Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
September 3, 2014
Pamela Jones Reflections on Early Modern Southern European Art Re-Views: Field Editors’ Reflections, College Art Association.

Re-Views: Field Editors’ Reflections

What a long way has come in fifteen years. The journal has published nearly twenty-four hundred reviews since 1998, more than four hundred of them in the broad category known as Renaissance/Baroque Art, which includes the more specific designation Early Modern Southern European Art, among others. One great achievement of is that it records the changing ways in which scholars approach their fields. The second installment of “Re-Views: Field Editors’ Reflections” is “Reflections on Early Modern Southern European Art” by Pamela M. Jones (University of Massachusetts Boston), and it follows upon “Reflections on Photography” by Tanya Sheehan (Colby College), published last fall (click here for review). It was the previous editor-in-chief, Sheryl E. Reiss, who commissioned Jones’s study, and who, herself a specialist in this area, noted the richness of the recent scholarship, which has turned inward toward issues of denotation and pedagogy and ventured outward toward exchanges with other arts, sciences, and cultures. When Jones here writes of the “impressive amount of new archival work being undertaken, and the stimulating, multilayered interpretations being offered,” it is news to celebrate. Thank you, Professor Jones, and enjoy!

David Raskin, Editor-in-Chief,


In the slightly more than three years that I have served as field editor for Early Modern Southern European Art, the College Art Association (CAA) has received nearly three hundred books in early modern art. I share coverage of this area with field editors for Northern European Art, Early Modern Iberian and Colonial Latin America Art, and Architecture Pre-1800. In addition, other members of the Council of Field Editors commission reviews of exhibitions on early modern art. During my tenure, approximately sixty books and exhibitions in Early Modern Southern European Art have been assigned to reviewers, more than forty of them by myself. (Some of these reviews are still in progress. I did not commission reviews of any of the exhibitions examined in this essay.)

What’s in a Name? Reassessing Periodization

What to call the field under my charge is a problematic issue. During the period under discussion, CAA’s administrative site used by field editors to commission reviews has called the category “Renaissance/Baroque Art,” while the official area over which I preside as field editor is designated, by contrast, “Early Modern Southern European Art.” For all intents and purposes this corresponds to art in Italy (given that other field editors cover Spain and France, and CAA receives virtually no books on early modern art in other southern European areas, such as Greece). Indicative of shifts in the discipline to be discussed below is CAA’s soon-to-be implemented revision of its administrative categories, so that my field—Early Modern Southern European Art—will fall under the more neutral category of “Fourteenth- to Seventeenth-Century Art.”

Nomenclature has also undergone questioning and revision in the scholarship treated in On the broadest level, different approaches to naming are witnessed by the titles of important book series and their descriptions as found on publishers’ websites. For example, Ashgate describes its series this way: “A forum for the critical inquiry of the visual arts in the early modern world, Visual Culture in Early Modernity promotes new models of inquiry and new narratives of early modern art and its history.” Cambridge University Press’s series Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance is described as “a revisionist history of the arts produced in Italy during the early modern period, from 1300 to 1600.” Presumably this sort of naming is not unrelated to the presses’ perceptions of marketability; the decision of a publisher to place the time-honored word “Renaissance” on the cover and “early modern” inside might seem to cover all the bases. Yet this varied nomenclature reflects more than market-driven forces: it also bespeaks critical trends in the field.

Turning to individual books reviewed in the last three years, much self-conscious critical attention has been paid to periodization. However, because this reflection has not extended to the increasingly employed designation “early modern” and the range of centuries it should be understood as embracing, here I will use “early modern Italian art” for convenience rather than providing a range of dates. (On the problematic term, see Heather Dubrow and Frances E. Dolan, “The Term Early Modern,” PMLA 109, no. 2 (1994): 1025–27.) By contrast, “High Renaissance,” “Mannerism,” and “Baroque” have been subjected to penetrating analysis. A salient example is Jill Burke’s Rethinking the High Renaissance: The Culture of the Visual Arts in Early Sixteenth-Century Rome (click here for review). Contributors to this volume reconsider the “High Renaissance,” a term invented by nineteenth-century scholars; the name is thus “the product of historiography only loosely related to the historical period in question,” in reviewer Kim Butler Wingfield’s words. By questioning, for example, the deeply entrenched idea of Michelangelo’s unsurpassed superiority and by analyzing artists’ varied uses and attitudes toward Rome’s ancient past, Burke’s volume deconstructs long-familiar myths about the early sixteenth century.

