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Iconology: Neoplatonism and Art in the Renaissance

  • 2011-09-15
  • 2011-09-17
  • nstitute of Art History, University of Vienna
Institute of Art History, University of Vienna
in collaboration with the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Naples

Invitation to a conference on:

Iconology: Neoplatonism and Art in the Renaissance – Perspectives and Contexts of a (Controversial) Alliance,
Institute of Art History, University of Vienna, Thu. 15 – Sat. 17 September 2011

For a long period, the continuing influence of Neoplatonism on the fine arts during the Renaissance seemed to be more or less a commonplace in art history. The Christian versions of Plato’s philosophy for which Petrarch had yearned, enriched during the second half of the fifteenth century with important textual materials through Marsilio Ficino’s pioneering translations and interpretative work, played a key role in the way in which artistic production was understood during the Renaissance. In the mid-twentieth century, the resulting synthesis was discussed by the Warburg circle of outstanding scholars such as Ernst Cassirer, Erwin Panofsky, Rudolf Wittkower, Ernst Gombrich, Edgar Wind, Eugenio Garin and André Chastel. This view was associated with a general assumption that it is not possible for artists to be concerned exclusively with problems internal to art, and that they always have to deal with cosmological issues such as those involved in philosophy and theology as well. The encounter with Neoplatonism thus led to the development of a new method in art history: iconology. This was intended to give a scholarly quality to an ahistorical, ‘aestheticizing’ form of art history.

Since the 1970s, however, the influence of Neoplatonism on the fine arts during the Renaissance (and consequently the significance of iconology for art history in general) has been repeatedly called into question. At least since the time of Horst Bredekamp, who in 1986 proclaimed the ‘twilight of the gods for Neoplatonism’, silence has reigned in German art-historical
writing regarding the influence of Neoplatonism on the fine arts. By contrast, Italian and, in particular, American scholars have continued to assume that there was a close link between Neoplatonism and art. At the start of the new century, this approach came to general prominence through conferences and publications by Aphrodite Alexandrakis, Liana De Girolami Cheney and John Hendrix (Neoplatonism and Western Aesthetics, 2002; Neoplatonism and the Arts, 2002; Neoplatonic Aesthetics: Music, Literature & the Visual Arts, 2004). This approach has produced important results for art history, but there has been a lack of reflection on the scholarly history and methodology involved in it.

The aim of this conference, organized by the University of Vienna’s Institute of Art History in collaboration with the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, is to conduct a debate regarding these heterogeneous research approaches. The intention is to enable art historians – both those concerned with the history of their own discipline and also those whose research is on the art and culture of the Italian Renaissance itself – to meet up with historians from a wide variety of specialist fields, so that advocates and opponents of the view that Neoplatonic philosophy influenced the fine arts during the Italian Renaissance can have an opportunity to discuss their different standpoints.

The following topics in particular are to be examined:

— Historiographic: presentation of the individual approaches taken by art
historians such as Cassirer, Panofsky, Wittkower, Gombrich, Wind, Garin,

— Presentation of general methodological viewpoints regarding the
relationship between Neoplatonism and iconology:

(a) In critical presentations of methods applied in case studies on
individual artists and/or art works (e.g., by Botticelli, Michelangelo,

(b) In Neoplatonic art theory, geometry, proportion

(c) Using texts by Neoplatonists (e.g., Ficino, Diacceto) and texts
originating from their intellectual context and their opponents

(d) In relation to current historiographic approaches – e.g., involving
sociohistorical perspectives and in discourses involving gender, the body
and politics

We would be delighted if you were able to take part in the conference.

If you would like to present a paper, we would ask you to submit an
abstract with a maximum of 500 words by 31 May 2011.

Sergius Kodera
Institute of Philosophy
Universitätsstrasse 7
A-1010 Vienna

Berthold Hub
Institute of Art History
Spitalgasse 2
A-1090 Vienna

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