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Chapter 11 - Illuminated Sculpture and Visionary Experience at the Cardinal of Portugal Chapel in Florence

from Part IV - Sculpture as Performance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2020

Amy R. Bloch
State University of New York, Albany
Daniel M. Zolli
Pennsylvania State University
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Among the most intractable challenges in the study of the premodern figural arts is the reconstruction of the ambient circumstances that originally conditioned the visual reception of sculptural works. Since the advent of early modern collecting practices, countless Renaissance sculptures have been dislodged from their initial architectural settings. Arrayed against the sterile walls of the modern museum gallery, such works now appear like scientific specimens suspended preternaturally in time by changeless electric lighting.1 Not unlike the selective cropping of a photograph, this decontextualized mode of perception wrests the works from the particular environments and pictorial-plastic programs that once structured their appearance and meanings. Paradoxically, such problems persist even where these works remain in situ. To satisfy the visual habits of modern visitors, for instance, the custodians of Italian churches have furnished their chapels with ubiquitous coin-operated lighting units that flatten and wash out the chapels’ sculpted ensembles under uniform artificial illumination. The effect is to diminish what Wolfgang Schöne, in his classic book on pictorial light, has characterized as the “wandering eye” (schweifendes Auge): the impulse of the spectator, amid a rich optical-spatial field, to roam visually across a perceptual landscape of variable luminosities, chromatic intensities, physical scales, and material textures.2

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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Select Bibliography

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