Reflections of the Hidden Duchess and the Moon King. The Tabula Scalata and the Engaged Beholder in Sixteenth-Century Italy
Number of pages
SourceIkonotheka, 29, (2020), pp. 79-101
Article / Letter to editor
Display more detailsDisplay less details
SubjectEurope in a Changing World
A tabula scalata consists of triangular slats painted on two sides and attached to a panel, creating a “double image”. Sometimes, a mirror was placed at straight angles of the upper frame, allowing the beholder to see both painted sides at the same time – but only when standing in the right position. This contribution analyses how these scarcely studied devices relied on the beholder’s active participation to convey intertwined layers of artistic, scientific, political, and poetic meanings. To do so, it discusses two sixteenth-century case studies. The first is a lost painting created in French royal court circles around 1550 and subsequently making its way to Rome as a diplomatic gift. The device combined a portrait of Henry II of France, a moon symbol, and a puzzle-ridden poem to convey interrelated political and poetic meanings. The second painting is Ludovico Buti’s Portrait of Charles III of Lorraine and Christina de’ Medici. It was commissioned by the Medici, and originally hung in a room filled with maps and geographical devices. This article considers three aspects central to the paintings’ reception: motion, sensory perception, and ideology. Operating in an intellectual culture fuelled by curiosity and designed to evoke wonder, these devices aimed to prolong the beholders’ attention by establishing thresholds within the artistic experience. As such, they straddled the vague boundaries between painting, scientific instrument, and poem to stimulate the beholders’ senses and involve them in an interactive game of meaning-making.
Upload full text