Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History of Art

Abstract

This project uses an exhibition at the National Gallery in London to explore the fictive architecture which became a strategic and conspicuous feature of Italian Renaissance painting. Most historians of this period of Italian art have focused on the figure, and those who have studied pictorial space have tended to concentrate on mathematical perspective. A new study of the buildings and architectural frameworks created within images entirely changes the way we perceive these paintings. The exhibition and research project 'Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' addresses a fundamental question: what does architecture do for painting? It investigates how and why fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italian artists not only incorporated buildings in their work, but often took an architectural approach to painting. The exhibition is designed around 5 themes:
1) 'Building the picture' investigates the ways in which architecture underpins painting. Rather than being something added on or subordinate to the rest of the image, an architectonic approach often structures the whole painting at the initial planning stage. In setting out the composition, painters designed the architectural framework first, constructing a space and placing figures within it, as the technical evidence of underdrawing, incised or ruled lines and pin-holes often demonstrates.
2) 'Inhabiting the picture' explores the ways in which inner frameworks create the illusion of pictorial space.The way in which we visually enter and inhabit the picture greatly depends on architectural devices: frames and portals that invite the spectator into pictorial space, streets and piazzas through which we imagine strolling, or deep perspectival passages and barrel vaults that direct us inexorably to a vanishing destination. Certain architectural frameworks were favoured to make virtual buildings accessible to viewers: façades were opened up to create cut-away views, and the advantages of the loggia or ortico were explored. It is painted architecture that creates an entry to the image which is virtually built by the painter.
3) 'Place making' is an essential part of painting as the subject and the story need a location for the action or event. Architecture very often creates the place, whether it be real or imaginary, foreign or local, a city square or street, a church, monastery, stable or palace, an exterior or interior.The subtle characterisation of place plays a key role in visual story telling and is often achieved by architectural means.
4) 'Architectural time' investigates how painters imagined and constructed a time for the visual narrative. Although we might expect a straightforward rendering of, say, ancient buildings in a mythological subject, notions of history are often confused or complicated by hybrid architectural inventions, so that architecture in painting might seem at first to establish a time, but on looking more closely, a clear sense of period often collapses or is destroyed.
5) 'Fantasy architecture' explores what painters can do that architects cannot, displaying the power of the painter to create what could never be built. Extravagant buildings held a special appeal for artists, patrons and architects themselves, as the aesthetic principle is allowed to rule over the practical in a way that would never be possible in real structures. This section is about architectural desire: exhibiting unachievably complex or structurally impossible designs, dream-like colours and materials including bronze capitals or priceless coloured marbles, and surprising or grotesque decoration.

The project will also generate a program of scholarly and curatorial events and publications, including a website with an online catalogue, pod casts, and inventive digital reconstructions; a pre-exhibition conference session to explore the field; and an international symposium and student workshop during the exhibition period.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research and how will they benefit? Among non-academic beneficiaries the project will have an impact on the following groups:
1) It will benefit the wider public, particularly gallery visitors, tourists, and those who attend public lectures and educational events at the National Gallery in London. Italian Renaissance painting attracts a vast audience across the world. It has been collected and publicly displayed in museums and galleries on every continent, and is taught in schools and universities as a canonical product of European culture. On a more popular level it is consumed and disseminated in every medium from posters to internet sites. There is therefore a large, enthusiastic general audience for research in this field, especially when presented in visual form as this exhibition project will do. Being a free summer exhibition in the Sunley Room on the main floor of the Gallery, 'Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' will provide the widest possible public access. The National Gallery had over 5.2 million visitors from 1 April 2011-31 March 2012, while the three most recent free exhibitions in the Sunley Room were each seen by between 130,000 and 270,000 visitors. In addition, the searchable, zoomable and interactive catalogue will be available online, as will podcasts or short filmed conversations with artists, architects and designers of virtual environments, conveying the wider creative implications of this research.The National Gallery website had just over 6.5 million visits from 1 April 2011-31 March 2012. The online material will have the potential for long-term impact since it will continue to be available after the exhibition as part of the National Gallery website. As part of a cycle of innovative, thought-provoking and beautiful exhibitions, this will enhance the quality of the nation's cultural life, providing visual, creative and intellectual stimulus for the public.
2) It will have an impact on the research and exhibitions policy of a national museum in the public sector. A crucial benefit for The National Gallery is the way in which this exhibition is integrated with the Gallery's strategic development, both as part of a series of exhibitions highlighting lesser known aspects of the National Gallery's own holdings, while also being linked to a series of free summer exhibitions exploring connections between painting and other arts. 'Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' follows in a sequence after 'Metamorphosis:Titian 2012' relating painting to poetry, and 'Music in the Paintings of Vermeer' in summer 2013. Furthermore, it is timed to coincide in 2014 with a major exhibition on Veronese, in whose paintings architecture plays a crucial role.
3) It has the potential for impact on urban planners, architects and designers. Since this project focuses on the architectural imagination it may inspire all those concerned with architectural ideas, theory, designs and planning. The creation by painters of ideal cities, civic spaces, interrelated buildings, interiors and exteriors sheds light on concepts of what a building can be and ways in which we rethink cities.
4) It has the potential for impact on the commercial private sector in the computer games industry.The construction of virtual reality through the visualisation of architecture in Italian Renaissance painting can be seen as the ancestor of the virtual worlds presented to the modern public through digital media and screens. The computer games industry exploits architectural history and archeological research to reconstruct historic sites such as Renaissance Florence and Venice as used by players of 'Assassins Creed' [Ubisoft]. This research has the potential to inspire that section of the games industry engaged in constructing historic fantasies based around virtual buildings and urban topographies.

