Book Two of Leon Battista Alberti’s hugely influential treatise Della Pittura et della Statua (1435–1436) begins with a passage that has stayed with me throughout my career: ‘Painting has in itself a truly divine power, not only because, as is said of friendship, it lets the absent be present, but moreover because it causes the dead after many centuries to be almost alive, such that it is recognised with much admiration for the maker, and with much pleasure.’
My lecture will reflect on ways in which Alberti’s striking analogy between the power of painting and friendship as a connection between two embodied, responsive entities can inform our understanding of works of early modern art.
Joanna Woodall joined the academic staff of The Courtauld in 1986. A specialist in the visual and material culture of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, her research interests focus on the issue of presence in material objects and the different ways in which embodied and situated users at particular historical moments valued and responded to specific works of art and artefacts. She has studied the importance of love and friendship to conceptions of art in this period and published extensively on portraiture, most importantly a monograph on Anthonis Mor in 2007. More recently, her interests have turned from love to money; she has produced a series of critical essays that explore parallels between the semiotic character of coins and of specific works of art. She is also concerned with the epistemological value of images and is currently co-editing with Thomas Balfe and Claus Zittel a volume entitled ‘Ad Vivum? Visual materials and the vocabulary of life-likeness in Europe before 1800’ (Intersections, Brill, 2019).
Organised by Professor Deborah Swallow (Märit Rausing Director, The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Dr Alixe Bovey (Head of Research, The Courtauld Institute of Art)