“This exemplary interdisciplinary book is an engagingly written and thorough study of a very interesting cycle of late medieval wall paintings.” —Pamela Sheingorn, CUNY Graduate Center, New York
Giovanni Canavesio, a Piedmontese artist-priest active in the last decades of the fifteenth century in the southern Alps, left behind a significant body of work, including pictorial cycles and altarpieces. This book is an in-depth analysis of his most ambitious cycle on the Passion of Christ, completed in 1492, on the walls of the pilgrimage sanctuary of Notre-Dame des Fontaines outside the French town of La Brigue.
Plesch’s primary aim is to understand the cycle’s complex and multi-layered meaning. She analyzes the subject matter of the scenes, the significance of their order, how the pictorial and graphic sources were adapted, and the range of formal and visual means used to convey content. Plesch also places Canavesio and his pictorial cycle within wider contexts of the production and consumption of religious art and the nature of devotion in an early modern rural Alpine community.
The two facets of Canavesio’s life and work—that of artist and that of priest—are also discussed. Plesch argues that the religious messages conveyed by the cycle scenes, as well as the strategies used by the artist to convey meaning and to structure the viewer’s experience, were indeed informed by his training as a priest. Canavesio’s approach to the definition of meaning, as well as his pictorial strategies, are considered in the context of the medieval art of preaching, an art whose rules derived from those of rhetoric. By also placing the cycle within the larger universe of late medieval religious devotion, Plesch connects Canavesio’s work not only with preaching but with devotional meditation and religious theater as well.
“In Painter and Priest, Véronique Plesch has produced a thoroughly engaging study that has immense implications for iconographic study not only in art history but also in medieval religious theater, since the latter also is essentially a visual art and one to which she makes frequent reference. The book exhibits a brilliant methodology, taking into account the interconnections between local, regional, and international conventions in the work of the talented artist who created the frescoes at the church of Notre-Dame des Fontaines at La Brigue. In minute detail, she examines every aspect of Giovanni Canavesio’s work in order to identify characteristics derived from Piedmontese art, Netherlandish painting, German wood engravings as these were circulated throughout Europe, and local artistic practices of the Duchy of Savoy. She provides a warning that every influence on an artist’s production requires scholarly attention, and that it is not adequate to make connections or comparisons with examples of iconographic imagery “cherry-picked” from international sources alone. The local context, including the architecture of the building for which the artwork was created, matters, as does the effort by the artist to produce religious pictures designed to stimulate devotion and to reinforce collective memory. It is a book that will be worthy to stand on one’s shelf among such works as James H. Marrow’s Passion Iconography and, for those fortunate enough to have been able to acquire a copy, Gordon McN. Rushforth’s Medieval Christian Imagery." —Clifford Davidson, Professor Emeritus, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University
“Densely bound and packed with information, the study considers the fifteenth-century pictorial Passion cycle from the pilgrimage sanctuary at Notre-Dame des Fontaines in La Brigue; the twenty-five paintings that make up the cycle are examined in their rich (and sometimes gory) detail. . . . This book is an engaging case study and achieves its aim of establishing this cycle as worthy of further study by art historians and historians alike.” — Religion and the Arts
“With exhaustive descriptions and analyses, the author considers this little-studied region and artist, his sermonic rhetoric, and interwoven pictorial sources. According to the author, Canavesio drew upon his experience as a priest to manipulate form and content, rhetorically emphasizing confession, repentance, and the Good Death. . . . This study remains a thorough, highly organized, and well-observed contribution to the study of this Piedmontese artist.” — Renaissance Quarterly
“. . . Plesch draws the reader in with her lively account of the fresco cycle and its larger cultural contexts. . . . This study ultimately rewards the reader with a broad contextual reading of these frescoes and a thoughtful analysis of issues that reach far beyond late medieval Savoy.” — The Catholic Historical Review
“Plesch [places] Canavesio and his cycle within wider contexts of the production and consumption of religious art and the nature of devotion in an early modern rural Alpine community. The work is recommended for acquisition by university libraries and will also be helpful to undergraduates.” — Fifteenth Century Studies
“Featuring high-quality paper and quite a few stunning full-color illustrations . . . Painter and Priest is a close examination of Giovanni Canavesio’s works in order to distinguish its characteristics drawn from Piedmontese art, Netherlandish painting, and German engravings.” — Wisconsin Bookwatch