Publications

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Title 'Building the Picture' Exhibition 
Description 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting', Exhibition in the Sunley Room of the National Gallery, London, from 29 April - 20 September 2014, co-curated by Lillie and Caroline Campbell (National Gallery) with the assistance of our AHRC-funded CDA student Alasdair Flint. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The exhibition was visited by 180, 892 members of the public between 29 April and 20 September 2014, with a daily average of 1,248 visitors. It was a critical success, reviewed by newspapers and journals across London and the UK, Europe and the USA. Some of the most enthusiastic reviews were published in the Sunday Times, Observer, Wall St Journal, History Today, Architectural Review and Domus. Journalists and visitors reported that it changed the way they thought about art itself, about the inter-relationship between art and architecture, and the roles architecture plays in all the visual arts (see RCUK Narrative Impact for reviews). 
URL http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/building-the-picture
 
Description The research funded by this grant enabled me to co-curate an exhibition entitled 'Building the Picture. Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' at the National Gallery, London, and to write and edit the accompanying online exhibition catalogue. The project opened up a significant new field for the study of Italian Renaissance painting, which is applicable to the study of the visual arts as a whole, arguing that depicted or imagined architecture is not a secondary or passive addition to pictures (or sculptures, prints, films, etc.), but often underpins their planning from the outset, and that it plays a crucial role in determining how we perceive and relate to images. Represented architecture also structures artists' visions of place and time, both of which were explored in the exhibition and online publication.
Exploitation Route This new field of imagined architecture has important implications for people working in other disciplines such as architects, film makers, artists, computer games or digital designers, and theorists of art, architecture and virtual environments. We created links to these groups through our short films and public talks at the National Gallery and we hope to create a new network to pursue our common research interests.
The project has been of significant use to young scholars working in this field, who spoke at two of of the three conferences (funded by the AHRC Fellowship). Post graduates and post doctoral scholars from 7 different countries were enthusiastic about continuing to work together and to contribute to the volume of papers we hope to collect and edit from the conferences.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/building-the-picture
 
