Paolo Veneziano's Santa Chiara Polyptych and the Media of Devotion in Fourteenth-Century Venice Open Access

Witty, John (Fall 2021)

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This dissertation is a case study of Paolo Veneziano’s Santa Chiara Polyptych, an important early fourteenth-century Venetian altarpiece in Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia. Each of the dissertation’s five chapters examines a different aspect of the polyptych as a means to offer new approaches to the artist. In the existing literature, Paolo Veneziano’s works are most often described as evidence of Venice’s historic ties with the Byzantine Empire. This study demonstrates that in addition to responding to aspects of Byzantine art, Paolo integrated with cultural movements and socioeconomic factors that affected life in cities throughout Western Europe. It also argues that patronage by one of Venice’s elite families, the Dandolo, contributed to aspects of the polyptych’s design and iconography.

The first chapter considers the polyptych’s complex format in terms of objects created to facilitate devotional experience in mendicant contexts, where an appeal to the viewer’s emotions was encouraged. The second chapter analyzes the Santa Chiara Polyptych’s iconography at a greater level of detail than has yet been undertaken in the literature. This analysis shows that Paolo was current with the latest developments in Franciscan devotional literature, including specific poetic devices. The third chapter considers Paolo Veneziano’s detailed representations of silk textiles, which were a pervasive aspect of his oeuvre. The chapter cites evidence from Paolo’s sociohistorical context to demonstrate how patterned textiles represented majesty and authority for fourteenth-century viewers. The fourth chapter restores the Santa Chiara Polyptych to its original display context by considering the object in terms of choir screens, a feature in church interiors that were once ubiquitous, but have rarely survived. The chapter offers a hypothesis for the polyptych’s original display site in the conventual church of Santa Chiara. The fifth chapter relates the design and ornamentation of the Santa Chiara Polyptych to broader aesthetic trends in fourteenth-century Venice, notably Doge Andrea Dandolo’s (r. 1343–1354) patronage projects at the Basilica of San Marco. The Dandolo family’s involvement at the Convent of Santa Chiara underscores the relevance of the San Marco projects to Paolo Veneziano’s art. 

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1.     Paolo Veneziano and the Local Traditions of Franciscan Devotion 27

2.     Iconographies for the Convent’s Audiences 54

3.     Clothing Christ and the Virgin: Paolo Veneziano and Luxury Silks 79

4.     The Santa Chiara Polyptych and Interior Architecture 110

5.     The Santa Chiara Polyptych and Its Aesthetic Context: The Intersection of the Arts in Fourteenth-Century Venice 133


Epilogue 167

Bibliography 170

Figures 190

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