In The Controversy of Renaissance Art (click here for review), Alexander Nagel’s rethinking of the era in light of what reviewer Lisa Pon describes as “the tensions between a fully aestheticized ‘work of art’ and a religious icon defined by cult value” leads him to jettison both the terms “High Renaissance” and “Mannerism.” As quoted by Pon, Nagel himself states that he “disregards the High Renaissance/Mannerism distinction, presenting instead the first half of the sixteenth century as an experimental period in the spheres of both art and of religion . . . a period of controversy” (The Controversy of Renaissance Art, 2).

Helen Hills’s edited volume Rethinking the Baroque (click here for review) takes a different approach than Burke’s similarly titled volume on the High Renaissance. In essays that address style, historiography, and the philosophy of history, contributors examine the tensions between the usefulness of the long-controversial term “Baroque” as the designation of a specific historical period and as applied as a concept (“baroque”). Much discussion develops out of an engagement with the ideas of twentieth-century critics such as Henri Focillon, Walter Benjamin, and especially Gilles Deleuze. As reviewer Jesse Locker notes, “the Deleuzian fold—like the baroque itself—resists linear narrative and causality, showing instead decenteredness, instability, and a tension between being and becoming, between concealing and revealing, and between dissolution and unity.” This understanding of “baroque” is neither limited to the seventeenth century nor to Europe. Toward the end of the review, Locker reflects, “If this volume has succeeded in recovering the concept of the baroque from the margins of art history, how and when can it be used? What would it now mean to teach a class on baroque art?”

The question of how scholars’ widespread concerns with periodization and its terminology will impact students of “Renaissance,” “High Renaissance,” “Mannerist,” “Baroque,” and “early modern” art remains to be seen. Will these terms continue to be used, but with more self-conscious historiographical contextualization, or redefined, or even substituted by other nomenclature?

Italian Art and the World Beyond Europe

A different kind of reevaluation and decentering is offered by studies that integrate early modern Italian art into an analysis of geographical regions beyond Europe. Here, too, naming is an important issue, and it centers largely on what to call the encounter of Italians with non-Europeans, and what the peoples involved called each other; what art produced during such exchanges should be called is not a focus of the studies under discussion. (On the loaded term “hybridity,” which has often been applied to such art, see Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn, “Hybridity and Its Discontents: Considering Visual Culture in Colonial Spanish America,” Colonial Latin American Review 12, no. 1 (2003): 5–35.) Ashgate’s series called Transculturalisms, 1400–1700 uses a term coined by Jeff Lewis in 2002 as an advance on Richard Johnson’s “culturalism” (Jeff Lewis, “From Culturalism to Transculturalism,” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 1 [Spring 2002]: 14–32). Concerned with relative positions of power and the making of meaning in cultural interactions, “transculturalism,” in Lewis’s words, “is as interested in dissonance, tension, and instability as it is with the stabilizing effects of social conjunction, communalism, and organization” (24). Although Lewis was primarily concerned with contemporary culture, he explained, “Transculturalism locates relationships of power in terms of language and history” (25). On the publisher’s website Mihoko Suzuki, Ann Rosalind Jones, and Jyotsna Singh, Ashgate’s series editors, write, “We encourage authors to reflect on their own methodologies in relation to issues and theories relevant to the study of transculturism/translation and transnationalism.”

