History of Art and Architecture

Ecology and Chapel Design: Melchiorre Cafà, Material Iconographies, and the High Altar of Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli in Baroque Rome - Colloquium

Wednesday, January 26, 2022 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Speaker: Claire Ptaschinski

While scholarly discussions of Baroque altars like that of Santa Caterina a Magnanapoli in Rome (c. 1667) typically characterize them as artificial, visually disorienting, and not of this world, I contend that the use of materials in these spaces reveals an early modern understanding of these altars as integrated into and evocative of the natural world. I demonstrate this through an examination of the ways in which Melchiorre Cafà’s artistic choices in the production of the chapel space parallel the material iconographies at play in the circulation of natural philosophical ideas in 17th-century Italy, particularly in the images of early printed mineralogical treatises, such as Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Musaeum metallicum (1648) and Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus (1665). By attending to these material iconographies and the connections they establish between natural processes and the visual/material affordances, we can begin to see Cafà deliberately playing with representation, muddying the divide between nature and art, and grounding the chapel in the materiality of the natural world.


Zoom password available on HAA Undergraduate and Graduate Canvas sites, or by request from haadept@pitt.edu.