58th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, 2012 Washington D.C.

The IAS sponsored one individual and three linked sessions, as well as gathered for drinks and conversation, at the 2012 meeting of the RSA, held in Washington D.C. March 22–24, 2012.

Cocktails at Cure Bar and Bistro
Thursday, March 22, 6:00pm, Cure Bar and Bistro, Grand Hyatt
A group of members and prospective members gathered at the conclusion of Thursday’s sessions at the Cure Bar and Bistro in the Grand Hyatt at the corner of 10th and H Street N.W.

Public Art and Contested Spaces in Early Modern Italy I, II, and III
Organizer: Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College
Friday, March 23, 8:45am – 3:30pm, Grand Hyatt, 5B – Independence Level, Independence D
These linked sessions addressed the rich and varied role of art and architecture in creating, transforming, appropriating or reinventing public spaces and public life in Early Modern Italy.  Whether religious, civic or mercantile, the public spaces of Italy have long been acknowledged as important but contested sites of power and authority.  This topic encompasses a broad range of approaches, and these sessions seek to cover a diverse range of material and modes of inquiry, including but not limited to: familiar monuments in a new light; the role of the ephemeral or works or aspects of works no longer visible; the influence of various socio-cultural factors on the interactions between space, art and viewers, such as rituals, urban legislation, celebratory processions, criminal punishments, merchant activity; the application of methodologies relating to gender, race and social class, interdisciplinary work, or studies relating to visual culture; theoretical discussions of what “public” might mean in this period or problematic aspects of such a term.

Session I: Sacred and Communal Spaces:  Pisa, Siena, and Venice
Chair: Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College
Friday, March 23, 8:45am – 10:15am, Grand Hyatt, 5B – Independence Level, Independence D 

Jean Cadogan (Trinity College)“Urban Saints in Trecento Pisa:  Murals of the Life of St. Rainerius in the Camposanto”  The murals of the life of St. Rainerius (1117—1160) in the Camposanto in Pisa, begun by Andrea da Firenze about 1377 and completed by Antonio Veneziano in 1384-86, present a new view of sainthood compared to the murals of Lives of the Hermit Saints painted some fifty years before.  While the latter reflect aspects of Dominican piety shared by the clerical elite in Pisa during the early Trecento, the former promote the urban, secular life of a local saint.  Using unpublished eighteenth century drawings of the murals, I will present a more precise reading of the murals than has been possible.  I also propose that the murals were part of a campaign during the signoria of Pietro Gambacorta (1369-92) to reclaim the Camposanto as a communal space.  Their imagery celebrates Pisa as a locus of sacred and secular activity that promised material and spiritual wealth for all its citizens.

Daniele Rivoletti (Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa), “Pinturicchio’s Crowning of Pius III: the interests of a family in a republican context” How can a work for a private patron subtly manipulate public values? In about 1503, the Piccolomini family commissioned Pinturicchio to create a fresco in the Sienese cathedral, depicting the papal crowing of Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, alias Pius III: a private commission (as coats of arm show) for a public place (the cathedral’s nave). Curiously, out of the flat surface of the fresco rises a sculpted element: the pope, created in stucco. Several aspects of the 15th century Sienese public life help explain such a detail: in a politically difficult time, paintings in the Public Palace and sacre rappresentazioni often portrayed the pope as a defensor civitatis, essential to the survival of the republic. Pinturicchio’s formal choice seems to shrewdly allude to that: since the republican balance prevented them from doing explicitly, the Piccolomini circuitously tried to exploit public values in a public place for the rise of their family.

Christine Scippa Bhasin (Northwestern University), “Public Theatre in ‘Cloistered’ Environs”  Post-Trent, public activity in the parlatorio of Venetian convents was regulated by not one, but two bodies of oversight: the religious office of the Venetian patriarch and the state-sponsored Provveditori Sopra Monasteri. Frequent visitations by both have left us with records of the nuns’ activities throughout the 17th-century. Public performances of plays in the convent parlatorio are mentioned not only in visitors’ records, but in prohibitions, licenses, and the dedicatory prefaces to plays published throughout the Veneto. This paper explores the highly contested space of the convent parlor as the perfect, if incongruous, setting for the practice of theatre–an art form in which women were still largely absent as players on Italy’s professional and court stages. In presenting the “cloistered” nun-as-actress before a diverse, public audience, this essay invites a reconceptualization of the space of theatrical production and reception in the early modern period.

