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'Painting's Enchanting Poison': Artistic Eficacy And The Transfer Of Spirits

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Chapter Summary

This chapter studies the term spirito as part of a larger discourse in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art theory about the nature of vision. It examines spirits unseen in respect to the physical and mental effects ascribed to images. The confrontation with a work of art appears as a function of a two-way transfer of spirits. First, the chapter discusses theories about the intended effect of painting on the beholder, focusing on the artist?s colouristic skill to give living form to otherwise inanimate matter. Second, the act of looking is explored as an alleged spiritual transfer. Postulating a continuity in theoretical notions in the European ?republic of letters?, remarks from Italian authors are compared to those by their Northern counterparts. When the ?chemistry? of spiritus comes to the fore, early modern notions about the efficacy of painting appear in a new light.

Keywords: art theory; artistic efficacy; painting; spirito



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