Description The first impact of the grant was the National Gallery exhibition 'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting', which was co-curated by Lillie and Caroline Campbell of the National Gallery with the assistance of our AHRC funded CDA student Alasdair Flint. It was seen by 180, 892 members of the public between 29 April and 20 September 2014, with a daily average of 1,248 visitors. It was reviewed with enthusiasm in newspapers and journals in the UK, USA, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Georgia Clarke wrote for The Architectural Review: 'This subtle and sophisticated exhibition... offers much to viewers of all kinds - from the general public to experts in the field, from those whose primary interest is in painting to those who are engaged by architecture.' Laura Cumming in the The Observer wrote: 'All great exhibitions have the power to change the way we think about one or more artists. Not many change the way we think about art itself. But that is the rare and surprising achievement of Building the Picture at the National Gallery.' On a more popular level Time Out pointed out, 'it's ace and it's freerealising that the very structure of these paintings is problematic and up for debate is fascinating, especially if your art history has some shaky foundations'. Apart from its ideas and its aesthetic content, it is seen as a new curatorial model. Waldemar Januszczak wrote in The Sunday Times, 'the show itself consists largely of pictures from the gallery's collection that have been made to feel fresh and unfamiliar by a smart theme that prompts a different understanding of them. All this is clever and stimulating this is the way forward... the eco way - not by spending zillions on new pictures, but by getting to know what you already own much better'. Tom Freudenheim of The Wall St Journal wrote, 'I was especially struck by this show as a matrix that might well have a life beyond its London display. Almost any museum with Italian Renaissance paintings could use this exhibition as a template to help viewers take a fresh look at its holdings. This exceptionally interesting and beautiful London exhibition merits attention as a model worthy of emulation'. The second major output of the project is the National Gallery's first scholarly online exhibition catalogue. In the first 6 months from 28 April-10 November 2014 it received 148,758 page views (13,357 visitors/users; 18,041 visits/sessions). The users spent 4.7x longer on the site than typical users and visited 2.7x more pages. Since then the popularity of the website has grown. Between 28 April 2014-28 September 2015 it received 462,607 page views (68,874 users; 86,833 visits, visiting 2.1 more pages and spending 2.3 times longer on the site than typical users) The online publication has been well received by critics. Waldemar Januszczak wrote in the Sunday Times, 'I went home, got online and began reading about Building the Picture on the National Gallery's website. Four hours later I was still there the Building the Picture web experience ought to carry a warning on its opening page: "Beware. You could spend the rest of your life on here" I was in heaven, enjoying hour after hour of exquisite art-historical nose following'. The Wall St Journal noted that Amanda Lillie['s] .. online catalog [is] a bold model for a museum to follow the online catalog, with its various link options, enlarges on this subject in ways that could also be taken on by other museums'. The Architectural Review reported: 'The curious can, at their leisure delve deeper into the many ways in which Renaissance painters made use of architecture via the rich resources of Amanda Lillie's exemplary online exhibition catalogue, in which she has been ably assisted by a team of experts.' The five filmed thought pieces (funded by the AHRC Fellowship) that were screened alongside the exhibition, now form part of the 'Building the Picture' website. These open the subject out, relating to imagined architecture as conceived by contemporary practitioners and writers, a film maker (Martha Fiennes), an architect (Peter Zumthor), a computer games designer (Peter Gornstein), an art historian (T. J. Clark), and a cinema historian (John David Rhodes). One reviewer praised the concept behind the films: 'This awareness of potential audiences, and of the insights that different viewpoints can bring to what might seem an esoteric topic, is exemplified by five specially commissioned short films'. Their public impact can be measured by the number of plays the films received online from 9 April 2014-18 September 2015: 31,660 plays, as well as the many thousands who watched them during the exhibition. They have been taken up as a template for a new type of film for the National Gallery website, including filmed conversations about paintings of John the Baptist. Another spin-off was the screening of Martha Fiennes's experimental film Nativity at the National Gallery for one week during the exhibition. The whole 'Building the Picture' website was short listed for Apollo International Art Magazine's Digital Innovation Award in 2014.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description PhD scholarship for Ellen Koching Chao's project, 'Rethinking Seats of Government in a Florentine Republican Context'. She came to me as the result of my AHRC funded research but was not part of the original project.
Amount £108,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Taiwan 
Sector Public
Country Taiwan, Province of China
Start 09/2015 
End 09/2019
 
Description Two PhD studentships for doctoral students - Livia Lupi and Sam Smith - who came to me because of my AHRC-funded research, but were not part of the original project.
Amount £52,813 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2012 
End 09/2015
 
Description Collaborative Research Partnership 
Organisation National Gallery, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I co-curated an exhibition and wrote and edited an online publication, both of which required my expertise and intellectual input. This project was part of a Collaborative Research Partnership between the National Gallery London and the History of Art Department at the University of York which I helped to found in 2010. After a most successful initial 4 years of this partnership, in 2015 I negotiated its renewal for a further 4 years until 2019. We are now planning a further research project and exhibition together and will be applying to the AHRC Follow-on Funding Scheme for support. In 2016-17, I and my PhD student Livia Lupi collaborated with the National Gallery on their Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition, translating from the Italian a group of letters written by Sebastiano del Piombo to Michelangelo. These translations were displayed in the exhibition (15 March - 25 June 2017), and published in the accompanying book. In 2017 I submitted a new proposal to the National Gallery London for an exhibition currently entitled 'Pictorial Geology: Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks' with a view to applying to the AHRC Follow-on Funding Scheme as stated above.
Collaborator Contribution The National Gallery hosted the exhibition in the Sunley Room and their digital team helped to design and launch the online publication. Caroline Campbell of the National Gallery co-curated the exhibition and provided her expertise and intellectual input. In addition the Exhibitions Department, Exhibition Designers, Press and Marketing Department, Education Departments, Scientific Department, Conservation Department, Registrars, and Art Handlers all contributed their time, skills and expertise to the exhibition. The National Gallery provided free use of their facilities, library, archives, and galleries while I was working on the exhibition.
Impact 2014: Building the Picture Exhibition; Building the Picture online publication; 5 short films for Building the Picture; 2 podcasts; 3 conferences; AHRC funded CDA PhD at the National Gallery now completed; public lectures, events, press viewings for the exhibition. 2017: Translations of Sebastiano del Piombo's letters to Michelangelo, displayed in Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition and published in the book accompanying the exhibition.
Start Year 2010
 
Description 5 short films to accompany the 'Building the Picture' exhibition and website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The short films or 'thought pieces' have been watched by many thousands, both in the screening during the exhibition (there were 180,892 visitors to the exhibition) and on the National Gallery website (the films have received 20,476 plays on the website). The films have received positive reviews from the press.

