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Project D4

Grazia and Terribilità: The Heroic Making of Charismatic Artists in Early Modern Times


Prof. Dr. Anna Schreurs-Morét
Jennifer Trauschke
Dr. Nina Niedermeier (2019)

Department of Art History

The goal of this project is to demonstrate the guiding principles of grazia (grace) and terribilità (violence) in literature about art and (self-)portraits from 1500-1800, as well as the ongoing effects thereof in the porwtrayal of the life of the artist. The relationship between grace and violence is also explained by exploring the functions and effects of this relationship, which is a common phenomenon of the heroic. By looking at the rich following of exceptional artists, a more precise description of the role of charisma for artists, art scholars and art commissioners can be developed. Works from the early modern period in which the artist represents himself as the hero David are an additional focus of this project.

Within the scope of literature about art, the term grazia (Italian for "charm," "beauty" or "grace") is understood as a gift or blessing, as something orderly and graceful, which leads to virtue and enlightenment. According to the understanding of this concept at the time, it is a characteristic that cannot be learned. According to Vasari, grazia – understood as the beauty of the soul – represents both an outstanding artist and his work (Feser, 2010). Conversely, since the time of Vasari, terribilità has been portrayed as a gift or blessing of disorder and energy, through which the observer is overwhelmingly captivated and even struck speechless. Despite their immense differences, both of these principles serve as points of departure for the particular characteristic of charisma that has been ascribed to artists since the 16th century, as seen in Vasari's Le Vite. According to the interpretation of charisma as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 12:7) – thus directly reflecting the term grazia – these attributes successfully produce a certain heroizing function.

As terms with which the works of the most admirable artists have been described, grazia and terribilità also correspond to the artistic (self-)portraits that were produced from the 16th century on, in which the artist is presented as the hero David, who is both graceful and prepared to use violence. In this artistic (self-)portrayal, one can see a reaction to the heroization of the artist in literature about art through grazia and terribilità. This project focuses on the figure of David and how he represented a variety meaningful heroic models over several centuries. Another aspect of this research focuses on how representations of a victorious David negotiated questions about the making of art and the position of the artist in the early modern period.