Mantegna and Painting as Historical Narrative

University of Chicago Press, 1992 - 301 sidor
In this study, Jack M. Greenstein draws on Early Renaissance art theory, modern narratology, translation studies, critical theory, the philosophy of history, and biblical hermeneutics to explicate the sense and significance of one of Andrea Mantegna's most enigmatic and influential works, the Uffizi Circumcision of Christ. Faced with a work that resists established methods of iconographical analysis, Greenstein reassesses the nature and goals of high humanist narrative painting. The result is a new, historically grounded theory of iconography that calls into question many widely held assumptions about the social and intellectual value of Early Renaissance art. Greenstein's theory rests on a careful analysis of Leon Battista Alberti's commentary On Painting, which equated both the form and the content of artistically composed painting with historia. Situating this equation within a centuries-old discourse on the multivalent significance of the Bible, Greenstein shows that, for Alberti, historia was a mode of artistic narrative, common to literature and painting, in which moral truths were presented to the corporeal senses, particularly to vision, in the guise of plausible human actions. In Greenstein's reading, the painter's primary task was the construction of a visually plausible narrative that effectively conveyed the higher meanings of historia. Having thus delineated the structure of significance in Albertian painting, Greenstein shows what was at stake when a painter of Mantegna's historical bent undertook to produce a historia. As one of the leading historical thinkers of his age, Mantegna imbued his depicted scenes with the plausibility of historical events by employing thosecodes of evidence, causality, and historical distance that underlay the Renaissance sense of the past. But the Circumcision of Christ resisted such treatment because the symbolic conventions developed by earlier artists for conveying the higher theological meanings of the theme were incompatible with the representational fidelity embraced by painters of historia. Mantegna overcame these difficulties by arriving at a new understanding of the Circumcision, which remained faithful to the narrative structure as well as the theological content of the biblical account. His interpretation was widely adopted by later artists, but was so pictorial in nature that, despite its consistency with the biblical account, it remained with-out parallel in theological literature. Greenstein's discovery--that artistic production of Albertian painting was a specialized and singularly visual form of thinking whose roots lay more in readerly hermeneutics than in perception, commerce, or common visual experience--raises questions about narrative, representation, and the textuality of art that will interest a wide array of scholars.

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The Significance of Historia in Antiquity and the Middle Ages
Albertis View of the Structure of Significance
Historia and Mantegnas Sense of the Past
Representational Ambiguities in Mantegnas Circumcision
of the Circumcision before Mantegna
Representational Imperatives and the Subject of Mantegnas
Mantegnas Circumcision of Christ as Historical Narrative

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