Artibus et Historiae no. 76 (XXXVIII)

2017, ISSN 0391-9064

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CHARLES BURROUGHS - Botticelli’s Stone: Giorgio Vasari, Telling Stories, and the Power of Matter (pp. 297–325)

Against the advice of a key collaborator, Giorgio Vasari enhances his Lives of the Artists with colorful anecdotes, taking up a tradition of story-telling with deep Florentine roots. Thus Botticelli terrorized his neighbor by manhandling a great rock that was effectively, in Vasari’s telling, beyond human capacity to lift.

This paper explores the resonances of this story with ideas about the powers of stone and relates these to current thinking about the agency of material objects, whether worked or unworked. Two discursive traditions are invoked. One is the place of certain kinds of stone in the Florentine imaginary as well as in the built environment and in ritual practice; here impulses from Boccaccio’s Decameron are foregrounded. The other involves the Renaissance reception of didactic poetry, notably that of Ovid and even Lucretius, which conjoins mythological and proto-scientific in explanation especially of the origins of things. We see such literary stimuli operative in programs like those devised by Vasari for the Palazzo Vecchio; these richly suggest and to a degree illustrate the properties and powers of stone.

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