Department of English

University of Toronto

Una Roman D’Elia – “The Painted Flesh of Quattrocento Sculpture”

Event date: Friday, November 16, 2018, from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Location: Northrop Frye, Room 205 73 Queen's Park Crescent East Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 Canada

CRRS Friday Workshop: Una Roman D’Elia – “The Painted Flesh of Quattrocento Sculpture”

In fifteenth century Italy, sculptures made of wood, terracotta, stucco, stone, cork, and other materials were brought to life with color – they blush and bleed. Some of these life-sized works have hinges in order to be used to act out a sacred drama, and others were dressed in real clothes and jewelry, given offerings, or covered with veils, so that the sculptures would not witness what happened before them. These vividly naturalistic works, made by both unknown craftsmen and such luminaries as Donatello and Verrocchio, were often treated as if they were alive, and indeed many were reported to have spoken, moved, bled, or lactated. Contemporary fiction is replete with comical, often sexual stories of people getting angry at polychrome sculptures, aroused by them, or pretending to be a sculpture in order to hide from a jealous husband. These tales reveal what was at stake in making such vividly naturalistic polychrome sculpture –the both great advantages and perils of having such fleshy images at home, in the piazza, and at church. By the early sixteenth century, for the most part polychrome sculpture had gone out of fashion in central Italy, but the tradition continued in other parts of the peninsula. In Sicily, Lombardy, and elsewhere artists who were aware of the latest developments in Florence and Rome continued to make sophisticated, classically-inspired polychrome sculpture, which acts as a kind of commentary on this understudied Renaissance tradition.

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