Posted by Ann Donahue, Senior Editor
The brief description of Botticelli’s Cestello Annunciation (1489–90) by Andy Gaskell at sandrobotticelli.net is a telling example of the narrative power of the painting. Gaskell’s highly personal response is to compose dialogue inspired by his meditation on Botticelli’s depiction of Madonna and angel. And Gaskell doesn’t stop at dialogue. He inserts a bit of stage direction, as if the Madonna and angel are actors in a play: “‘I’m just an ordinary girl! How could I do this? There must be some mistake!’ The angel insists, gently, and won’t go away.”
It is the reciprocal connection between the theatrical and the painterly that Kristin Phillips-Court explores in her award-winning book, The Perfect Genre: Drama and Painting in Renaissance Italy. Juxtaposing visually evocative works of literature by prominent Italian intellectuals with specific developments in the realm of painting, Phillips-Court draws attention to the intermedial conversation between dramatic works and painting in a culture dominated by art. Of paintings of the annunciation such as Botticelli’s she writes, “The illusion of depth in painting meant that, more and more, it incorporated the beholder—an ideal viewer—who stood directly in front of the image, interpreted the image, and projected himself psychologically into the space of the image.” In Botticelli’s time, Phillips-Court shows, ideal viewers included Belcari, Trissino, Caro, Tasso, and Bruno. Her original and elegantly argued book provides a new perspective on Renaissance drama that situates it firmly within its political, religious, and philosophical contexts.