The Scales of European Painting

  • Nov 2, 2023Nov 30, 2023
  • Online


This series of lectures is given by Alexander Nagel (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University), the 2023 holder of the Prado Museum Chair.

Scale –not measurable size, but the sense of relation to size– fundamentally shapes relations between people and material works of art. In the case of painting, scale is a primary means by which depicted worlds meet the viewer’s experience, suggesting possible new configurations of social, political, and environmental relations. During the period 1300-1600, European painting underwent a series of radical reinventions –the emergence of new picture categories, new roles for drawing and new modes of scalable image-replication, new pictorial techniques and supports, as well as new approaches to virtual space– developments that produced continual experimentation with scale, as painters attempted to coordinate new modalities of painting with the viewers and real environments they served.

All these problems are familiar to us today, as we struggle to coordinate our immersion in our various small picture devices –phones, tablets, computers– with our experiences “in real life.” These lectures follow from the premise that these problems of scale interference –what it might mean to live in scale and out of scale with our images– are not new. Painting in the West after Giotto engaged in an open-ended series of experiments with scale, a long history of adaptations and negotiations inside pictures and also a series of efforts to manage the relation between virtual spaces and the real spaces of their viewers. This is the prehistory of our current efforts to manage the relationship of our images and devices to our lives. During the sixteenth century, the commitment to presenting figures at “life scale” took hold, with profound consequences for the history of European painting.

Learn more

Free. Registration opening on October 2 and closing on October 24.