Research in progress in Early Modern Art History

Date: 18th November 2010

Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre

Research papers in honour of Professor John Paoletti, following the Margaret Manion lecture on 17th November ‘Clothing Michelangelo’s David: History, Iconography, Context’ (6:30pm) – Full lecture details here.



Dale Kent, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne

‘La cara e buona imagine paterna di voi’: ideal images of patriarchs and patrons as models for the right ordering of Renaissance Florence’

Paternal, filial and civic duties were closely related in Renaissance Florence, and their imperatives derived ultimately from the example of the Divine Father and his decrees. This paper explores a key theme of the first chapter of my forthcoming book, “Fathers and Friends: Patronage and Patriarchy in Renaissance Florence.” It will focus on the major fifteenth century Florentine representations of the chief scriptural meditation on fathers and sons, The Sacrifice of Isaac, which include the bronze reliefs depicting this subject designed by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi for the 1401 competition for the commission of the Baptistery doors, Ghiberti’s eventual panel for the doors, completed in 1452, and the 1449 play, Abraham and Isaac by Feo Belcari.


Diana Hiller, Ph D candidate, Art History Program, University of Melbourne

‘From corporate logos to the sponsa Christi: Self reference, Self projection and perceptions of Florentine Last Supper frescoes’

The fifteenth-century viewers of the Florentine Last Supper frescoes were male and female religious dining in their communal refectories. Their responses to the images were influenced by the intellectual, cultural, spiritual and emotional contexts that they brought to the perceptual process. However, these contexts were also affected by the meta-construct of gender. The specific focus of this paper is the relative salience of concepts of the group and the individual to the brothers and sisters viewing the apostles depicted in the frescoes. Concepts surrounding the notion of brotherhood among the male orders and gendered significances of Holy Thursday rituals are related to perceptions of the apostles as a fraternity that reflected the communal lives of male religious modelled on the vita apostolica. In contrast, for female religious notions of corporate modelling were all but irrelevant, and the individual figures of the apostles provided compelling images for a more personal religious response – in particular the figure of John as the sponsa Christi.


Nicholas Eckstein, University of Sydney

‘Thresholds of Vision in Renaissance Florence: Felice Brancacci as Cultural Bricoleur’

Using the metaphor of the handy-man, or bricoleur, by which Claude Lévi-Strauss famously characterised the inhabitants of so-called ‘traditional’ cultures, this paper investigates habits of vision and perception by which Florentines of the early Quattrocento perceived and ordered their universe. The analysis begins with a travel diary that Felice Brancacci, the patron of his family’s famous chapel, compiled while on an embassy for his city in Egypt in 1422. Felice’s confronting encounter with a world beyond his ken throws into relief a mode of perception that Florentines employed as a matter of course in their everyday lives at home. The paper repatriates this process to the interior of Santa Maria del Carmine – where Masolino and Masaccio were to begin painting their celebrated frescoes in 1425 – and attempts to look through Florentine eyes, with a contemporary sensibility, at the images themselves.

Lunch 1-2 pm


Mark D. Shepheard, PhD candidate, Art History Program, University of Melbourne

Renaissance Musician Portraits: Painting a profession in sixteenth-century Italy’

Musician portraits—that is, portraits in which the sitter is explicitly defined as a professional performer and/or composer—are rare until the second half of the sixteenth century. This paper will explore the representation of musicians in Renaissance Italy and the extent to which portraiture was used as a means of negotiating professional and social status.


Victoria Hammond, Ph D. candidate, Art History Program, University of Melbourne

‘Solemn productions and celestial pavilions: the fictive domes of Antonio Galli Bibiena’

Bibiena’s unparalleled development of interiors featuring fictive domes – from the 2D illusionism of quadratura to the scenographic presentation of multiple architectural vistas in-the-round – is discussed with reference to the real domes of Borromini, Guarini and Vittone.

3-3.30 Afternoon Tea


Catherine Kovesi, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne

‘Michelangelo’s other David? Baccio Valori and the Florentine Republic’

In the 1530s Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt a statue for the powerful Florentine Baccio Valori. Unfortunately left incomplete, the identity of the resulting statue has been contested, with some arguing it is a figure of Apollo whilst others that it is a David. Although the Valori family were amongst the most erudite patrons of neoplatonism in the city, and therefore an Apollo would not be out place in their artistic patronage, it is, however, far more convincing to see this statue as a David and as forming part of the family’s careful, targeted, patronage of works of art to forward the intertwined socio-political, religious, and other strategic goals of the family.


Shane Carmody, State Library of Victoria

‘The Naked Saint: J. Edgar Boehm’s St George and the Dragon’

Sir J. Edgar Boehm’s St George and the Dragon on the forecourt of the State Library of Victoria is the only nineteenth century male nude sculpture in Melbourne. Purchased in 1888 from the British Art Exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition, it is a unique cast with an iconography that can be traced to the purchase by the British Government in 1816 of the Elgin Marbles. Like the artist who made it, the story of the sculpture has faded from memory but Boehm’s sculpture was made at a critical point in his career and at a time of change for the Royal Academy of Arts and for British sculpture

4.30-5 pm Discussion and closing words, John Paoletti.