Operations of the Image: Painting, Medicine, and the Origin of Aesthetics in Baroque Rome and Naples
Alejandro (Ale) Nodarse is a doctoral candidate in History of Art & Architecture at Harvard University. They received their B.A. and M.A. in the History of Art from Yale University in 2019, with two Master’s Theses – the first on Jusepe de Ribera’s late altarpiece, San Gennaro Escaping from the Furnace Unharmed, with regard to contemporary perceptions of martyrdom, and the second on Juan Sánchez Cotán’s still-life paintings in relation to optical diagrams. Ale’s research spans the early-modern period with a focus on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century painting and sculpture in Italy, Spain, and Latin America, and an interest in art theory and aesthetics more broadly. Recurrent areas of focus include the history of scientific observation; the materiality of visionary experience; the homoerotic image; and the rhetorical and affective forces of art and language. Ale has gained curatorial experience at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where their archival research brought forth new light on John Singer Sargent’s preeminent model, Thomas McKeller. Most recently, they have been a predoctoral fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana within Sietske Fransen’s research group, “Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions.” In addition to their work as an historian, Ale is a practicing artist.
"Operations of the Image" considers the intersection of painterly and medical practices in early modern Southern Europe. This intersection occurred with new potency in the dawning of the surgical age, between 1604 and 1672, between Rome and Naples, and between Caravaggio (1571–1610) and his foremost conceptual inheritor, the Spanish-born Jusepe (or José) de Ribera (1591–1652). It would lay the groundwork for a radically modern conception of painting as an aesthetic and scientific object: an object which merited increasing scrutiny, invoked aesthetic judgements, called forth medicalized diagnoses, and produced an abundance of ‘knowledge’ (scientia). During this period painting would itself become an ‘operation’. Gradually, the materiality of the image would proffer the procedures of its own history; and, by extension, the resultant work would be opened to a new mode of historical scrutiny. Alejandro's research recomposes a ‘diagnostic mediality’ – a typology of diagnosis across divergent media – from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century, with the final chapter of their dissertation mapping the effects or ‘operations’ of certain works upon later artists and thinkers, such as Ribera’s Grotesques upon Gericault’s medicalized portraits and Murillo’s The Young Beggar upon Hegel’s Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik.