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Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration

Overview

The traditional story of Renaissance painting is one of inexorable progress toward the exact representation of the real and visible. Georges Didi-Huberman disrupts this story with a new look—and a new way of looking—at the fifteenth-century painter Fra Angelico. In doing so, he alters our understanding of both early Renaissance art and the processes of art history.

A Florentine painter who took Dominican vows, Fra Angelico (1400-1455) approached his work as a largely theological...

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Overview

The traditional story of Renaissance painting is one of inexorable progress toward the exact representation of the real and visible. Georges Didi-Huberman disrupts this story with a new look—and a new way of looking—at the fifteenth-century painter Fra Angelico. In doing so, he alters our understanding of both early Renaissance art and the processes of art history.

A Florentine painter who took Dominican vows, Fra Angelico (1400-1455) approached his work as a largely theological project. For him, the problems of representing the unrepresentable, of portraying the divine and the spiritual, mitigated the more secular breakthroughs in imitative technique. Didi-Huberman explores Fra Angelico's solutions to these problems—his use of color to signal approaching visibility, of marble to recall Christ's tomb, of paint drippings to simulate (or stimulate) holy anointing. He shows how the painter employed emptiness, visual transformation, and displacement to give form to the mystery of faith.

In the work of Fra Angelico, an alternate strain of Renaissance painting emerges to challenge rather than reinforce verisimilitude. Didi-Huberman traces this disruptive impulse through theological writings and iconographic evidence and identifies a widespread tradition in Renaissance art that ranges from Giotto's break with Byzantine image-making well into the sixteenth century. He reveals how the techniques that served this ultimately religious impulse may have anticipated the more abstract characteristics of modern art, such as color fields, paint spatterings, and the absence of color.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Fra Angelico, a Dominican monk, covered the walls of the Church of San Marco in Florence with elegant frescoes from 1440 to 1452. These two books treat those paintings in different ways, adding to their mystery and reality. Hood's presentation in Braziller's series provides a basis for understanding the paintings and the artist who produced them. In this two-part book, the introductory first part is divided into four sections, covering the architecture of the church and cloister; biographical background on the artist; information on the frescoes and their placement, which reveal the political climate of the day; and Fra Angelico's virtuosity and technical ability. The second part contains full-page color plates and commentaries on the frescoes. Hood acknowledges that French scholar Didi-Huberman was the first to apply medieval and Renaissance scholastic thought to analysis of the San Marco frescoes. Didi-Huberman uses the frescoes as a starting point to discuss how they conjure up philosophical and theological questions from holy scripture and authors such as Albertus Magnus, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc., that Fra Angelico, as an observant, 15th-century Dominican friar, would have known and meditated on daily. Angelico's access to the prestigious library at San Marco provided a wealth of texts that would have been integral to the thinking of that community and contributed to the knowledge used in the production of the frescoes. This translation is difficult reading, with many Latin words and phrases. Readers who would like a less densely written account of the paintings in their historical context might consult Hood's unique work Fra Angelico at San Marco LJ 6/15/93, which discusses the meaning of Dominican life at San Marco and its influence on choice of subject matter in the frescoes. Didi-Huberman can be appreciated by the medieval and Renaissance scholar, philosopher, or theologian and is recommended for special collections. Hood appeals to a wider audience of travelers and lay readers, as well as art historians and students, and is recommended for special and public collections.-Ellen Bates, New York
Booknews
Didi-Huberman (social sciences, Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris) provides a reassessment of the traditional story of Renaissance painting, showing how Fra Angelico (1400-1455) used emptiness, visual transformation, and displacement to give form to the mystery of faith. Further, in Fra Angelico's work he traces a disruptive strain of Renaissance painting which challenges verisimilitude, identifying a tradition in Renaissance art that ranges from Giotto's break with Byzantine image-making well into the 16th century. Originally published in French by Flammarion, Paris, 1990. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226148137
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 290
  • Product dimensions: 8.76 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Georges Didi-Huberman is professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He is the author of more than thirty books on the history and theory of images, including Images in Spite of All, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Jane Marie Todd has translated a number of books, including Conversations with Picasso by Brassaï, Largesse by Jean Starobinski, and The Forbidden Image by Alain Besançon.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Translator's Note
Introduction
Part One - The Colors of Mystery: Fra Angelico, Painter of Dissemblance
The Question of Figure, the Question of Ground
The Subtlety of Images
The Four Senses of Scripture
The Dialectic of Dissemblance
Memoria, or the Implicit of Figures
Praefiguratio, or the Destiny of Figures
Praesentia, or the Virtual of Figures
Part Two - Prophetic Places: The Annunciation Beyond Its Story
Story and Mystery
How to Figure the Unfigurable?
The Figure Is Time
The Figure Is the Place
Inhabitatio: In the Light of the Word
Inchoatio: In the Shadow of the Earth
Incorporatio: In the Bosom of Colors
Notes
Credits
Index

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