Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance: The Legacy of the "Natural History"

Overview

Pliny’s Natural History (A.D. 77–79) served as an indispensable guide to and exemplar of the ideals of art for Renaissance artists, patrons, and theorists. Bearing the imprimatur of antiquity, the Natural History gave permission to do art on a grand scale, to value it, and to see it as an incomparable source of prestige and pleasure.

In this magisterial book Sarah Blake McHam surveys Pliny’s influence, from Petrarch, the first figure to recognize Pliny’s relevance to ...

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Overview

Pliny’s Natural History (A.D. 77–79) served as an indispensable guide to and exemplar of the ideals of art for Renaissance artists, patrons, and theorists. Bearing the imprimatur of antiquity, the Natural History gave permission to do art on a grand scale, to value it, and to see it as an incomparable source of prestige and pleasure.

In this magisterial book Sarah Blake McHam surveys Pliny’s influence, from Petrarch, the first figure to recognize Pliny’s relevance to understanding the history of Greek art and its reception by the Romans, to Vasari and late 16th-century theorists. McHam charts the historiography of Latin and Italian manuscripts and early printed copies of the Natural History to trace the dissemination of its contents to artists from Donatello and Ghiberti to Michelangelo and Titian. Meanwhile, benefactors commissioned works intended to emulate the prototypes Pliny described, aligning themselves with the great patrons of antiquity. This is a richly illustrated, comprehensive reference work of social history, myth making, iconography, theory, and criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

The Art Newspaper - Leonard Barkan

“. . .[I]t is the most extensive account in print of a relationship that is fundamental to the whole nexus of artists, patrons and public from the 14th century to the High Renaissance and beyond.”—Leonard Barkan. The Art Newspaper
Times Literary Supplement - James Hall

"The most useful and ambitious book I have read is Sarah Blake McHam’s Pliny and the Artistic Culture of the Italian Renaissance. As much a work of reference as of narrative history, McHam’s book spells out more comprehensively than ever before the afterlife of Pliny’s histories of art."—James Hall, Times Literary Supplement
Phi Beta Kappa Award - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Shortlisted for the 2014 Phi Beta Kappa Award in the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award
Library Journal
09/15/2013
Pliny the Elder, who died witnessing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, wrote his influential Natural History about "nature, that is, everything." His descriptions of people were used to create characters in the lunette at Vézelay Abbey in the early 12th century and to illuminate Marco Polo's travel writings in the 15th century, and both Petrarch and Vasari referred to Pliny's statement that sculpture and painting are "one art" because of their basis in drawing. Once the Natural History was translated into Italian vernacular and became available cheaply around 1500, however, its readership increased exponentially. McHam (art history, Rutgers Univ.) chronicles how the book informed Renaissance artists, theorists, and patrons about culture and life in antiquity and influenced their work. Lavishly illustrated with 120 color and 105 black-and-white images, this title shows off McHam's encyclopedic knowledge of the arts and sciences of antiquity and the Renaissance yet is easy to understand. Appendixes include Renaissance literary references to Pliny, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. VERDICT Those familiar with Renaissance art will get the most out of this volume.—Nancy J. Mactague, Aurora Univ. Lib., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300186031
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 711,866
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Blake McHam is professor of art history at Rutgers University.

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