Cimabue’s True Crosses in Arezzo & Florence
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This essay addresses the issue of materiality in Christian artistic production and its resonance in Western literary scholarship, especially in the context of medieval and early modern Italy. The main examples are several large wooden crucifixes painted by Cimabue and Giotto. These are compared to each other, as well as to sculptural crucifixes, analyzing their material and stylistic makeup in terms suggested by Erich Auerbach’s view of naturalism and Christian literary style history. In the twentieth century, the material history of the crucifixes studied here was impacted by the destruction wrought by the Florentine flood and by the personal history of the scholar experiencing exile. Focusing on the dynamics of trauma and transcendence, this comprehensive approach combines formal, physical, and hermeneutical perspectives that are seldom considered together: naturalism, style, matter, the life of the scholar, and the life of the object. In the end, these levels of production and perception are all interrelated, exceeding limits of material and immaterial connectivity between people and artworks.
I want to thank the editors and the organizers of the Muilenburg-Koenig workshop in San Anselmo, California, on April 15th, 2016. I am particularly grateful to my colleagues and friends Beate Fricke, Chris Ocker, Brenda Schildgen, and Gabe Pihas for conversations in Berkeley, to Giuseppe Mazzotta, and to Penny Marcus, in New Haven and Florence, for her work as angelo del fango. This essay was finished in my first months as a Distinguished Fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study with the support of Director Brad Gregory, Associate Director Donald Stelluto, David Bentley Hart, and my research assistant Liam Maher. I am grateful for feedback on the manuscript, inspiration, and crucial insights provided by 2017 NDIAS fall term fellows and friends, especially Bernard McGinn, Patrick Griffin, Kaya Şahin, Tom McLeish FRS, and Monsignor Tomáš Halík.