CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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Before Self-Affirmation: Self-Analytical Painting in Early Renaissance Art

Session 5 Self-Awareness or Self-Affirmation

Plymouth University


The concepts of self-awareness (medium specificity) and self-affirmation (artistic identity) are prominent in current art historical discourse, and are likewise fundamental to our very definition of art. Post-Reformation painting was characterized by the unprecedented convergence of these two tendencies: painters explicitly addressed the medium of representation while promoting themselves as creators of images (as exemplified by Velázquez’s Las Meninas). Without questioning the relative validity of this claim for much of post-Reformation modernity, this paper examines the possibility of distinguishing between self-awareness and self-affirmation, and describes their dynamic interaction in early Renaissance painting in Italy. The development of the new realistic style around 1300 created the potential for meta-pictorial solutions and led to a number of self-reflexive works. However, it would be over a century before the emergence of self-portraits, some of which relied on the meta-pictorial repertory. For some painters in Italy during the second half of the fifteenth century – including Perugino, Pinturicchio, Vecchietta and Benozzo Gozzoli – pictorial conventions of self-awareness allowed them to articulate and affirm their artistic identity in the social hierarchy of early Renaissance commissions.


BOKODY, Peter 

Péter Bokody is Lecturer in Art History at Plymouth University, UK. His research focus is the emergence of painting as a self-reflexive medium in Italy around 1300 and the aftermath of this transformation in the Renaissance. He is also interested in the political iconography of tyranny, war and violence in the Italian peninsula. He curated the exhibition Image and Christianity in 2014 at the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma (Hungary). He has published several articles on early Italian meta-painting, and is the author of Images-within-Images in Italian Painting (1250–1350): Reality and Reflexivity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). Péter is currently working on a collected volume on renaissance meta-painting, which will examine self-reflexive pictorial tendencies in Northern and Southern Europe before the Reformation.