The Paradox of Painting: Pictures and Practices, Histories and Theories, in Renaissance and Baroque Art, 1500-1700

Lecture, Open—Year

Annibale Carracci’s painting (1597-9) of St. Margaret, an Early Christian martyr, shows the saint pointing upward while looking outward and leaning on an altar inscribed, “Sursum Corda” (Lift Up Your Hearts). An exploration of the multiple meanings and paradoxes of this image, admonition, epigram, and emblem form an introduction to the  basic questions and challenges of this course. How is art to achieve this lifting up? Who or what should be lifted: the artists, the patron, the viewer, the material, the world? Lifting up from what and to what or to whom? Lifting the heart, the head, the mind, the body? Are all the arts and all the subjects of the visual arts supposed to serve this same purpose? Does this admonition pertain to aesthetic, social, and historical issues, as well as to the theological and political? What about the linguistic implications: Can an exalted “classical” language exist side-by-side with a dynamic, naturalistic vernacular? The course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy, the Italian High Renaissance, as it frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects throughout Europe mediated in the following era, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included in the first semester will be studies of major artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian and art styles such as Mannerism; in the second semester, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Poussin and the style of Classicism, among others.  First-semester group conferences focus on the challenges posed by the career of Michelangelo; second semester, on the issues in art and architecture posed by the career of Bernini.