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Keywords

Art; Collective memory; History; Italy – Florence; Painting, Renaissance; Portraits, Renaissance

Abstract

Collective memory studies as a field has always been the interdisciplinary study of how and why memories have been created. The difference between collective or cultural memory studies and that of a strictly historical study is often discussed and debated as people question whether memory or history is more valuable regarding past events. Jan Assmann explains that “in the context of cultural memory, the distinction between myth and history vanishes. Not the past as such, as it is investigated and reconstructed by archaeologists and historians, counts for the cultural memory, but only the past as it is remembered.” Assmann has the perspective that while an historical event took place in a certain way the memory of the event in itself is worthy of recognition and exploration. However, whether or not studying the past as history or as memory is more appropriate is not the concern here. This paper will focus on how the approach of memory studies is able to bring memory into historical perspective as an element of influence and a catalyst for memorialization that took place through painting in Quattrocentro Florence. The use of paintings as objects of immediate memory was practiced by the Florentines as a form of “social memory,” a term coined by art historian Abby Warburg to refer to a cultural level of memory. Interestingly enough despite the use of paintings for immediate memory in fifteenth century Florence, Jan Assmann credits Warburg with being the first art historian to recognize and treat images or “cultural objectivizations” as carriers of memory. This may be a relevant statement for contemporary art history, however a key theorist of the fifteenth century, Battista Alberti noted that in regard to paintings as a form of memory of deceased individuals, “the dead were seen by ‘the living many centuries later,’” referencing a clear recognition of the power of images to act as carriers of memory centuries before any field of memory studies was formalized.