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Alberti on the Surface

  • Author(s): Ruffini, Marco
  • et al.

This essay on Alberti’s definition of painting as a surface or plane in the De pictura is part of a larger study on the early modern attention to the “surface” as a privileged locus of knowledge in Renaissance culture. Overall, my aim is not to recuperate a founding narrative of the Italian Renaissance, as much as highlight a fundamental tension between a phenomenological approach to knowledge, in which the material and visual values of the “surface” acquire heuristic primacy, and an ethical conception of knowledge as invisible and hidden, as emphasized by long established hermeneutical traditions, which read “depth” as the metaphorical locus for knowledge, truth, and authenticity. I am also not arguing for the art for art’s sake, or the birth of aesthetics. I claim instead that the attention to the surface produced a dialectical relationship with its moral opposite, which generated continuous attempts to redefine and re-signify the surface. I also suggest that this tension is essential to the development of early modern art practice and theory.

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