Event Title

The Devil is in the Details: The Sculpture of Francesco Bertos

Presenter Information

Lucy Soth, Oberlin College

Location

Virtual presentation

Document Type

Presentation

Start Date

4-27-2020 8:00 AM

End Date

5-2-2020 5:00 PM

Abstract

In the 1730s, Francesco Bertos was hauled before the Inquisition. His small-scale sculptures, rendered in marble and bronze, were considered too skillful -- too lifelike -- to have been created by human hands. This accusation drew on a long tradition of skilled artists being seen as verging on the supernatural. Demons were considered masters of illusion, able to blur the boundaries between representation and reality. The act of possession was itself thought of as a type of art imitating life. Demons could manipulate ordinary materials -- smoke, fog -- and transform them into something wondrous. In other words, demons were considered masterful sculptors. Like demons, Bertos’ domain was the air: his long-limbed figures, balanced on tiptoe or perched on another’s shoulder, evoke airy weightlessness. My research explores how demons’ ability to create lifelike representations shaped understandings of artistic skill in the early modern period. My poster will use the story of Bertos’ inquisition trial as an focal point to examine this question. I will focus particularly on the unique way that sculpture (often thought of as a more “natural” art form) fits into this conversation. My research explores how associations between art and witchcraft made the tenuous lines between reality, representation, and illusion ever more problematic during the final years of the Counter-Reformation and the cusp of the Enlightenment.

Keywords:

Early modern, Art history, Historiography, Demons, Witchcraft, Sculpture, Christianity, Enlightenment, Inquisition, Baroque art, Italy, Italian art

Notes

Click here to view this poster at the Office of Undergraduate Research website from April 27-May 2, 2020.

Major

Art History

Project Mentor(s)

Christina Neilson, Art History

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Apr 27th, 8:00 AM May 2nd, 5:00 PM

The Devil is in the Details: The Sculpture of Francesco Bertos

Virtual presentation

In the 1730s, Francesco Bertos was hauled before the Inquisition. His small-scale sculptures, rendered in marble and bronze, were considered too skillful -- too lifelike -- to have been created by human hands. This accusation drew on a long tradition of skilled artists being seen as verging on the supernatural. Demons were considered masters of illusion, able to blur the boundaries between representation and reality. The act of possession was itself thought of as a type of art imitating life. Demons could manipulate ordinary materials -- smoke, fog -- and transform them into something wondrous. In other words, demons were considered masterful sculptors. Like demons, Bertos’ domain was the air: his long-limbed figures, balanced on tiptoe or perched on another’s shoulder, evoke airy weightlessness. My research explores how demons’ ability to create lifelike representations shaped understandings of artistic skill in the early modern period. My poster will use the story of Bertos’ inquisition trial as an focal point to examine this question. I will focus particularly on the unique way that sculpture (often thought of as a more “natural” art form) fits into this conversation. My research explores how associations between art and witchcraft made the tenuous lines between reality, representation, and illusion ever more problematic during the final years of the Counter-Reformation and the cusp of the Enlightenment.