2014 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New York
IAS-Sponsored Session

On “Naturalism” in Early Modern Italian Art

Hilton, Regent
Saturday, March 29, 2014, 10:15-11:45am

Organizer and Chair: Christian K. Kleinbub, The Ohio State University


Theresa L. Flanigan, The College of Saint Rose
"Naturalism as a Sign in Alberti’s On Painting"

Throughout his treatise On Painting (1435) Leon Battista Alberti recommends that painters take nature as their guide, especially when composing bodies and their movements. Yet, he also claims that these bodies are not meant to be appreciated by the beholder purely for their visible naturalism per se, but rather for the invisible movements of the soul that they express, in other words, as signs. Moreover, painted depictions of nature are themselves abstracted into geometry and their perception and comprehension is mediated by an intervening force called species, thereby removing painted images from the nature that they represent. In this paper I shall problematize the modern “scientific” and “realist” interpretations of Albertian naturalism and contextualize his theory by considering it in relation to late medieval and contemporary epistemological debates about realism and representation that engage the same theories of optics, geometry, and semiotics that informed Alberti’s treatise.

Jeanette Kohl, University of California, Riverside
"'Real' Faces: Heteronomies of Renaissance Portraiture"

Renaissance portrait busts are usually noted for their power of articulating and producing presence, deceptive liveliness, and energeia. Yet there are intriguing objects made with the help of masks and casts, which raise questions about more “mechanical” aspects of artistic production and representation. Georges Didi-Huberman has emphasized the importance of such indexical techniques in reconsidering the Vasarian, design-based notion of the Renaissance. Based on this thought, I will discuss a group of bust portraits, which give proof of such a “counter history” of Renaissance art. These radically “naturalistic” images may help to reevaluate the role and functions of likeness and authenticity in the sociopolitical culture of Renaissance Florence. My talk will go beyond the traditional focus on the sitters’ identities and the artist’s production of an illusionistic presence and will discuss these blatantly “authentic” and largely unartistic portraits as heteronomic objects.

Jodi Cranston, Boston University
"Geographically Mobile: Depicting Myths in Venice, Depicting Venice in Myths"

New cartographic methods in the sixteenth century began to join and displace the production of pictorial vedute. At this pivotal moment, when locating a place with specificity became possible, Venetian artists included in the background of mythological paintings a detailed view of the area near the Piazza San Marco or an evocation of the lagunar skyline — even when these stories were set originally in specific locations other than Venice. This paper addresses the “naturalism” of the identifiable city view in a fictional scene alongside the emerging theme of islands in literary, artistic, and cartographic discourses and the interdependency between fiction, space, and place in Venetian thought. “Naturalism” will be explored here through the ways in which “accurate” city views explore the real through the fictional (and vice versa) as part of the sixteenth-century interest in the utopic and heterotopic landscape and its particular manifestations in Venetian culture.

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