Mantegna and Early Renaissance Court Culture
Instructor: Professor Stephen J. Campbell
W 4-6 p.m.
This course will be devoted to the distinct nature of Italian court society in the period before Absolutism (1300-1500), with a particular focus on the Este court in Ferrara and that of the Gonzaga in Mantua. We will consider court society according to several ‘classic' and recent models - those of Burckhardt, Huizinga, Elias, Geertz, Starn and Partridge - and to defining characteristics of the princely court as proposed by these: magnificence, legitimacy, the gift, and the ‘civilizing process.' In particular we will examine the working conditions of the court artist, as manifest in his administrative, practical and possible ceremonial roles, taking the career of Andrea Mantegna (1445-1506) at the Gonzaga court as a paradigm. Mantegna provides an apt case study because of the range of his artistic and courtly activities, his creation of new pictorial genres, his aspirations to nobility, and the fairly abundant documentation of his career. We will consider such questions as how did his terms of employment might have compared with those of other court functionaries, such as musicians. At what point could art and artists be seen as "ennobled" by working in the household of a prince? To what extent did court employment correspond with the development of the elevated characterizations of art that begin to appear in the art treatises of Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio, and Leonardo? In what ways were Renaissance theories of disegno - which elevated the intellectual conception of the work of art over its material realization and execution - determined by one of the most characteristic circumstances of the court artist's operation - the division of labor involved in the production of designs for a whole sphere of artistic media, including painting, tapestry, festival decorations, medals and metalwork? By considering these questions, the claim of Martin Warnke - that the court artist constituted the beginnings of the modern conception of the artist - will be subjected to debate and review.