James G. Harper’s edited volume The Turk and Islam in the Western Eye, 1450–1750: Visual Imagery before Orientalism (click here for review), which appeared in the Transculturalisms series, consists primarily of essays that treat early modern Western encounters with and depictions of the Ottoman Turks, with one essay taking up the opposite viewpoint. Harper eschews Edward Said’s term “Orientalism” (from the eponymous book of 1978) and writes that by using instead the phrase “‘before Orientalism’ in the title, this book asserts that the conditions of the East-West encounter in the early modern period were fundamentally different from those of the modern period proper” (2). In this volume Venice, by far the best-studied area in the previous scholarship, receives special, but not exclusive, emphasis. While a number of contributors demonstrate that many Europeans named all Muslims “Turks,” Baki Tezcan shows that the Ottomans referred to all Europeans as “Franks.” Reviewer Helen Walberg writes, “The strongest of the essays in this volume acknowledge the polyvalent, even confused response European artists displayed toward their Muslim foes, rather than adopting the religious ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance that many Ottomans accepted as a status quo.”

In Printing a Mediterranean World: Florence, Constantinople, and the Renaissance of Geography (click here for review), Sean Roberts embeds the phrase “the Mediterranean World” within his cartographic topic. Roberts explores cultural exchanges between Italy and the Ottoman Empire by investigating editions of the Geographia, a geographic compendium produced in Florence that reached Constantinople. Reviewer Palmira Brummett observes that Roberts considers “both the nature of exchange and the enduring frameworks of cross-cultural suspicion or hatred.”

These books expand upon a growing body of art-historical studies examining the interaction of Italians with the Ottoman Turks; book-length studies of encounters with other Muslim peoples, such as Persians, for instance, are still lacking. Reflection on the use of terms by which to convey the nature of the interaction of Italians with other cultural groups—transculturalism, transregionalism, globalism, etc.—will continue to develop as more case studies appear.

The Italian Renaissance Survey Textbook

Before moving on to a wealth of new specialist scholarship, I would like to discuss a textbook review that helps put specialized studies in perspective by addressing how chronological coverage, emphasis, and method have been treated in Renaissance surveys from 1976 to 2011. The publication in 2011 of Stephen J. Campbell and Michael W. Cole’s Italian Renaissance Art (click here for review) provided me with the opportunity to commission a textbook review to assess it and two other survey books that offer alternative ways of introducing students to the field. Although nothing comparable has been published at this time on Italian art of the seventeenth century, the kinds of trends seen and questions raised in Renaissance surveys are indicative of overall shifts in the early modern field as a whole.

The earliest of the three surveys reviewed by Barnaby Nygren is Frederick Hartt’s History of Italian Renaissance Art (first edition 1976), which covers the 1200s to the late 1500s; it was placed under the aegis of David G. Wilkins in 1994. Nygren cites Wilkins’s own criticism of the model he inherited: “As Wilkins frankly admits in reference to both Hartt’s original text and his own editions, ‘Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, Hartt’s model, was organized as a chronological series of biographies . . . [and] Hartt also chose to discuss each artist independently. . . . Such a biographical emphasis often ignores the broader social and historical context within which these works were created’” (8). In following Vasari, moreover, the Hartt-Wilkins survey also privileges Tuscan art.

John Paoletti and Gary Radke’s Art in Renaissance Italy (first edition 1997) treats roughly the same chronology, but expands beyond Vasari’s canon by placing more emphasis on such artistic centers as Milan and Naples. Paoletti and Radke also frame their book according to a different model. As Nygren writes, “their text is explicitly anti-biographical, declaring such a methodology to be inadequate to the key goal of producing a contextual and historical understanding of the artworks in question.” Instead, Paoletti and Radke organize their book according to the cities in which artists worked and around the individual and institutional patrons whose purposes their art served.

