Anne Dunlop


On her book Painted Palaces: The Rise of Secular Art in Early Renaissance Italy

Cover Interview of August 18, 2009

In a nutshell

Painted Palaces is essentially an argument against a tenacious idea in art history – that one day around 1500, artists woke up, threw off the oppression of religion, and invented the modern, secular artwork.

The early Renaissance, roughly 1250 to 1450, is probably the most pivotal and least examined period in Western art.  In Italy especially it brought a whole series of fundamental shifts.  But our idea of the period has been based almost entirely on devotional and civic commissions.  No one had explored painting with secular subject-matter before about 1450, or how the category of the secular took shape in the first place.

This book is the first study of the decoration of Italian palaces and homes between about 1300 and the mid-fifteenth century.  The painted rooms I discuss come from all over Italy; a few are from Northern Europe.  Many of them are unknown even to Renaissance specialists.  These early domestic commissions were hugely important because they laid a unique stress on two things that would be central to later Western art: a kind of exaggerated mimesis, and the need for an engaged viewer, actively interpreting the illusion of the work as a key to something beyond it.

Painted Palaces is a book on the prehistory of modern painting as a secular art.