Making Art Modern?

Views from the Italian Renaissance – Talk by Robert Brennan with a response by Wolf-Dietrich Löhr

Robert Brennan’s talk investigates concepts of “art” in Italian writings on painting from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth century. Challenging traditional understandings of the Italian Renaissance as a period marked by the emergence of an entirely unprecedented, modern idea of art, it demonstrates the persistence and vitality of the medieval concept of ars throughout this period. These are centuries that witnessed drastic changes in the history of Italian painting, from Giotto’s legendary departure from Byzantine conventions to the invention of linear perspective and the achievements of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. In the eyes of period observers, however, these changes conformed to a large extent with long established, distinctively medieval principles that governed what it meant to “modernize” (in Latin, modernizare) the artes.




Robert Brennan is an art historian working on medieval and Renaissance art and architecture, with an interest in historical concepts of “art.” Currently he is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney. His talk is related to his recently published book Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy (Harvey Miller, 2019). For more information, please visit:

Wolf-Dietrich Löhr is Junior professor for Italian Art History at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. His fields of research include the beginning of art theory, legends of the myth of the artist as well as the relation of image and text in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. Together with Alessandro Nova and Fabian Jonietz he recently published the book Ghiberti teorico. Natura, arte e coscienza storica nel Quattrocento (Officina libraria, 2019). For more information, please visit:


Konzeption: Romana Sammern, Werner Michler, Thomas Assinger

Bildnachweis: Maso di Banco (?), Seated Figures of Two Men Holding Swords, mid-14th century, Paris Louvre, Department of Prints and Drawings, inv. 2664  © RMN, Musée du Louvre