Thursday Seminar: “Parer Vivo,” Agency, and Perspective: A Proposal for the Anthropology of Western Art


Thursday, October 24, 2019, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Gould Hall, I Tatti
Andrea Mantegna: Introduzione del culto di Cibele a Roma

Speaker: Carlo Severi (I Tatti / École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

Leon Battista Alberti wrote in De Pictura that all painting using the method of perspective must exhibit “parer vivo,” the appearance of life in the image. If the artist achieves this goal, the figures will show not only an accurate image of reality but also the “movements of the soul” that confirm the presence of life. Deeply rooted in the notion of perspective, “parer vivo” is distinct from the geometric rules for composing the image, decoding depth, and interpreting the movement implicit in the figures. For Alberti, as well as for Gombrich and Kuhn in our time, perspective is above all a science that applies the laws of Optics and Geometry to the representation of space. By contrast, “parer vivo”—the principle of appearing to be alive—is a specific type of illusion created by perspective. Focusing on some paintings of the late Mantegna, Prof. Severi will try to outline, from an anthropological point of view, the epistemology of this illusion.

Carlo Severi (Francesco De Dombrowski Visiting Professor at I Tatti) is Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Directeur de recherche at the CNRS, in Paris. He has been twice a Getty Scholar at the Getty Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, Los Angeles (in 1994-95 and 2017), a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2002-2003), and a Visiting Fellow at the King’s College of the University of Cambridge (2012-2013). In 2018, he received a Richard Lehman Visiting Professorship at Villa I Tatti. Among his books: The Chimera Principle – An Anthropology of Memory and Imagination, and Capturing Imagination: A Proposal for an Anthropology of Thought, both published by Hau Books at University of Chicago Press.