UPCOMING LECTURE: Dr. Joseph Hammond, “Vasari on Portraits”

Dr. Joseph Hammond

“Vasari on Portraits: Aesthetics and Propaganda”

Thursday, Feb.18, 12:00 PM, Building 37 (Center for the Arts and Humanities, AUB)

In 1534 Giorgio Vasari sent a portrait to Alessandro de’ Medici claiming that it represented Alessandro as he truly was – a heroic, armour-clad prince defending the people. Vasari was looking for employment in the ducal court and soon found it. The presentation portrait, Vasari’s description of it, and its reception by the Medici all reveal something about the use and role of portraiture at this time.

Portraiture is often treated by historians as emblematic of the emergence of the individual, of likeness, and as a reflection of an increasingly secular society in the renaissance, but the portrait is both more complicated and more interesting than this simple outline would suggest.  It is clear from contemporary sources, Vasari among them, that portraiture was functional, used socially and diplomatically, to project and legitimise power within a complex network of relationships.

Giorgio Vasari included portraits at the beginning of every vita and went on to compile a portrait gallery on behalf of Cosimo I de’ Medici. His interest in the genre is explicit—yet he did not address the topic directly. Without exception, what interests Vasari is neither the aesthetics, medium, methods or artistry involved in producing portraiture. He sees it instead as a means of revealing and supporting this network of relationships. This talk will address Vasari’s understanding of portraiture, how it differs from our own, and what these differences tell us about efforts at self-representation in the Renaissance and today.


Joseph Hammond earned his doctorate in Art History from the University of St Andrews for his work on the patronage of the Carmelite Order in Venice. He has since worked internationally in the UK, Canada and USA, where his work has been supported by institutions such as the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto, the British School at Rome, and National Gallery of Art (Washington DC). His interest in historiography and the construction of history and collection has led him to work on a broad range of material from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Jacopo Bellini. His current project is on Venetian portraiture, c. 1350-1450, and explores portraiture’s complex relationship with likeness, identity, and the historiography of the Renaissance.


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