#CIHA202400615Jacopo Bassano: Figures and Grounds

G. Ecologie et Politique
Making Green Worlds (ca. 1492-1700)
J. Pilgrim 1.
1University Of Illinois - Champaign, Il (États-Unis)

Adresse email : jpilgrim@illinois.edu (J.Pilgrim)


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Jacopo Bassano: Bodies and Grounds

The rustic paintings of Jacopo Bassano (ca. 1510-1592) have often been described as examples of the Georgic strain that emerged in the pastoral visual culture of mid-sixteenth-century Venice. Emphasizing productive labor rather that languid repose, Bassano’s pictures of rural life, the argument goes, provided support for the ideology of patrician control over the increasingly productive agricultural landscape of the Venetian mainland. But while there is no denying the emphasis upon rural labor in these pictures, the image of rural life they present is in fact more precarious than scholars have acknowledged. This paper will describe and contextualize the essential ecological precarity that is visible in the images of cultivation that Bassano produced from the late 1560s until the end of his life, arguing that in these works one can discern the outlines of an idiosyncratic pictorial poetics rooted in an emerging body of thinking about people’s simultaneous dependence upon and vulnerability to the environment. Specifically, the paper will chart a series of parallels between Bassano’s paintings and Agostino Gallo’s Le venti giornate dell’agricoltura e dei piaceri della villa (Venice, 1569), an influential agronomical treatise which drew attention to Venetian society’s dependency upon the overworked, unproductive soil of the mainland. An innovator in the science of crop rotation and fertilization, Gallo proposed that arable land on the terraferma that had been impoverished by reckless human activity could be restored only through careful management. Unacknowledged in the scholarly literature on the artist, Bassano’s awareness of Le venti giornate is confirmed not only by his reliance upon Gallo’s illustrations of tools, carts, and other agricultural equipment, but also by representations of human figures who renounce their upright posture and instead crouch, kneel, and crawl upon the muddy surface of the earth, where they come into contact with their animal companions. In these passages, I argue, Bassano imagines a world in which humanity's much vaunted intellectual exceptionalism is of little use--a world in which the interests of human beings are intertwined with those of their non-human companions and shaped by the affordances of the environments in which they both live. The products of a period in which many functionaries of the Venetian state were reckoning with the power of the environment to frustrate human ambitions, Bassano's images of cultivation confound our expectations about the priority of figure over ground, human over animal, subject over setting in early modern European art.

keywords: ecology, ecocriticism, posthumanism, animal studies, Renaissance, early modern


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CV de 500 signes incluant les informations suivantes: Prénom, nom, titre, fonction, institution

James Pilgrim (PhD Johns Hopkins)

Assistant Professor of Art History

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign





2023               “Jacopo Bassano and the Flood of Feltre,” The Art Bulletin 104, no. 3 (2023): 115-137.

2022               “Rubens’s Skepticism,” Renaissance Quarterly 75, no. 3 (2022): 917-967.

2021               “On Sorte’s Osservationi nella pittura: Water, Fire, and Landscape in Early Modern Italy,” Grey Room 85 (2021): 6-17.

2020               “Moretto’s Map,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 62, no. 2/3 (2020): 297-309.


Recent Fellowships

2022-23         NEH Collaborative Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow (three-year), Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Vanderbilt University

2022-23         I Tatti/Warburg Joint Fellowship, The Warburg Institute, London and Villa I Tatti, Florence (declined)

2022               Venetian Research Program Award, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation

2021-22         Solmsen Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison

2021               RSA-Samuel H. Kress Research Fellowship in Renaissance Art History, The Renaissance Society of America

2021               New York Public Library Short Term Fellowship

2017-20          Paul Mellon Fellowship, Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts (CASVA), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

2017-18          Art History Fellowship, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (declined)


Résumé / Abstract

This paper will describe and contextualize the visualizations of ecological precarity by the Italian painter Jacopo Bassano (ca. 1510-1592). Specifically, the paper will chart a series of parallels between Bassano’s paintings of cultivation and contemporary agronomical theory, connecting the crouching, kneeling, and crawling human figures that fill the artist’s agrarian images with the alarm expressed by Venetian agronomists regarding the impoverishment of the soil of the Venetian mainland. In these passages, I argue, Bassano acknowledges that human lives are shaped by the affordances of a rapidly deteriorating environment.