Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Larry Silver

Abstract

The religious paintings of Alessandro Moretto, also known as Moretto da Brescia, have endured a mixed reception from modern art historians. Certain of his paintings are routinely praised for their supposedly unaffected naturalism and their attention to the mundane details of lived experience, while many more of his altarpieces, chapel laterals, and domestic religious images have been criticized for their compositional incoherence and their overly obvious references to other artworks. Through four focused case studies covering the full extent of his career and including both domestic and liturgical images, this dissertation interrogates the relationship between Moretto’s compositional disintegration and the subject matter of the pictures where this lack of integrity is most pronounced. Moretto’s images concerning Christ’s body frequently pursued a strategy of pictorial incoherence that forcefully separated the recognition and interpretation of Christ’s physical form from a painting’s perceived ability to make absent bodies present for a beholder. In each of the cases examined, Moretto is shown to have set his pictures in opposition to one or more images—often well-known monuments of High Renaissance art—in which pictorial integrity signaled a potentially problematic relationship between the image and its maker. Contemporary publications that encouraged the discontinuous reorganization of an authored text are also identified as having encouraged the piecemeal appearance of Moretto’s highly referential pictures. Moretto’s fractured compositions distanced his paintings from the creative activities of nature and of God, making the works unsuitable as proxies for bodies but allowing them to facilitate a more complex contemplation of Christ’s body and its meaning in the era of pre-Tridentine Catholic reform.

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