Saturday, June 06, 2015

Reading Biagio's Troy

As we think about Dante as harbinger of a return to or rebirth of Classical education, consider that one hundred years later, painters like the Florentine artist featured here were depicting scenes from the Iliad in ways that reflect certain medieval characteristics.

Writer Anna Judson notes a few wonderful aspects of these works by Biagio d'Antonio (her post is part of a fun series of Museum Favorites). First, they offer contemporaneity - the dress, the style of armor, the architecture, all are 15th century Italy.

Then, Judson notes that far from being realistic representations of Troy, Biago has selected numerous famous buildings and monuments found in several cities in Italy, including the Tower of Pisa, and grouped them to compose "Troy":

The Death of Hektor

Similarly the painter depicts a sequence of events, rather than a single moment. For example, says Judson:

The Wooden Horse panel similarly depicts not just the Trojans bringing in the horse, but also the Greek army’s attack, and the kindling of the fire that will burn the city – but here the events are shown not sequentially but simultaneously, interwoven with each other, so that cause and effect, the Trojans’ celebration and destruction, become inseparable.

While this insouciance with respect to place and time might violate our sense of "realism,"  it should remind us that, as Judson says, these works fall outside the realm of strict visual mimesis. They are meant to be read. Bringing the tale of Troy into the world of his own day, offering a succession of scenes that we need to compose in order to understand the image - these are useful reminders that a depiction of Troy is, first of all, a depiction of a text by Homer, and next, is itself a text requiring us to attend to the painting as a grouping of signs that have permission to diverge substantially from Homer. It's our task to order them that they might yield a richer sense.

We will want to remember this as we look at Dante's classical figures and how he employs the image of reading.

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