Seminar: "Architectural Grotesques in 16th-century Florence"


Tuesday, March 28, 2023, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


I Tatti

Speaker: Caroline van Eck (I Tatti / Cambridge University)

Renaissance Florence offers a particularly rich variety of three-dimensional grotesque figuration, appearing on doorways, windows, and façades, in fountains, pedestals and armour. They occur particularly in liminal situations, both spatial, as in window frames, but also when they cross boundaries between disciplines, as in the architectural/sculptural objects created by Michelangelo and his followers. In my talk I will start with grotesque designs by Michelangelo, to move on to grotesques in façades and window frames, as well as fountains and hybrid objects by his followers Buontalenti and Ammanati. This group of grotesques does not lend itself very well to current readings of these figurations in terms of the corpus of 16th-century theories produced by Vasari, Ligorio, Lomazzo, Paleotti or Borromeo, because these theories are mainly based on the pictorial grotesque figuration inspired by the rediscovery of the Domus Aurea, not the three-dimensional masque variety of today's talk. But also because that body of thought is normative and aetiological: normative because it attempts to regulate grotesque design, and aetiological because of its tendency to relate contemporary grotesques to Vitruvius and Roman art. Instead, starting from patterns of visual similarities, I will consider the relation of grotesque architectural ornament to contemporary armour; and I will consider the suggestion of a second skin, as well as the duplication and sometimes triplication of masque features in one grotesque in the light of anthropological work on masks by Franz Boas and Philippe Descola.


Caroline van Eck is Professor of Art History at Cambridge University. She also taught at the Universities of Amsterdam, Leiden, Yale and Ghent. In 2017 she gave the Slade Lectures in Oxford on Piranesi's colossal candelabra and the material presence of Antiquity c. 1800. (OUP 2022). Van Eck's research interests include the anthropology of art, the material reception of classical antiquity, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Aby Warburg. She was elected to the British Academy in 2020, and in 2013 received the Prix Descartes-Huygens, awarded by the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Belles Lettres et Inscriptions, and the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences.


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