Sunday, June 02, 2013

My intellectual interests have always been eclectic, so that when I retired from active teaching seven years ago I seized on the opportunity to be flagrantly unfaithful to my original mistress, the history of art. Occasionally, I drift back to her service, as happened a couple of weeks ago when I attended a brilliant lecture by Professor Alison Wright of the University of London, a lecture that laid the foundations (or so it seemed to me then) for a new understanding of the art of the Italian Renaissance. I even thought of becoming Wright's disciple. Then my enthusiasm faded. 
Despite this splendid intervention, the field of Italian Renaissance art has been essentially stagnant for some thirty years (this despite continuing popular interest, as seen in such works as "The Da Vinci Code"). Stagnant? That judgment is pretty harsh. But it could get worse. How about comatose? 
The last major challenge to the now-ossified conceptualization of Renaissance art was the emergence of the Mannerist controversy, which was pretty much settled forty years ago. Then Eugenio Battisti and my colleague Janet Cox-Rearick sought to reenergize the field by their investigations of the hermetic tradition and its effect on art. But this approach seemed to go nowhere. 
One of the problems with the Renaissance (that supposed age of individualism) is the concentration on famous personalities, such as Leonardo and Michelangelo. This focalization does not work, because in the end art is not about celebrity status, but about process--overall, inexorable change.   
There is also the fact that "straight" historians have mostly discarded the term "Renaissance" as elitist, preferring to speak of the Early Modern Period.
At all events, I have tried to repay my debt to my poor abused mistress by a sort of summa of my work on the historiography of art:


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