Float


Fall 2017–Winter 2018

Squaring the scroll. Wooden writing tablet made in Byzantine Egypt, ca. 500–700 AD. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The book before the book. An anachronistic depiction of the fifth-century BC prophet Ezra writing in front of a bookcase. Plate from the Codex Amiatinus, a Latin Bible produced around 700 AD at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey in Northumbria, England.

Illustration from twelfth-century gospel book depicting Saint Mark the Evangelist. Courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Depiction of the Battle of Hastings from Matthew Paris’s thirteenth-century manuscript Vie de seint Auban. Courtesy Trinity College, Dublin.

Giotto, Coronation of the Virgin, ca. 1330, renovated 1480. Baroncelli Chapel, Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.

Sickness and the sickle. Kazimir Malevich’s chart “Analysis of Connections between Forms and Lines in the Four Stages of Cubism,” made in advance of a series of lectures he gave in Berlin and Warsaw in the mid-1920s.

Piet Mondrian, Tableau No. 3: Composition in Oval with Trees, 1913. Courtesy Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Fresco from Pompeii depicting a woman holding a set of wax tablets and a stylus, ca. 50 AD. Courtesy Museo Archeologico Nationale, Naples.

  1. “Painting may look outmoded, [but] the model of the ‘tableau’ is still active.” Hubert Damisch in “Hubert Damisch and Stephen Bann: A Conversation,” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 28, no. 2 (June 2005), p. 179.

  2. This all goes back to Meyer Schapiro, “On Some Problems in the Semiotics of Visual Art: Field and Vehicle in Image-Signs,” Semiotica, vol. 1, no. 3 (January 1969); and is taken up again in Hubert Damisch, “The Inventor of Painting,” trans. Kent Minturn and Eric Trudel, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 33, no. 3 (October 2010), pp. 301–316.

  3. The standard reference here is Colin H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex (London: Oxford University Press, 1983). Another excellent overview is Harry Y. Gamble, “The Early Christian Book,” in Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).

  4. Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, Selected Variae, trans. S. J. B. Barnish (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992), p. 160.

  5. The scroll, inscribed with the opening lines of the Gospel of Luke, seems to stand here for the divine word, taking the place of those texts, sometimes included in portraits of the evangelists, held above their heads by the winged man, lion, ox, and eagle.

  6. On the enclosure of pictures in codices but not scrolls, see Kurt Weitzmann, Illustrations in Roll and Codex: A Study of the Origin and Method of Text Illustration (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970) and “Book Illustration of the Fourth Century: Tradition and Innovation,” in Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination, ed. Herbert L. Kessler (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971); Otto Pächt, Book Illumination in the Middle Ages: An Introduction, trans. Kay Davenport (London: Harvey Miller; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 25–26; Angelika Geyer, Die genese narrativer buchillustration: Der miniaturenzyklus zur Aeneis im Vergilius Vaticanus (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann Verlag, 1989).

  7. Illuminators borrowed from monumental wall painting as well as other media, such as relief sculpture, and their pictures were used as models for these in turn. The Milan Iliad is a case of evident borrowing. See Kurt Weitzmann, “Book Illustration of the Fourth Century”; Ernst Kitzinger, “The Role of Miniature Painting in Mural Decoration,” in The Place of Book Illumination in Byzantine Art, ed. Kurt Weitzmann, William C. Loerke, Ernst Kitzinger, and Hugo Buchthal (Princeton, NJ: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1975); and Jonathan J. G. Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 121.

  8. Rosalind Krauss calls the curve marked and the grid unmarked in cubism in her comments following Yve-Alain Bois, “The Semiology of Cubism,” in Picasso and Braque: A Symposium, ed. Lynn Zelevansky(New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1992), p. 212.

  9. These are catalogued by shape in Edward Garrison, Italian Romanesque Panel Painting: An Illustrated Index (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1976).

  10. On the advent of the Renaissance pala, see “From Polyptych to Pala: Some Structural Considerations,” and “Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi und Filippo Brunelleschi: Die erfindung der renaissancepala,” in Christa Gardner von Teuffel, From Duccio’s Maestà to Raphael’s Transfiguration: Italian Altarpieces and their Settings (London: The Pindar Press, 2005); Megan Holmes, Fra Filippo Lippi: The Carmelite Painter (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 102–128; and George Bisacca, “The Rise of the all’antica Altarpiece Frame,” The Frame Blog (18 June 2015). The latter is available at http://theframeblog.com/2015/06/18/the-rise-of-the-allantica-altarpiece-frame. Megan Holmes qualifies this chronology: “However, the gold-ground polyptych persisted as a powerful alternative, even in the work of the two artists [Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo] responsible for introducing and popularizing the new formula.” See her Fra Filippo Lippi, p. 121.

  11. Jeffrey Ruda, “A 1434 Building Programme for San Lorenzo in Florence,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 120, no. 903 (June 1978), p. 361.

