Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Michael W. Cole


Scholars of late Cinquecento and early Seicento Italian painting have tended to dismiss Florence after Vasari's time as "a stagnant backwater," its glorious artistic tradition having waned to such an extent as to have become all but irrelevant. Focusing their attention instead on the Carracci and Caravaggio, they interpret these artists' respective triumphs in Bologna and Rome as a reaction against a supposedly "idealist" Florence, epitomized by a rehashing of tired formulas, culled from the inventions of past masters, principally Michelangelo. This view of the emergence of the "Baroque" unjustifiably overlooks, however, a number of outstanding Florentine painters and draftsmen, who were enacting significant reforms in Florence itself during those years. Lodovico Cardi, known as Il Cigoli (1559-1613), the group's leader and the most prominent victim of this scholarly neglect, was, in fact, regarded as the acutest of talents by patrons, critics, and other practitioners of the period, who praised his new and distinct manner for its display of immense learning and firm commitment to the scientific study of nature. Adopting a historically grounded approach, this dissertation therefore seeks to characterize pictorial naturalism in Florence circa 1600 by examining the shift in theory, training, and practice in Cigoli's artistic circle, one of the most progressive in Italy of the time.

For these artists, the way out of the impasse, into which they perceived painting to have strayed, was by nothing less than a radical reassessment of the entire arsenal of pictorial means, chief among which was drawing and its attendant aids. Thus, they experimented with a wide array of techniques, materials, and instruments, redefining traditional categories of art-making, even as they forged new ones, all in an attempt to master what Cigoli called "the natural act of painting," an injunction to emulate both the end and means of nature's workings. These developments included an anatomical model that Cigoli conceived as a new type of pedagogical tool for drawing exercises, to be used in tandem with the reinstated practice of life drawing; the introduction of color into drawings of every kind; and a celebrated manuscript treatise, Cigoli's Prospettiva pratica, in which the author showcased his revolutionary understanding of how the eye sees, and laid down the theoretical framework for Florence's new pictorial naturalism, a feat the likes of which no other contemporary Italian painter even attempted. Each of the dissertation's three chapters pivots on one of these influential innovations, all commonly featured in European training and practice of the seventeenth century and beyond, thereby attending to a point of intersection between Cigoli's art and science, be it anatomy, color, or optical theory. As the first full-scale analytical study devoted to Cigoli (and his circle), this dissertation challenges the standard historiography of a key transitional moment in Italian art by elucidating the crucial role Florentine painters played in the historic revolutions that changed both art and science circa 1600.


Available to all on Tuesday, June 01, 2021

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