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Francis DeStefano

I met Christian Kleinbub at a conference two years ago where he gave a paper on Raphael's Transfiguration that must have formed the basis for the chapter in the book you reviewed. After the presentation, I asked him about the woman so prominent in the foreground with her back to the viewer.

He only said that he was working on it. I suppose I should read the book myself but did he finally discuss the woman and her role? You mention the possessed boy's mother but I hardly think that is a satisfactory explanation given her pose, clothing, and position.


David Packwood

Hi Frank,

Actually Kleinbub doesn't say much about this woman, save to connect her with the serpentine style of Michelangelo's Sistine Sibyls. He also links the female with the difficulta of Michelangelo, which he sees as, to use his words "confirm[ing] the association of Michelangelo's imaginative figural style with the boy's predicament and thus underlining the dangerously sensual disposition of undisciplined imagination."

I'd liked to have heard him lecture on the Transfiguration, as he has interesting things to say about it.

Paula Humfrey

How to present the ‘seen’ while representing the ‘not-seen’? This is the challenge, isn’t it? To ask theory to illuminate the so-called facts on the ground, while giving the latter credence as tangible things that can also be read theory-free.

It’s been my experience that social historians really struggle with these ideas.

Where better to explore them than in an historical analysis of Raphael’s work, appearing as it does in the century before Cartesian rationalism took off in western culture?

I have a feeling these days that we can’t go a whole lot further with rationalist inquiry without developing an equally sophisticated language of metaphysics. And as David points out, per Klienbub, visuality is especially suited to “render wisdom an aspect of seeing rather than merely philosophical discourse or book learning.”

It seems to me that this is the wider importance of considering the structural relationship in Raphael between “naturalized phenomena” and “supernatural manifestations like mandorlas and putti”. We social historians should be taking notes.


David Packwood

Thanks Paula for these brilliant insights.

It did occur to me that Kleinbub's was an important book, because its themes could be mapped onto the broader context of the theory/empiricist divide. There is a resistance, if not downright hostility, towards theoretical approaches in art history. For Kleinbub to situate visuality within a context dominated by humanist erudition (The Sch of Athens), has implications precisely because that painting has been used to rationalize approaches to painting in later decades. I'd be interested, for example, to consider visuality, visual theory within Poussin's use of the Sch of Athens- but that's a much larger project.

H Niyazi

Thank you for this review David. It's interesting to see the more philosophical side of art historical inquiry seep into Raphael studies in a new publication. This type of approach was more common for Raphael in a past era, although I live in terror each day of Michael Fried announcing his next book will be on Raphael's theatricality and absorption!

@Paula - does such inquiry really need to adopt the language of metaphysics to be effective? For example, Nietzsche on Greek theatre is a wonderful mental exercise, but is not necessary to grasp the intended lessons of those works. I would defer to Marcia Hall's more effective recent use of Formalist language to define distortion of naturalistic spaces and dimensions in sacred art.

She achieved this with minimal exposition to establish the history of the term, simply adopting the words "making strange" to delineate this phenomena in Renaissance Art. Hence, borrowing terms from metaphysical language may be possible, but should be done in a manner that serves the visuality of art.

These works ultimately speak strongest in a visual language, which is a lesson that is hard to convey when it is wrapped up in theoretical constructs that simply were not present in the mind of the artist when the work was being created.

I definitely look forward to reading Kleinbub and *trying* to decipher his aims for a more general readership.

Thanks again for the wonderful review

Kind Regards

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Seen and Not Seen: Raphael Book Review - Art History Today


Seen and Not Seen: Raphael Book Review - Art History Today


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