Study the following three works of art and write an illustrated paper (4-6 pages, approximately 1300 words, double spaced) analyzing the development of narrative and artistic skill within the series. Next, compare the development of composition (artistic skill in design) and narrative technique with Humanist philosophy (Pico text). Good papers will be based on research on the narrative to help students decipher images.
Begin study of images in the Gothic Room, 3rd floor
How does Giotto’s, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, c. 1305, differ from medieval icons? What innovations appear in the Giotto panel?
Raphael Room, 2nd floor
Continue your analysis with The Annunciation, 1480, by Piermatteo d’Amelia,
and Botticelli’s Rape of Lucretia, 1504. How do the painters set the stage for the narrative? How do they deal with narrative? Which kind of background images do you see? What clues do details in all three paintings give you for the narrative.?
Consider Mrs. Gardner’s placement of the three paintings. How do her installations of the artifacts affect your understanding of the society that produced them? How do the installations enhance your understanding of the texts being depicted? How does Mrs. Gardner’s vision of each gallery affect your experience of it?
Finally, compare the text taken from the Oration on the Dignity of Man by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) with the development of Italian Renaissance composition and visualization of sacred narratives. The text, published in 1486, was written by one of the most widely read Renaissance philosophers. How does Pico’s concept of the universe compare with Renaissance pictorial composition? How does Pico build his argument? What do you see in the paintings to help you understand the story portrayed? Are there parallels between the ideas in the text and the paintings? Synthesize the two art forms¾painting and writing¾as completely as you can.
Develop your ideas in a logical order from general descriptions to more specific points or reverse the order. Your paper should have a brief introduction and a conclusion.
Illustrate your paper with your own sketches of the paintings. Looking carefully while sketching will help you understand the compositions.
Papers will be graded on content, clarity, organization, and depth of analysis.
Students using the Writing Center or the Teaching Assistant for help with writing must turn in their original paper with editorial notes as well as the final version.
Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494)
from Oration on the Dignity of Man, 1486
1. I have read in the records of the Arabians, reverend Fathers, that Abdala the Saracen, when questioned as to what on this stage of the world, as it were, could be seen most worthy of wonder, replied: ‘There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.” In agreement with this opinion is the saying of Hermes Trismegistus: “A great miracle, Asclepius, is man.” But when I weighed the reason for these maxims, the many grounds for the excellence of human nature reported by many men failed to satisfy me—that man is the intermediary between creatures, the intimate of the gods, the king of the lower beings, by the acuteness of his senses, by the discernment of his reason, and by the light of his intelligence the interpreter of nature, the interval between fixed eternity and fleeting time, and (as the Persians say) the bond, nay, rather, the marriage song of the world, on David’s testimony but little lower than the angels. Admittedly great though these reasons be, they are not the principal grounds, that is, those which may rightfully claim for themselves the privilege of the highest admiration. For why should we not admire more the angels themselves and the blessed choirs of heaven? At last it seems to me I have come to understand why man is the most fortunate of creatures and consequently worthy of all admiration and what precisely is that rank which is his lot in the universal chain of Being—a rank to be envied not only by brutes but even by the stars and by minds beyond this world. It is a matter past faith and a wondrous one. Why should it not be? For it is on this very account that man is rightly called and judged a great miracle and a wonderful creature indeed.
2. But hear, Fathers, exactly what this rank is and, as friendly auditors, conformably to your kindness, do me this favor. God the Father, the supreme Architect, had already built this cosmic home we behold, the most sacred temple of His godhead, by the laws of His mysterious wisdom. The region above the heavens He had adorned with Intelligences, the heavenly spheres He had quickened with eternal souls, and the excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world He had filled with a multitude of animals of every kind. But, when the work was finished, the Craftsman kept wishing that there were someone to ponder the plan of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness. Therefore, when everything was done (as Moses and Timaeus best witness), He finally took thought concerning the creation of man. But there was not among His archetypes that from which He could fashion a new offspring, nor was there in His treasure houses anything which He might bestow on His new son as an inheritance, nor was there in the seats of all the world a place where the latter might sit to contemplate the universe. All was now complete; all things had been assigned to the highest, the middle, and the lowest orders. But in its final creation it was not the part of the Father’s power to fail as though exhausted. It was not the part of His wisdom to waver in a needful matter through poverty of counsel. It was not the part of His kindly love that he who as to praise God’s divine generosity in regard to others should be compelled to condemn it in regard to himself.
3. At last the best of artisans ordained that that creature to whom He had been able to give nothing proper to himself should have joint possession of whatever had been peculiar to each of the different kinds of being. He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus: “Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgment thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws, prescribed by Us. Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou mayest from thence more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.”
4. O supreme generosity of God the Father, O highest and most marvelous felicity of man! To him it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills. Beasts as soon as they are born (so says Lucilius) bring with them from their mother’s womb all they will ever possess. Spiritual beings, either from the beginning or soon thereafter, become what they are to be for ever and ever. On man when he came into life the Father conferred the seeds of all kinds and the germs of every way of life. Whatever seeds each man cultivates will grow to maturity and bear in him their own fruit. If they be vegetative, he will be like a plant. If sensitive, he will become brutish. If rational, he will grow into a heavenly being. If intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, happy in the lot of no created things, he withdraws into the center of his own unity, his spirit, made one with God, in the solitary darkness of God, who is set above all things, shall surpass them all. Who would not admire this our chameleon? Or who could more greatly admire aught else whatever? It is man who Asclepius of Athens, arguing from his mutability of character and from his self-transforming nature, on just grounds says was symbolized by Proteus in the mysteries. Hence those metamorphoses renowned among the Hebrews and the Pythagoreans.