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36ème Congrès du CIHA - Lyon 2024

Parrainé par le Ministère de la Culture,
le Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche,
le Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères

Painting the Materials, Imitating the Techniques. A Dialogue between Mediums in Early Modern Art

Roxanne Loos 1, Valentina Hristova 2
Université Catholique De Louvain - Louvain-La-Neuve (Belgium), 2Humboldt Universität Zu Berlin - Berlin (Germany)

Sujet en anglais / Topic in english

How can we comprehend the trend for simulating materials in European painting between the 15th and 17th centuries? Was it simply a demonstration of technical virtuosity underscoring the superiority of pictorial practice over the other arts? These issues are worth revisiting in light of anthropological approaches and materiality studies regarding the communicative potential of early modern images.

Since Leonardo, debates on the paragone have essentially focused on the confrontation between painting and sculpture. However, Renaissance workshop practice shows that this comparison is far from limited to questions of art hierarchies. Recent scholarship on intermediality (Oy-Marra 2018), matter (Bol, Spray 2023) and colour (Boudon-Machuel, Brock, Charron 2012) has stressed that the quest for mimesis is inseparable from fantasia and a growing preoccupation with the agency of images. Jan van Eyck’s grisailles on the reverse of altarpieces or Fra Angelico’s fictive marbles are just a few examples illustrating the meaningful transpositions of materiality in both Northern and Southern Europe.

Feigned representations of marble, bronze, wood, stucco, mosaic, pietra serena, or tapestry emerge as critical loci for assessing how the skilful imitation of one medium by another could open up new ways for investigating the ability to deceive the eye. Far from incidental, such fictitious incursions usually underlie complex processes of intellectual and sensorial transfers. The choice of the counterfeit medium is also significant. Challenging literature on materiality (Anderson, Dunlop, Smith 2014) and mediality (Kiening, Stercken 2018; Weddigen 2011) points out the need to analyse materials (or techniques) in terms of their physical and visual properties, with specific symbolic connotations. Furthemore, anachronism offers a compelling avenue for further inquiry (Nagel, Wood 2010). The afterlife of Antiquity calls attention to the programmatic way in which the classical past is borrowed to enhance the dynamic interplay between mediums.

Whether motivated by aesthetic, spiritual or ideological objectives, material mimesis contends undoubtedly with a productive tension between the painted surface and realspace. These counterfeit elements often act as thresholds, underpinning the narrative’s construction and regulating its meaning-making process.

This session scrutinizes, therefore, the semantic and symbolic vitality conveyed by the painters’ reflection upon perception and appearance (fragility/solidity, flatness/rilievo, brightness/darkness, preciousness/simplicity) emphasizing the sumptuousness of the artworks at a lower cost.