The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece


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Between Icon and Narrative

David Ekserdjian

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The comprehensive study of the Italian Renaissance altarpiece from the 13th to the early 17th century

The altarpiece is one of the most distinctive and remarkable art forms of the Renaissance period. It is difficult to imagine an artist of the time—whether painter or sculptor, major or minor—who did not produce at least one. Though many have been displaced or dismembered, a substantial proportion of these works still survive. Despite the volume of material available, no serious attempt has ever been made to examine the whole subject in depth until now. The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece is the first comprehensive study of the genre to examine its content and subject matter in real detail, from the origins of the altarpiece in the 13th century to the time of Caravaggio in the early 1600s. It discusses major developments in the history of these objects throughout Italy, covers the three key categories of Renaissance altarpiece—“immagini” (icons), “historie” (narratives), and “misteri” (mysteries)—and is illustrated with 250 beautiful reproductions of the artworks.

David Ekserdjian is professor of history of art and film at the University of Leicester

“Ekserdijan has an impressive encyclopaedic knowledge of the byways of altarpiece development during the period. . . . He writes engagingly and wears his learning lightly, and, with its 250 illustrations, this handsome book is designed in the best Yale tradition.”—Peter Humfrey, Art Newspaper

“The first in-depth study of the genre. . . . Mr. Ekserdjian nimbly addresses styles, patrons, artists, and history, as well as the three key categories of the Renaissance altarpiece: icons, narratives and mysteries. And he teaches how to read altarpieces, including their predellas, or related supporting panels. The book is beautifully illustrated with 250 plates; you’ll savor both image and text.”—Lance Esplund, Wall Street Journal (Holiday Gift Book selection)

“Ekserdjian brilliantly outlines the broad picture, but the devil is in his details: how variously artists, famous and obscure, enlivened and energised this iconic structure, balancing narrative and invention, clarity and mystery.”—Jackie Wullschläger, Financial Times, “Best Books of 2021: Visual Arts”

“David Ekserdjian’s book is a sumptuous and scholarly study of a form he sifts into categories — icons, narratives and mysteries — to reveal its development and subtleties.”—Michael Prodger, Sunday Times, “Books of the Year: Art”

“[Ekserdijan] excels at shepherding us through the varieties of altarpiece and the terminology used to describe them . . . Peppered with new and surprising insights, this painstaking study will become an indispensable work.”—James Hall, Times Literary Supplement

“The glorious art of the kind that Napoleon would have stolen if he could is on full display in David Ekserdijan’s The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece.”—Michael Glover, The Tablet

“One of the most magnificent picture books I have ever handled...As David’s minute scholarship and acute observation draw you in deeper, to places and artists you have never heard of, you gain a fresh and startling sense of the breaktaking abundance of sixteenth-century Italy.”—Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement

“An utterly captivating book . . . [Ekserdjian] reads the altarpieces brilliantly, dissecting the subject matter in ways that shed fascinating light on society at the time . . . It is a joy to immerse oneself in such stunning works of art in this beautifully written (and illustrated) volume.”—Air Mail

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title 2022
ISBN: 9780300253641
Publication Date: July 27, 2021
496 pages, 9 1/2 x 11
250 color + b/w illus.

Tom Henry and David Ekserdjian; With contributions by Thoma

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