UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Boundaries of license : the materiality of the painted façade in cinquecento Venice Addona, Victoria


At least 67 domestic façades were painted in Venice by the end of the sixteenth century, often featuring illusionistic imagery depicting allegorical and mythological figures and narratives in fictive architectural spaces. Due to the iconographic flexibility and economic efficiency of the practice, scholarship has recognized its utility as a means for emerging and elite citizens to decorate their homes and “fashion” their public identities while ascribing to traditional republican values. Yet in his 1537 architectural treatise, Sebastiano Serlio accentuated the licentious potential of the painted façade, advising the painter to “not the destroy the order of the building” by “imitating reality while preserving the building’s decorum.” By linking the structural integrity of a building to its clarity of form, Serlio recognized the latent possibility of altering the meaning and reception of architecture enacted by painting on the charged support of the façade. Focusing on select remaining fragments and examining the materiality of the painted façade, particularly the relation between ornament and structure, this thesis emphasizes the pictorial simulation of architecture and materials on painted façades as challenging the visual and rhetorical function of the domestic residence in early to mid-sixteenth century Venice. Charting the emergence of this pictorial tendency within a period of architectural and political reform in the early decades of the sixteenth century, I suggest that the increased use of this transitory type of ornamentation nuanced a broader cultural moment of self-awareness during which the contradictory claims of the Venetian Republic were scrutinized through its built environment. In the first section, I examine the pictorial simulation of architecture on domestic painted façades against broader debates on architectural decorum and the lived experience of the city. In the second section, I consider the pictorial simulation of materials on domestic façades alongside the material history of Venetian architecture and challenges to it. I argue that viewers, prompted by pictorial illusionism, were encouraged to associate, question, and unravel the logic and relation of painted surfaces in a rapidly shifting urban environment.

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