Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy
Late Medieval and Renaissance Passion Imagery
The Spencer Museum’s Christ Carrying the Cross is one of many paintings Vasari made that represent various episodes of Christ’s Passion. The story of the Passion typically begins with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and ends fifty days after his resurrection with Pentecost (Acts 2:1– 4), when the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the gift of speaking in tongues. In the early 13th century, the depiction of Passion narratives increased exponentially, largely as a result of the rise of popular preaching practiced by the Franciscan and Dominican mendicant religious orders. The proliferation of Passion imagery also coincided with the dissemination of late medieval devotional texts. Designed to enhance the reader’s contemplation of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice and saints’ holy lives and miracles, these were the literary sources to which artists and their iconographical advisors looked when planning and producing sacred images intended to reach a wide audience, both literate and illiterate.
Religious objects and books like the ones on view in this exhibition were key components of devotional processes that the clergy and laity enacted in public, private, courtly, secular, ecclesiastic, and domestic settings. Executed in diverse media and in small and large formats by famous artists and anonymous artisans, collectively they run the gamut of late medieval and early modern literary and artistic production. Tied to universal themes such as life, death, penitence, and salvation, they were powerful visual tools for those who used them during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.