"Dislodging the Renaissance: On Henri Focillon's Life of Forms"


Thursday, June 8, 2017, 6:00pm


Gould Hall

Henri Focillon's Life of Forms (1934) challenges the central role of the Renaissance within the history of art in several different ways. Firstly, he questions the normative value of the concept of classicism and foregrounds what comes chronologically before and after in order to redefine classicism’s universality, which he distinguishes from normativity. Secondly, he shatters the historical systematic development of art by comparing the flow of time to a whirlpool, an image that permits us to conceive of the associations between different forms, in terms of resonances or anticipations, within a single immanent form. In this lecture, Dr. Suthor will investigate how Focillon's vitalist assertions are grounded in his strong emphasis on technique, opening up a conceptual pathway by which we can reconsider the pathos of the form beyond its formula.

Please join us for aperitivi in the courtyard after the event concludes.  

Nicola Suthor is Professor of the History of Art in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures of Yale University, where she teaches Northern and Southern Baroque art. Before arriving at Yale in 2015, she taught art history at the universities of Berlin (2012-14), Bern (2007-09), Hamburg (2011), Heidelberg (2009-11), and Stanford (2006). In 2011, she was a visiting member of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton. In 2012, she was awarded the Jacob Burckhardt Prize by the Max Planck Institut in Florence.

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.