Playful Pictures

Art, Leisure, and Entertainment in the Venetian Renaissance Home

By (author) Chriscinda Henry

Hardback - £83.95

Publication date:

15 December 2021

Length of book:

280 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271089119

In Playful Pictures, Chriscinda Henry explores the rise of private art collection in Renaissance Venice as a diporto, or pastime, practiced within a kaleidoscopic matrix of domestic leisure that encompassed the recitation of poetry and tales, games, music making, amateur theatrical activity, and the conversational arts.

Between around 1490 and 1550, a new class of pictures emerged in Venice. These images—primarily paintings but also drawings, prints, book illustrations, and historiated architectural elements—feature quotidian, festive, allusive, and performative subjects that catered to the cultural and intellectual interests of avant-garde patrons and collectors. Several generations of Venetian artists, including Vittore Carpaccio, Giorgione, Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Cariani, Bernardino Licinio, and Paris Bordon, rose to meet the demand of modern collectors seeking entertaining artworks that could speak to their personal values and taste. Playful Pictures connects painting and the graphic arts with other art forms engaged in the home: vernacular literature and the novella tradition; pastoral music, verse, and theater; urban dialect comedies; and carnival and ludic culture. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that treats these pursuits as linked forms of creative practice, Henry argues that they served as dynamic forms of personal and collective expression for patrons, collectors, artists, and other virtuosi seeking to express a new set of secular values and a contingent notion of selfhood.

Incorporating fresh evidence from archival sources, this book expands the discourse on Renaissance art by situating it within the growing, and increasingly nuanced, scholarly understanding of Renaissance leisure and entertainment culture.

Playful Pictures provides a rich and welcome study of secular Venetian domestic paintings, many of which are familiar to art historians but have not been connected fully to the literary, social, and performative worlds of Venetian culture. Henry brings a well-researched interdisciplinary perspective and vividly re-creates the viewing contexts for these paintings.”

—Jodi Cranston, author of Green Worlds of Renaissance Venice