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Analysing an Introduction and Text of an Exhibition Catalogue for their arguments. A844 Block 2 Exs.4.4.3 &4.4.4

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 8 Dec 2018, 12:13

Now read Amanda Lillie, ‘Introduction to the online catalogue’ (2014). As you read, take notes on what you think the exhibition is about, and what the exhibition is trying to argue.

This starts from an assumption about the viewing history of Renaissance painting: that it represents a poor understanding of the role of architecture represented within the picture. This assumption is dramatized in the video by co-curator Caroline Campbell, whose dramatic role is to appear as a more naïve handler of paintings she knows than the invited academic curator (this recipe has been repeated in Monet & Architecture in 2017 At the National). For instance she says: “One of the pictures I find most stimulating to look at in the context of this show is a painting I'd never really thought of as being particularly architectural before, …”. This chimes with Lillie’s statement that people have overvalued figures over this architecture within pictures and by extension figuration over composition.

In the written catalogue introduction, a key idea is to insist on the metafunction of architecture inside paintings as an aesthetic and structuring function involving flat space and imagined depths, akin to the term ‘composition, as long as this unction is taken to understand ‘perspective’ also. Perspective, of course, was at heart an architectural concept.

One mistake is to clear away from the term aesthetic above the sense that the function is only or primarily ornamental and hence Costa’s playing down of ornamental architecture is focused to turn our attention to its ‘overarching’ role in sustaining the imagination of space, or of pointing meaning through iconographic use of colour (Helen’s palace in Strozzi).

The idea of ‘strong unified inner frameworks’ is, of course, a norm from which distortion adds further to meaning as in the excellent analysis of Titian’s ‘tilting basin’ (p.3ff) down to meticulous ‘ornamental’ detail, such as a three-dimensional gorgon-head. The issue of visual rhetoric is important here. Other examples further elaborate the interpenetration of aesthetic form with content and meaning (and, of course, in sited work, immediate external architectural content.


Read Amanda Lillie, ‘Constructing the picture’ (2014). (Make sure to read all four parts of the essay.) Once again, keep in mind how the author is constructing her argument through both visual and textual sources, and consider the following questions:

·       How is architecture related to the religious function of some of the images provided – in particular, the altarpiece?

    • Let’s stay just with the altarpiece. The function guides the design or the act of ‘desegno’ such that meaning and liturgical purpose are made consonant with the privileged holy narrative and its order telling in a hierarchical structure. The meaning of the altar dominates narrative whilst requiring it as a support in the predella pictures. I’m not sure why these structures are called ‘welcoming’. They don’t seem so to me.

·       How is architecture related to composition and Alberti’s directions for composing a painting?

    • Composition in Alberti is a governing principle, with sub-principles like ‘istoria’ and ‘decorum’, which suggests that form and meaning assemble around the principle of compositio. The principles are the same for architecture proper and the architectural demands of the painting. Under these principles are mathematical and physical principles aimed at endurance of structures, including notions of measure, proportion and perspective.

·       How is architecture related to the all-important development and use of perspective in paintings?

    • Both are dependent on such a notion but not in the manner of serving simple realism as sometimes thought. Architecture does not just sustain a notion of reality but the free play of fantasy too, or of s governing meaning driving the structuration. Hence unsettling double =-take perspectives in Crivelli governed by needs of Annunciation message. Artists were not bound to perspective for its own sake – note Parmigianino (2).
    • ‘Perspective is one of the many strands woven into the picture’ (3) on Masaccio Trinity.
    • Perspective (in say, the ‘geometric pavement’ s used to dispose and compose groups of figures as hallmark of  Renaissance painting’ (6).

These research questions are more directed at a particular theme within the larger role of architecture in Renaissance paintings and are good examples of more focused questions.

Discussion from Course

The architectural framing within paintings allowed for an integration into church space, as many religious paintings were commissioned for specific sites. Architecture integrated into paintings could also serve a practical purpose as a way to set the scene but also as a way to plan the composition. Indeed, it can be related to Alberti’s discussion on the compositional phase of a painting, as well as other treatises for artists. Perspective certainly plays a role in the use of architecture in paintings, but the exhibition seeks to integrate it as part of ‘architectural and spatial representation, treating it as one aspect of fictive architecture, rather than a separate practice’ (Lillie, 2014). The presence of architecture is not only a way to make pictures seem real; it is often used as a symbolic metaphor, whereby real buildings are manipulated, distorted or changed to convey that symbolism. Similarly, perspective is also manipulated; it is often only one part of a painting.

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