Operations of the Image: Painting, Medicine, and the Origins of Aesthetics in Early Modern Rome and Naples

Alejandro Octavio Nodarse, M.A.

My dissertation considers the intersection of painterly and medical practices in early modern Southern Europe. This intersection occurred with new potency in the dawning of the surgical age, between 1604 and 1672, between Rome and Naples, and between Caravaggio (1571–1610) and his foremost conceptual inheritor, the Spanish-born Jusepe (or José) de Ribera (1591–1652). It would lay the groundwork for a radically modern conception of painting as an aesthetic and scientific object: an object which merited increasing scrutiny, invoked aesthetic judgements, called forth medicalized diagnoses, and produced an abundance of ‘knowledge’ (scientia). During this period painting would itself become an ‘operation’. Gradually, the materiality of the image would proffer the procedures of its own history; and, by extension, the resultant work would be opened to a new mode of historical scrutiny. My research recomposes a ‘diagnostic mediality’ – a typology of diagnosis across divergent media – from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century, with the final chapter of my dissertation mapping the effects or ‘operations’ of certain works upon later artists and thinkers, e.g. Ribera’s Grotesques upon Gericault’s medicalized portraits and Murillo’s The Young Beggar upon Hegel’s Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik.

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