Eternal Painting? The Meaning and Materiality of Copper Supports
Session Sponsored by the Italian Art Society
In the Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari championed Sebastiano del Piombo for having "introduced a new method of painting on stone, which pleased people greatly, for it appeared that by this means pictures could be made eternal, and such that neither fire nor worms could harm them." Vasari elaborated by describing how the same technique could be extended to "silver, copper, tin, and other metals." Piombo, however, was just one of many fifteen and sixteenth-century artists who experimented with supports beyond the more traditional media of panel, canvas, and fresco; Italian painters employed a variety of stone and metal supports on projects of diverse scale and subject matter. Vasari himself painted on copper, utilizing the material not only to produce paintings that were impervious to the threats he enumerated but also to enhance the aesthetic impact and perhaps even materialistic resonance of his compositions, as seen in Vulcan's Forge (1567 - 68, Galleria degli Uffizi). Numerous painters explored this relationship, establishing a conceptual association between the copper support and the subject matter of their artworks. This connection between the physical and narrative elements was manifested in a number of ways, sometimes visible to the viewer, and sometimes only known to the patron and artist. The use of a copper support should not be taken as a straightforward indication that the artist chose a more durable, or perhaps "eternal," medium. Rather, the intersection of material and meaning in these paintings often warrants reconsideration. This session seeks to explore the associations between subject matter and support in paintings on copper from Italy, ca. 1300 - 1650. Papers that present a combination of art historical and conservation research as well as those that consider copper in relation to other alternative supports - such as tile, slate, and various metals - are particularly encouraged.