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Leonardo and the Commentators: Seeing Things Hidden in the Earliest Essay on the Work of Art, Naples, ca. 1562

  • Author(s): DePasquale, Thomas Peter
  • Advisor(s): Meadow, Mark
  • et al.
Abstract

Leonardo and the Commentators: Seeing Things Hidden in the Earliest Essay on the Work of Art, Naples, ca. 1562, is the first detailed study of the rise of hermeneutical concerns in the literature on visual art that took place in Italy during the sixteenth century. The study centers on a text by Bartolomeo Maranta, the earliest essay-length written response to a single work of visual art, which is premised on a series of novel assumptions: that art requires interpretive effort comparable to that which literary texts require; that obscurity or ‘hiddenness’ in subject matter and style are aesthetic virtues to cultivate; that engagement with an exploratory ‘field of play’ where viewers confront and try to resolve their uncertainty is integral to the experience of good art. Through extensive examination of period sources, this study demonstrates that the increased status of art and the artist in the Renaissance period was accompanied by a transfer of hermeneutical problems from the discourse on literary texts, where those problems had first appeared in antiquity, to the discourse on images. Equal attention is given to the ideological character of the new hermeneutical content in art literature, and it is shown how the aesthetics of hiddenness grew up in connection to Counter-Reformation religious polemics and to political divisions in viceregal Naples.

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