Early modern Venice had two annually returning temporary art exhibitions, one on the Piazza San Marco and one on the Campo San Rocco. As Giorgio Vasari attests, ‘the exhibition of the Ascension’ on the Piazza had already become common practice in the middle of the sixteenth century, and a wealth of other open air exhibitions, large and small, in the centre and in the neighbourhoods, were organised throughout the early modern period. Fleeting and elusive as these exhibitions were, art history has largely ignored them, and it is the purpose of my paper to assess what the study of such ephemeral practices could contribute to our field. Analysing the political meaning of these events as well as their role in the formation of artistic canons, this paper argues for a Venetian art history of the street.
Elsje van Kessel is a Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews. She received her PhD from Leiden University and specialises in Italian Renaissance art. Currently, she is preparing a book entitled The Social Lives of Paintings in Sixteenth-Century Venice, in which, integrating archival research, art historical analysis, social history and anthropology, she demonstrates how and why Venetian viewers treated certain paintings as living beings. Other research interests include portraiture, the history of display, presentation and collecting in the early modern period, the history of temporary exhibitions, and object biography. Elsje was a fellow at the Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art in Paris, and is the author of articles inStudiolo and Art History. With Caroline van Eck and Joris van Gastel, she edited The Secret Lives of Artworks (2014).