Observant Reform and the Authority of Images. A Comparative Analysis of the Mendicant Orders. Roberto Cobianchi

Talk to be presented at Weingarten, November 29 2018

Verona, San Bernardino: library’s frescoes, by Domenico Morone

In the attempt to fulfil the scope set by the title of this paper, the comparative investigation has been confined to Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian reformed male communities, and the search for traces of visual “authority” has been limited to their religious houses, omitting their churches.

Despite renovation and changes in use, many monasteries restored or intentionally built during the 15th century in order to house Observant mendicant communities, show substantial traces of painted and sculpted ornamentation in cloisters, chapter houses, and friars cells, testifying a well-established use of images among Observant communities that extended far beyond the boundaries of the church. Compared to churches, monasteries were primarily (but not exclusively) intended to be used and lived by the friars, and their decoration provide evidence of religious communities’ self-identity in a way different from that shown by the art produced for their churches.

In particular, the paper is centred around one specific space, practical and deeply symbolic at the same time: the library. During the 15th century the architectural features of monastic libraries developed much more substantially than those of cloisters, chapter houses and refectories. New imagery was purposely created for them. As a space of communal life libraries are a particularly suited place where to express self-identity. More than cloisters, chapter houses, and refectories, the library becomes a “new” space for “images” full of potential in Early Renaissance mendicant houses. The decorative schemes are only partially based upon earlier tradition, as they do not celebrate principally the sanctity of the Order, but the scholarly achievements of its members.

Milan, Santa Maria Incoronata: library
Taggia, San Domenico, former library: Ludovico Brea (workshop), Man of Sorrows flanked by Giovanni Dominici and Antonino Pierozzi


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