Stone painting: architecture and poetics of marble from Antiquity to the Enlightenment
Yale University Press
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As Fabio Barry’s subtitle explains, the extent of his investigation – from Antiquity to the Enlightenment – is intimidating. What’s more, this period is rather an understatement, as we start in the ancient Near East, move on to classical Greece and Rome, and then take Hagia Sophia and Westminster Abbey in the Middle Ages, before moving on to reach the Renaissance. and the baroque – and end up with people like Olafur Eliasson and Marina Abramovic in the here and now. Even so, the supreme merit of this fascinating book is its extraordinary depth, not its enviable breadth, and the way it teaches its readers to see the familiar in an exciting new light. The presence through the centuries of marble and a whole variety of precious and semi-precious stones in buildings and works of art, whether real or painted, is something that I cannot be the only one to having taken it a bit for granted, assuming – especially in sacred contexts – that it was simply meant to complement the high status of holy figures. I now understand that there is so much more to it.
To give a specific example: the responses of medieval and Renaissance pilgrims in Constantinople to the Stone of the Unction, on which the body of Christ was anointed. Their conviction that he had not been dyed red by the blood of Jesus, but also stained white by the tears of the Virgin (according to one of them, “they appeared to me like drops of water). icy ‘), suddenly makes it clear that the marble parapet in Giovanni Bellini Madonna of the Lochis in Bergamo is not a decorative accessory but, on the contrary, foreshadows the ultimate Passion of the Child Jesus. It is one snapshot among many, taken from the second half of the 15th century. After Barry, countless old friends of all his various readers will need to be revisited, but it will be as much a treat as reading this revealing text.
David Ekserdjian is Professor of Art and Film History at the University of Leicester. His most recent book is The Italian Renaissance altarpiece (Yale University Press).
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