Anna Majeski

Medieval Studies
2017
Donald and Maria Cox/Samuel H. Kress Foundation Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize (year one of a two-year fellowship)
Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
Visualizing the Cosmos from Fourteenth-Century Padua: From Francesco da Barberino to Giusto de’Menabuoi

A judge in late medieval Padua would have passed sentence amidst an extraordinary display of astrological knowledge. In the great Salone of the Palazzo della Ragione, 319 images of the planets, constellations and their influences on humankind adorned the walls, crowned by a vast ceiling painted blue and dotted with gilded, mirror-studded stars. Originally painted between 1309 and 1312 by Giotto, the frescoes were damaged by fire in 1420 and subsequently repainted. Nonetheless, the Salone cycle is the most extensive astrological cycle produced in late medieval Italy—a multivalenced response to the challenge of visualizing the cosmos, produced at the nexus of art, science, and politics. Among the most compelling precursors are fresco cycles produced for the papal court at Rome. The content of the Salone is heir to the thirteenth-century revival and reorganization of the discipline of astrology, in which images played an important role. Giotto’s frescoes, I contend, are both a summa and a critical rethinking of the astrological image as a form of knowledge. I will advance a reconstruction of the fourteenth-century cycle and explore the varied ways in which the Salone contributes to our understanding of the power of the image ca. 1300.

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