Which Narrative? The Case of the Narrative Subject in Fifteenth-Century Altarpieces

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Title: Which Narrative? The Case of the Narrative Subject in Fifteenth-Century Altarpieces
Author: Westergård, Ira
Editor: Hyvärinen, Matti; Korhonen, Anu; Mykkänen, Juri
Belongs to series: COLLeGIUM: Studies Across Disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 1: The Travelling Concept of Narrative
ISSN: 1796 -2986
ISBN: 952-10-3019-4
Abstract: The development of the altarpiece towards the end of the late medieval period added a new decorous and conspicuously visual element to the church interior. The altarpiece became the prime location for iconic – i.e. non-narrative – images, but almost from the beginning narrative images were part of the altarpiece in the form of small-scale pictures placed underneath or next to an iconic image in the centre. In the fifteenth century the format of the altarpiece gradually changed, and simultaneously with the development of the unified picture field some new narrative subjects began to appear on the central panel as the main subject of the altarpiece. During the course of the fifteenth century, narrative subjects became increasingly frequent and accepted subjects for altarpieces. In this article I will focus on the problem of the narrative altarpiece, a seeming contradiction of terms. As narrative subjects were transferred from their usual location to the central field of the altarpiece, traditionally reserved for the iconic image, the narrative was included in a new context and expected to assume the function of the altarpiece. How did a narrative image function in this context, and what kind of audience did it serve? Since the questions involved in the issue are complex, I will focus on the biblical narrative of The Visitation as a case study, and use two well-known Florentine altarpieces from the fifteenth century as examples of the interpretative choices open to the viewers of these altarpieces.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/25740
Date: 2006
Rights: © 2006 author and volume editors

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