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Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy

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Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy
By Luke Syson and Dora Thornton. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2001. Illustrated, Pg. 288.) ISBN: 0-89236-657-5.


Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 21, 2002

Has anyone ever proven the maxim, "You can't judge a book by its cover?" Many people in Renaissance Italy may have taken issue with this saying as they believed that a person was best identified by what they owned. This 'cover' could include such objects as their house, their clothing, and the artifacts and artwork that they surrounded themselves with.

In Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy Luke Syson and Dora Thornton, both curators at the British Museum, take an intriguing look at how individuals in Renaissance Italy viewed others through the art that they possessed. They also explore the 'art' gap that existed between the elite, and ordinary folks. The art that was coveted by Renaissance Italians ran the gamut from paintings and sculpture to furniture and jewelry. In this work, Syson and Thornton explore the various artistic mediums employed in Renaissance Italy, plus the significance of the various types of objects collected, and how each 'spoke out' about the person who possessed it - in terms of wealth, education, and social status.

According to the authors, "This is a book about the contemporary meanings and interpretations of many such art objects: furniture, jewelry, ... glass and ceramic ...their purchase, possession and display in the domestic interior was understood to convey something of the individuals histories, status and 'character' of their owners. These classes of objects have traditionally been neglected by many mainstream art historians..." (Pg 1-2). This is a neglect that Syson and Thornton have triumphantly corrected in this masterful work.

This work not only covers fine art, but also crafts and domestic art objects, such as wedding chests and painted plates. When looking at these objects the authors not only describe the 'status' of the various objects, but also their craftsmanship and aesthetic value. Furthermore, they describe how the various objects were used or displayed, and the special circumstances when particular objects would be collect or displayed, such as for or during a wedding.

This work is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of over 200 illustrations, detailed endnotes, and a substantial bibliography. Objects of Virtue will be of interest to the general readers with an interest in Art or the history of Renaissance Italy, as well as Art Historians, and students thereof.


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Gospel Figures in Art, By Stefano Zuffi.
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