Colloquium: "Sedimentary Aesthetics"

January 31, 2019 - 12:30pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning

The Sedimentary Aesthetics of Italian Baroque Painting

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, artists began painting on stone. Around 1530 they used slate, though toward the end of the sixteenth century they began painting on various kinds of semi-precious stones. These hybrid objects – displaying the artistry of nature enhanced by the ingenium of the artist – were easily located within the Wunderkammer, where they could be displayed next to mineral exemplars that remained pure and unadulterated. While pure stones were categorized and classified taxonomically, Painted stones took material commodities and converted them into objects of material splendor that testified to the generative power of Natura artifex. Around the same time, though, artists (especially in Florence) began painting on a particular kind of sedimentary stone known as Pietra d’Arno that seems to subvert the precious aesthetics of painted stones. Unlike semi-precious stones whose material splendor and purity easily lent itself to the process aesthetic appreciation, this stone was unrelentingly base: Pietra d’Arno is essentially solidified mud, and they were aware of its base origins. However, Pietra d’Arno contained a panoply of pre-figurative images. Indeed, it was also called Pietra paesina in recognition of the imaginative landscapes that are embedded within its striations. Painters used these landscapes to great effect, leveraging the entanglement of “figure” and “ground” to create artistic objects that exist in the liminal space between solidified mud and precious, man-made, artistic objects. This paper will examine exemplars of this category of painting and consider the aesthetic principles that underwrote them.

with Chris Nygren (Assistant Professor; Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, University of Pittsburgh) and responses from David Marshall (Communication) & Molly Warsh (History)