• MATTER(S) OF IMMORTALITY: OIL PAINTINGS ON STONE AND METAL IN THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES

      Cooper, Tracy Elizabeth; Hall, Marcia B.; West, Ashley D.; Lingo, Stuart, 1964- (Temple University. Libraries, 2017)
      By the second decade of the twenty-first century, the preponderance of scholarship examining oil paintings made on stone slabs or metal sheets in Western Europe during the early modern period (fifteenth–eighteenth centuries) had settled on an interpretation of these artworks as artifacts of an elite taste that sought objects for inclusion in private collections of whatever was rare, curious, exquisite, or ingenious. In a cabinet of curiosities, naturalia formed by nature and artificialia made by man all complemented each other as demonstrations of marvelous things (mirabilia). Certainly small-scale paintings on stone or metal exhibited amidst these kinds of rarities aided in aggrandizing a noble or bourgeois collector’s social prestige. As well, they might have derived their interest as collectables because of the painter’s fame or increased capacity for miniaturization on copper plates, or because the painter left a slab of lapis lazuli, for example, partially uncovered to reveal its visually arresting stratigraphy or coloration. Nonetheless, while the lithic and metallic supports might have added value to the oil paintings it was not thought to add meaning. A totalizing theory about this type of artwork, based on a perception of them as if they had only served as conspicuous consumables, therefore overlooks that in other circumstances the stone and metal supports did contribute to the iconographic substance of the paintings. As this dissertation will argue, the introduction of metal and stone supports allowed patrons and painters literally to add another layer of meaning to an oil painting’s imagery. These materials mattered not just as passive receptacles of meaning but as active shapers of significance. Evidence for this hypothesis exists in the historical record in at least three identifiable contexts: Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci (ca. 1474–1478) in relation to the epistemological debate known as the Paragone; funerary monuments in Roman churches inclusive of painted portraits in relation to theories about color and lifelikeness; medallion-shaped, chest plates known as Escudos de monjas (Nuns’ Shields) worn by nuns of some religious orders in Colonial Mexico in relation to pre-Hispanic sacral materials. All three of these case studies ultimately concern the paradoxical materialization of the immaterial fame of the painter, the soul of the deceased, and the Christian divine. Observing them in tandem provides an outline of the origins and development of the technique of painting with oils on stone and metal, and consequently broadens our understanding of this wider, early modern phenomenon.