Artibus et Historiae no. 84 (XLII)

2021, ISSN 0391-9064

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MEITAL SHAI and SIMONE GUSEO - Faith in Science Triumphant: An Eclipse in Villa Barbaro at Maser (pp. 195–220)

The paper proposes an interpretation for the identity of the female figure riding the dragon depicted at the heart of Veronese’s fresco decorations in Villa Barbaro at Maser, thence suggesting an encompassing iconographic contextualization for the rest of the programme. Focusing on Daniele Barbaro’s expertise in astronomy, the authors consider the frescoes from an archaeoastronomical point of view, by using accessible and user-friendly astronomical software to support their art historical research.

The female and dragon are thus explained as an allegorical representation of the historical total and annular solar eclipse of 9 April 1567, which would have been awaited and observed by the villa’s inhabitants and guests. The ceiling frescoes of the two adjacent rooms are interpreted with the same astronomical key and provided with a new and reinforced meaning. The allegory of Christian faith in the Stanza della Lucerna appears also as a declaration of faith in science, or in the abilities of the human intellect, by reproducing a descriptive visual testimony of the eclipse, while the allegory of the Stanza del Cane encloses a severe moral warning against the abuse of knowledge derived from astronomical observations. The authors then enquire whether the eclipse would have been painted as a prediction, or after its occurrence, arguing in favour of the latter scenario.

Celebrating the second edition of Daniele Barbaro’s commentary on Vitruvius’s Ten Books on Architecture, the villa’s fresco decorations were likely to have been completed shortly after the historical event, around the spring–autumn of 1567, and not as early as 1561, as it has generally been assumed in scholarly literature up to this point.

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