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Altarpieces on the Move: Religious Art Redeployed in Early Modern Italy

Posted By Sandra Richards, Sunday, May 8, 2016

Session Sponsored by the Italian Art Society


Organizers: Gail Feigenbaum, Getty Research Institute; Sandra Richards, Department of Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada


Beginning in the 16th century, and with increasing frequency throughout the 17th century, altarpieces and other works of art originally destined for churches were moved to private and often secular spaces where they took on new roles and meanings. The motives and mechanisms that enabled these works to be redefined—avid collectors, issues of decorum, dramatic displays of power, international politics, an increasingly aestheticized view of sacred objects, to name a few—are many and complicated. Across such varied circumstances, these altarpieces on the move necessitated a recalibration of their sacred and aesthetic content as they were recontextualized in new venues such as picture galleries in palaces, or even repurposed in new church settings.


For this session, we seek papers that address instances in early modern Italy of altarpieces and other religious art objects being removed from their settings and put to new uses. Questions addressed might include, but are not limited to, the following: What measures, both theoretical and practical, helped ensure the transformation of these works? What distinctions were made between what was considered appropriate for sacred and secular contexts? What role did church authorities play in the removal of religious art? What can we learn from this phenomenon about the nascent art market and practices of collecting?


Please send a brief abstract (no more than 150 words); a selection of keywords for your talk; a brief curriculum vitae (300-word maximum in outline rather than narrative form) to Gail Feigenbaum at and Sandra Richards at by Monday, May 23rd. Please indicate “RSA” in the subject line of your email.

Tags:  altarpieces  art history  art market  chapels  collecting  decorum  display  galleries  painting  religious art 

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