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Approaches to fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century painting in Dalmatia


The dissertation examines paintings made in and for cities on the Dalmatian coast during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, focusing upon the various cultural and historiographical circumstances that resulted in their general absence from the narrative of Western European art history. Between 1797 and 1995, the Dalmatian coast was claimed as the territory of nine different political entities. The competing claims lodged by priests, politicians, and scholars all contributed to the fractured historiography of Dalmatian art. An examination of the chronology and substance of these claims demonstrates the negative impact that the drive to claim, or even manufacture, a cultural heritage can have on the history of art. The impact of such an investment in constructing a cultural heritage resulted in studies in the history of Dalmatian art that have overemphasized the life-and-work model at the expense of explorations of iconography or patronage. The second chapter considers the constructed biographies of the artists included in the so-called Dalmatian School of Painting. By laying out the timeline of art historians' construction of the artists' biographical narratives, attention is drawn to the issues that plague a disjointed and later isolated field of scholarship: fissures, oversights, misreadings, and even deliberately cultivated ignorance. The third chapter deals with art patronage in the Republic of Ragusa. While Ragusan society was divided into three groups (the nobility, citizens, and commoners) with the nobles holding all government power, there are nonetheless few incidents that indicate any discontent with this social structure prior to the seventeenth century. By examining the types of projects favored by the noble and citizen classes between 1300 and 1531, I question the veracity of Ragusa's reputation for inter-class harmony. How do the patronage activities of each group demonstrate conspicuous consumption, conscious imitation, or statements of public authority or financial prowess? Elaborately framed, gold- field polyptychs represent the majority of extant paintings from Dalmatia. In the fourth chapter, I examine the unique historical and religious climate of Dalmatia and I argue that the penchant for the polyptych was not a conservative or retardataire stylistic or artistic preference but rather a conscious decision with practical religious import.

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