Art Nerd: The 5 Senses and Renaissance Art

In lieu of my original Mardi Gras plan of consuming unlimited amounts of crawfish and doughnuts I attended a lecture sponsored by DePaul’s History of Art & Architecture department entitled “Art and the Sense in Renaissance Italy: The Case of Isabella D’Este”.  You may be thinking “wow, cramming doughnuts in your mouth seems like it would’ve been a lot more fun” BUT it was a really interesting holistic portrait of Renaissance statuary.  Holistic in the sense that Professor Geraldine placed these objects not just in their original context of time and locale but investigated the interaction of them with the five senses.


Without going through her entire thesis, part of her argument pertains to challenging the way we photograph Renaissance sculpture (or any sculpture, really): head on, in front of a pure white backdrop, and under bright lights.  Imagine instead, she says, experiencing a statue such as Hercules and Antaenus or the Venus by Antico, commissioned by Isabella D’Este at its highest point of sensory interaction and pleasure.  That is, either placed above the guests of her studiolo and grotta on a shelf or passed around, leaving the metallic odor of bronze on the hands of each participant (with perfumed water dishes being passed around to cover one’s hands in a more attractive scent); the candlelight reflecting off the highly polished surface, creating the illusion of the men’s sweating muscles twitching as Hercules lifts Antaenus off of the ground to deprive him of his strength.  All after a huge feast and the equivalent of incense all over the place and learned conversation, of course.

What a sexy art experience that would’ve been!  Can we go back to the Renaissance and live art like this instead of watching it like we do now, like how it’s pictured below?  That’d be pretty rad.

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