2023 College Art Association Annual Conference, New York City
IAS-Sponsored Session

Materialità and Italian Visual Culture from Ancient to Contemporary 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023; 2:30-4:30pm.
3rd Floor, Petit Trianon

Organizer & Chair: Ashley Lindeman, Florida State University

For centuries Italian artists have animated their ideas through tangible materials, revealing aspects of function, ritual, and symbolism. While recent art historical scholarship has focused on Italian artistic practice through the lens of patronage, politics, and subject matter, studies in materiality pose additional questions about value, labor, and craftsmanship as well as ideas of ephemerality and conceptualism. A study in materiality asks viewers to consider how objects are bound to social dynamics as well as shifting styles and art institutionalism.


Karen Rose Mathews, University of Miami
Materiality, Mapping, and Merchant Culture in Medieval Italy (12th-14th century)

From the twelfth to fourteenth century, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice developed into highly successful port cities whose wealth and prosperity depended on international maritime commerce. As such, merchants played a central role in the political, economic, and cultural life of these three mercantile centers. Merchant patronage can be connected to two distinct cultural endeavors, the creation of lavish and eclectic decorative ensembles for civic churches and the production of practical cartographic and commercial tools—the portolan chart and text and the merchant manual. All these cultural products share characteristics that connect them to mercantile interests and ambitions, forging a distinct merchant aesthetic that visualized the importance of commercial activities and Mediterranean navigation in these Italian port cities. This paper will analyze these diverse manifestations of merchant visual culture as an integrated unit, assessing the influence of mercantile mentalities on the production and reception of cartographic works and civic architecture in Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. These maritime cities developed a merchant visuality that focused on materiality and viewed the things traders produced, bought, and sold from the perspective of commodities, collections, inventories, itineraries, mementoes, and souvenirs. Mercantile and cartographic tools and trade goods formed the foundation of a distinct merchant visual culture that distinguished these three Italian cities from one another and from other competitors in a contentious Mediterranean environment.

Ashley Lindeman, Florida State University
Enrico Prampolini’s Arte Polimaterica and Modern Italian Experiments in Materiality
Tenley Bick, Florida State University
Linee di fuga (Flight Lines): On Paper Media and the Construction of Images in the Work of Francesco Simeti

Building on recent scholarship on paper media in postwar Italian art, this presentation examines contemporary Italian artistic uses of paper media in the past twenty-five years through a case study on the newspaper photomontages and collages of contemporary Italian artist Francesco Simeti (b. 1968, Palermo), begun after the artist’s emigration from Italy in the late 1990s. Drawing upon the interviews with the artist, this presentation focuses on paper media’s political and artistic associations past and present, in and out of Italy, as well as its material economy that lent itself to artistic migration. It pays particular attention to the seminal but under-examined Linee di fuga (Flight Lines, 1998): a work that features photographic cut-outs from Italian newspaper reports on the civil war in Sarajevo, photocopied and glued by the artist onto nine square sheets of paper. Attached to the wall in a grid format, the work suggests infinite expansion while recalling Sicilian vernacular decoration of the artist’s home. Its figures, fleeing and perpetuating civil war, are isolated in the white “tiled” paper field, connected by faint pencil “flight lines” or linee di fuga, suggesting escape. The phrase in Italian also has a second meaning: lines of perspective. Considering the Italian resonances of the term regarding the construction of images, this presentation offers a different view of the artist’s work and paper’s role within it: as politically charged, circulating material that bridges its historical documentary function with new deconstructionist ones that prompt investigation of the relationship between art, politics, and representation.

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