Peter Howard - Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence

February 20, 2013

The Power of Luxury: Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime
The Australian Institute of Art History
The University of Melbourne
19 and 20 February, 2013

Session Four - Made in Italy Then and Now
Wednesday 20 February 2.30 pm

Peter Howard
Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence

Magnificence was not just an aesthetic judgement – it was a moral virtue. We have long assumed that it was the pursuit of this virtue that led Florence’s cultural patrons to commission the artworks that thrust the city into the front ranks of artistic innovation. According to this view, Aristotle gave the concept its theoretical form and Timoteo Maffei its local voice in a spirited defence of Cosimo de’ Medici that set his ‘magnificence’ on an individual and largely secular foundation. Here I overturn this view and argue that Florentines were discussing the virtue of ‘magnificence’ decades earlier, and that it was mendicant preachers working with medieval texts who took the lead. I relocate the origins of Florentine public discourse on magnificence from the 1450s to the 1420s, and from a largely secular to a distinctly religious context. I demonstrate that Antonino Pierozzi, a Dominican friar who became archbishop of Florence, propagated Aristotelian concepts of ‘magnificence’ that had been mediated and refracted through Thomas Aquinas and Henry of Rimini, first in sermons from the 1420s onwards, and then later in his influential Summa.

Peter Howard is Associate Professor in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies and Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University in Australia. He has published widely in the areas of Italian Renaissance history and medieval sermon studies, including Beyond the Written Word: Preaching and Theology in the Florence of Archbishop Antoninus, 1427-1459 (Florence, 1995), and recently a major study on the Sistine Chapel, Painters and the Visual Art of Preaching: The Exemplum of the Fifteenth-Century Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (I Tatti Studies 13), and Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence (Toronto, 2012). He is currently engaged in two Australia Research Council funded projects: “Cultures of Belief in Renaissance Florence”, and “Imagining Poverty: conceptualising and representing poverty and the poor in mendicant inspired literature, preaching and visual art 1220-1520”. He has held fellowships at the European University Institute, Florence, and ‘Villa I Tatti’: the Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies, where he was also Visiting Professor in 2007.

Image notes
Virgin and Child with Four Saints. Fra Angelico. source wikimedia commons link

nb. Entry created May 5 2013. Dated to Feb 20 (date of presentation) for indexing purposes


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