Rinascimento conteso aims to construct a dialogue with challenges to the historiographical paradigm of a supposedly triumphant Renaissance, responding to sound criticisms of the term’s elitist connotations. Long before the recent flourishing of debates on temporality and canonicity, scholars had explored questions of chronology beyond mere issues of periodization and revealed eccentric trends that undermined the nineteenth-century conceptualization of the period.
What does it entail to work on mainstream Cinquecento Italian art in a world that is increasingly global? Can such research yield theoretical models relevant to the present day? Far from asserting a privileged claim over themes such as modernity, individuality, or style, Rinascimento conteso cultivates a plurality of approaches, highlighting tensions, ruptures, and erosions in a constant shift between continuity and discontinuity with other historical periods. With this premise in mind, the numerous conferences organized by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz on Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the notion of the Renaissance have always grappled with broader intellectual issues, such as the perception and study of nature, optics, design processes and architectural craftsmanship, materiality, artisanal epistemology, anatomy and the body, and patronage. Instead of confining itself to the historical, sociological, or theoretical contextualization of sixteenth-century art, our project seeks to provide innovative ways of looking at Renaissance artifacts as motivated by the evolving history of the concept, one that not only allows but compels sustained meta-discourses, depth rather than surface. A fresh approach to this term opens new methodological avenues, bringing an awareness of the layered discourse it inspires to a productive exchange with its critics. Considering the Italian Renaissance as a profoundly polyphonic, discordant, and contradictory period gives rise to an intellectual apparatus that enables a balanced and complex analysis of the present.
The Value and Limits of the Analogical Method in the Work of Leonardo da Vinci
Recognizing Leonardo’s extensive use of analogy, scholars have often criticized it as an obstacle to a truly "scientific" approach to the analysis of natural phenomena. Independently of recent re-evaluations of analogy as a cognitive instrument, this study differentiates between its various types, uses, and functions, revealing that the literal or absolute mode of analogical thinking in Leonardo’s writings and drawings existed alongside metaphorical and heuristic modes. Though distinct from one another, these three models also mingled and interacted. A crucial aspect of this investigation is an appraisal of Leonardo’s language, which took shape in the world of the Florentine workshops of the late fifteenth century. For instance, the term "analogy" was absent from his vocabulary, emerging only towards the end of the sixteenth century. Leonardo himself spoke only of "similitude" and "comparison". This project, therefore, combines art history with the study of language, philosophy, and the history of science.
From Battleground to Pictorial Field. Representing War in the Italian Renaissance
This study aims to restore the centrality that battle painting held in the Cinquecento, when artistic practice and theory first articulated its modes of depiction. Contemporary treatises on art describe military scenes as a privileged venue for exploring fundamental pictorial problems and manipulating the dynamics of visual perception. While recommending the use of an exceptionally forceful style, they regard battle scenes as the embodiment of artistic excellence, both ancient and modern, and as the prototype of the powerfully affective image. Focusing on the nature of representational practice itself, rather than on the authenticity of the representation, this project foregrounds the perceptual and rhetorical implications of images of conflict. It explores the vital role that the genre played in the art-critical discourse of the time and investigates how the formal qualities of battle scenes engaged with broader issues of meaning, use, and reception.
Leonardo, the Observation of the Cosmos, and Renaissance Culture
The study of the astronomical and cosmological notes in Leonardo’s manuscripts intersects various fields of Renaissance knowledge, such as natural philosophy, optics, perspective, geometry, mechanics and, of course, artistic practice. Leonardo’s remarks are based on a vast literature − from the vernacular editions of Aristotle to those of Ptolemy, from Sacrobosco to Restoro d’Arezzo, from Dante to Albert of Saxony and the Florentine humanists − but these texts are integrated with and verified or even modified by the principles of his own practical knowledge. Correlations between his astronomical observations (moon spots, the reddening of the moon during an eclipse, sun reflections over sea waves, aerial perspective, the color of the sky) and his art abound, often bringing together different sphere of inquiry, as, for example, in the case of his drawings for planetary clocks derived from the toothed wheels of watermills. This project sheds new light on vexed questions, confirming the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to Leonardo’s world.
Francesco da Sangallo and the Identity of Tuscan Architecture
This project examines the long and wide-ranging career of Francesco da Sangallo, heir to a prestigious family of Renaissance architects. An enduring protagonist of the Florentine Cinquecento, Francesco was a privileged witness to the artistic environment of the city and cultivated a ramified network of acquaintances including Michelangelo and Giorgio Vasari. His activity as a polymorph artist necessitates a flexible and multi-faceted approach, one that is essential to this project’s focus on a selection of autograph works that vary in scale, technique, and function. The attention to their materiality aims to reshape the possibilities of the monographic study, relying on a "return to the object" and seeking a new definition of context. In particular, the works’ differing media and expressive registers are analyzed by questioning the crucial issue of artistic identity, thus highlighting the process of constructing a Tuscan national style as part of the linguistic codification that took place in Renaissance art.
The Art and Patronage of the Hermits of Saint Augustine: The Florentine Monastery outside the Porta San Gallo
This study explores the history of the Augustinian monastery outside the Porta San Gallo in Florence. Founded around 1488 under the auspices of Lorenzo the Magnificent and home to a large community of hermit friars, the institution was at the center of the cultural and artistic life of the city from the late fifteenth century up until 1529, when it was demolished for strategic reasons during the war between the Second Florentine Republic and the Medici. The project aims to reconstruct the important pictorial and sculptural decorations of the monastery, now dispersed or lost, because they provided the grounds for a crucial chapter of Vasari’s maniera moderna. This investigation also has methodological implications because it proposes a new geography of Renaissance visual culture and challenges the canon by redefining issues of patronage, the value of ephemeral events, and the history of artistic media.