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

Eternal Painting? The Meaning and Materiality of Copper Supports

Organizers: Alexander Noell, Courtauld Institute of Art
Sally Higgs, Courtauld Institute of Art

Chair: Sean Roberts, Vill I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

Respondent: Sean Roberts, Vill I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

Fri, March 31, 5:30 to 7:00pm, Palmer House Hilton, Seventh Floor, Clark 10

Leonardo da Vinci, Paragone, and the Reifying Impetus for Painting on Metal- and Stone-Supports

Scholars like Isabel Horovitz generally link the phenomenon of early-modern, copper- supported paintings to their optical effects and their material novelty within the “display culture” of elite collecting practices. Alternatively, 16th-century painters chose metal and also stone supports in an attempt to synthesize sculpture’s physical durability and painting’s polychromatic verisimilitude — the most salient characteristics of each artistic medium — and thereby materialize their superiority vis-à-vis sculptors within the aesthetic debate known as the Paragone. Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de’Benci from the 1470s reified this idea by depicting a faux stone slab of porphyry on its verso, thereby establishing an example of how painters could overcome the Paragone in their favor. In this context, copper plates represented a lighter, less expensive alternative to stone panels for deployment as painting supports, but shared with them an origin in the practice and theory of Leonardo, and a sustained relevance within the Paragone. – Brad Cavallo, Temple University

Eternal Painting, Ephemeral Condition: Masking, Disguising, and Dancing as an Equivalent of Painting on Copper?

Recent studies have demonstrated that painters utilized copper supports for more than their “eternal” durability, at times attempting to associate the physical support and the narrative subject conceptually. In the sixteenth century, certain paintings on copper presented images depicting the transformation of an individual, and this paper will focus on two such examples: The Coral Fishers by Jacopo Zucchi (Galleria Borghese, Rome) and The Peasant Dance by Jan Brueghel I (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux). The subject matter of both paintings relates to the transformation of the self, either through the masking of the prince or through the act of dancing. The links between the theory of elements related to the material of the supports and the theory of humors will be examined, as will the connections with English miniatures of portraits in masque. This discussion will lead to a better understanding of the motivations behind the use copper supports. – Julia Maillard, École des hautes études en sciences sociales

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