#CIHA202401953Harvest, Rot, Blood: Rethinking the Tree Stump in Italian Painting, 1450-1530

G. Ecologie et Politique
Making Green Worlds (ca. 1492-1700)
D. Bardeen 1.
1University of California Los Angeles - Los Angeles (États-Unis)

Adresse email : dbardeen@g.ucla.edu (D.Bardeen)


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In Filippino Lippi’s Penitence of Saint Jerome (1490s), the foreground is dominated by a severed tree trunk in an exquisite state of decay: its center is hollow, a beetle scurries across its surface and mushrooms bloom from its base. In a painting by Giovanni Bellini of the Martyrdom of Saint Peter (c. 1508), a large stump bears fresh axe marks, blood oozes from its fibers, and a new seedling springs from its roots. And in a painting by Cosimo Tura (c. 1470), also of Saint Jerome, a wall creeper pecks for grubs on a stump whose mottled surface and gaping cavity bears evidence of a fungal infection.

Long understood as symbols of saintly penitence and Christian death and resurrection, tree stumps, ubiquitous in Italian paintings in the late fifteenth- and early-sixteenth centuries, also called attention to the violence implicit in harvesting wood, the manipulation of woodland resources, and their capacity for repair and renewal. These and similar examples were painted during a several-decade period of intense demand for trees and wood in central and northern Italy, in large-scale urban construction projects that required structural timber, and in the production of wood furnishings, such as intarsia, that incorporated dozens of different wood species. Stumps have enormous power to provoke; as the rooted remnants of trees that have been blown down, rotted or cut, they have the physical properties of trees – trunks, roots and branches – but also display their innards: layers of sapwood, heartwood and pith. They were also among the most visible scars of a pattern of forest exploitation that contributed to calls for new land management practices by the end of the 16th century, such as those relating to culling and planting advocated by the Venetian Iseppo Paolini in a 1608 manual that depicted a stump-riddled hillside.

Drawing on visual, textual, and archival evidence, including paintings, land management documents, botanical treatises, and spiritual and poetic literature, my paper reconsiders the significance of the stump as a vehicle through which artists negotiated early modern Europe’s changing relationship to arboreal life, in the exploitation of forest resources, in agricultural practices such as grafting, and in new ways of understanding the growth and decay of arboreal matter, including its spiritual and temporal dimensions.

Key words: Stumps, ecocritical, deforestation, violence, decay, painting, temporalities


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Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, 2015.

Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene, 2016.

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Karl Appuhn, A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice, 2009

Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher, eds., Early Modern Ecologies, 2020.

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

David P. Bardeen
David E. Finley Fellow, CASVA, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Candidate for Doctor of Philosophy, Art History, UCLA
Dissertation:  Arboreal Formations: The Dynamics of Wood in Italian Intarsia and Painting, 1450-1525

Recent Paper:
Grains, Worms and Stains: Designing from Wood in Early Modern Italy. Symposium, Making Green Worlds, École de Printemps in Art History, Los Angeles, CA, June 13, 2022.

Recent Publications:
Three essay-length catalogue entries, published by the Paintings Department, J. Paul Getty Museum, in their online catalogue, 2020.


Résumé / Abstract

Filippino Lippi’s Penitence of Saint Jerome (1490s) foregrounds a tree stump in an exquisite state of decay: a beetle scurries across its surface and mushrooms bloom from its base. In Giovanni Bellini’s Martyrdom of Saint Peter (c. 1508), blood oozes from axe marks and new seedlings spring from roots. My paper reconsiders the tree stump, not as a compositional device or symbol, but as a vehicle for negotiating early modern exploitation of forest resources, agricultural practices such as grafting, and the spiritual and temporal dimensions of trees and wood.