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ECPHRASTIC ECOLOGY IN RENAISSANCE VISUAL CULTURE

"Georgius Agricola, De re metallica, 1556; "Soda Production at the Nile" after Plinius' Naturalis Historia XXXI 46"

From September 2019 to June 2020, Jesús Muñoz Morcillo will be one of the 43 scholars who will be conducting research at The Getty Research Institute under the theme “Art and Ecology”.

Muñoz Morcillo’s research at the Getty focuses on “Ecphrastic Ecology in Renaissance Visual Culture” (September–June). During the fellowship, he will organize an international colloquium at the Getty on May 18, 2020.

 

About the project “Ecphrastic Ecology in Renaissance Visual Culture”

This project aims to reveal the ancient ecphrastic coinage of pre-modern ecology ideas in Renaissance visual culture. Most researchers focus on Renaissance Ekphrasis as an aesthetic category or a rhetoric practice related to the description of works of art. Little has been written about the popularization of ecphrastic literature and the cultural impact of ancient descriptions on the construction of Renaissance scientific identity. Especially the ekphrasis-based creation of new visual knowledge and aesthetic notions about nature and natural environments has not yet been analyzed. The present project closes this research gap focusing on the identification and critical analysis of those natural representations that can be traced back to ancient descriptions.

For this purpose, we first outline the influence of classical ekphrasis on the aesthetics of the Renaissance with a special focus on the pictorial embodiment of ecphrastic natural concepts. In a second step, we select artistic images that represent ecological ideas, but we also analyze other media, such as illustrated scientific books and emblems. Indeed, many Renaissance scholars followed ancient descriptions of vegetation, animals, or human ecology, such as Vesalius, Wonnecke, Agricola, or Gessner.

After identifying and analyzing a representative selection of case studies from the arts and the sciences, we will formulate a typology of the ecphrastic coinage of ecological concepts in Renaissance visual culture. For the typological analysis, we focus on the rhetorical properties of the ecphrastic source, its epistemic, visual, and psychological strength, and on the meaning-making qualities of the resulting images or text-image interplays.

This research not only reveals the variety of ecphrastic approaches behind the artistic and epistemic production of images, it also illuminates the importance of ancient ecphrastic impulses for the innovation of aesthetics and scientific visual communication in the Renaissance.

This research project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Duration: September 23, 2019 to June 26, 2020
Contact person: Dr. Jesús Muñoz Morcillo, jesus.morcillo∂kit.edu