Votive Panels and Popular Piety in Early Modern Italy
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In the late fifteenth century, votive panel paintings, or tavolette votive, began to accumulate around reliquary shrines and miracle-working images throughout Italy. Although often dismissed as popular art of little aesthetic consequence, more than 1,500 panels from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are extant, a testimony to their ubiquity and importance in religious practice. Humble in both their materiality and style, they represent donors in prayer and supplicants petitioning a saint at a dramatic moment of crisis. In this book, Fredrika H. Jacobs traces the origins and development of the use of votive panels in this period. She examines the form, context, and functional value of votive panels, and considers how they created meaning for the person who dedicated them as well as how they accrued meaning in relationship to other images and objects within a sacred space activated by practices of cultic culture.
offered “to Jesus Christ our Savior” and Saints Peter and Paul a tavoletta in tributary remembrance of an act of holy intercession.23 Between the extremes of 33 34 Voti ve Pa n e l s a n d P o p u l a r P i e t y i n E arly M o d e rn I taly 13. School of Raphael (?), tavoletta votiva offered by Tommaso Inghirami, circa 1508.Tempera on panel. Rome, San Giovanni Decollato. (Photo: Alinari/Art Resource, New York) 14. Anonymous, Lorenzo, son of Bernardino Zavalune, struck by an oxcart,
their sickbeds. One shows a solitary woman genuflecting within an undistinguished interior space, and three include a child tucked into a cradle. Fourteen show the intercessors elevated either within an aureole of heavenly light or emerging from clouds. The other two represent the saint and supplicant on shared ground (one within an interior, the other set against a blue sky). Although each of these early tavolette portray the votary, and thus identify the donor’s gender and suggest his
Fu n ct i o n a l Va l u e : At t e s tati o n s o f Fac t an d Fai th Coinciding with these events, tavolette votive appear to have enjoyed a surge in popularity. I do not presume to be able to explain the apparent increased appeal, but I would suggest there are interesting parallels to be made between the unprecedented emphasis on verification in cases of proposed sanctity taking place at the highest levels of the church and popular attestations of faith occurring by and large without
of this kind sought to capture the critical moment of solicitation. It is far more likely, however, that they represent the votary after his or her reception of grace. If these panels can be seen as narratives of “being in a state” (an everyman’s version, if you will, of paintings of saints in a state of ecstasy), then the story they tell, like narratives of “being in action,” must be viewed in conjunction with the material object. Allowing the tavoletta as an image to coalesce with the tavoletta
representation of the Madonna and Christ Child in the form of a relatively small statue (Figure 63).37 In other instances, such as a copperplate engraving from Scelta d’alcuni miracoli e grazie della Santissima Nunziata di Firenze of 1619, a miracle book (and successor to Luca Ferrini’s Corona di sessanta tre miracoli della Nunziata, 1593) compiled by Giovanni Angelo Lottini, exorcism is depicted as a miracle affected solely through the image (Figure 64).38 Members of the clergy are nowhere to be