Campbell and Cole’s approach differs from both popular precedents in restricting discussion primarily to the years 1400 to 1600, and in dividing the two hundred-year period into decades, each of which corresponds to a thematic chapter that considers a variety of works, artists, traditions, and artistic centers. Such thematic chapters include, for example, “1430–1440: Pictorial Techniques and the Uses of Drawing,” “1470–1480: What Is Naturalism?” “1540–1550: Literate Art,” and “1570–1580: Art, the People, and the Counter-Reformation Church.” Their contextualization is less political and historical, while more rooted in Renaissance literary culture than that of Paoletti and Radke. Above all, Nygren writes, “Campbell and Cole’s approach to the material as a whole responds to trends in recent scholarship by decentering the Renaissance and encouraging the reader to consider a variety of broader trends and themes in Renaissance art and culture, not limiting them to one city, one interpretation, or one manifestation.”

Patricia Emison’s The Italian Renaissance and Cultural Memory (click here for review) is also a thematic study, which, in reviewer Giancarla Periti’s words, “seems intended to serve as a companion to general textbooks covering the art of the Renaissance.” Emison takes a nonlinear approach to a discussion of famous works, such as the Mona Lisa, and broad questions, such as “Why Did the High Renaissance Happen,” the title of chapter 6.

A Diversity of Topics and Methods in the New Scholarship

During my tenure as field editor, scholars have pursued a wide variety of topics incorporating a range of methods. Most of these specialist books and exhibitions under review fall into discernible groups. Some of them focus on specific artistic centers, others on individual artists, others on patronage and collecting, still others on optics and theories of vision. Alternative groupings could have been formulated, and I occasionally suggest below overlaps among the groups I have devised. Rather than being intended as hard-and-fast categories, my rubrics are intended to facilitate the digestibility of this large, stimulating body of new work. (I did not assign reviews of the books by the following authors: Barbara Wisch and Nerida Newbigin, Andrew Hopkins, Anthony Colantuono, Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Lorenzo Pericolo, and Stephanie C. Leone.)

Artistic Centers

One noteworthy feature is a focus on cities long recognized as leading artistic and cultural centers, especially Siena in the trecento, Florence and Venice in the quattrocento and cinquecento, and Rome in the cinquecento and seicento. The books discussed in this section, despite employing different methods, share a rootedness in the cultural contexts and urban fabrics of particular cities.

The Tuscan centers of Siena and, especially, Florence received considerable emphasis. The volume of essays Art as Politics in Late Medieval and Renaissance Siena (click here for review), edited by Timothy B. Smith and Judith B. Steinhoff, is in reviewer Sharon Dale’s words “a wide-ranging attempt to identify several Sienese artistic commissions and individual motifs as politically meaningful.” Reviewer Amy R. Bloch praises contributors to Francis Ames-Lewis’s Renaissance Florence (click here for review) (in Cambridge’s previously mentioned series Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance) for engaging with “methodologies employed in recent decades that encompass ever-broadening artistic, intellectual, cultural, political, social, and religious contexts.” In addition, Florentine religious culture is the focus of two studies that bring together analysis of patronage, art, architecture, and spirituality in Benedictine and Dominican houses, respectively: Anne Leader’s The Badia of Florence: Art and Observance in a Renaissance Monastery (click here for review), reviewed by Shelley E. Zuraw, and Sally J. Cornelison’s Art and the Relic Cult of St. Antoninus in Renaissance Florence (click here for review), reviewed by Laura Fenelli.

Three noteworthy books treat the city of Rome from entirely different perspectives. Kathleen Wren Christian’s Empire Without End: Antiquities Collections in Rome, c. 1350–1572 (click here for review) documents and analyzes such collections in chapters that consider “Rome’s imperium—how it was expressed by its ancient ruins and fragments and who could possess it during the Renaissance,” as noted by reviewer Katherine Bentz. Acting on Faith: The Confraternity of the Gonfalone in Renaissance Rome (click here for review) by Barbara Wisch and Nerida Newbigin centers on the city’s largest and most prestigious lay brotherhood in the Renaissance. In reviewer Suzanne Scanlan’s words, “Wisch and Newbigin bring the spectacular public ceremonies, liturgical devotions, and broad charitable initiatives of the community vividly to life” in an analysis of the confraternity’s visual and material culture. In “When All of Rome Was Under Construction”: The Building Process in Baroque Rome (click here for review), Dorothy Metzger Habel focuses on architectural and urban history. Reviewer Stephanie C. Leone writes, “In shifting attention from results to process, Habel succeeds in moving current scholarship from formal analysis and symbolic meaning to social, political, and economic history.”

