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Flying and Floating in Early Modern Sculpture

Ivo Raband | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds

Giambologna: Mercury, 1580. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello

The flight of birds, flying machines, the Ascension of Christ and the Assumption of Mary, angels, as well as winds are all topics that have received attention during the early modern period. How especially sculptors dealt with this subject is a central question of this research project. As the aesthetics of pre-modern sculpture were largely based on statues of Antiquity and the harmonized contrapposto it is interesting to observe that during the first half of the sixteenth century sculptors began to experiment more freely with the image of the human body that had to be placed firmly on the ground. When for example the Fleming Jean de Boulogne, better known as Giambologna (1529–1608), cast his first bronze sculpture of the flying Mercury he accomplished to loosen the tight grip between statue and its plinth. The project will bring together a variety of different media, spanning early modern art theoretical treatises, sculptures, prints, as well as literature. Da Vinci's flying machines, the first bird's eye view map of Venice, and Giambologna's daring approach in bronze sculpting must have been located in similar scholarly circles. A focus of this project is thus to ask why next to sculptors also artists, artisans, and scientist of natural philosophy began simultaneously to investigate the possibilities and concepts of flight and elevation. By applying art historical research together with theories from social studies, anthropology, theology, literature, and theatre, I want to investigate diachronically such early modern visualizations of flying and floating. My hypothesis is that sculpted art works reacted to contemporary innovative theories and publications while at the same time being an important artistic medium to achieve the illusion of elevation itself.

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