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A New Venetian Herbal: Depictions of Medicinal Plants in Carpaccio's Cycle of Paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola

Victoria Anne Boardman


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Thesis Description


Title

A New Venetian Herbal: Depictions of Medicinal Plants in Carpaccio's Cycle of Paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola

Author

Victoria Anne Boardman

Advisor

Diana Gisolfi

Date

2010

Subjects

  • Art, Renaissance--Italy--Venice.
  • Carpaccio, Vittore, 1465-1525?

    Abstract

    Orderly rows of plants painted with botanical specificity by Vittore Carpaccio (c. 1460-1525/6 CE) were observed along the lower edges of several paintings within the cycle portraying the Legend of Saint Ursula, commissioned by the Scuola di Sant' Orsola in Venice, Italy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. At a time when painters generally followed Cennino Cennini's advice to "scatter occasional flowers and little birds over the foliage" to indicate spring, these plants by Carpaccio demonstrate remarkable attention to detail, suggesting they were drawn directly from nature or influenced by the burgeoning publication of medicinal herbal manuscripts in Venice and Padua. Series of these plants are identified and connected with their known medicinal uses from medieval and ancient Roman manuscripts. Further, analysis of the compositional devices and arrangement with relation to the narrative of the painting cycle reveals a program of imagery relevant to women's health and the treatment of various reproductive concerns throughout a woman's life cycle. A function of the Scuola di Sant' Orsola and Angela Merici's establishment of the Ursuline Order within the Catholic Church included tending to the sick, particularly orphans and single women. It is suggested that this use of herbal medicine gave women of the Ursuline Order some autonomy and agency to act independently within Venetian society, in a community of healing. The maintenance of medicinal herbal gardens and simple garden pedagogy is discussed in relation to Venetian and Italian garden architecture, particularly with regards to the church complex of SS Giovanni e Paolo directly adjacent to the Scuola di Sant' Orsola.

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Citation

Victoria Anne Boardman, “A New Venetian Herbal: Depictions of Medicinal Plants in Carpaccio's Cycle of Paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola,” History of Art & Design Theses, accessed November 18, 2017, http://hadthesis.pratt.edu/items/show/11.