Scholars generally agree that Venice experienced two artistic apogees in the early modern era, those of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. But Andrew Hopkins’s Baldassare Longhena and Venetian Baroque Architecture (click here for review), the first English-language book on the architect, centers on the city’s architecture during the seicento, helping redress an imbalance in the Anglophone scholarship. As reviewer Johanna D. Heinrichs notes, Hopkins argues “that Longhena’s spatial, sculptural, and scenographic sensibility secures his importance as a Baroque designer.”

Studies of Individual Artists and Groups of Artists

Many books and exhibitions on individual artists, especially leading figures that have already been the subject of intensive study, were reviewed in the past three years. These recent volumes, too numerous to be discussed individually, provide important new perspectives on the artists and their milieus. For artists of the trecento through the cinquecento, see the books on Giotto (Francesco Benelli, reviewed by Mark Sandona [click here for review]), Signorelli (Tom Henry, reviewed by Jean K. Cadogan [click here for review]), Michelangelo (Michael Hirst, Deborah Parker, reviewed together by Joost Keizer [click here for review]), Raphael (Christian K. Kleinbub, reviewed by Jonathan Unglaub [click here for review]), and Titian (Anthony Colantuono, reviewed by Fern Luskin [click here for review]). In addition, the exhibition on Piero della Francesca at the Frick Collection, curated by Nathaniel Silver, was reviewed by Charlotte Nichols (click here for review). The exhibition Federico Barocci: Renaissance Master of Color and Line, curated by Judith W. Mann and Babette Bohn, had two venues. Jeffrey M. Fontana reviewed the installation in the St. Louis Art Museum (click here for review), and Andrea Bayer the installation in the National Gallery, London (click here for review).

Recent work on individual seicento artists has focused above all on Caravaggio and Bernini. Studies of Caravaggio include books by Sybille Ebert-Schifferer (reviewed by Daniel M. Unger [click here for review]) and Lorenzo Pericolo (reviewed by Eva Struhal [click here for review]) along with exhibitions curated by David Franklin and Sebastian Schütze (reviewed by Frances Gage [click here for review]) and J. Patrice Marandel (reviewed by Catherine Puglisi [click here for review]). Books devoted to Bernini were published by Irving Lavin (reviewed by Franco Mormando [click here for review]), Sarah McPhee (reviewed by Eve Straussman-Pflanzer [click here for review]), and Genevieve Warwick (reviewed by Matthew Knox Averett [click here for review]). The exhibition entitled Bernini: Sculpting in Clay, curated by C. D. Dickerson III, Anthony Sigel, and Ian Wardropper, was reviewed by both Michäel Amy (click here for review) and Denise Pelletier (click here for review). None of these studies of individual early modern artists is a traditional catalogue raisonné; instead, they focus on issues of style, materiality, iconography, social history, visuality, aesthetic sensibilities, and literary culture.

This diversity of methods used is exemplified, for example, in the three books on Bernini. In Bernini at Saint Peter’s: The Pilgrimage, Lavin examines the works of art in situ with attention to their meaning. Reviewer Mormando praises Lavin’s “thoroughly illuminating, nuanced explication of the works,” while noting his “predilection for official sources” and his emphasis on “properly orthodox and pro-papal” responses to Bernini’s art. Warwick’s Bernini: Art as Theatre is concerned with viewer response of a quite different kind. As reviewer Knox Averett notes, Warwick writes about Bernini’s works as events, demonstrating “‘that his audiences viewed art’s illusions as a form of cultural play similar to those of theater’s scenographies’” (17). By contrast, McPhee’s Bernini’s Beloved: A Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini brings to life the artist’s mistress and his marble bust of her. Reviewer Staussman-Pflanzer writes of McPhee’s book, “This significant contribution to Italian art history, social history, and gender studies offers a portal into the machinations and patronage of art, particularly sculpture, in early modern Rome by way of painstakingly unearthed documents.”

