Department of Art and Design
THE EMPATHIC RELATION OF OBSERVER TO IMAGE IN FIFTEENTH CENTURY NORTHERN ARTABSTRACT LLOYD WILLIAM BENJAMIN III. The Empathic Relation of Observer to Image in Fifteenth Century Northern Art (Under the direction of' JOHN M. SCHNORRENBERG.) The observer's relation to religious art in the fifteenth century has received only minor attention in recent studies of Northern painting. Scholars have overlooked the function of naturalistic images and have concentrated upon problems of attribution, chronology. and iconogrophy. These studies, made without reference to the origin~ l purpose and setting of Flemish art, show the persistence of the I'art pour I'art attitude. The object of this study is to reintegrate the works into their original context and examine the devotional function of this art which was to produce a specific emotional response in the observer. The observer's empathic response to images during private devotion was of major importance for the development of mimetic art in the North. The first chapter is a study of grisaille simulated sculpture. Grisailles are illusionistic. Their frequent appearance in the early fifteenth century indicates the artist's awareness of the power of art to involve the observer formally with the painted illusion. Study shows the development and acceptance of a convincing naturalistic style. The appearance of reality, which the painter's simulation intends, depends for its success upon the observer' s "willing suspension of disbelief." The artist's formal handling of the subject matter could persuade the observer to participate in the artistic reality. Discussion of grisailles and the reasons for their development gives insight into the broader development of representational art. The second chapter is a study of manuscript production in the North at the French courts, a critical examination of recent views of the International Style, and a reevaluation of Netherlandish influence at the courts. An examination of manuscript painting is necessary because Flemish panel painting grows out of a manuscript tradition, The representational progress in manuscripts was important for painters I representational formulae showing the aristocracy kneeling in close proximity to sacred figures, found in manuscript painting. was further developed in panel painting, The precedent for using images far private meditation develops within the manuscript tradition. A critical study of modern histories of Northern painting shows that the account of the rise of naturalism is incomplete because preference is given to manuscripts produced by court artists at the expense of equally important manuscript production of regional Netherlandish artists. The view that increased naturalism in Northern art can be defined adequately in terms of increased Italian influence is questioned; other factors such as cultural setting, patronage, function, development of artistic skills, and the observer's response played a part in the development of mimetic art, The Netherlandish illuminators' simple and direct depiction of sacred history reflects the contemporary religious outlook. Their contributions to the development of representational art in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries are reappraised. The·third chapter is a critical review of contemporary studies of Northern painting. The purpose is to reconsider the modern view of Flemish painting which suggests that increased naturalism diminished sacred content. I argue that naturalism posed no threat to religious iconography, rather, it made sacred figures more accessible and fulfilled the patron's demand for the plausible narration of sacred event-sill In the final chapters I discuss examples of Netherlandish art and demonstrate that increased naturalism satisfied tho popular demand that art provide a vivid and convincing depiction of sacred history in which the devout imagined thcmmcl VeE; aeti ve partie Lparrta , The development of naturalistic art in the North must be seen against a background of spiritual exercises, intense private devotion, the prosperity of the Netherlands, and the influence of tho Devotio moderna.The desire for empathic meditation before images was a major influence in the development of Northern renaissance art.