The Value of the Renaissance Past in Contemporary Culture
What is the significance of doing Renaissance Studies now, not only in terms of the field per se, but in terms of what the field has to say to contemporary society? In the past, the field of Renaissance Studies has drawn themes and orientations from particular concerns of the moment, without losing its rigorous focus, and has given back crucial insights to those studying it. Could the same be said today? To facilitate a multifaceted answer, this book attempts to cover some of the principal areas of this interdisciplinary field within the humanities and social sciences. Contributors include specialists in history, languages and literatures, the history of science, cultural studies, art history, philosophy, sociology and politics.
Sheila Barker 1 The Drowning Man in Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina
Though Jacob Burckhardt may not have intended it this way, his famous comparison between Renaissance Italian statecraft and a work of art (‘Der Staat als Kunstwerk’) ref lects the way states exploit visual imagery to articu- late, popularize and enforce their political agendas. A striking example of this phenomenon is of fered by a government at the focus of Burckhardt’s study, the Florentine Republic, and a lost artwork now known only though copies (Figure 1), Michelangelo’s cartoon for the Battle of Cascina.1 This cartoon was the monumental preparatory chalk drawing, over 116 square metres in size, for a mural, never undertaken, in the Hall of the Great Council in the Palazzo della Signoria, commissioned in 1504 at the direc- tion of Piero Soderini, gonfaloniere-for-life of the Florentine Republic.2 Its arresting imagery as well as its genesis and destruction are all implicated by the volatile politics of an imperilled Renaissance state. 1 The copy universally considered to be closest to Michelangelo’s cartoon is the Holkam Hall painting attributed to Aristotile da Sangallo. Michelangelo’s original studies for the cartoon survive, including the compositional drawing at the Gabinetto degli Stampi e Disegni in Florence catalogued as Uf fizi 613E (black, partly over stylus, 23.5 × 35.6 cm), and the sheet with Studies for the Battle of Cascina and the Bruges Madonna at the British Museum in London (black chalk and pen and ink over lead-point, 31.5 × 27.8 cm). On these and other related drawings, see Michael Hirst, Michelangelo and His Drawings (New Haven and...
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