Secular charity, sacred poverty: picturing the poor in Renaissance Venice

Nichols, T. (2007) Secular charity, sacred poverty: picturing the poor in Renaissance Venice. Art History, 30(2), pp. 139-169. (doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.2007.00536.x)

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The poor were depicted with increasing frequency and prominence in Venetian art of the sixteenth century. This new level of visualization within the fictive space of representation indirectly reflects contemporary attempts to exclude poveri and other undesirables from the actual space of the city. Increased state involvement in poor relief stimulated a new iconography of secular charity featuring almsgiving by patrician officials, presented in an hierarchical manner that pointedly departs from the more communal depictions in paintings commissioned by the city's non-noble scuole. But it was in religious painting for the city's churches and monasteries that the visual imagery of poverty was most dramatically improved, with reference both to sacred and devotional texts stressing poverty as a sacred value and to formal models from antique and High Renaissance art. The povero increasingly appeared as an idealized human archetype whose suffering and humility associated him directly with Christ. The article concludes by arguing that the symbolization of the poor as significant sacred actors in visual art was an aspect of their repression and exclusion in the social domain.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Nichols, Dr Tom
Authors: Nichols, T.
Subjects:N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Journal Name:Art History
ISSN (Online):1467-8365
Published Online:21 June 2007

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