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Artists and authorship: the case of Raphael
Artists and authorship: the case of Raphael

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2.4.3 Artist as genius

Some have questioned the notions of the supreme originality and autonomy of Renaissance artists. For example:

  • Lisa Pon has considered the paradox in the promotion of individual genius in the sixteenth century when, at the same time, collaboration in the new art of printmaking was necessary for those who wished to publicise their inventions (Pon, 2004).
  • Maria Loh’s Titian Remade (2007) considers the ‘minor’ Venetian artists who followed Titian after his death and their denigration in art-historical literature. Using critical theory, she challenges prejudices against imitation, copying or repetition, and argues that Titian’s followers used these techniques as a form of originality.
  • Joseph Koerner’s The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (1993) is a dense and masterful tome that takes Dürer’s famous Self-portrait in Munich (see Figure 6) as its starting point, asking how Dürer’s portrait initiated a new discourse in Germany about selfhood and artistic sovereignty. Koerner sensitively balances these claims with later ones about the ‘birth of the self’ in the Renaissance, ideas that Dürer’s portrait itself anticipates. Koerner’s training at Berkeley during the formation of new historicism and the impact of Greenblatt’s ideas are evident in his approach.

A host of feminist studies have challenged the notion of the Renaissance as a triumph of the male genius. To cite just one:

  • Fredrika Jacobs’s Defining the Renaissance Virtuosa (1997) challenges the idea that Renaissance masters were exclusively male. She asks why the names of female artists (Sofonisba Anguissola or Lavinia Fontana, for example) are overlooked. She traces this in part to the association embedded in Renaissance thought between male sexuality and artistic creativity mentioned earlier.