The Natural Poiesis of Drapery in Italian Art 1420-1520
Amanda Hilliam is Associate Lecturer in History of Art at the University of York. Previously, she taught at The Courtauld and held the Joseph F. McCrindle fellowship in the Old Master Prints and Drawings department at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (2018/2019), as well as the Julie and David Tobey fellowship at I Tatti (2021). She was co-curator of the exhibition Carlo Crivelli: Shadows on the Sky at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, organised in partnership with the National Gallery, London (2022). Her first book explores analogy and resemblance in the work of Carlo Crivelli and will be part of the Renaissance Lives series published by Reaktion Books. She is interested in visual perception and the porosity between theory and practice in premodern Italian art. Her research has focused on the so-called ‘Adriatic Renaissance’, the role of art objects in religious devotion, and material and technical complexities, particularly in works on paper.
Drapery – understood as the representation freefalling cloth over the body as distinct from tailored clothing – wielded considerable rhetorical power in the art of Renaissance Italy. Occupying substantial space in many works of art, and taking up corresponding amounts of time dedicated to its study and facture, drapery, in its malleability, presented particular opportunities for authorial assertion and narrative interlacement, and yet has received limited art-historical attention. This project foregrounds drapery as a key site through which Italian Renaissance artists conceptualised and materialised the creative process in relation to natural poiesis, or emergence, a coming into being. Exploring across media during the period 1420-1520, it proposes that makers recognised nature’s generative intelligence when going about constructing artful folds, whether by adopting morphological structures found, for example, in rock formations or the branches of a tree, or borrowing from the motions of water, clouds and hair as a way of breathing life into inanimate cloth. Part of a larger book project dedicated to drapery’s eloquence, this research will focus on drapery as a form of visual knowledge that differed from systems of proportion and optics developed during the Renaissance. Unlike anatomy or perspective, drapery was a visual system based on contingency and chance, and was also subject to an artist’s own distinctive way of working materials and method of figuration. Drapery, as such, was an alternative means of bringing life-like qualities to pictorial representation and a key locus of subjective attitudes towards art and nature, providing information about invisible forces (gravity, wind, light, and human emotion – what Aby Warburg called “the external causes of the image”) that enhanced the viewer’s sensory perceptions of a work of art.