2015 American Association for Italian Studies Annual Conference, University of Colorado, Boulder, 26-28 March
The IAS sponsored two sessions at the 2015 meeting of AAIS.
More than Mere Playthings: The Minor Arts of Italy I and II
Organizer: Julia C. Fischer (Lamar University) Read abstract
I. Etruscan Italy
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 1:00-2:15PM
Melissa Hempel, Utah Valley University Read abstract
The figurine has played a significant role in daily life and personal collections throughout history, but has held a lesser place in the canon of art. The breadth of creation and variety should garner more attention and credit. Spanning materials from metal to porcelain, and tracing historic rituals, and modern day collecting, figurines connect cultures and time periods, a large task for a small object.
Found as grave goods in Etruscan tombs and now appropriated in global, contemporary art, the figurine adapts to provide context and perspective for artists, historians and archeologists. They are relevant from the Bronze Age to contemporary society. Once paid attention to, the figurine seems ever-present, as it must have in previous time periods. Examining recent discoveries, newly uncovered questions, and alternative meanings help to place figurines more predominately in art history. Perhaps now, their seemingly ordinary quality can be seen as their greatest attribute.
Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Reflections on Etruscan Bronze Mirrors
Bridget Sandhoff, University of Nebraska Omaha Read abstract
Engraved bronzed mirrors, primarily female objects, are ubiquitous in Etruscan art. Despite their frequency, Etruscan mirrors often take the backseat to more “significant” art forms such as tomb painting, architectural sculpture, sarcophagi, or religious sites. While these major works certainly help reconstruct Etruscan life, the “trivial” mirror can provide just as significant, if not more, insight into Etruscan society. Based on these mirrors and other beauty aids, the Etruscans viewed adornment and fashion, or the feminine arts, very differently. It was not an expression of vanity but held greater implications for a woman’s family and Etruria.
This paper explores the significance of beauty within ancient Etruria by examining specific mirrors, their imagery, and their usage in life and the afterlife. Fortunately, much work has been devoted to cataloging all known Etruscan mirrors, and to studying the imagery/iconography engraved on their non-reflective sides. These studies, however, tend to divorce the artwork from its context and original purpose. At its most basic level, a mirror was a reflective surface that allowed women (and men) to inspect their appearances. Mirrors were handled, manipulated, and used on a daily basis and therefore, could communicate a potent message. It is my belief that beauty was not a frivolous matter but a collective concern of the family, the community and Etruria, and mirrors were critical in conveying this ideology.
Devotional Labor: Making Luxury Textiles and Dressing the Gods in Ancient Italy
Katie Rask, University of Tennessee Knoxville Read abstract
Building on recent work concerning Etrusco-Italic textile production in sacred contexts, this paper examines the religious contexts of textile weaving in ancient Italy. More specifically, it considers the creation of textiles ultimately intended for the gods or sacred events, such as the peplophoroi festivals known in Greece. As luxury items, textiles required an dedicated labor as well as expensive materials, frequently including silk, gold, and silver. Both texts and archaeological remains attest to the presence of such magnificent items in sanctuaries and shrines throughout the Mediterranean. Moreover, excavated weaving tools point to the production of textiles within Italian sanctuaries, outside of domestic and private spheres. Several recent studies have emphasized the significant role that the weaving of fabric played in pre-Roman sanctuary contexts; rather than evidence for individual dedication, it has been argued that textile tools point to communal dedications and production. Indeed, in both Italy and Greece textile production played a significant role in the relationships formed between communities and their deities. At the same time, we must wonder at the religious experience of the weavers themselves.
Greek sources suggest that these hours at the loom could be chatty affairs, with bouts of story-telling and the sharing of myths. Architectural remains in south Italy suggest that women performed this task in special buildings within the sanctuary itself. In most cases, the process of weaving textile dedications does not qualify as ritual (as many scholars define it), but the activity was certainly religious. Unfortunately, we will never know how the women creating these fabric arts viewed their activity, a perplexing issue given that in this case women participated in ‘work’ within a distinctly religious sphere. In fact, it seems that in many cases the production process itself performed a role in pleasing the god. In other words, the work of making the textile may have been votive in nature. As a solution for conceptualizing this behavior, I argue that the weaving of these rich fabrics constitutes a sort of ‘devotional labor.’
II. Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Italy
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 5:30-6:45 p.m.
A Woman’s Weapon: Private Propaganda in the Gemma Augustea and Grand Camée de France
Julia C. Fischer, Lamar University Read abstract
This paper examines the ways in which Livia and Agrippina the Elder used gemstones as weapons of private propaganda. In particular, by commissioning large Imperial cameos like the Gemma Augustea and Grand Camée de France, both Livia and Agrippina the Elder were advancing themselves as important members of the Imperial family and also promoting their sons as heirs to the throne. Because Livia was successful in getting her son Tiberius on the throne, perhaps in large part due to the gift of the Gemma Augustea to Augustus, Agrippina the Elder decided to utilize a large gemstone as a weapon to persuade Tiberius, her great-uncle and adoptive grandfather, to consider her sons, Caligula, Nero Caesar, and Drusus Minor, as worthy successors. While Agrippina the Elder followed Livia’s example, the former decided to commission a new, updated version that responded to and was in constant dialogue with the Gemma Augustea. Finally, this paper will examine this referentiality between the two cameos in terms of style, size, composition, iconography, and message.
The Monumental Minor Arts in Early Medieval Italy
Ashley E. Jones, University of Florida Read abstract
This paper is part of a project that seeks to situate an obscure class of objects—gold jewelry set with coins and medals—at the intersection of several major currents of inquiry in late antique art. Far from being limited by the objects’ small size to the traditional domain of “Minor Arts,” the thematics of numismatic jewelry extend beyond the luxurious display of wealth and are coterminous with those of the most monumental works of Roman art. Building on concepts that include Lapatin’s “Luxury Arts,” and Ragnar Hedlund’s “Monuments in Miniature,” this paper examines chronologically and stylistically diverse finds of coin set jewelry from Italy. In its very heterogeneity, the corpus of Italian numismatic jewelry can be read as a microcosm of the broader corpus. Fifth- and sixth-century Italy provides a vantage point from which to look back on the history of coin-set jewelry and its co-option of the imperial portrait throughout the Roman world. An examination of objects created in a space and time animated by the tensions between and the unifying ambitions of Ostrogoths, Byzantines, and Lombards, makes it possible to re-read the relationships between earlier coin-set objects, both Roman and barbarian, and thus to better understand the use of the imperial portrait in jewelry as a phenomenon of the borderlands, of liminal spaces both geographic and conceptual.
Early Renaissance Glass Reliquaries
Sarah M. Dillon, Kingsborough Community College Read abstract
This paper questions the concept of minor art in two ways. Firstly, it questions the status of reliquaries as minor art forms. As containers for relics, reliquaries were some of the most treasured items of the medieval and Renaissance eras because they served as devotional portals through which one could access the divine. Secondly, this paper explores reliquaries that incorporated glass, a medium typically associated with decorative arts or other marginal art forms.
This paper offers some potential reasons why glass, particularly gilded glass, was used to adorn some of the church’s most revered possessions. The Latin West expanded its glass production over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries due to the influence of glassmakers and techniques from Islamic territories. As glass became more widely available, the number of reliquaries featuring glass increased. Through an examination of gilded glass’s earlier precedents, its rich symbolism, and the stunning visual effects produced by it, this paper demonstrates how glass could have elegantly resonated with the concept of the threshold of the divine.
