Playful Pictures: Art, Leisure, and Entertainment in the Venetian Renaissance Home 

Speaker: Chriscinda Henry, Associate Professor of Art History, McGill University

Chriscinda Henry will present her recently published book, Playful Pictures, which examines the rise of private collection in Renaissance Venice as a diporto, or pastime, practiced within a kaleidoscopic context of domestic leisure that encompassed the recitation of poetry and tales, games, music making, amateur theatrical activity, and the conversational arts. Within this dynamic milieu novel types of cabinet pictures with quotidian, festive, and performative subject matter emerged alongside other novel forms of recreation and entertainment enjoyed in the home. These pictures—primarily independent paintings but also drawings, prints, book illustrations, and historiated architectural elements—were produced, collected, and displayed between around 1490 and 1550. The new demand for modern forms of secular art that spoke to the cultural and intellectual interests of patrons and collectors was met by a range of artists who were active in Venice, including Vittore Carpaccio, Giorgione, Albrecht Dürer, Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Cariani, Bernardino Licinio, and Paris Bordon, but also by artists from North of the Alps who never set foot there, notably Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, Quentin Massys, and Lucas van Leyden.

Across four interwoven, thematically arranged chapters, Playful Pictures maps the imbrication of painting and the graphic arts with other art forms engaged in the home: vernacular literature and the novella tradition; pastoral music, verse, and theater; urban dialect comedies; and carnival and carnivalesque culture. While fundamentally a work of art history, the book’s interdisciplinary approach creates a framework of inter-arts exchange, that considers the visual arts, poetry, vernacular literature, music, and theater as linked rather than separable forms of creative practice. Within this integrated framework, the book speculatively reconstructs the role pictures played with regard to the pastimes practiced in key interior and exterior spaces of the Venetian home: the bedroom, study, balcony, music room, and portego, or central reception hall. 

Chriscinda Henry is Associate Professor of Art History at McGill University. Her research focuses on the relationship between art, recreation, and festivity in Renaissance Italy. Before joining the faculty at McGill, she was ACLS/Mellon Postdoctoral fellow at Yale University and Visiting Assistant Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art History at Oberlin College. Her recent work has been supported by Villa I Tatti / The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Hanna Kiel fellow, 2016-2017), the Fonds de Recherche du Québec, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

Organised by Dr Irene Brooke (The Courtauld) 

5:30pm, 3 Feb 2022

Thursday 3rd February 2022, 5.30pm - 6.30pm

Free, booking essential


Painting depicting figures sitting on grace, surrounded by trees, playing instruments
Giorgione or Titian, Pastoral Concert, c. 1509-1510, Paris, Musée du Louvre