We owe the Italian Renaissance picture more than the ideal human figure. Experiments in figuration, whether they involve contour or sfumato, cannot exist without ground, here understood in three senses of the word: first, the preparation of a given support (such as a gesso ground on panel); second, the plane on which figures stand; and third, the field in and against which figuration occurs. Grounds register significant transitions in painting practice over time, such as the adoption of canvas and stone supports, or the passage from gold ground to landscape and architectural views, and beyond that, to the darkened or opaque grounds of Baroque tenebrism. And yet, this groundwork, however much it competes for our attention, rarely informs our thinking about the Renaissance picture. Focusing on gold ground in the work of Cennino Cennini and Gentile da Fabriano, this seminar will examine how ground becomes the material, mimetic, and semantic terrain where artists can explore the conditions of the possible, dramatizing not what painting is, or should be, but rather what it can be and become.
David Young Kim is Assistant Professor of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches and researches Southern Renaissance art, focusing on the issues of art literature, transcultural exchange, and material culture. Before joining the Penn faculty in 2013, he was a postdoctoral faculty fellow (wissenschaftlicher Assistent) at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (2009-2013) and a visiting faculty member at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo in Brazil (2011-2013). He has edited a volume of essays entitled Matters of Weight: Force, Gravity, and Aesthetics in the Early Modern Era (Berlin, 2013) which examines the theory and exploitation of weight as an aesthetic category in works of art, 1350-1700. His book The Traveling Artist in the Italian Renaissance: Geography, Mobility, and Style, which explores sixteenth-century discourse concerning artists’ travels and the impact of that travel on artistic process, was published by Yale University Press in 2014.