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

Stillness in Early Modern Italian Art

Hilton, Regent
Saturday, March 29, 2014, 1:15-2:45pm

Organizer and Chair: Karen J. Lloyd, Queen's University


Samuel Y. Edgerton, Williams College
"The Silent Space of Piero della Francesca’s Madonna Enthroned with Four Angels: A New Understanding of Its Mysterious Perspective"

This paper is based on a conservation record recently come to light that reveals that the surface of Piero’s painting is covered with invisible incisions in the gesso ground, etched there by the artist as guides to his perspective projection. From these, I am able to reconstruct what at first appears to be a conventional one-point Albertian perspective, but which the artist then expanded into an unseen but mathematically rational space behind his iconic figural arrangement. To mortal eyes and ears this unseen but clearly rational space is both unexpectedly large, utterly silent, and still. To the spiritually toned eyesight that Piero believed he had achieved, that space celebrates the splendor of ideal geometric proportion, and its association with the divine music of the spheres, both only visible and audible in Paradise, just as Dante had averred in his Divine Comedy, and Luca Paccioli would elaborate in his Divine Proportion.

Karolina Zgraja, Bibliotheca Hertziana
"Stillness as Devotional Function in Altarpieces by Giovanni Bellini"

Once one of Europe’s major market places, Renaissance Venice’s calle and canali were filled with movement and heavy mercantile noise. Yet Giovanni Bellini’s large altarpieces evoke outstanding harmony and stillness because of the extraordinary contemplative expression of the figures depicted in warmly illuminated and perfectly constructed spaces. This paper assesses the means and function of the phenomenon of stillness in these religious paintings. According to Albrecht Dürer, Giovanni Bellini was a pious man and by setting an example through the figures in an Albertinian sense, he could invite the beholder to raise their awareness and listen to religious admonishments. In the Pala di San Zaccaria the artist might refer to the relevant prologue of the rules of Saint Benedict: “Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father. . .”

Diva Zumaya, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Stilled Suffering and Devotional Practice in the Roman Paintings of Gerrit van Honthorst"

In Gerrit van Honthorst’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1617–18), Mocking of Christ (1617), and St. Sebastian (1620), the central figures appear as if in a timeless vacuum of internal quietude. Influenced by the stilled action of Caravaggio’s religious paintings and the work of his contemporaries Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Jusepe de Ribera, Honthorst’s religious paintings from his time in Rome (1613–20) are characterized by their similar use of the stilled narrative moment. Honthorst’s Sebastian, for instance, is slumped at the base of a tree and isolated in darkness. Drawing from contemporary devotional texts, I argue that Honthorst’s figures allow the viewer to contemplate their stilled suffering while they model the interiority prescribed for devotional practice.

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