"When All the Graves Were Full": Anthropological Confrontations at The Triumph of Death of Pisa

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2020
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Haverford College. Department of Anthropology
Bryn Mawr College. Department of History of Art
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Thesis
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Award
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eng
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Tri-College users only
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Abstract
This thesis will aim to consider the social processes and sociocultural environment central to viewing imagery of dead and dying bodies in Late Medieval Italy. Specifically, I will investigate The Triumph of Death (Il Trionfo della Morte) fresco by Buonamico Buffalmacco (ca. 1330's) at the Camposanto in Pisa and the broader religious complex to consider how the artwork and architecture were utilized to mediate the experience of fourteenth century Pisans. I will argue that the fresco contains apotropaic qualities which seek to fend off the threat of death from plague, yet also force the viewer into a memento mori rooted in Dominican theology. The scholarship and methodology of anthropologist Alfred Gell will be central to my discussion surrounding the sociocultural implications of art production and I will focus on the power of art as a social agent working as an intermediary in the social world of the fourteenth century. In addition, the anthropological theory of new materialism, specifically the scholarship of Amiria Henare, will aid in demystifying Late Medieval spectatorship not simply as a different way of seeing things but as the construction and inhabitation of a separate world. These theoretical lenses will both build upon and challenge Michael Baxandall's theory of the period eye which states that there is a linkage between the lived world of the viewer and the representational imagery of contemporaneous art. In situating The Triumph of Death anthropologically, I will aim to resurrect the social world of the viewer central to the Trecento experience of this work of art.
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