Session II: Princely and Papal Power:  Genoa, Lombardy, and Rome
Chair: Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College
Friday, March 23, 10:30am – 12:00pm, Grand Hyatt, 5B – Independence Level, Independence D 

Madeline Rislow (University of Kansas, Lawrence), “Framing Family Power in Public Space: Doria’s Appropriation of Portal Sculptures in Their Genoese Neighborhood”  The prominent Doria first established their albergo, or neighborhood group, in Genoa in the twelfth century and subsequently built the family’s church of San Matteo with a facing piazza and surrounding palaces.  In the fifteenth century the Doria further asserted their presence within the urban center by adorning their palaces with at least ten soprapporte, or lintel reliefs, a particular Ligurian sculptural type.  Religious narratives are sculpted at the center of most of these soprapporte and these scenes are marked by the Doria coats of arms.  Situated in close proximity to both the cathedral and ducal palace, the Doria albergo was frequently the site of processions and celebrations.  The soprapporte within this space clearly designated the public streets and piazza they faced as Doria territory.  This paper considers how the Doria soprapporte served a vital function in advertising the family while simultaneously promoting a unified Genoese identity.

Constance Joan Moffatt (Pierce College), “The People vs. Lodovico Sforza: A Bishop, a Rectangle, and a Tower”  What is better evidence of contested space than a piazza laid out against the will of the people? Without consent of the townspeople of the Milanese satellite capital of Vigevano, Lodovico Sforza transformed the main square from communal to ducal space and intended to expand his already firm grip on the city by placing a bishop in its midst. However, the recalcitrant citizens refused to enlarge the church at the piazza’s edge for that purpose. The primary mercantile use of the piazza was subsumed by the more flamboyant state events staged by Sforza. Although the enlargement of the area into a forum-shaped piazza makes it one of the first Renaissance squares and among the most beautiful arcaded spaces in Italy, this urban restructuring also represents the obliteration of communal status through legislative means. What had been more public, closed space became the open private space of the Duke of Milan.

Luke Nicholson (University of British Columbia), “The Universal City: Roman Landmarks and the Interspatial Visions of Nicolas Poussin”  Landmarks making up Rome’s public and visual profile appear in several paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). The French painter, living in Rome for most of his working life, used the profile of his adopted city to depict far flung places that he could only imagine, including Athens and Egypt. The Castel Sant’Angelo, Torre delle Milizie, and Cortile della Pigna – unmistakable as themselves – are all depicted as displaced to these imaginary places. Concentrating on four major examples, Holy Family in Egypt (1655 to1657), Landscape with Diogenes (1647), The Funeral of Phocion and Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion (both 1648), my paper will explore how Poussin used pictorial appropriation to envision a kind of destabilized ‘interspace,’ a delocalization which I link with the experience of expatriation and exile. Poussin is well known as a contemplative and intellectual painter; his pictorial strategy here contests these Roman spaces in a highly original way.

Session III: Machinations of Power in the Republic, Duchy and Beyond:  Florence.
Chair:  George L. Gorse (Pomona College)
Friday, March 23, 2:00pm – 3:30pm, Grand Hyatt, 5B – Independence Level, Independence D 

Roger J. Crum (University of Dayton), “Art and Freedom in Quattrocento Florence: Contesting Why Florentines Commissioned Art for Contestable Public Spaces”  Frederick Hartt’s “Art and Freedom in Quattrocento Florence” (1964) argued that Florentines punctuated their city with statuary that proclaimed liberty over oppression, embodying a consciousness shaped by World War II and post war politics. Hartt’s work came on the eve of a dramatic shift in both society and scholarship that presented multiple ways to understand cultural productions.  These ranged from feminist inquiry to post-Structuralist analysis, psycho-analytical approaches to reception theory.  Now, in the internet age, our conception of the Renaissance stands to change again.  This paper takes a broad historical, methodological, and even speculative view of art in Florentine public spaces less to explore the phenomenon itself than to reveal the very contested spaces of our minds that have been shaped and continue to be formed by events as diverse as the Nazis marching down the ChampsÉlysées, the massacre at Kent State, and the so-called “Arab Spring” from Tahrir Square.

Felicia M. Else (Gettysburg College), “The Story of Biancone:  A Contested Block in a Contested Space”  From the start of its long and tortuous history, the Neptune Fountain in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence has been the subject of much contestation.  Scholars know well the competition for the commission between Bartolomeo Ammannati, Benevenuto Cellini and Giambologna.  Centuries of viewers have voiced their disappointment at the resulting blocky colossus, dubbed “Biancone”.  This paper seeks out the origin of this great nickname, looking at the ways this work and others have been described.  As a public fountain commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, the work was an ambitious expression of political power and artistic form, set in one of the most charged civic spaces of the Renaissance.  Drawing on sources from urban legislation to early city guides, I trace the reception of this work from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century and how it reflected the changing fortunes of the city’s history and viewership.

Sarah Blake McHam (Rutgers University), “The Disputed Space of the Casino and Giambologna’s Samson and Philistine”  In the early 1560s Giambologna executed for Francesco I de’ Medici a Samson and Philistine that the commissioner installed as a fountain in the semi-public space of the Garden of Medicinal Plants at his palace known as the Casino di San Marco completed in 1567. At the Casino Francesco performed scientific experiments, supervised workshops in various crafts, and entertained diplomatic visitors. After the simultaneous deaths of Francesco and Bianca Cappello, his longtime paramour and second wife, his brother Ferdinando took over rule, despite the fact that their young son and designated successor still lived and Ferdinando had to renounce being a cardinal. This paper will investigate Ferdinando’s machinations to expunge Francesco’s memory at his favorite palace and in regard to one of his major commissions, the Samson and Philistine, as part of his larger campaign of Bianca and Francesco’s damnatio memoriae.

