Thesis ID: CBB863390852

Visualizing the Cosmos in Trecento Padua: From Giotto di Bondone to Giusto de' Menabuoi (2022)


Nagel, Alexander (Advisor)
Majeski, Anna Theresa (Author)

Nagel, Alexander
New York University
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

Publication Date: 2022
Physical Details: 285

This dissertation examines an unusual convergence between pictorial ambition and sophisticated science in Paduan painting of the ‘long’ trecento. Between c. 1300 and 1440, the painters of Padua executed a series of astrological fresco cycles for spaces across the city’s public sphere: Giotto di Bondone’s astrological cycle for the Palazzo della Ragione (c. 1307/8), destroyed in a fire of 1420; Guariento di Arpo’s Allegories of the Planets and Ages at the Augustinian Church of the Eremitani (c. 1361–5); Giusto de’Menabuoi’s cosmic diagram in the town’s baptistery (c. 1373–8); and, largest in scope, the astrological cycle that replaced Giotto’s lost program at the Palazzo, executed by Niccolò Miretto and an unknown painter of Ferrara (c. 1425–35). The sustained importance of astrological themes in public art distinguishes Padua from other major trecento centers. Together, these fresco cycles offer an opportunity to reevaluate the relation between art and science in late medieval Italy. During the period in which these programs were executed, Padua experienced an era of artistic and intellectual ferment. The city played host to some of the trecento’s most important painters. Simultaneously, the University of Padua became a major center of astrological inquiry, beginning with the tenure of philosopher, physician, and astrologer Pietro d’Abano from c. 1306–15/6. Pietro was the probable designer for Giotto’s program, and his treatises informed both the quattrocento program at the Palazzo, and Guariento’s allegories at the Eremitani. While the sustained exchange between art and astrological theory offers the point of departure, this study recalibrates the relation between trecento painting and science by centering the artist’s agency and capacity to give innovative form to theoretical ideas. The literature on the Paduan astrological cycles often treats these programs as simple illustrations of astrological concepts. Yet, the painters of Padua made active interventions in the scientific subject matter at hand. They were tasked with developing strategies for visualizing complex astrological content and creating pictorial programs that mobilized scientific concepts in new contexts. Moreover, this study brings to bear the genre-specific properties of monumental painting. Alongside pictorial qualities apprehended through the sense of sight, painters in fresco exploited spatial dimensions apprehended corporeally to shape meaning and reception, direct attention, and heighten the charismatic impact of works of art. Through innovative programs in fresco, the painters of Padua engaged astrological ideas and mediated the invisible workings of the cosmos. Taking up these fresco cycles in a series of case studies, this dissertation gives shape to the unique intersection between intellectual milieu and pictorial ambition in trecento Padua and seeks to highlight the intellectual stakes of painting before Alberti.

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Authors & Contributors
Nothaft, C. Philipp E.
Alexandratos, Rea
Attenborough, David
Baldasso, Renzo
Ben-Dov, Jonathan
Boudet, Jean-Patrice
Micrologus: Natura, Scienze e Società Medievali
Micrologus: Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies
Archives of Natural History
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
History of Science
Columbia University
Brepols Publishers
Cornell University Press
Harvey Miller Publishers
Royal Collection
Painters and painting
Visual representation; visual communication
Science and culture
Science and art
Leonardo da Vinci
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Boyle, Robert
Catesby, Mark
Dal Pozzo, Cassiano
Time Periods
15th century
14th century
16th century
17th century
Alps (Europe)
Middle and Near East
Vienna (Austria)
Royal Society of London

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