Matter and Similitude in Italian Painting and the Transatlantic Renaissance


ACLS Fellowship Program


History of Art and Architecture


Around 1530, numerous painters began producing large easel paintings on slabs of hewn stone. The substitution of stone for canvas has few parallels in global art history. By focusing on the material substrate of images—the stuff underneath the layer of pictorial illusionism that usually attracts scholarly attention—this project reveals new aspects of renaissance picture-making. Modern scholarship about renaissance art tends to emphasize the teleological emergence of naturalism, an ideal state at which a painting perfectly resembles the thing it represents. Focusing on painted stones, this project contends that a more flexible understanding of similitude was operative in the transatlantic renaissance. This project wagers that artists did not understand stone as an inert material; rather, for them it possessed signifying power exceeding its material presence. Interrogating how painters used stone to evoke similitude, this project challenges some of the foundational principles of Western aesthetics.