News

May 21, 2008

Professor Diane Ahl Publishes Book on Life and Work of Italian Renaissance Painter Fra Angelico

Publication will be released at the end of May

Diane Cole Ahl, Arthur J. ’55 and Barbara S. Rothkopf Professor of Art History, has recently published her latest book detailing the life and work of the esteemed fifteenth century Italian painter, Fra Angelico. Her book, Fra Angelico, was published in April by Phaidon Press Inc. in London and will be released at the end of May. It is the third title in Phaidon’s new “Old Masters Series.”

“The book epitomizes my approach to visual culture, which is highly contextual,” Ahl explains. “It encompasses history, literature, religion, and the organization and economics of an artist’s workshop. I also consider the technique, condition, and preservation of art. This is directly relevant to Angelico, whose works have been transformed through restoration.”

The book displays 166 illustrations of Angelico’s works, almost all of which are in color. Lew Minter, director of the art department’s media lab, provided digital reconstructions of several of Angelico’s altarpieces. Art graduates Emily Gillespie ’07 and Kelly Murray ’06 helped Minter with the reconstructions.

The considerable amount of research required for this publication has taken Ahl across the United States and throughout Italy, England, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, and Russia, where she performed onsite research visits to churches, museums, and private collections. While in Italy, she conducted extensive archival, bibliographic, and onsite research, which involved discussions on Angelico’s technique with conservators who were restoring his paintings.

As with all of her research, Ahl believes that this project has and will continue to enhance her teaching in the classroom.

“The book considers not only Angelico, but central Italian art and architecture in the early Renaissance, areas that I teach in Italian Renaissance Art and Introduction to Art History II,” Ahl says.

Using her contextual approach to visual culture and drawing from Angelico’s spiritual and scholarly devotion, Ahl attempts to place Angelico within the “historical and devotional” context of Renaissance Italy.

“Angelico was a friar of the Dominican Order, which was devoted to preaching and scholarship. I identify specific theological texts, beliefs, and practices that illuminate the meaning of his works,” Ahl says. “I consider his technique, style, and innovations as a painter. These include his invention of a new type of altarpiece and experiments with perspective, landscape, and narrative.”

Perri Lee Roberts, senior associate dean at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., and a well-known scholar of Renaissance art, calls the book, “erudite, eminently readable, insightful, and beautifully produced.”

Natalia Swiderska ’03, who graduated with an A.B. in international affairs and art, assisted Ahl as an EXCEL Scholar with the early stages of preparation and research for the project. Prior to this, Swiderska assisted Ahl with her previous publication, The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio (Cambridge University Press, 2002) through the EXCEL Scholars Program.

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