Far fewer studies devoted to groups of artists were reviewed in the past three years, and they all center on the decades from roughly 1550 to 1610. Samuel Vitali’s Romulus in Bologna: Die Fresken der Caracci im Palazzo Magnani (click here for review), reviewed by Dickerson, is a detailed study of Ludovico, Agostino, and Annibale Carracci’s frescoes at Palazzo Magnani in Bologna. In Ambitious Form: Giambologna, Ammanati, and Danti in Florence (click here for review), Michael W. Cole provides a close analysis of the sculptors’ artistic goals. In terms of method, reviewer Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio writes that Cole argues “for the continued value of symbolic anthropology, new historicism, and microhistory.”

In The Sacred Image in the Age of Art: Titian, Tintoretto, Barocci, El Greco, Caravaggio (click here for review), Marcia B. Hall explores questions also of interest to Nagel (see above). Reviewer Una D’Elia notes that Hall examines “a question of signal importance, namely, the status of the sacred image in relation to naturalism and to the increasingly self-conscious artistry of the Renaissance.” Mormando reviewed Hall and Tracy E. Cooper’s book of essays The Sensuous in the Counter-Reformation (click here for review), which is framed thematically rather than by artist, and is likewise concerned with Catholic art of the late cinquecento and seicento.

Artists’ Materials and Individual Media

Relatively few—but noteworthy—studies were devoted to these topics during the past three years. The Materiality of Color: The Production, Circulation, and Application of Dyes and Pigments, 1400–1800 (click here for review) is a volume of essays edited by Andrea Feeser, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Beth Fowkes Tobin. As reviewer Hall indicates, this study treats artists’ materials in a global perspective. Another important contribution is the abovementioned exhibition Bernini: Sculpting in Clay, in which the production of terra-cotta bozzetti (preparatory sketch models) by Bernini and his workshop and their roles in the creative process receive detailed and sensitive analysis. Also focused on individual media are Beatrice Strozzi and Marc Bormand’s exhibition The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence (click here for review), reviewed by Anne Leader, and Sharon Gregory’s Vasari and the Renaissance Print (click here for review), reviewed by Elizabeth Pilliod, which discusses both Vasari’s history of prints and his use of them.

Patronage and Collecting

New studies of patronage and collecting that intersect with women’s studies, socio-religious history, and antiquarianism illuminate previously little-studied figures. To begin with the Renaissance, in the past few decades, such studies as Sheryl E. Reiss and David G. Wilkins’s collection of essays Beyond Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance Italy (click here for review) and a series of essays by Carolyn Valone on women patrons in Rome have opened up additional areas for investigation by considering women other than Isabella d’Este. (See, for example, Valone’s “Matrons and Motives: Why Women Built in Early Modern Rome,” in Reiss and Wilkins, eds., Beyond Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance Italy, Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2001, 317–30; and her “Women on the Quirinal Hill: Patronage in Rome, 1500–1630,” The Art Bulletin 76, no. 1 (1994): 129–46.) To turn to a book reviewed in 2013, Sally Anne Hickson’s Women, Art and Architectural Patronage in Renaissance Mantua: Matrons, Mystics and Monasteries (click here for review), as noted by reviewer Molly Bourne, “focuses on Isabella’s still-unexplored religious patronage” and presents “a refreshingly original picture of how partnerships between Mantua’s secular women and nuns defined spiritual values while contributing to the city’s built and visual environment during the early years of the Catholic Reformation.”

Moving on to the Baroque, perhaps more than any other single book, Francis Haskell’s pioneering Patrons and Painters: Art and Society in Baroque Italy of 1963 (New York: Alfred N. Knopf) gave impetus to widespread interest in seicento patronage, especially in Rome. Two books on seventeenth-century cardinals are indicative of the recent focus on interpretative studies of individual patrons based on archival research. Lisa Beaven’s An Ardent Patron: Cardinal Camillo Massimo and His Antiquarian and Artistic Circle: Giovanni Pietro Bellori, Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Diego Velázquez (click here for review) considers the cultural and political contexts of Massimo’s patronage in both Rome and Madrid. Reviewer Vernon Hyde Minor commends its broad scope. Stephanie C. Leone’s volume of essays, The Pamphilj and the Arts: Patronage and Consumption in Baroque Rome (click here for review), reviewed by Kimberly L. Dennis, provides a panoramic view of the patronage of the visual arts and music on the part of Cardinal Benedetto and his family.

Renata Ago’s Gusto for Things: A History of Objects in Seventeenth-Century Rome (click here for review), like Haskell’s book, is a study of taste (“gusto”), but from a different viewpoint. As Beaven remarks in her review, “At the heart of the book lies the desire to uncover the quality of this ‘gusto’ by tracing the emotional ties between people and their possessions.” The possessions that Ago discusses are not merely works of art, but also “goods” such as foodstuffs, porcelain, and clothing. Nor are the possessors of these objects Haskell’s aristocrats; instead, based on the study of inventories, Ago focuses on Romans of the middle classes.

These studies complement previously mentioned books. For example, Hickson’s examination of secular and religious patronage in cinquecento Mantua, along with the studies by Colantuono, Leader, and Cornelison, offer much food for thought. In addition, Beaven’s exploration of seicento antiquarianism might profitably be reflected on in light of Christian’s analysis of earlier antiquities collections in Rome. And together, Beaven’s and Ago’s works provide a panoramic view of Roman taste of the seventeenth century.

Optics, Vision, and the Visionary

Three books focusing on the faculty of sight examine its physical and metaphysical dimensions as articulated in Renaissance art and culture, primarily—but not solely—in an Italian context. The broadest in scope is John Shannon Hendrix and Charles H. Carman’s volume of essays Renaissance Theories of Vision (click here for review). The editors begin by asking, “‘How are the processes of vision, perception, and sensation conceived in the Renaissance, and how are those conceptions manifest in the arts?’” (1) as quoted by reviewer Fredrika Jacobs. She writes that the contributors “tackle topics that reflect evolving ideas about optics and mathematics rooted in Graeco-Arabic investigations through considerations of their effect on artistic practice and verbalized notions (poetic as well as theoretical) of seeing throughout Europe.” The chronology covered extends from roughly 1440 to 1680, from the time of the development of Albertian linear perspective to George Berkeley’s notion of opticality as “‘the sense of sight, and the imagined sense of touch’”(187), in contributor Alice Crawford Berghof’s words.

Mary Quinlan-McGrath’s Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance (click here for review) is, in reviewer Charles Carman’s words, a detailed examination of “how the emanation of divine light connects the world to the creator, and how the science of light, optics, and most importantly vision is a source for understanding God and his creation.” This explains a continued belief in astrology during the Renaissance. Quinlan-McGrath provides extensive analysis of major astrological painting cycles, such those in the Villa Farnesina and the Vatican Library.

Christian K. Kleinbub, a contributor to Hendrix and Carman’s volume, also serves as interlocutor in this discourse in his previously mentioned book Vision and the Visionary in Raphael (click here for review). As reviewer Unglaub notes, Kleinbub “argues for the profound religious functionality of the most stylistically sophisticated devotional artworks after 1500.” In his study of Raphael, Kleinbub argues that a successful devotional painting depended not merely on its artistry but on “promoting a shift from corporeal to incorporeal vision” (4).

