Decorating the House of Wisdom: Four Altarpieces from the Church of Santo Spirito in Florence (1485-1500)
Gill, Meredith J.
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ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: DECORATING THE HOUSE OF WISDOM: FOUR ALTARPIECES FROM THE CHURCH OF SANTO SPIRITO IN FLORENCE (1485-1500) Antonia Fondaras, Doctor of Philosophy, 2011 Dissertation directed by: Professor Meredith J. Gill Department of Art History and Archaeology This dissertation examines four altarpieces by different artists painted between 1485 and 1500 for Santo Spirito, the church of the Augustinian Hermits in Florence, in light of the Hermits' influence on the paintings' iconography. I argue that each of the altarpieces expresses a distinct set of Augustinian values and suggests appropriate modes of devotion and praxis. Together, the paintings represent an attempt on the part of the Florentine Hermits to convey their institutional and religious identity as heirs to Augustine's spirituality. The first chapter reviews the history and thought of the Augustinian Hermits, the history of the convent of Santo Spirito and the building and decoration of its church. The second concerns Sandro Botticelli's 1485 <underline>Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist<underline>, which displays a nursing Virgin in a garden of scriptural quotations. The altarpiece portrays Holy Wisdom as the garden of Ecclesiasticus 24, as the Virgin immaculate created before all things, and, most importantly, as the Christ Child whose engorged breasts feed mankind. The third chapter addresses Piero di Cosimo's 1490-1498 <underline>Visitation with Saints Nicholas of Bari and Anthony Abbot<underline>. Mary and Elizabeth's <italic>junctio dextrarum<italic> seals, under the impression of the Holy Spirit, the union of the Testaments and the unity and authority of Ecclesia and accomplishes the "kiss of Justice and Peace" of Psalm 84. The third chapter discusses Filippino Lippi's 1494 <underline>Madonna and Child with Saints Martin of Tours, Catherine of Alexandria, the Young Saint John the Baptist and Donors<underline>: Within a multilayered composition based on Augustine's City of God, the donors apply to familial relationships the model of Saint Martin's charity displayed in the chapel window. Finally, Agnolo del Mazziere's 1495-1500 <underline>Trinity with Saints Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria<underline>, discusses ways of seeing and imaging the Trinity in light of Augustine's <underline>De Trinitate<underline>. My close reading of these altarpieces and my focus on religious context breaks ground in revealing how, in Renaissance Florence, an order could fashion, through independent altarpieces, a program that promoted its institutional values and stimulated modes of viewing that served its devotional and educational needs.