CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Ars sima naturae: Titian, the Laocoön and Controversy of Art

Session 5 Self-Awareness or Self-Affirmation

The Courtauld Institute of Art, London


Presumably sometimes around 1545, the woodcut maker Nicola Boldrini published in Venice a print after a design by Titian showing a parody of the ancient marble group of the Laocoon. This represents the protagonists of the ancient sculpture as a group of three monkeys wrestling against two snakes in a landscape. Since its excavation in 1506 in Rome and its subsequent display in the Vatican Belvedere, the marble group of the Laocoon rapidly acquired a canonical status as a paradigm of artistic invention and expression, which artists sought to imitate and emulate. As such, it provided an example that appeared to surpass nature in perfection, contributing to consolidate an awareness that artistic practices could and should move beyond their traditional aim of imitating nature and achieve an independence never conceived before. The Laocoon seemed to demonstrate that art itself could be taken as paradigm of perfection. By looking at literary debates and at the work of early modern naturalists, this paper focuses on Boldrini’s irreverent print as an image that signals a precocious awareness, and critique, of the formation of an artistic canon independent from nature. In this print, Boldrini challenges the canonical status of the sculptural group and, in doing so, undermines the self-referential approach to art-making which was gaining momentum in central Italy in the first half of the sixteenth century. In this paper, I argue that by critiquing this revered ancient statue, Boldrini creates a satirical image which amuses by subverting the identity of an iconic image and starts off a debate on imitation and on the aims and function of art which would be shortly afterward crystallized in the writings of critics like Ludovico Dolce or Paolo Pino. In conclusion, this paper addresses the process of formation of an independent realm of the arts in the Italian Renaissance from the unconventional point of view of contemporary satire, which, unsettling our expectations, reveals the dynamics of the process itself.



The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House, Strand

WC2R 0RN London

United Kingdom


·      The Warburg Institute, University of London, Ph.D. in ‘Combined Historical Studies’, 1996-2000.

·      Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”. Laurea in Art History, 110/110 e lode (~ summa cum laude), 1989-July 1994.


Work and Teaching Experience

·      Lecturer in Sixteenth-Century Southern European Art. The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. September 2013 – ongoing (Permanent position)

·      Adjunct Professor: New York University in Florence. 2012- 2013.

·      Director’s Assistant: Università degli Studi di Siena, Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, 2005-2010, Director: Prof. Maurizio Bettini.


Major Fellowships

·      Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts (CASVA), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Paul Mellon Senior Visiting Fellowship. 2007 (Sept.-Oct.).

·      Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. I Tatti Fellowship, 2004-2005.


Selected Publications


·      “Un altro Lorenzo”. Il cardinale Ippolito de’ Medici tra Firenze e Roma (1510-1535), Venice, Marsilio, 2010.

·      Private Collectors in Mantua. 1500-1630, Rome, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2002.



·      “Vasari, Alessandro de’ Medici, le arti e la politica della corte”, Horti Hesperidum. Studi di storia del collezionismo e della storiografia artistica, special issue on Giorgio Vasari, ed. F. Conte, (2016).

·      “Agostino Veneziano’s Suite of Three Women with Ancient Vases”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, special issue on Marcantonio Raimondi, ed. E. Wouk, (2016).

·      “Leonardo, Mantova e il ritratto di Isabella d’Este. Indagini su un’opera contesa”, in Leonardo e gli altri, eds F. Borgo, R. Maffeis and A. Nova, (Venice, Marsilio 2017).

·      “Space, Memory and Conflict in Sixteenth-Century Rome”, I Tatti Studies: Studies in The Italian Renaissance, special issue: Street Life, Street Culture, eds. G. Clarke and F. Nevola, 16, 1-2, 2013, pp. 153-179.

·      “La politica dello stile: il giovane Vasari e la cerchia di Ippolito de’ Medici”, in Giorgio Vasari e il cantiere delle Vite del 1550, conference proceedings, eds. B. Agosti and S. Ginzburg, (Venice: Marsilio, 2013), pp. 13-27.

·      “Giulio Romano e la produzione di argenti per Ferrante ed Ercole Gonzaga”, in Prospettiva, 146, 2012, pp. 32-43.

·      “Portraits by Objects. Three ‘Studioli’ in Sixteenth-Century Mantua”, in Mantova e il Rinascimento italiano: saggi in onore di David S. Chambers, eds P. Jackson and G. Rebecchini, Mantua, Sometti, 2011, pp. 77-94. 

·      “Beyond Florence’s walls. A List of Evaluations of Buildings to Be Demolished in 1529-1530”, Getty Research Journal, 3, 2011, pp. 165-170.

·      Temporalité de l’œuvre d’art et anachronisme., Perspectives la revue de l’INHA, 2010/2011, 3, pp. 361-368.

·      “After the Medici: The New Rome of Pope Paul III Farnese”, I Tatti Studies, 11, 2008, pp. 147-200.

·      “Sculture e scultori nella Mantova di Giulio Romano. 2. Giovan Battista Scultori e il monumento di Girolamo Andreasi (con una precisazione per Prospero Clemente)”, Prospettiva, 110-111, 2003, pp. 130-139.

·      “Sculture e scultori nella Mantova di Giulio Romano. 1. Bernardino Germani e il sepolcro di Pietro Strozzi (con il cognome di Giovan Battista Scultori)”, Prospettiva, 108, 2002, pp. 65-79.

·      “The Book Collection and Other Possessions of Baldassarre Castiglione”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 61, 1998, pp. 17-52.