Frank Fehrenbach

Frank Fehrenbach

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Visiting Professor
Giotto and the Impetus of Painting
Frank Fehrenbach


Frank Fehrenbach (born 1963) is an art historian whose work focuses on the interrelations between art, natural philosophy, and science in early modern Europe. He was a senior professor at Harvard University until 2013, when he was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at Hamburg University. Since 2019, he is co-director of an interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Study on Imaginaria of Force, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft ( Fehrenbach published widely on Leonardo da Vinci, including the LVIII Lettura Vinciana (2020). Most recently, he published an extensive monograph on the concept of “enlivenment” in Italian Renaissance art (Quasi vivo. Lebendigkeit in der italienischen Kunst der Frühen Neuzeit, Berlin-Boston 2021).

Project Summary

Frank Fehrenbach investigates the dimensions of the category of "force" in the Italian Renaissance. In his project at Villa I Tatti, he will shed light on the relationship between Tuscan paintings around 1300 and "impetus", the new paradigm in physics first conceptualized in Florence at about the same time. The study focuses on Giotto, who for the first time visualizes a wide range of physical forces and both "natural" and "counter-natural" movements. As is well known, Giotto's paintings address viewers in a completely new way, aiming at optical, imaginative and strong emotional responses of the audience. Fehrenbach strives to identify the analogies between pictorial aesthetics, the natural philosophy of movement (optics, dynamics of projectiles, biology), rhetoric, and theology around 1300. His focus is on concepts of transmission, impact, and the impression of motive forces in projectiles, sacred and natural bodies, images, and audiences.