Early Modern Italian Art and Literary Culture

Sarah Blake McHam’s Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance: The Legacy of the “Natural History” (click here for review) and Kristin Phillips-Court’s The Perfect Genre: Drama and Painting in Renaissance Italy (click here for review) are major contributions to this topic. It is well known that Pliny’s text—especially books 33–37—was widely influential in Italy during the early modern era. Reviewer Melinda Schlitt writes, “What is original and important about Sarah Blake McHam’s sumptuously produced book—in both ambition and breadth—is her dedication to examining the impact, assimilation, imitation, and reception of the Natural History within the artistic culture (literary and visual) of the Italian Renaissance as a whole, beginning with Petrarch through the end of the sixteenth century.” Schlitt underscores the broad implications of McHam’s book for future studies of the Renaissance (and I would add for the seventeenth century as well) by indicating that it proposes an examination of “how they [artists, writers, and patrons] were reading Pliny and a myriad of other texts, and what they were doing with them in shaping their own modern culture.”

In her study of late quattrocento and cinquecento drama and art, Phillips-Court, a scholar of Italian language and literature, interprets individual plays in light of specific developments and achievements in the realm of coeval painting. Reviewer Colantuono praises her approach, writing that “while art-historical interpretations typically assume that the text somehow precedes the image, Phillips-Court investigates how pictorial developments may in fact have staked out new possibilities of poetical and psychological experience only later realized on the Renaissance stage.” Readers would benefit from reading Phillips-Court’s book along with the sophisticated literary interpretations of Colantuono in his Titian, Colonna and the Renaissance Science of Procreation: Equicola’s Seasons of Desire and of Pericolo in his Caravaggio and Pictorial Narrative: Dislocating the Istoria in Early Modern Painting, both noted above.

Re-Viewing Early Modern Southern European Art

Noteworthy trends in the field of Early Modern Southern European Art, and in art history as a discipline, include rethinking periodization, situating Italians and their art in extra-European contexts, and exploring coeval shifts in religious culture and the arts. Each of these has involved complex, nuanced, historiographical analysis. Claire Farago, in an essay in Hills’s Rethinking the Baroque, presents, in reviewer Locker’s words, “an urgent plea to art historians to reject the structural status quo and implicit racial and geographic strictures built into the discipline and its history.” If a consensus has not yet been reached on whether or not this should be done or how to accomplish it, the scholarship under review in demonstrates that discussions of shifting attitudes and cultural biases embedded in the use of terminology are becoming not merely more self-conscious but also more forthright.

Another remarkable feature of the recent scholarship is its diversity. As mentioned, this is seen in both the variety of topics selected and in the range of methods utilized. One contributing factor is the predominance of book series—especially those of Ashgate and Cambridge University Press—that pointedly bring together groups of scholars in order to consider topics from multiple perspectives. Often these scholars hail from different disciplines, thus encouraging multidisciplinary dialogues. Moreover, from Campbell and Cole’s Renaissance textbook to a host of single-authored books written for specialists, there has been a noteworthy tendency to ask multiple questions of the material, resulting in books that cannot be categorized as concerned primarily with, for example, connoisseurship, iconography, patronage, or reception, and which draw inspiration from many other fields, such as social history, anthropology, philology, religious studies, philosophy, and women’s studies.

These trends bode well for the field and are indicative of new scholarly freedoms, expansions, and challenges. The study of Early Modern Southern European Art is flourishing, not only in terms of the sheer numbers of books being published, but in the kinds of questions being raised, the impressive amount of new archival work being undertaken, and the stimulating, multilayered interpretations being offered. New directions in the coming years might usefully include further refinement of the use of terminology, resulting in greater consistency, and an expansion of the analysis of Mediterranean culture through studies of Italian encounters with peoples and art in the Balkans, North Africa, and Persia.

Pamela M. Jones
Field Editor for Early Modern Southern European Art,; Professor of Art, College of Liberal Arts, University of Massachusetts Boston