Christianity and the Renaissance: Image and Religious Imagination in the Quattrocento

By Timothy Verdon; John Henderson | Go to book overview

toward the source), the external exemplar of Scripture becomes an interior exemplar: the acoustical image of the word of Scripture heard in faith becomes first a fantasy-image in the artist's mind, and then a concrete image ('image-chose') under his skilled hands. Icon-theology not only does not ask art history and criticism to abdicate their autonomy; it establishes them as autonomous at its own level, which is that of the history and criticism of art created in faith -- what we might call historical criticism in light of icon-theology.

In any event, it is historical fact that artists often collaborated with theologians, as an example will serve to illustrate. On 25 November 1499, the "honorable painter" Luca Signorelli was commissioned by the officials of the cathedral works in Orvieto to complete the pictorial decoration of the New Chapel, and to do so in a way that would harmonize with "the design prepared formerly by the venerable Fra Giovanni" of Fiesole, that is, Fra Angelico. 39 And for those portions of the chapel for which Fra Angelico had left no designs, Signorelli was instructed to paint "as advised in a series of conversations with local theologians." 40 A final comment on this passage helps make my point: when the officials of the cathedral originally decided to bring in Fra Angelico -- on 11 March 1447 -- they did not suggest that theologians should serve as his advisers. Instead they "deliberated and ordered that the said master painter should be awaited, and that it was necessary to listen to him, and once he had been heard they could go on to give the commission." 41

This difference of approach suggests that Fra Angelico was understood to unite in his own person -- by a kind of hypostatic union, to use a phrase borrowed from theology (where it is employed in reference to Christ) -- two 'natures': the nature of the artist and the nature of the theologian. And never was icon-theology so coherent as in his case!


NOTES
1.
Eugenio Marino, O. P., L'affresco "La Vergine della radice di Iesse. "Andrea Bonaiuti in S. Domenico di Pistoia: Saggio methodologico su iconografia e teologia ( Pistoia: Memorie domenicane, 1982). This reprint in book form of my article of the same name in Memorie domenicane

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