Appel à communication : « Near View, Distant View : Art and the Experience of Nature in Italy from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century » (Frankfurt am Main, 10–12 juillet 2014)

In his Ricordi published in 1554, Fra Sabba da Castiglione describes a scene in which art and nature are in opposition to and – to the same degree – close reciprocal relationship to one another. Suffering from the crippling heat of a July day, the humanist seeks refuge in the shade of a tree in his overgrown garden in Faenza, and there experiences a special instance of art enjoyment : in natural surroundings, he immerses himself in the contemplation of his recently acquired Dürer engraving and admires its figures, animals, landscapes and vistas.

Sabba da Castiglione’s account sparks fundamental questions about the relationship between art and nature in the Renaissance. What
connection does the physical experience of nature bear to the perception of nature through art ? To what extent did a theory-based interest in art and nature determine the practices and experiences of the artist and the beholder ? Was the pleasure taken in convincingly naturalistic depictions of animals and landscapes unrelated to the real experience of nature ; did it arise primarily from an expectation inherent to art ? Conversely, did the increased demands on the mimesis of nature which took hold in Italian art from the fourteenth century onwards also change the perception and experience of man’s real natural surroundings ?

The aim of the conference will be to revisit and enlarge upon the discussion of the mimesis of nature and the depiction of landscape, plants and animals in fourteenth to sixteenth-century Italian art, with a primary focus on the early developments. As concerns the depiction of animals and plants, the following issues arise in current scholarly investigation: What were the various artistic techniques employed and what were their functions ? How did artistic practice, humanist aesthetics, interest in natural history and court culture interact ? What terminology is adequate for the discussion of plant and animal representation today ? On the other hand, as regards early landscape depictions – in which a variety of naturalistic studies were often embedded – the question arises as to what can be considered the ‘added value’ of the landscape space as a totality of which these details constitute a part ? Can the interpretations developed for the Netherlands – ‘world landscapes’ as images of the pilgrimage of life, the duplexity of the corporeal and the spiritual sight – also be applied productively to Italy ? What relation does the painted landscape bear to natural-philosophical theories, but also to the new aesthetic pleasure taken in the experience of nature ? And to what degree did new artistic qualities – manifesting of the specific aesthetic of painting in colour and ‘Stimmung’ – come to bear in the context of landscape painting ?

Two thematic emphases crystallize from these questions:

(1) Near View and Distant View
Depictions of landscapes on the one hand, and animals and plants on the other, provide two different means of representing and
contemplating nature: ‘Fernsicht’ and ‘Nahsicht’, i.e. the view into the distance and the view at close range, the vista and the close-up. What depictions permit a rambling gaze; where is the precise study of detail desirable ? What do these two forms of visual contemplation imply, and how can they be combined ? The reference of the two terms forming the conference title to Alois Riegl, and particularly his 1899 essay Die Stimmung als Inhalt der modernen Kunst, is intentional. From the modern perspective, this essay illustrates quite clearly how the scientific understanding of nature, personal contemplation of nature, and landscape as compensation for the loss of overall meaning interlace. At the same time, Riegl’s text resembles Sabba da Castiglione in that, in it, nature can suddenly become an inconvenience, or even – ironized in the leaping chamois before a distant mountain panorama which arouses the sense of touch and the hunting instinct – a rival in the struggle for existence.

(2) Theory and Experience of Nature
Secondly, with an awareness of these ambiguities, nature depictions in the Italian art of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries are to be examined not only in relation to theoretical concepts of nature, but also with regard to its physical and emotional experience. Already Petrarch’s account of the climbing of Mont Ventoux describes how the gaze from above into the distance requires a strenuous ascent. Are early landscape depictions projection surfaces above and beyond such adverse experiences ? Do the depictions cater exclusively to the sense of sight, or do they address a much more complex level of physical or mental perception ? Or, to put it more precisely, how does art change when a game animal or beast of prey is no longer copied from a pattern sheet but constitutes the artist’s vis-à-vis ?

In order to embed this art-historical theme in a broad interdisciplinary context, we also welcome contributions from the perspectives of Romance philology, philosophy, the history of science and other related fields. Conference languages are German and English.

Please send your proposal (maximum one page) for a thirty-minute lecture as well as a short CV by e-mail to Hans Aurenhammer and Kathrin Müller ( by 30 September 2013.

Funds to cover the travel and accommodation costs have been applied for.

Contact :
Prof. Dr. Hans Aurenhammer
Dr. Kathrin Müller
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Kunstgeschichtliches Institut
Senckenberganlage 31
60325 Frankfurt am Main

Conference in Frankfurt am Main, 10–12 July 2014, presented by the Kunstgeschichtliches Institut of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität.  Concep t: Prof. Dr. Hans Aurenhammer and Dr. Kathrin Müller

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