Appel à communication : Monochromy in painting theory and practice (Rome, 2 Dec 20)

Monochromy in painting theory and practice (Rome, 2 Dec 20)

Bibliotheca Hertziana Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kunstgeschichte, Rome, December 2, 2020
Deadline: Jul 30, 2020

CFP: “Benché senza colori abbino tutta la forza dell’arte”. Monocromia nella teoria e nella pratica pittorica dal Trecento al Seicento

Workshop organizzato da Katharine Stahlbuhk (Biblioteca Hertziana Roma) e Monica Latella (Sapienza, Università di Roma)

“Benché senza colori abbino tutta la forza dell’arte.” Using these words to describe chiaroscuro paintings, Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo in 1590 suggested the theoretical complexity of a pictorial work executed with a reduced palette. Thanks to the absence of the usual polychromy to suggest the colours of reality, a singular expressive power characterizes monochrome paintings.
Studied from a critical point of view, artworks executed with a restricted colour range offers our discipline the possibility of multiple approaches and a seemingly unlimited number of examples. Pictorial representations made with the use of a single colour or—better—with light and dark shades of a reduced colour spectrum can be found in all epochs, execution techniques, and cultural spheres. The remarkable variety of such examples testifies to the various intentions and multiple meanings behind monochromy. In fact, despite the long duration of this pictorial phenomenon, it is necessary to point out substantial differences in the reasons that led both artists and patrons in preferring monochrome painting. In light of these considerations, it is wrong—or at least risky—to conceive a theory of the monochrome painting that claims to be universally valid. Instead, the analysis of specific phenomena or typologies offers the possibility of a deeper understanding of individual artworks and the theoretical ideas behind them.
Within the complex panorama of chiaroscuro painting, the period between the 14th and 17th centuries is particularly interesting to investigate from both a historical and a critical point of view. In fact, in these centuries and especially in Italy, a considerable number of chiaroscuro paintings were realized. In addition to the best known and studied phenomenon of painted facades, there are several examples of monochrome painting. We may recall the decorative cycles in terretta made from the 14th century onwards, both in ecclesiastical and courtly environments; the entirely monochrome fresco decorations of interiors; painting on canvas and wood; the use of chiaroscuro within full-coloured decorations as narrative or symbolic details or as feigned architecture.
Moreover, in addition to the variety of pictorial evidence, these centuries saw increased references to the chiaroscuro in art literature. After Cennini, through the theorists of the 15th and early 16th centuries, Vasari’s Lives contributed undoubtedly to the theory of chiaroscuro. The Lives in fact contains a wide range of references and considerations on the issue, demonstrating Vasari’s awareness of the complexity of this technique practice and its relationship with the contemporary theoretical debates. Vasari’s thoughts were collected and developed by all later critics up to Filippo Baldinucci. Particularly worthy of mention are the pages dedicated to chiaroscuro painting by Armenini who defined it as « Instituta dell’arte », and by the aforementioned Lomazzo. Also notable are the words written by Agucchi, Bellori, and Malvasia concerning the chiaroscuro made by the Carracci. The considerations of these theorists go beyond the mere debate on the Paragone delle Arti and open up room for broader reflections on drawing and monochrome representation.
Despite this complexity, the scholars have so far focused on problems related to chronology, iconography, and patronage of monochrome artworks, demonstrating in most cases a lack of interest in theoretical and critical issues. With a few exceptions, there is a lack of in-depth studies of the sources of art literature. The latter, appropriately considered in relation to pictorial practice, can provide new theoretical possibilities for understanding chiaroscuro painting. These sources allow us to move beyond the generic interpretative grids, which have so far justified the preference for a reduced palette by referring to the Antique or the Paragone debate.

With the intention of creating a scientific publication on the subject, the workshop will offer a moment of confrontation between scholars that may lead to a necessary critical historical review of the theme of chiaroscuro painting. The aim is to question the paradigm consolidated by critics and historiography until now, to leave room for a broader range of interpretations capable of highlighting the complexity of the chiaroscuro painting phenomenon from the 14th to the 17th centuries. In this regard, the workshop plans to analyse both chiaroscuro paintings and texts from contemporary art literature, trying to identify points of contact (and contrast) between theory and pictorial practice. The workshop will also address the reasons behind choosing to create a monochrome painting, trying to clarify how the choice relates both to contemporary theoretical debates and to the political and religious contexts. In addition, focusing on Italian production, it will also be appropriate to explore the elements of continuity and breaking points that exist between chiaroscuro works from different centuries and geographical contexts. Through these issues, we also want to clarify the problem of the terminology used to refer to these works of art.

In light of these methodological premises, we invite scholars to submit proposals of both historical and critical nature, dedicated to the practice of chiaroscuro painting between the 14th and 17th centuries, with particular attention to the Italian peninsula. The papers can both analyse individual case studies and address broader historical and geographical issues. In addition, we strongly encourage papers that examine art literature to highlight features and issues of the theoretical debate related to chiaroscuro painting.

Please send your abstract and your academic CV by July 30 to and

Important information regarding Covid-19:
Depending on the impact of the pandemic and in accordance to changing governmental and institutional guidelines, the procedure for the workshops (in situ, remotely, or hybrid solutions) will be established later.

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