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Renaissance Invention and the Haunted Infancy

Al Acres, associate professor of art and art history, Georgetown University. Countless Renaissance images of Christ’s infancy allude either to his sacrifice or to evil, and sometimes to both. Each represents a kind of absence in the moment pictured: the ultimate death of the infant and an intangible menace resisted by his coming. Although both occur widely in European work of the period and are familiar to modern observers of Renaissance art, they have never been systematically addressed. In this lecture recorded on January 25, 2015, based on his new book, Al Acres offers some suggestions about why this might be and examines the extraordinary variety of ways in which artists sought to convey these related ideas. In the challenge of representing two oblique presences, artists as diverse as Bosch, Botticelli, Bruegel, Gossaert, Leonardo, and Michelangelo (among many others) recognized a rich opportunity to cultivate new and deeply absorbing kinds of visual ingenuity.