This was a new type of film for the National Gallery, and the enthusiastic response has led the Gallery to embark on a series of films for their website (eg St John the Baptist series). Other curators and colleagues have said they intend to emulate these films.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/building-the-picture
 
Description AHRC short film 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The AHRC wanted to create a visual record of Lillie's Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting Fellowship.

It increased the impact of this exhibition project among the AHRC community and among the public at large via YouTube.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://youtu.be/h3m3aaQf5KM
 
Description Curators in Conversation lunchtime public event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This public event in the lecture theatre at the National Gallery sparked questions and discussion about our exhibition. (This was organised by the National Gallery and was not funded by the AHRC).

Our discussion fed into an ongoing debate about the different approaches taken by academics and museum curators. It led to an increased number of people visiting the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Guided visits and Gallery talks (Education Department, National Gallery, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Education Department at the National Gallery ran special guided visits and talks focused on architecture in painting for children and for adults throughout the five month exhibition period. (Not funded by the AHRC).

This was another way to inform the public and to encourage them to engage with the exhibition and the ideas it put forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Postgraduate conference (National Gallery, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Two postgraduate students and one post doctoral student convened a conference (funded by Lillie's AHRC Fellowship) entitled 'Beguiling Architecture' at the National Gallery in London, which attracted speakers from France, Switzerland and Italy as well as the UK. There was an enthusiastic response both to the exhibition and to the sharing of ideas.

The conference brought young international scholars together to create a new network and to share knowledge and ideas in a way that would not have been possible without the funding. It also enabled them to see the 'Building the Picture' exhibition and extended its international impact.
The postgraduates are keen to publish their papers in a collected volume and to be involved in the editing process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Press views of exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The main Press View for the 'Building the Picture' exhibition at the National Gallery attracted about 60 members of the Press from across the world. In addition my co-curator and I took journalists and critics on individual tours of the exhibition. They asked questions and showed a lively interest in this new way of looking at paintings.

The Press Views undoubtedly informed and encouraged the excellent reviews this exhibition received, and increased its global impact. This exhibition is generally thought to have 'punched above its weight', as a relatively small exhibition which has received many reviews.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/building-the-picture
 
Description Public lectures (National Gallery, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The National Gallery's Education Department (Adult Learning) organised and hosted a series of public lectures to extend the impact of the Building the Picture exhibition. (Not funded by the AHRC).

These were well attended and encouraged the public to visit or revisit the exhibition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Scholars' colloquium (National Gallery, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lillie convened a colloquium of international scholars entitled, 'Imagining Architecture' at the National Gallery, London. Speakers came from the Universities of Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa, Oxford Brookes and Birmingham. There was lively interchange of ideas and discussion.

The colloquium (funded by the AHRC) attracted international scholars to the 'Building the Picture' exhibition, which they might not have otherwise seen and to the accompanying website.
The speakers have agreed to submit their papers for publication in a collected volume on the topic of imagined architecture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Study morning (National Gallery, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an interdisciplinary study morning open to the public where a film maker (Martha Fiennes), an architect (Amanda Levite) and the curators of the exhibition (Lillie and Campbell) gave talks. It set in train a joint discussion about the points of intersection in our ideas. (Not funded by the AHRC).

It sparked further interest in the exhibition among non academic groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Two podcasts (National Gallery, London website) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two podcasts were made focussing on works in the exhibition for the National Gallery website with Caroline Campbell talking about Sassetta's 'St Francis relinquishing his worldly goods' for Episode 91 (May 2014) and Lillie talking about Sebastiano del Piombo's 'Judgement of Solomon' for Episode 93 (July 2014). (Not funded by the AHRC).

Podcasts attract a wide audience on the National Gallery website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/podcasts
 
Description Two-day session of Association of Art Historians conference (University of Reading) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Lillie convened a two-day session of the Association of Art Historians annual conference, entitled on 'Visualising Architecture', with 14 papers by speakers from 8 countries (UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, China). Part-funded by Lillie's AHRC Fellowship.

These sessions attracted many young scholars who were enthusiastic about this newly developing field. There was a lively exchange of knowledge and ideas and the determination to produce joint publications and work together in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013