Pictokinetics: Polyfrontality and Polyfocality in Renaissance Italy

Clim Wijnands, M.A.

Many paintings in Renaissance Italy were painted on both sides (polyfrontal), or had moveable parts such as painted covers or wings that encouraged beholders to move the painting with their hands or walk around it in circles. Other works were polyfocal, and had material and stylistic properties that required spectators to change their position relative to the painting in order to 'read' the painting fully. The materiality of these paintings demands motion, and often also touch, in order to be 'used', underlining the close-knitted relation between object and body, and making the spectator aware of the collaboration among his/her senses to perceive. And indeed, the boundaries between the five senses were often blurred in the Renaissance. With the exception of altarpieces, polyfrontality and polyfocality occurred predominantly in the private domain, and performed an interesting role in intellectual discourse. On the other hand, moving parts like covers often served practical functions as well, protecting paintings from dust and damage, and facilitating every-day use. In both cases the materiality of these paintings demanded motion in order to be 'used', and this kinetic factor must have had a profound impact on the paintings' mediality. This project examines how and why the materiality of polyfrontal and polyfocal paintings in Renaissance Italy invited the intended beholder to move, and what the importance of motion was for the perception of painting in the private context, relying on three categories of case studies: devotional painting, portraiture, and easel painting. Using modern theories on corporal and kinetic perception, both the materiality and the mediality of these case studies will be analyzed. In so doing, the project aims to shed new light on the interplay between the materiality and mediality of Renaissance art, making the relation between man and object, as it was then, tangible.

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