Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto: Liturgy, Poetry and a Vision of the End Time, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto

Liturgy, Poetry and a Vision of the End Time, 1st Edition

By Sara Nair James


224 pages

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Hardback: 9780754608134
pub: 2003-12-04
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Built in 1290, the cathedral at Orvieto, Italy, is a masterpiece of Italian gothic architecture. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499 and 1504, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante and classical literature. Drawing on years of detailed research into the history of the chapel, Sara Nair James identifies Signorelli's theological advisors as a group of Dominican scholars, known as the 'Masters of the Sacred Page of this city'. She presents the decoration as an integrated whole, a program complex in iconography, message, source material and theory and, through a detailed response to Dante's Divine Comedy and a moralized reading of classical legends, explains how the events of the end-time join the literary narratives to form a sermon on salvation through penance. The book is not simply a work of traditional iconography, explaining the stories behind the pictures. It is an important study in the theory and techniques of the visual representation of religious belief and its reception by the laity. The detailed illustration includes many photographs taken after the restoration of the chapel in 1996.


'Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto is the single best overall account of Signorelli's great work in the Cappella Nuova in the cathedral of Orvieto. Exceptional in its breadth and ease of explanation, this book is the complete study of the subject to date, giving the reader a guide through previous scholarship as well as an implicit summary of all other major interpretations.' Paul Barolsky, University of Virginia

'Sara James's well-conceived, well-documented and well-argued volume is the first study of the chapel to recover and articulate in an exhaustive, coherent fashion the original, long-forgotten religious programme.' Ecclesiastical History

'James's volume must be considered the indispensable guide of first recourse for any future study of this Renaissance jewel of a chapel.' Ecclesiastical History

'Sara Nair James's well researched, stimulating, and sometimes provocative study… perceptive study…' Brian Tovey, The Art Newspaper

'… a useful contribution to Signorelli scholarship.' Barnaby Nygren, Renaissance Quarterly

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Orvieto and the cathedral; Fra Angelico and the formulation of a liturgical plan; Tradition and innovation; In festo omnium sanctorum; Adventus; Liturgy meets poetry; Purgatory and Il Purgatorio; Classical allegories; Wisdom and eloquence: Signorelli as Renaissance painter-poet-theologian; Appendix: list of scences in the Capella Nova; Bibliography; Index.

About the Series

Histories of Vision

Histories of Vision
Art history is not only an historical discipline, it is also the visual study of works of art. There is no naturally given, self-evident and transparent link between the object, its perception, its representation and its functions. Images are cultural constructions with their own poetics and histories, but vision as well has its histories. The aim of this series is to reconstruct these histories. It is devoted to the study of works of art considered as ways of seeing, viewing practices, and the various codifications of visual perception connected with the arts and artistic theories through the ages. The series not only covers painting and sculpture, but also architecture. Its scope is not limited to Western art, but includes in particular the ways in which non-Western art has been perceived in Western art history.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / General
ART / European