Unattended Figures: Revisiting Figuration in Postwar Italian Art, 1946–1980
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 2:30–3:45PM
Organizer: Tenley Bick (University of California, Los Angeles) Read abstract
Revolutionary Figures in Postwar Italian Painting: The Fronte Nuovo delle Arti
Adrian R. Duran, University of Nebraska at Omaha Read abstract
Abandoning the notion of figuration as regression, this paper will return to Italian painting during the first years of the Cold War and position representation as a centrally innovative language for the arts, as formally synthetic and politically charged as has long been presumed of its abstract counterparts. To this end, the careers of Fronte Nuovo delle Arti-affiliated artists such as Renato Guttuso, Armando Pizzinato, Giulio Turcato, Emilio Vedova, and Giuseppe Zigaina will be studied as both refractions of the volatile political landscape of postwar Italy and catalysts in reintroducing the Italian circumstance to international Modernism. These artists’ images of workers’ struggles and contemporary political events were important mechanisms of historical reckoning and self-determination in the wake of Fascism, civil war, and the emergent hysteria of the Cold War and are thus essential waypoints for any mapping of the period.
This study of individual works will be buttressed by attention to the contemporary discourse on artistic realism promoted by authors such as Mario de Micheli, Palmiro Togliatti, Francesco Arcangeli, and Lionello Venturi. In doing so, this investigation will attend to the fluidity of practice that allowed the art of this period to defy the critical binary of realism and abstraction so often presumed of postwar art. Ultimately, this paper will reveal Italian painting of these first postwar years to be a more permeable and synthetic practice than generally understood and a harbinger of the fugitive taxonomies of the last decades of Italian Modernism.
Figure as Model: The Early Work of Michelangelo Pistoletto
Tenley Bick, University of California, Los Angeles Read abstract
Within the field of postwar art history, figuration as form and practice has long been regarded as a misguided pursuit, associated with outmoded ideologies, reactionary politics, and uncritical, traditional artistic work. This reading, however, has ignored more nuanced histories and dismissed differential models of avant-gardism that complicate or challenge the politicized historical narrative it supports. In response to this problematic, this paper proposes a counter-model for postwar art history by shedding light on the formative role of figuration in the work of a central member of the European neo-avant-garde, Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933). This paper studies the artist’s exploration of figuration and writing on the subject that framed his early work––from the little-known paintings of isolated figures and series of self-portraits he made as an emerging artist in Turin in the late 1950s, to the mirror paintings that established him––if problematically––as an international player in Pop Art and New Realism by the early 1960s, to the pivotal Plexiglas works immediately preceding the artist’s Arte povera years. By situating Pistoletto’s work within the cultural context of postwar Italy and Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, figuration emerges as neither pre-modern nor critical, but rather as a driving question and critical model for many of the interdisciplinary, linguistic, and conceptual innovations made by the Italian neo-avant-garde of the 1960s. Discussion of work by contemporary Italian artists including Mario Merz, Mauro Chessa, and the Nuova figurazione movement, as well as that of international artists serves to situate and qualify Pistoletto’s experimentation with figuration in context, ultimately complicating existing narratives of modernism and post-war avant-gardism in turn.
‘The Only Architecture Will Our Lives’: Superstudio Supersurface and Architectural Embodiment
Ross K. Elfline, Carleton College Read abstract
In Superstudio’s iconic 1969 project The Continuous Monument—perhaps the signature work of Italy’s Radical Architecture movement—form dominates. In image after image, viewers are treated to the unnerving extension of a cold monolith as it snakes its way over assorted exotic terrains. Rarely, however, is an inhabitant to be found. Rather, as is the case with so many of Radical Architecture’s designs, the focus is on the authority intrinsic to the forms of International Style modernism when its logic is extended to its horrific conclusion.
It was surprising, then, to see so many bodies populate the collective’s 1972 work Supersurface, produced for the Museum of Modern Art’s pioneering exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape.” Images of hippies, dropouts, and other outcasts writhe around on the ground atop a comprehensive grid covering all habitable surfaces of the landscape. The accompanying statement informs us that the newly nomadic residents of the Earth will plug into the grid for whatever immediate demands need gratifying along their itinerant wanderings.
This paper attempts to understand this shift from abstract architectural form to bodily-activated system. This return of the body in Superstudio’s imagery complements a broader shift in Italian architectural culture, one that we might call the “anthropological turn.” Of special consideration are the gendered aspects of Superstudio’s focus on an embodied architecture: indeed, it is the liberated and eroticized female body that comes to stand in for a broader sense of political and social self-valorization.