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Visual Humanisms

  • Start: 1 oktober 2021
  • Eind: april 2024
  • Status: lopend

Renaissance Humanism was an important driving force behind the ideal of bringing antiquity back to life, or restoring the ancient gods to their former glory. Was this resurrection of non-Christian gods merely an intellectual game or should we call it religious practice? 


Because of the education in the studia humanitatis, elites in early modern Italy were well versed in ancient texts relating to Roman, Greek, and other local antiquities; that knowledge was an element of social distinction, and many were therefore willing to contribute to new translations and publications or to the decoration of buildings, palazzi, and gardens with reference to the ancient gods. As Ernst Gombrich already noted, Botticelli’s Primavera (1482), showing Venus and Mercury, was the first non-religious painting after antiquity in a size that had previously been reserved for altarpieces. This raises the question if we should see this as Renaissance polytheism or paganism.

This symposium examines the role of artists in bringing about the ideals of Renaissance humanism. Many Renaissance artists were active in identifying and physically examining antiquities. Treatises of art theory - often written by artists themselves - contributed to both detailed and overview knowledge about antiquity. In this process Renaissance artists may have gained more than textual and visual information alone, that could be described as ‘tacit’ or ‘embodied’ knowledge. One could argue that artistic research played a pivotal role in the process of reintegration of classical textual sources and visual and material culture, which was typical for the Renaissance movement. 

What is more, by restoring the classical pantheon of gods, artists may have also contributed to inconsistency of belief and possibly to new forms of paganism. Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood argued in Anachronic Renaissance (2010), that Renaissance works of art referring to an ancient past acquire multiple temporalities; Botticelli’s ‘paintings became instantiations of ancient gestures’, so to speak: embodiments of ancient works of art, rematerializing the pagan gods. If we focus on these visual, material, and public aspects of religion and not as something people 'believed' in, does that approach give us new insights into Renaissance culture and its complex, possibly religious interest in ancient paganism? 


Dr. Marieke van den Doel (curator)


Nederlands Interuniversitair Kunsthistorisch Instituut Florence (NIKI)


Stichting Vrienden van het Kunsthistorisch Instituut in Florence


Symposium Visual Humanisms, 20-21 Oktober 2022, in Florence, Italië.

Verwacht: publicatie bij Brill (November 2023).


Dr. Marieke van den Doel,

Het humanisme van de Renaissance was een drijvende kracht achter het ideaal om de oudheid weer tot leven te wekken. Was deze herrijzenis van niet-christelijke goden slechts een intellectueel spel of een religieuze praktijk?