The Spiritual Language of Art: Medieval Christian Themes in Writings on Art of the Italian Renaissance


Analyzing the literature on art from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, The Spiritual Language of Art explores the complex relationship between visual art and spiritual experiences during the Italian Renaissance. Though scholarly research on these writings has predominantly focused on the influence of classical literature, this study reveals that Renaissance authors consistently discussed art using terms, concepts and metaphors derived from spiritual literature. By examining these texts in the light of medieval sources, greater insight is gained on the spiritual nature of the artist’s process and the reception of art. Offering a close re-readings of many important writers (Alberti, Leonardo, Vasari, etc.), this study deepens our understanding of attitudes toward art and spirituality in the Italian Renaissance.

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Steven Stowell is an assistant professor of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. He received his doctorate from Oxford University in 2009, and previously held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto. He has published research in the journals Dante Studies, and Word & Image.
List of Illustrations

Chapter One
Art and Compunction: Francesco Bocchi’s Mystical Experience of Art
Compunction in Renaissance Literature on Art
Compunction and Popular Devotion at the Santissima Annunziata in Florence
Francesco Bocchi’s Ekphrasis, Catharsis and Compunction
Purging and Nourishing

Chapter Two
Leon Battista Alberti’s ‘De pictura’ and the Christian Tradition of the Liberal Arts
An Image Formed in the Mind and an Imitation of Nature
The Liberal Arts in Alberti and the Christian Tradition
Study and Composition: Painting as a Form of Meditation
A Part and a Whole: Alberti’s Beauty

Chapter Three
The Word of God and the Book of the World in the Writings of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo as a Reader of Spiritual Literature
Tears and Laughter in Leonardo
The World is a Book
Judgment and Love: Ogni Dipintore Dipinge Se
In One Instant Alone

Chapter Four: Part One
Imagining the Souls of Holy People
Lifting the Veil of the Body
The Soul of a Work of Art: The Agency of Sacred Art
The Sweetness of Honey: Painted Flesh, Veils and Interiority
Perfection of Body and Soul: The Souls of Artists and of Paintings

Chapter Four: Part Two
The Impossibility of Picturing Virtue: The Face as a Natural Sign
The ‘Costume’ of Virtue, Seeing Beneath the Veil and Francesco Bocchi

Chapter Five
Invention and Amplification: Imagining Sacred History
Gabriele Paleotti’s Theory of Sacred Art and Contemplative Ascent
How Images are Like Scripture and Like Sermons in Paleotti’s ‘Discorso’
Rhetoric, Reading and Remembering in Pictorial Invention
The Circumstances of Sacred History
From History of Allegory in Sacred Art

Chapter Six
Vasari’s City of God: Spirituality, Art and Architecture in Vasari’s ‘Lives’ and ‘Ragionamenti’
Spirituality in Vasari’s Literary Context
The Stones of Memory in the Palazzo Vecchio
The Architecture of Allegory in Vasari and Hugh of St. Victor
The Time of Allegory and the Space of History

Institutes and academic libraries. And specialists, advanced undergraduagte or graduate students in the following subjects:
Art History (Renaissance, Early Modern, late medieval, art theory)
Religious Studies/Religious History (Early Modern, Renaissance, late medieval)
Philosophy of Art
Italian Literature (Renaissance, Early Modern, late medieval)
Intellectual Historians (Renaissance, Early Modern, late medieval)
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