“Gombrich on the Pleasures and Perils of Circular Thinking”


Monday, March 20, 2017, 6:00pm


Istituto degli Innocenti, Sala Brunelleschi Piazza della Santissima Annunziata 50121 Firenze

The Renaissance is a historiographical fable of the nineteenth century. Twentieth-century art history was shaped by various forms of dissatisfaction with the patterns and priorities it imposed. Few scholars, however, grasped the unresolved tension within the concept of Renaissance between an affirmative unrest (rebirth, a beginning) and the promise of closure through integration (the classic, an endpoint). Ernst Gombrich, unable to resist entering this conceptual whirlpool, produced the most ambiguous and radical account of the significance of Renaissance art, perhaps the only version we have that finally breaks with the nineteenth century.


Christopher Wood is Professor and Chair of the Department of German at New York University. From 1992 until 2014 he taught in the Department of History of Art at Yale University. At Harvard University he was a Jacob Wendell Scholar and a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. In 2002 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a NEH Rome Prize Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome. In fall 2004 he was Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. In 2011-12 he was a Member of the School for Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; and a Senior Fellow at the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, Vienna. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Rinascimenti: Colloquia on the Historiography of Early Modern Art

This series of lectures and seminars jointly organized by Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and the research group Rinascimento conteso of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max Planck Institut aims to reassess the Renaissance as a historiographic paradigm. Against the background of the traditional research interests that guided the founding of both institutions, the project's goal is to put such a paradigm to the test, debating its impact and status in the discipline by bringing together a polyphony of critical voices from the international scholarly community.

The events will focus on key texts that successfully and meaningfully engaged with the defining issues of the Renaissance from both a formal and a more broadly cultural point of view. Returning to those canonical texts of the art historical discipline that, from the late nineteenth into the twentieth century, contributed to crystallize and define the concept in academic circles, each event will respond to the evolving history of the field and to the various critical turns that it has undergone in more recent times.

The aim of the series is to determine whether such a category—often replete with elitist and Eurocentric connotations—can still be useful as an interpretive tool to see and read the past, one that can not only advance knowledge specific to studies of the premodern West, but also offer more far-reaching methodological lessons.