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The Courtauld | Perverse Images: Monstrous Beauty and Monkey Business in Italian Art from Botticelli to Bronzino

May 27, 2021 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

In canto 29 of Dante’s Inferno a notorious alchemist, consigned to the depths of Hell among the fraudulent, boasts of having been a successful ape of nature (di natura buona scimia). The boast allies imitation with counterfeiting and points to the way that representational truth to nature is inherently false. This talk takes the presence of monkeys in Sandro Botticelli’s tondo showing the Adoration of the Magi (The National Gallery, London), Michelangelo’s sculpture of a languishing prisoner (Louvre), and a tapestry design by Bronzino (British Museum) as a starting point to consider the ways that mimesis is inflected in those works and by those artists. It also explores how the duplicitous nature of naturalism allows for the hybrid and monstrous to be the attractive offspring of art, confusing categorical distinctions between abject and admirable.
Patricia Rubin is a Visiting Scholar at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. She was professor, Deputy Director, and founding Head of the Research Forum at the Courtauld Institute, and Director of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Her books include Giorgio Vasari. Art and History (1995), Images and Identity in Fifteenth-Century Florence (2007), and Seen from Behind: Perspectives on the Male Body in Italian Renaissance Art (2018). Recently, she has published on topics ranging from “Art and the Masquerade of History” (2020) to “poetic design” in Botticelli’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (2021).