By Krystina Stermole
PhD Dissertation, Queen’s University, 2007
Abstract: This dissertation explores how Venetians used the figurative arts as a means of responding to and shaping their experience of the War of the League of Cambrai (1509–17). The war was the most politically and spiritually tumultuous conflict in Venice’s history and almost resulted in the loss of its mainland empire. To provide a sense of the complexity of the relationship between art and contemporary military events, the study gathers and analyses a wide range of works, from painting and sculpture to woodcuts for books and prints. Chapters two, three, and four investigate how Venetians used visual art to represent and interpret their struggle to reclaim the former terraferma empire. Chapter two begins the discussion by examining the modest woodcuts accompanying printed propagandistic texts that were inspired by the battle for the mainland and that constitute the first visual response to the war. Chapter three explores the interpretation afforded military events by subsequent and more enduring works of art, particularly sculpted altarpieces and tombs for mercenaries. Chapter four discusses the assertive revival of more traditional visual themes, particularly the lion of St. Mark. Chapters five, six, and seven, in contrast, address how Venetian art reflects the atmosphere of spiritual crisis generated by the popular interpretation of the war as a form of divine punishment. The first of these demonstrates how devotional books responded to the unsettled mood through text and image. Chapter six proposes that the wartime popularity of multi-block woodcuts, particularly of religious subjects, similarly reflects a market for certain kinds of devotional imagery. To conclude, chapter seven argues that the same atmosphere sparked a sudden interest during the war and shortly thereafter in paintings of Christ and the adulteress. Considered as a group, the studies presented by the various chapters demonstrate that Venetians produced a wide variety of art during the Cambrai War as a means of interpreting the conflict’s significance and influencing its course.