Iconocrash. Ruptures, scratches, and hazardous mobility in pre-modern Europe

Guest lecture: Mattia Biffis, University of Oslo, Norwegian Institute in Rome

According to Giorgio Vasari, one of the greatest innovations of Renaissance art was the introduction of the canvas, a new material support that allowed pictures “to be carried from place to place.” With their flexibility and resilience, canvases proved to be ideal in fostering painting’s mobility, allowing pictures to be easily transmitted and exchanged across long distances. Yet, as a downside, increased mobility also introduced pictures to what geographers call the “friction of distance,” exposing them to the risk of loss, miscarriage, and, above all, material damages. In this lecture, I will explore the physical harm caused to paintings through mobility, investigating the ruptures, scratches, and other physical traumas that could jeopardize their material integrity during transit from the places of origin to their final destinations. I will consider cases of such painters like Titian or Rubens, whose extensive output was frequently endangered by long distance mobility. In doing so, I will also consider early modern attitudes toward material imperfection, addressing them in connection with modernist ideas of chance and creative spontaneity. As Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass (1915–23) demonstrates, for example, modern aesthetics came to terms with the idea of damage during transit, accepting vulnerability as a creative function of the art object.

Mattia Biffis is postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian Institute in Rome. Entitled “Painting, Distance, and Circulation: a Geography of Things in Early Modern Europe,” his project investigates the physical and material circumstances by which art is transmitted, displaced, and re-contextualized, creating new markets, audiences, and meanings.

For more information, contact Per Sigurd Styve.

Published Aug. 20, 2018 11:25 AM - Last modified Aug. 20, 2018 12:58 PM