in the unrealized chapel within Sant’Andrea della Valle for which it was intended. Maffeo declared that the painting was a “ben rappresentazione di forza, ma non dà tanto devotione.” In the painting, Sebastian’s body is suspended precipitously—forcefully—over the sewers, threatening to invade the viewer’s space—a devotion disruption. This paper considers forza as an aesthetic descriptor in the early seicento, one in dialectical opposition to devotione. In the 1630s, Maffeo published several sonnets devoted to the concept of forza that shed light on his attitude toward the painting and, together with an analysis of other contemporary altarpieces and critics, allow a better understanding of the painting’s qualities that ultimately determined its fate. – Jeffrey Fraiman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Absence and Presence: Correggio’s San Giorgio Altarpiece after its Acquisition by the Duke of Modena

Francesco I d’Este, as the Duke of Modena, appropriated dozens of altarpieces from religious institutions within his duchy. One of these was the Madonna di San Giorgio by Correggio, acquired from the Confraternità di San Pietro Martire. In exchange for the painting, the duke offered to commission a replacement and to provide funds to redecorate the altar. In this presentation, I will compare the reception of the original altarpiece in the duke’s gallery to its absence in the oratory, and, using archival sources, examine the details of the acquisition, particularly focusing on how the confratelli reacted to the removal of their altarpiece. The ways in which the brothers had previously protected their painting will also be examined to provide context for their dismay, which was initially caused by the loss of their painting, and intensified during the twenty years they were forced to spend with an uninspiring altar. –  Alyssa Abraham, Queen’s University Kingston

The Bifurcation of Art and Image: Displaced Altarpieces and Their Substitute Copies

Starting in the late sixteenth century, collectors throughout the Italian peninsula began extracting altarpieces from churches for display in private galleries where they were reconstituted as works of art. Often these collectors commissioned near-identical copies that would continue to perform the devotional and liturgical functions of the lost original. The aesthetic values and sacred meaning that had co-mingled in the original altarpiece were thus divided in real, physical terms for separate audiences in separate venues. This paper examines altarpieces and their substitute copies within the context of the mounting controversies surrounding religious art that culminated in the Tridentine decree on sacred images. I will consider how late sixteenth-century discourse on religious art, including texts by Gilio, Borghini, and Paleotti, laid the groundwork for the desacralization of altarpieces that had long been objects of aesthetic attention as well as how ecclesiastics responded to the removal of prized works in their custody. – Sandra Richards, Department of Canadian Heritage

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