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An aspect of naturalism : plant and animal illustration in Italian manuscript art from the thirteenth to the early fifteenth centuries Zimon, Kathy Elizabeth

Abstract

The subject of this study is the phenomenon of plant and animal illustration as an aspect of naturalism in Italian manuscript art from the mid thirteenth century to the early fifteenth century. 'Naturalism' in the context of this study is defined as the accurate representation of natural objects within the given limitations of period and style. In addition, the term is also applied to the phenomenon of the more frequent occurrence of natural objects like plants and animals in manuscript art. Chief among the factors that gave rise to this type of illustration were the demands of medieval science, in terms of practical works like herbals and hunting treatises. Secondly, the secular interests of the courts, in particular Frederick II's court in the thirteenth century, and the courts of the North Italian despots in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries encouraged the pastimes that generated a need for naturalistic illustration. Although Franciscanism has traditionally been credited with stimulating naturalism in Italian art, there is no solid evidence to suggest that the limited aspect of naturalism discussed here was directly influenced by the movement. The accurate portrayal of both plants and animals can be documented in a number of manuscripts dating from the thirteenth, fourteenth, and early fifteenth centuries. The concentration on accurate portrayal of isolated natural objects resulted in a more sophisticated and at the same time more naturalistic recording of facts about both plants and animals. Eventually, this close observation of nature contributed to certain rudimentary developments toward the mastery of landscape and pictorial space. These developments coincided with, or perhaps even encouraged, the acceptance of the International Gothic Style in Italy. This style incorporated some of the aspects of naturalism discussed in this study, and introduced them into a part of the mainstream of Italian art in the fifteenth century.

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