Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why the Renaissance and its Art Were More Controversial Than We Think

It’s commonplace to imagine the people of the period we know now as the High Renaissance, centered in Italy from the 1490s to the 1520s, looking at the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael and thinking, “What a lovely Renaissance we’re having…” But, as Alexander Nagel explains in The Controversy of Renaissance Art, not everyone bought into the ideals of the Renaissance at that moment. In fact, Nagel sees the High Renaissance as an art historical and cultural turning point so steeped in controversy that controversy becomes “a condition of the art.” Instead of a fossilized, static time of great figures admiring one another’s greatness, the Renaissance in Nagel’s argument reemerges as a tumultuous time of experimentation and searching that is fluid, unresolved, and intellectually and spiritually challenging. Although, as Nagel admits, the Renaissance no longer stands triumphantly at the center of art history as an academic discipline, The Controversy of Renaissance Art might just return it there, not in triumph, but in the timelessness of its human uncertainty. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Why the Renaissance and its Art Were More ControversialThan We Think."

[Image: Fra Bartolomeo. The Vision of St. Bernard (detail), circa 1504.]

[Many thanks to the University of Chicago Press for providing me with a review copy of Alexander Nagel’s The Controversy of Renaissance Art.]

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