2022 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, Dublin
IAS-Sponsored Session

Risky Business: Dangers Faced by Artists and Patrons

Wednesday, March 30, 2022. 9:00–10:30am
The Convention Centre, Dublin- Wicklow Hall 1-2

Organizer: Jonathan K. Nelson, Syracuse University, Florence

Chair: Diana Bullen Presciutti, University of Essex

Respondent: Christopher J. Nygren, University of Pittsburgh


Jonathan K. Nelson, Syracuse University, Florence
Lost in Translation: Misunderstandings in Art, Across Cultures and Media

Risk, the possibility of losing something of value, was discussed by many Medieval and Renaissance authors, but early modern scholars employ the concept primarily to study gambling and marine insurance. Recent studies in translation theory indicate a model for analyzing the risks of communication across languages. This paper extends that framework to the translation of word into image, to explore an important but unexplored risk in Renaissance art patronage. Mangled messages impaired communication from patrons and artists, and then again to audiences. In many misguided commissions, patrons provided incomplete or incomprehensible requests to artists. Moreover, patrons and audiences often misinterpreted artistic solutions, such as a kneeling Christ (Caroto), a youthful Christ (Michelangelo), or a smiling Louis XIV (Bernini). Documented misunderstandings provide a basis for considering translations across continents, such as Italian artists employed by Ethiopian royalty or Mesoamericans working for Jesuits.

Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio, University of Vermont
Risk and Risk Aversion in Sculpture Shipments: The Case of Pompeo Leoni's Sculptures for the Escorial

Shipments of sculpture from Italy to Spain were not infrequent, but depending on the medium, size, and style, they presented a multitude of challenges. Sculptures could easily be damaged, stolen, sunk, and lost along the arduous journey overland, down rivers, and across seas. In addition to the dangers facing the sculptures themselves, the labor force required to manage the shipment was also at risk. Moreover, political negotiations were often necessary to ensure safe passage, and the entire enterprise was weather dependent. This paper explores the largest shipment of bronzes in early modern Europe: the Escorial retable sculptures that were sent from Milan to Madrid in the late 1500s-early 1600s. It discusses the many risks that had to be considered in this enormous undertaking, based on detailed records found in the archives in Simancas and Milan.

Sharifa Lookman, Princeton University
Assaying Risk in Metallic Reproduction: Error and Technical Fallibility in Giambologna’s Aftercasts

As Giambologna’s fame reached new heights in the mid-to-late sixteenth century, so did the extent of his material output. Alongside his more monumental commissions, smaller bronze statuettes regularly exited the artist’s studio, initially made by the artist himself but subsequently as workshop reproductions. The design of these replicas – so-called aftercasts – varied in origin, some as reductions of Giambologna’s large-scale sculptures, others miming the artist’s smaller preparatory models, and still others made using the original mold. All these aftercasts evince the labor, inconsistencies, and material risks implicated in alloyed reproduction, from replicating casting flaws to using compromised materials. Usually studied as decontextualized markers of the artist’s cross-continental reach, the aftercasts also real a wide constellation of risky endeavors involved in metallic replication. This paper explores how the aftercasts – in their varied materials, production, and authorship – modeled imperfections in multiplicity.

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