Revising Devotion: the role of wooden sculptures in affecting painting and devotion in the Late Medieval period in Italy (XII-XV century)
Di Lodovico, Daniele
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This dissertation offers a reconsideration of medieval wooden sculptures and a new perspective for understanding their role in affecting devotion and pictorial production in late medieval and Renaissance culture. My study focuses on the diffusion and use of the sculptures from the group of the Descent from the Cross through the development of the animated sculptures of Christ from around 1100 to around 1560. Historically these objects have been considered principally as devotional objects and utilized to understand devotional practices and ceremonies; conversely, I assert that they represented the catalyst of a new, unfiltered experience of the sacred in which the laity were able to access and shape a powerful and direct relationship with the human side of Christ, eluding the controlling role of the Church. Even if the iconography of these sculptures did not bring anything new in comparison with their pictorial counterpart, I argue that the utilization of these sculptures guaranteed a connection with the divine through physicality and the ability to create a spatial experience of the sacred. The devotional use of these sculptures contributed to an identification of the faithful with the scene, which allowed devotees to begin to stand in for the characters in the Descent from the Cross. As a consequence the faithful created a dimension in which they were real participants in the scene, transcending time and space rather than creating e mere reenactment of this dramatic moment of the Passion of Christ. The distinctive media, qualities and adornments that these sculptures had endorsed them to become real in front of the faithful in a way that was not possible to replicate with the pictorial medium. This new relationship with the sculptures and the creation of a real sacred scene in which the faithful participated, I argue, greatly influenced the pictorial medium, especially in the shift toward a more naturalistic representation of the sacred scene during the later Middle Ages and beginning of the Renaissance. Painters translated visually what they experienced in the contemporary devotional context of this new, compelling, effective and physical relationship between sculptures and faithful, because of their conviction that what they witnessed could be understood to be real and authentic, not a mere representation. As a consequence sculptures attained such an important role in promoting the experience of the sacred that wooden representations of the body of Christ were treated and identified as if it they were the real human body of Christ.
- Fine arts