Prolegomenon to the study of Italian Renaissance prints


Because generally Italian Renaissance art was intellectually dependent on textual authority, it has been possible to study it extensively by referring to the valued literary sources of the day. Whenever the subject was religious, deviancy might have constituted heresy and had therefore to be avoided.1 Even when the didactic element was more nearly in the realm of ethics than theology, often paintings and sculptures implicitly paid homage to authoritative books or authors. The prestige of images, at least until the peak of the High Renaissance, was less than that of words; correspondingly, the glory of artists was usually less than that of writers and editors. Because of this reliance on respected texts, fifteenth-century criticisms of works of art almost always pertain to style; it is only in the sixteenth century, when we presume that stylistic discretion began to be an issue, that decisions about content (or, in Renaissance terms, invention, a term which allows for some overlap with style) attract negative comments; for instance, when Michelangelo chose to represent the Virgin of the Vatican Pietà as youthful.


Art and Art History

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Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry


Taylor and Francis

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Copyright 1995 Taylor and Francis