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Visual Cultures of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe

by Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts Truman State University
Pub Date:
Pbk 248 pages
AU$89.00 NZ$92.17
Product Status: Available in Approx 14 days
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Secrets in all their variety permeated early modern Europe, from the whispers of ambassadors at court to the emphatically publicized books of home remedies that flew from presses and booksellers’ shops. This interdisciplinary volume draws on approaches from art history and cultural studies to investigate the manifestations of secrecy in printed books and drawings, staircases and narrative paintings, ecclesiastical furnishings and engravers’ tools. Topics include how patrons of art and architecture deployed secrets to construct meanings and distinguish audiences, and how artists and patrons manipulated the content and display of the subject matter of artworks to create an aura of exclusive access and privilege. Essays examine the ways in which popes and princes skillfully deployed secrets in works of art to maximize social control, and how artists, printers, and folk healers promoted their wares through the impression of valuable, mysterious knowledge.

The authors contributing to the volume represent both established authorities in their field as well as emerging voices. This volume will have wide appeal for historians, art historians, and literary scholars, introducing readers to a fascinating and often unexplored component of early modern culture.



Introduction: Revealing Early Modern Secrecy

Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

1 The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture

Patricia Simons

2 On the Skins of Goats and Sheep: (Un)masking the Secrets of Nature in Early Modern Popular Culture

William Eamon

3 Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space: The Coretto of Torrechiara

Timothy McCall

4 Michelangelo’s Open Secrets

Maria Ruvoldt

5 Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings

Giancarlo Fiorenza

6 A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper: Cardinal Bibbiena at the Vatican Palace

Henry Dietrich Fernández

7 Networks of Urban Secrecy: Tamburi, Anonymous Denunciations, and the Production of the Gaze in Fifteenth-Century Florence

Allie Terry-Fritsch

8 Tricks of the Trade: The Technical Secrets of Early Engraving

Sean Roberts

9 The Alchemical Womb: Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum Microcosmicum

Lyle Massey

About the Contributors


“This book stands out for the diversity of secrets it investigates. Yet, in all this diversity, its focus on the performance of secrecy and the sociability of secrets lends it coherence. This is a worthy addition to the growing literature on secrecy in early modern cultures of knowledge.”

—Sven Dupre, Isis

Timothy McCall is assistant professor of art history at Villanova University. His research primarily investigates gender, power, and visual culture in fifteenth-century Italian courts. He has published in journals including Renaissance Studies and Studies in Iconography and was recently a fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

Sean Roberts is assistant professor in the Art History Department at the University of Southern California.. He has published in journals including Imago Mundi, Print Quarterly and Renaissance Studies and is the author of Printing a Mediterranean World: Florence, Constantinople, and the Renaissance of Geography (2013).

Giancarlo Fiorenza is associate professor in the Department of Art and Design at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. His book, Dosso Dossi: Paintings of Myth, Magic, and the Antique, was published by the Pennsylvania State University Press in 2008.