2013 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, San Diego
IAS-Sponsored Session

The Physicality of Devotion in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italy II

Sheraton Marina Tower / Nautilus 4
Friday, April 5, 2013, 3:45-5:15pm

Organizer and Chair: Esperança M. Camara, University of Saint Francis


Anna Kim, University of Virginia
“Somatic Piety:  Devotion, Descent and the Vision of Gregory at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome”

The icon of Christ at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is justly famous as a cult object whose legendary status was founded on its claim to be the image of Pope Gregory’s vision of Christ as Eucharist, the original imago pietatis.  Yet to date, scholars have not considered the icon in the setting of the chapel in which it was venerated during the Renaissance, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger circa 1520.  A pendant to the cappella di Sant’Elena, which held the relics of the True Cross and earth from Jerusalem, the antechapel was similarly constructed as a subterranean room.  In this paper, I draw out the implications of the physical descent required on the part of the devotional viewer and the frames of vision that shaped this sacred encounter, reflecting upon how bodily movement and guided seeing become an integral part of the image’s meaning and cultic power.

Margaret Bell, University of California, Santa Barbara
“Image as Relic: Bodily Vision and the Reconstitution of Viewer/Image Relationships on the Sacro Monte di Varallo”

On the Sacro Monte di Varallo, a fifteenth-century Italian simulacrum of the Holy Land, pilgrims could see and touch “mysteries” (misterii), tableaux that represented biblical events.  This practice was part of the devotional experience of the site until the mid-sixteenth century when paned glass partitions, or vetriate, were installed in front of the tableaux.  Scholars have suggested that these vetriate were the products of Counter-Reformation efforts to discipline engagement with the tableaux by eliminating the possibility of physical contact but I argue that the semi –transparent barriers functioned like reliquaries, simultaneously marking off the scenes while emphasizing the specialness of the visual encounter. The new arrangement used the new visual discipline to intensify the older, physical one. The reconstituted viewer/image relationship underscored the bodily nature of vision and the importance of physicality in “bearing witness” to the mysteries in the corporeal experience of moving though the site.

Kathleen Sullivan, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
“Girolamo Romanino, the Anticlassical Style and the Sacro Monte: The Frescoes of Santa Maria della Neve”

Scholars have noted that Romanino’s fresco cycle of the Passion of Christ at Santa Maria della Neve in Pisogne draws from the tradition of the sacro monte, both in the spatial arrangement and the general evocation of emotions, but have said little about the particular mechanics of the viewer’s experience of this space. This paper will more thoroughly explore that issue, while also raising the question of the role that style can play in engaging the viewer. Painting in a so-called anticlassical style that emphasized dynamism, emotion and corporeality, Romanino augmented the impact of the spatial arrangement and subject matter, by creating images to which the viewer could relate both physically and spiritually. A pointed investigation of these frescoes permits an exploration of how the powerful synthesis of style, subject matter and space can shape the devotional engagement of the viewer.

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