Blood. Dimensions of Liminality in Early Modern Italian and Hispanic Art
Johannes Gebhardt is a research associate in the Department of Art History at the University of Leipzig, where he received his PhD in 2018. His research focuses on early modern art from a transcultural perspective, with a particular emphasis on cult images, art theory, materiality and liquids. Johannes is the author of the book, Apparitio Sacri–Occultatio Operis. Zeigen und Verbergen von Kultbildern in Italien und Spanien (1600–1700): the first systematic investigation of moveable altarpieces, highly popular early modern devices for the staging of cult images. He has received fellowships from the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation, Düsseldorf.
Since the dawn of Christianity, blood has played a central role in devotional symbolism and practice. Bodily fluids and religion continue to intertwine, especially in southern Italy, as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown. In December 2020, the miraculous liquefaction of San Gennaro’s famous blood relic, venerated in the Treasury Chapel of Naples, failed to occur: a dire prophecy for the Neapolitan population. During the seventeenth century, the popularity of—and even fixation on—blood in and beyond Naples found powerful expression in art, thanks in part to increased cultural exchange between Italy and the Hispanic world. Painters and sculptors broke new ground in the depiction of blood, and the bodily liquid itself became a topos in art theory as a metaphor of artistic virtuosity. The project, Blood. Dimensions of Liminality in Early Modern Italian and Hispanic Art, probes the significance of blood for painting, sculpture, scripture, and ritual in light of current discourses on liminality, materiality, and transcultural exchange between Italy, Iberia, and Latin America. Through a close examination and critical analysis of the role of blood in various media, the project will show not only the material diversity and symbolic complexity in the use of blood in art, but the bodily liquid’s socio-cultural relevance in the context of religious belief.