2014 College Art Association Annual Conference, Chicago
IAS-Sponsored Session

Periodization Anxiety in Italian Art: Renaissance, Baroque, or Early Modern?

Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor, Williford A&B
Thursday, February 13, 2014, 9:30am–12:00pm

Organizers and Chairs: Frances Gage, Buffalo State, State University of New York, and Eva Struhal, Université Laval

The catchall term “early modern” is now omnipresent in art history of both the East and West, though what it means, its historical implications and its periodization, are rarely discussed in our discipline. In American academe, the study of this period has seen a broadening of geographical constraints and a shift in chronology, suggesting that the new terminology is more than the idea of a “longue-durée.” Questions that we want to address in our session are: What are the particular implications of the term for the study of Italian Art? What are this term’s methodological or ideological advantages? Is it appropriate to the period in question or are there distinct periods in early modernity? If so, how should they be signaled? Is “early modern” appropriate to non-Western art history? Does it render this period into a mere prelude to modernity? Does it reflect the tendency to occlude historical ruptures and constitute, in part, the growing marginalization of historical inquiry? We invite contributions to this session that reflect on the meaning and applicability of the term “early modern” in the history of art.


C. Jean Campbell, Emory University
"Late Medieval, Early Modern and Vasari’s First Age"

This paper emerges from the simple observation that the “period” of artistic decline that Giorgio Vasari locates between the fall of Rome and the new age heralded by Cimabue and Giotto is neither chronologically nor conceptually consistent with the Middle Ages imagined by modern (post eighteenth-century) art history. Using the first part of Vasari’s Lives as a platform, it will review the losses entailed in the alignment of Vasari’s account of rupture and the re-emergence of the “moderna e buona arte della pittura” with a teleological account of Modernity. I will argue that those losses are still apparent in ways that not only distort our view of Vasari’s relatively local project but also, and more importantly, impose limits on what we consider to be legitimate means of understanding the art of the past.

Itay Sapir, Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM)
"The Repressed Watershed: 1600, The Early Modern and the Moderne"

English and French nomenclatures for the art of 1400-1800 differ widely, but both relegate an important watershed—the upheaval of Caravaggism, at least as significant for the evolution of European art as that of the early 1400s or the artistic revolutions following the crumbling of the Ancien régime—to a secondary level. The decades around 1600 are still not regarded as an epochal shift. This is perhaps due to the anxieties and embarrassment still surrounding art historical meta-narratives. After all, Poussin’s suggestion that Caravaggio did nothing else but “destroy painting” makes 1600 both an all-important threshold and a tragic catharsis. The vagueness of referring to art between 1400 and 1800 simply as “early modern” is then, art history’s exorcising of its bad conscience: if Caravaggio’s sacrileges are part and parcel of the uninterrupted flow of artistic progress from Donatello’s David to Jacques-Louis David, they become much easier to contain.

Estelle Lingo, University of Washington, Seattle
"Sculpture, Rupture, and the 'Baroque'"

From its eighteenth-century origins as a pejorative, “baroque” has always been a charged term, one that many Anglophone scholars of seventeenth-century Italian art have preferred to avoid. The widespread adoption of “early modern” in recent decades has tended to emphasize continuities between the “Renaissance” and the “Baroque” and to downplay the urgency of probing differences. The career of the Tuscan sculptor Francesco Mochi (1580-1654), however, testifies to a period perception of rupture between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Determined to carry forward the “Florentine manner,” Mochi sought to preserve fundamentally Renaissance artistic values, while reconciling them with new religious imperatives. His idiosyncratic works only come into focus by attending to the tensions inherent in this endeavor, tensions which Mochi’s sculptures render peculiarly visible. Mochi’s works and their often mixed seventeenth-century reception prompt a reconsideration of the character of the “baroque” and the utility of the term for sculpture studies.

Claire Farago, University of Colorado, Boulder
"Troubling Time: When is Art Italian?"

To have a productive conversation about periodization in any field of study, it is important to consider when these terms matter. Period designations matter when institutional and pedagogic concerns are raised, for example, when hires are made or students are taught. The challenge is always to establish such fundamental objectives as which issues are worth investigating, which contributions are most significant – and, less frequently discussed, who decides? who benefits? who doesn’t? from framing the objectives of study. Viewed in this context of self-reflection, can any scheme of periodization be productive? Can periodization ever avoid imposing teleological implications on the evidence? Did Walter Benjamin provide workable guidelines for a “dialectical” cultural history that does not foreclose on its subject of investigation? What would such a history look and sound like in classrooms introducing students to the discipline of “art history”? What might the institutional future built on such a foundation hold?

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