SPAH Seminar Series Week 18: Dr Alison Barker

‘Knights in silver and gold’: Saint George and the Origins of the Chiaroscuro Print

  • Thu 3 Feb 22

    15:00 - 17:00

  • Online


  • Event speaker

    Dr Alison Barker

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    SPAH Seminar Series 2021-22

  • Event organiser

    Philosophy and Art History, School of

  • Contact details

    Abby Connell

Part of the SPAH Seminar Series, Dr Alison Barker gives a talk on '‘Knights in silver and gold’: Saint George and the Origins of the Chiaroscuro Print'

The figure of Saint George, both historical and legendary, was called upon to ‘play’ a number of different roles - including those of saviour, soldier and saint – for early modern audiences across the European continent. One role that George played for artists was as a vehicle for the display of their artistic virtuosity - something intended to increase their status. Saint George’s image was thus taken up by both southern and northern artists through the networks of courts and court culture, travelling between these courts and fostering competition and experimentation. This paper contends that the Saint George narrative inspired and enabled innovation and creativity produced through competition between artists. With the invention of the printing press in the early 1450s Saint George’s story was made available to diverse audiences, with the mobility of the book ensuring that his legend was disseminated across multiple borders. Although much was gained with this new process, something was also lost: images could only be printed in black and white. Manuscripts had been alive with not only colour, but gold leaf and sparkling silver highlights, rubrication of letters and marginal grotesques. Monochrome printed images - using woodcuts or engravings for example - seemed almost a backward step. They could be hand-coloured afterwards using stencils, or carefully inked in, but this time-consuming process highlighted the need for a new technology - one that could print images directly in colour.

Print artists - seeing a way to advertise their skills and status - took up the challenge of colour printing, and it is the story of how this was accomplished that is the focus of this paper. I claim that due to his malleable and multivalent nature, Saint George was at the forefront of early modern, artistic self-fashioning, expressed in the achievement of the colour print. I argue that he was used by artists as a medium for experimentation in print techniques in such a way that was not possible with other saints. I address and illustrate this claim using print examples from across the period, and the specific case study of Cranach the Elder and Hans Burgkmair’s invention of the chiaroscuro print.

About the speaker
Dr Alison Barker is an Art History Associate Lecturer at the University of Essex. Her PhD, “Dissolving the Alps: The Visual Dissemination of Saint George, 1400 to 1550” looked at the depiction of Saint George’s image in England, Germany and the Italian Peninsula, focusing on how his image travelled and was adapted by communities on both sides of the Alps. She takes a multi-media and multi-discipline approach to her work, engaging with all types of Saint George image, whatever its context. Alison’s paper, ‘An Italian Saint George in England’, was presented at the 2018 TIDE Conference, ‘On Belonging: English Conceptions of Migration and Transculturality, 1550-1700’. Her paper ‘Death, Drama and the Colour Red: The Guild of Saint George in Norwich’, was presented at The Renaissance Society of America’s 2021 Annual Conference. She has written two articles for publication, the first, ‘Saint George as Cultural Unifier: Visual Clues in Carpaccio’s Cycle at La Scuola degli Schiavoni’, is appearing in the spring 2021 issue of Confraternitas, while a second is pending publication.

To attend, please email spahpg@essex.ac.uk for the Zoom link. The seminar will also be streamed in NTC 3.07 for those wishing to attend on campus.

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