The Fragile Image

Francesca Borgo, Ph.D.

Over the course of the sixteenth century, decaying pictures began eliciting a special, technical curiosity in the artistic process that had brought them into being, leading contemporary viewers to speculate about the difficulties it presented. This project foregrounds the rise of material decay as a matter of aesthetic and scientific attention during this period, a development strongly associated with Leonardo da Vinci’s bold experimental techniques. Much as the non-finito was thought to celebrate the traces of making, so too the cracks, wounds and injuries of decaying works began to serve as a reference to the artwork’s gestation: as if cutting and pulling apart a cross-section of the artistic process, they laid bare the structure of the work of art, opening it to interpretation, criticism and debate. In presenting the ‘unfinished’ and the ‘undone’ as two equally important categories for approaching early modern making, the project emphasizes the role that fragility played in the development of contemporary artistic theory.

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