Artibus et Historiae no. 78 (XXXIX)

2018, ISSN 0391-9064

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DENISE ZARU - Creating a Devotional Space. Architectural Metaphors in Venetian Renaissance Altarpieces (pp. 21–37)

This essay investigates the representation of architecture in Venetian painting, focusing on the use of fictive buildings in altarpieces around 1500. The analysis of paintings of Giovanni Bellini, Cima da Conegliano and Marco Basaiti demonstrates their crucial role in the creation of an ambiguous pictorial space. It shows how the use of a metonymic architectural vocabulary participates to the creation and the meaning of the so-called typology of the Sacra conversazione. In these altarpieces, the architecture is represented as an architectural frame imitating a real chapel and blurring the distinction between the pictorial and real space. The fictive buildings are rhetorical topoi that transform the pictorial space into a mental and devotional space, operating as metaphors of meditative activity; they are also the privileged support to convey a metaphorical discourse about the Virgin.

The essay proposes to identify the roots of the metaphorical use of architecture in Italian devotional painting in mnemotechnical practices described in treatises on memory, which were widely disseminated at the end of the fifteenth century, and their applications to meditative practices promoted by Mendicant Orders. It also sheds light on the role in their dissemination played by the Observance movement of Mendicant Orders and by the architectural metaphors used in their devotional treatises.

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