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Current Research // Lektüreseminar am ZI mit Susanna Cecilia Berger



von 14:15 bis 15:45


Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Katharina-von-Bora-Str. 10, München, Vortragssaal 242, II. OG

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Why were Counter-Reformation patrons, scholars, artists, architects, and artisans so drawn to visual deformations that evoked states of confusion or mental perturbation that prevented the full command of the faculties? From antiquity through the start of the twentieth century, Western thinkers elevated clarity and opposed ambiguity in rhetorical and philosophical writing and speech. Following Giulio Carlo Argan’s observation in 1954 that baroque art reconfigures representation in rhetorical terms, in order to affect and persuade observers, scholars have repeatedly called attention to the interrelations between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian art theory and practice, on the one hand, and rhetorical theory, on the other. Given the long-standing elevation of clarity in the West from Aristotle onwards as a rhetorical virtue and the concomitant criticism of obscurity as an obstacle to persuasive discourse, the popularity in Counter-Reformation circles of deliberately incomprehensible deformations, which plunge observers into states of perceptual confusion that could only be overcome with difficulty, may seem somewhat paradoxical. This paper (the introduction of a book in progress) explores this conundrum.

Außenansicht barocker Kirche in Rom
Susanna Berger is Associate Professor of Art History and Philosophy at the University of Southern California and currently a Humboldt fellow in residence at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her work has been supported by numerous fellowships, notably from the Princeton Society of Fellows, the Guggenheim Foundation, the ACLS, and Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. Her first book, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2017), is a transnational study of the relations between images and philosophical knowledge in early modern France, Italy, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. The book was a finalist for the College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey Book Award and was awarded the Bainton Prize from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference for the best book in English in the field of early modern art and music history. She is currently completing a book, provisionally titled The Deformation: Visual Incomprehensibility and the Counter Reformation, which will appear with Princeton University Press.


[Caption: Front of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane | Francesco Borromini creator QS:P170,Q123150 Architas, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane - Front, CC BY-SA 4.0]

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