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Title: An examination of visual apophaticism in Caravaggesque painting : how does it relate to perceptions of divine presence and action?
Author: Neil, Josephine Belissa
ISNI:       0000 0004 8500 1087
Awarding Body: King's College London
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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The purpose of my thesis is to examine the incomprehensibility of the divine in Caravaggesque painting. It focuses on the revival of Pseudo-Dionysius' negative theology in the post-Tridentine period, his promotion of a method of advancing by unknowing in the perception of the Divine and how it was adapted to a visual medium. I am specifically looking at how the language of paradox, or apophaticism, is a useful means by which to understand the divine in three specific works of art, selected as separate case studies. In these case studies, the pictorial ambiguities of each painting or altarpiece are examined in parallel with their associate theologies, in an investigation which is both art historical and theological. To engage with the 'dark', or that which is invisible or unknown in religious paintings, calls for an innovative approach - of holding the pictorial and theological in tension. This thesis therefore aims not only to shed light on the proposed devotional function of the pictorial ambiguities under investigation, but also on ambiguities in the theologies that correspond with them, together aiding spiritual practice and reaffirming the mystery of divine grace. Jusepe de Ribera's 'Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence' is analysed in relation to the contemplative spirituality of the Chierici Regolari Minori Order in Lucina. 'The Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John' by Hendrick ter Brugghen, a northern caravaggist, is investigated in parallel with Calvin's theology of the ascended Christ in addition to late medieval piety. Lucas Cranach the Elder's Schneeberg Altarpiece is analysed in parallel with Luther's theology of divine hiddenness, and forms a comparative study with Ribera and Ter Brugghen to ascertain the points in an assumed 'apophatic taxonomy' at which these images reside. It will be argued that all three works of art envelop a unique combination of clarity and obscurity in which divine grace is withdrawn from the beholder, in different ways and with varying effects. Such illustrative ambiguity enables the beholder to question what is visible, leading to a more profound engagement with the painting. The naturalism in Caravaggesque painting contributes to a powerful pictorial intensity in which the senses of the beholder are aroused. However, the primary aim of this project is not to focus on their instructional efficacy, as per the dictates of the Council of Trent, but to investigate the 'operativity' of these works of art, as aids on a designated spiritual journey. This study contributes to a growing awareness among theological - as well as art historical - scholars of the impact of negative theology within the aesthetic field to express divine absence and the various ways it was employed in the Catholic Reformation. The question is how does apophaticism, whereby God withdraws as part of a process of growing intimacy, affect the function of the painting when combined with Caravaggio's trademark naturalism?
Supervisor: Quash, Jonathan Ben Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available