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Title: Caravaggio and a neuroarthistory of engagement
Author: Berg, Kajsa
ISNI:       0000 0004 2735 0625
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2009
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John Onians, David Freedberg and Norman Bryson have all suggested that neuroscience may be particularly useful in examining emotional responses to art. This thesis presents a neuroarthistorical approach to viewer engagement in order to examine Caravaggio’s paintings and the responses of early-seventeenth-century viewers in Rome. Data concerning mirror neurons suggests that people engaged empathetically with Caravaggio’s paintings because of his innovative use of movement. While spiritual exercises have been connected to Caravaggio’s interpretation of subject matter, knowledge about neural plasticity (how the brain changes as a result of experience and training), indicates that people who continually practiced these exercises would be more susceptible to emotionally engaging imagery. The thesis develops Baxandall’s concept of the ‘period eye’ in order to demonstrate that neuroscience is useful in context specific art-historical queries. Applying data concerning the ‘contextual brain’ facilitates the examination of both the cognitive skills and the emotional factors involved in viewer engagement. ABSTRACT The skilful rendering of gestures and expressions was a part of the artist’s repertoire and Artemisia Gentileschi’s adaptation of the violent action emphasised in Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes testifies to her engagement with his painting. Victorious Cupid, St Matthew and the Angel and Doubting Thomas in Vincenzo Giustiniani’s collection show an emphasis on touch, which was crucial to the lifelikeness of the imagery, the understanding of the subject matter and the engagement of the skilled patron and his acquaintances. Empathetic engagement with Caravaggio’s religious commissions was expected. Paintings in Roman churches were made to stir the emotions as a means to instigate piety in the viewers. Training in spiritual exercises would have increased the receptivity to emotional involvement. Now, neuroscience can facilitate systematic studies of emotional and empathetic engagement. An approach based on the ‘contextual brain’ provides the tools to examine a range of context specific responses to art.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available