Gendering the period eye: Deschi da parto and renaissance visual culture

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Abstract

Michael Baxandall's concept of the 'period eye' emphasizes the cultural constructedness of vision, characterizes a set of viewing norms, and charts the manner in which artists responded to these norms in their works. This interpretive structure has played an important role in the development of what has come to be known as visual culture. Through a particular example of deschi da parto, or birth trays, this essay highlights how some of the issues raised by visual culture may be brought to bear upon the study of Italian Renaissance art, specifically in relation to gender and viewing. As moveable paintings that gained significance when carried and passed around in the rituals attending conception, pregnancy and birth, deschi specifically addressed feminine spectators. They participated in, even structured, a visual economy in which the pictorial merged with the haptic; the lone monocular beholder of mathematical linear perspective multiplied into a choric array of spectators; and the grammar of composition was subverted by an anti-grammatical pictorial vernacular. The deschi and the spaces of their reception offer, it is proposed, a heteroglossic alternative to the normative period eye.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-562
Number of pages25
JournalArt History
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

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