  12. On this new autonomy, see Creighton Gilbert, “Peintures et menuisiers au début de la Renaissance en Italie,” Revue de l’Art, no. 35 (1977).

  13. On the new format’s relation to religious reform, see Alexander Nagel, “Art as Gift: Liberal Art and Religious Reform in the Renaissance,” in Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of Exchange, ed. Gadi Algazi, Valentin Groebner, and Bernhard Jussen (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2003).

  14. These are the words of artist Neri di Bicci, who records renovating a number of such altarpieces made “according to the usage of that older time.” These he “restored and brought back to the taste of today, that is, with pilasters on either side, and above an architrave with a frieze and a cornice.” Neri di Bicci, Le ricordanze (10 marzo 1453–24 aprile 1475), ed. Bruno Santi (Pisa: Edizioni Marlin, 1976), pp. 382–383; as translated in Cathleen Hoeniger, “The Reframing of Gothic Altarpieces during the Renaissance,” in The Renovation of Paintings in Tuscany, 1250–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 106.

  15. As translated in Cathleen Hoeniger, “The Reframing of Gothic Altarpieces,” p. 120.

  16. Harry Cooper argues that they retrieved this format from “what was then considered to be the modernist dustbin of history (Rococo portraiture).” See Harry Cooper, “Braque’s Ovals,” in Picasso and Braque: The Cubist Experiment, 1910–1912, ed. Eik Kahng (Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Fort Worth, TX: Kimbell Art Museum, 2011), p. 40. He also appraises earlier accounts of the cubist oval as, for example, a way of dealing with the “problem of corners.”

  17. Władysław Strzemin´ski, “Unism in Painting,” as translated in Constructivism in Poland 1923–1936, ed. Ryszard Stanisławski, trans. Piotr Graff and Eva Krasin´ska (Łódz´: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 1973), p. 90.

  18. Linda S. Boersma, “On Art, Art Analysis and Art Education: The Theoretical Charts of Kazimir Malevich,” in Kazimir Malevich 1878–1935, ed. Wim Beeren and Joop Joosten, trans. Ruth Koenig (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1988).

  19. Kazimir Malevich, “An Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting,” in The World as Non-Objectivity: Unpublished Writings 1922–25, ed. Troels Andersen, trans. Xenia Glowacki-Prus and Edmund T. Little (Copenhagen: Borgen, 1976), pp. 166–167. On Malevich’s pathologizing of abstraction, see Mark A. Cheetham, Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure Since the 60s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 4–19.

  20. Kazimir Malevich, “An Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting,” p. 150. He continues: “New art is considered morbid by the larger part of learned and non-learned society and criticism, and from the point of view of new arts the situation is reversed, the majority are considered abnormal.” Malevich thereby turned the “morbid derangement” (p. 168) associated with avant-garde art on its head.

  21. On Malevich’s sickle, see Yve-Alain Bois, “Semiology of Cubism,” p. 182.

  22. Władysław Strzemin´ski, “Unism,” p. 92. 

  23. Ibid., p. 90.

  24. See Yve-Alain Bois, “Strzemin´ski and Kobro: In Search of Motivation,” in Bois, Painting as Model (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990).

  25. Joop Joosten, “Mondrian: Between Cubism and Abstraction,” in Piet Mondrian 1872–1944: Centennial Exhibition (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1971).

  26. Ibid., p. 59. This work is also known as Tableau No. 3: Composition in Oval; the Stedelijk Museum, which owns the painting, uses this title.

  27. Some cubist oval paintings have even been restretched onto rectangular frameworks. See Claire Barry and Bart J. C. Devolder, “Surface and Format: Observations on the Materials, Process, and Condition of Cubist Paintings, 1910–1912,” in Picasso and Braque: The Cubist Experiment, p. 113.

  28. Piet Mondrian, “The New Plastic in Painting” (1917) in The New Art—The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, ed. and trans. Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James (Boston: Hall & Co., 1986), p. 64. Translation modified. See Yve-Alain Bois, “The Iconoclast,” in Piet Mondrian, 1872–1944, ed. Angelica Zander Rudenstine (Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1995).

  29. Hubert Damisch, “L’éveil du regard,” in Fenêtre jaune cadmium, ou les dessous de la peinture (Paris: Seuil, 1984), pp. 65–66: “This painter who claimed to leave nothing to chance would not in fact cease to work with automatism, in the surrealist sense of the term. Starting from the blot and its avatars and starting from the tableau and the constraints that define it as such, though they appear contradictory, … overlap and pose analogous problems.” My translation.

  30. The quotation is from an essay co-written in 1931 by Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemin´ski, and translated as “Composition of Space” in Constructivism in Poland, p. 107.

  31. Władysław Strzemin´ski, “Unism,” p. 93.

  32. “The Baroque came about when a picture ceased to be a part of a wall decoration.” Ibid., p. 86.