The Renaissance Elsewhere

Professor Alexander Nagel, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Co-presented with the Power Institute

10 March, 2016

Italian art in the period between ca. 1300 and ca. 1500, what is called the Renaissance, is characterised by its extraordinary openness to the world. The Renaissance represented items and ideas not only in direct proximity to artists of the time, but also distant peoples and places known to artists only through textual accounts, oral reports, drawings, imported objects and other images. Western Christian art was oriented elsewhere due to its unique position at a distinct remove from the origins of its religion, and far to the west of the centres of culture as Latin Christians understood it. It is difficult to think of another tradition of art more focused on depicting 'elsewheres'.

Renaissance art was an art of naturalism, but it was also an art that relied to an unprecedented degree on data coming through other media. The media-intensive nature of the art is critical to understanding the spectacular and improbable rise of painting in this period from a subordinate to a superintendent artform.

Painting was vaulted to a new status because it was the medium most capable of taking in information from other media, and representing those other media (textiles, furnishings, books, metalware, ceramics, sculptures, buildings, etc.)


Professor Alexander Nagel

Professor Alexander Nagel is interested in how art is classified and reclassified over time, both through its practical handling and its theorization. Anachronism, antiquarianism, archaism, citation, and forgery have been consistently the focus of his work. Most recently, his work has turned to the question of orientation in Renaissance art. How do art works serve as means by which to orient oneself in the world? To try to answer this question for the art of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance in the West is to open oneself to a world in which Europe was not at the center of the world but rather was looking eastward for its values, its image traditions, its sacred geography, as well as for its mythical origins.

He is author of Michelangelo and the Reform of Art (2000), Anachronic Renaissance (2010) co-authored with Christopher Wood, The Controversy of Renaissance Art (2011), and Medieval Modern: Art out of Time (2012).