Rachel Young *17 presented material from her “publishable paper,” entitled “The Painting as Object, the Object as Sign: Performative Mediation in Botticelli’s Bardi Altarpiece,” at the Graduate Conference for Interdisciplinary Renaissance studies in October. The publishable paper is the art history department’s version of a master’s thesis, and was the result of a year long project under the direction of Professor Monika Schmitter. The conference was held at the Arthur F. Kinney center for Renaissance studies of UMass Amherst. Organized by PhD students in the English department at UMass, the conference included graduate students from schools across the country, working in a range of fields, including English literature, history and art history. The study of early modern Europe is an increasingly interdisciplinary field, and it was thought-provoking and productive to consider the methodological perspectives of presenters working in different disciplines.
Rachel’s paper examines the self-reflexive sign systems at work within Sandro Botticelli’s Bardi Altarpiece (1485), and its visual and iconographic response to the worship of miracle images in fifteenth-century Florence. She interprets the devices of illusionism within the image as a meta-pictorial commentary on the possibilities, and potentially the limitations, of mimesis as an efficacious representational mode. The altarpiece’s negotiation of its dual identity as both presentational object and representational image, she argues, enacts its performance as a liturgical mediator.
Her engagement with Botticelli has been ongoing since her internship at the MFA Boston in 2016, where she assisted with curatorial preparations for the 2017 show Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting Between the Medici and Savonarola. Researching Botticelli’s voluminous bibliography inspired her to re-evaluate the Bardi, moving emphasis from the artist’s authorship and oeuvre to the cultural context of cultic devotional practices of the period. During the course of research on her thesis, Rachel received a travel grant from the Art History department to travel to Berlin and study the Bardi in-person at the Gemäldegalerie. Presenting her work to peers at the Graduate Conference this October was an excellent way to round out over a year of work on this object. Rachel intends to eventually revise this paper and submit it for publication.