Painting and Response in Sixteenth-Century Venice
Subproject of "Art, Agency, and Living Presence in Early Modern Italy".
In sixteenth-century Venice, people often wrote ofcontemporary paintings that they moved or even spoke, and that they were so lifelike, so vivid, that nothing was missing other than their breath. In his Dialogo della Pittura (1557), for example, Lodovico Dolce praises Titian for his ability to invest his paintings with life. In many of his letters, Pietro Aretino evokes Titian’s lively paintings with a language that is almost as vivid as the paintings themselves. Most scholars, however, dismiss these kinds of responses as merely conventional and thus meaningless. In my research, on the other hand, I am trying to take these writings seriously and to find out how we can understand them. I aim to do this by confronting them with records of Venetian people in this period taking paintings on a tour around the city, kissing them, revering them or praying in front of them for the health of the portrayed persons. In fact, such records seem to point out that people treated paintings as if they actually were the persons they represented. By comparing these sources with the more conventional and ‘educated’ ones, mentioned above, by an inquiry into the contacts between painters and writers that lay at the basis of such responses, and, in addition, by an investigation of the paintings that prompted these writings, I aim to achieve a broader understanding of these different kinds of responses to sixteenth-century Venetian painting.