Friday, 8 February 2013

Approaches to Florentine Painting in the Early Quattrocento.

Masaccio, Madonna and Child, 1426, Egg tempera on poplar, 136 x 73 cm, National Gallery, London.
There have probably been more books written about the period that is known as the quattrocento (the 1400s, the fifteenth-century) than any other period in the renaissance. In addition to the general surveys, monographs, exhibition catalogues, patronage studies, there have been attempts to re-capture the viewing experience of both painters and patrons in quattrocento Florence. Concepts like Michael Baxandall’s “period eye” have aided understanding of the pictures in their social and religious contexts. However, one of the most important (and controversial) studies was Frederick Antal’s analysis of social institutions and artistic style, his magnum opus published in 1948.[1] Antal’s study diligently probed the links between the social hierarchy in Florence, and the evolution of its art during the time of Giotto, Masaccio and beyond. Forced into exile by the Nazis, and befriended by art historians like Anthony Blunt, Antal had time and leisure to formulate his Marxist theories in respect of Florentine art. Standing in front of two Madonnas by Masaccio and Gentile di Fabriano in the National Gallery, London, Antal pondered what was to be become the founding question to his book. Why were these two pictures, painted only a year apart from each other, and in the same town, so radically different in style? More importantly, what answer could Art History give to this fundamental question?[2] Using Antal as a framework, that question will be addressed in this session.

Gentile di Fabriano, Quaratesi Polyptych: Virgin and Child, 1425, Egg tempera on poplar, 140 x 83 cm, National Gallery, London.

[1] Frederick Antal, Florentine Painting and its Social Background: The Bourgeois Republic before Cosimo de Medici’s Advent to Power: XIV and Early XV Centuries, (New York, 1948.
[2] Antal, Florentine Painting and its Social Background,  2.

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