The Appeal of Sculpture in Renaissance Italy: Collecting, Patronage, Style, and the Role of Touch
Organizer: Joaneath A. Spicer, The Walters Art Museum
Chair, Eleanora Luciano, National Gallery of Art
Saturday, March 24, 10:30am – 12:00pm, Grand Hyatt / 5B – Independence Level, Independence D
New perspectives on the perception of sculpture, especially the small bronze, have been raised in current and recent research projects, publications and exhibitions. This session seeks to draw these together to foster broader insights, including from the fields of literature, psychology, and neuroscience. The representation of the collector and collections, issues inherent to the paragone debates, the differences in sculpture meant to be touched or held and sculpture that was simply to be viewed, how sculpture generates “pleasure”: these are all potential subjects. This proposal is prompted by a fruitful ongoing collaboration at the Walters Art Museum melding the perspectives of an art historian and a neuroscientist in assessing the role of tactility in the appeal of the small bronze in Renaissance Italy. A small exhibition on this subject will be on view at the Walters in Baltimore at the time of the conference, while an exhibition on the sculptor Antico will be at the National Gallery in Washington. The possibility of group visits to both will be offered.

Francesco Freddolini, The Getty Research Institute, “The Lure of Sculpture, the Role of Touch and the Paragone in Sixteenth-Century Portraits”  This paper investigates how the sense of touch played a significant role in the engagement between sitter and sculpture in sixteenth-century Florentine portraits of collectors. In works such as Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man with a Statuette of Venus (Musée du Louvre), or Poppi’s Portrait of Vincenzo Borghini (Staatliche Kunsthalle), sitters are not just holding or showing statuettes, but overtly experiencing sculpture with the sense of touch. I will explore how these portraits pose significant questions concerning gender-related and religious traditions of experiencing sculpture, but also reflect a key issue related to the tactile experience of sculpture within the Paragone debate. Touch was major topos in the Paragone debate, and by culling evidence from theoretical writings and comparing the aforementioned paintings with other works I shall explore how the sense of touch played a crucial role in the emergence of a “visual dispute” on the Paragone in sixteenth-century Florence.

Geraldine A. Johnson, University of Oxford, “Weighing the Evidence: Encounters with Sculpture in Early Modern Italy”  Scholars and curators studying the development of the bronze statuette as a sculptural genre in Early Modern Italy have generally assumed that these objects were meant to be handled—touched, turned, lifted, held, perhaps even caressed—by their original owners. But what is the evidence for this? In fact, the great variety of statuettes cast in bronze in this period, from small works that fit easily in the palm of one’s hand to large, multi-figure groups that cannot be raised with ease even using two strong arms, suggests that such objects were not necessarily all meant to be handled in exactly the same way. By using contemporary descriptions of encounters with precious collectibles and images depicting beholders’ tactile engagements with statuettes, as well as by considering evidence derived from the sculpted objects themselves, this paper seeks to problematize assumptions about how statuettes were actually handled in Italy in this period.

Peter Jonathan Bell, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Role of the Base in Early Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance”  In the quattrocento, the base became a locus of meaning for free­standing sculpture. Already in the first decades of the century, bases are referential sites of authorship as well as identity (della Quercia, Valdambrino). By mid­century, Donatello’s bases (for the David or Judith, for example) are physically intertwined with their figural loads and replete with interpretive significance. Perhaps too frequently overlooked today in favor of the subject proper, bases in the Renaissance were often conceived—and constructed—integrally with the sculpture above. This was the case with one of the great sculptural innovations of the period: the revival of the independent bronze statuette. The base was a site of experimentation and careful consideration for the makers of the first bronze statuettes, sculptures designed to be manipulated. I will examine the significance of the base in early bronzetti, from Filarete to Pollaiuolo to Antico, with special attention to its mediating role between the object and its viewer/handler.

Joaneath A. Spicer, The Walters Art Museum, “Tactility and the Appeal of the Small Bronze in Renaissance Italy”  A collaborative project with a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins who works on touch has prompted the writer to reexamine the temporal and cultural contingencies surrounding the discussed (but untested) perceived tactility of the small statuette in the Italian Renaissance, especially in regards the concurrent development of the female nude as a subject. This will be considered in the context 1) of practical experiments with replicas to tease out distinctions between sensation and its interpretation, 2) differences in the enjoyment of statuettes in bronze versus other materials; and 3) the wider context of shifts in the character, availability, and role of high-value “collectibles” by the early 1500s.

The full RSA 2012 program is available here.

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