Week 5 Discussion: A Case Study in Contextual Analysis: What do you think?
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Week 5 Discussion: A Case Study in Contextual Analysis: What do you think? (25
pts. due Thursday and Sunday Nights)
Apollo and Daphne.jpg
Pluto and Proserpina.jpg
The following three (3) documents (underlined and numbered below) present
formal and contextual/historical analyses of the same artist’s artwork, but from
different outlooks. The first (Khan Academy video) is a standard formal and
contextual analysis. Contextually, the speakers give us general information about
what was going on at the time the artwork was made to help us understand the
work. The second article by Kari Day looks at Bernini’s work from a contemporary
feminist point of view. Day is offended by Bernini’s work but seems to appreciate
the insights it inspired for her. The third article by Robert Baldwin says it is best to
look more carefully at general and specific historical facts in order to understand
YOUR DISCUSSION PROMPT THIS WEEK: Post an essay that responds to the
following questions: 1. What did you learn about analyzing artworks from reading
these three different interpretations? 2. Does history matter when analyzing art? 3.
Is it okay to look at art in a way that was not intended? 4. When is our personal
perspective valid? 5. When is it not valid?
Below you will find links to and excepts from these three different interpretations.
Contextual (and formal) Analysis of Bernini’s St Teresa in Ecstasy: Listen ONLY to the contextual
(historical) analysis in Khan Academy’s Bernini’s St Teresa in Ecstasy to Bernini made as he created
2. Contextual/Political Feminist Analysis of similar Bernini sculptures: Read the highlighted parts (3
paragraphs) of Kari Day Feministing Bernini Full Text and learn how the author finds the artwork
Excerpted Highlighted Sections:
These two works unsettled my feminist sensibilities in the worst way. For certain,
they depict the troubling and disturbing realities of women historically and even
contemporarily. These sculptures disclose the movement, the flight, the chase, the
cry and the screams of women who were considered propertied beings and would
rather be trees or inanimate objects than women as they encounter violence and
rage within a patriarchal culture. Most jarring, the women in these sculptures were
being accosted by Divine Beings, showing the complexity of theological and
religious ideologies and the ways in which they, in part, perform violence upon
While I am certainly not an art critic and certainly do not see Bernini’s intent as
championing women’s rights as he was a part of the Roman imperial establishment
that objectified women, there is a certain complexity for me associated with these
two sculpted works. Bernini gives artistic voice, although perhaps unintentionally,
to the social realities of women who have been terrorized simply for being women
throughout history. This is a necessary cultural move within art, which exposes
such injustices. However, this is not his direct intention. Bernini does not seek to
offer cultural and social critique of the institutions of which he was a part in ancient
Rome through his art. Rather, his ambitions were more about breaking the
technical limitations of art itself during the seventeenth century Italian Renaissance
period. However, I want to move beyond Bernini’s more technical artistic ambitions
by providing a feminist social critique of these sculptures.
These two sculptures crystallized for me the utter violence that women and even
other minoritized groups such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, religious
minorities and other marginalized persons continue to endure today.
Art matters as one searches for a more liberating feminist politics of full inclusion
and human flourishing. This is what I walked away with after observing Bernini’s
unsettling sculptures, which are embodiments of the grotesque, being the beautiful
and dark (violent) human experiences that both oppress and free. And a feminist
critical lens to art can be cultivated in celebration of diversity and difference. Art
can indeed open us up to new vistas and horizons, encouraging us to reconsider
ideologies, beliefs and institutions that exclude and inspiring us to rethink ways to
be better human beings in light of the violence and rage that continue to
persist. Art can prompt and initiate critical reflection within societies on the worlds
we aspire to build, inaugurating a politics of hope.
3. Contextual Analysis of the Ecstasy of St Teresa:
Read the highlighted parts (3 paragraphs) of
this author’s understanding of the artwork in the context of when it was made
on Baldwin Berninis Ecstasy Of Teresa (Full Text).
Excerpted Highlighted Sections:
Who was St. Teresa?
First, she was a major church reformer and administrator.
In the end, it makes more sense to me to see Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel not just as
the patriarchal image that it was to some extent. In so far as these men were also
shown as deeply impressed and transformed in their own way and in so far as
“female” spirituality had arrived as an exemplary mainstream Catholic spirituality
for women and men, the Cornaro Chapel also signaled a mutual transformation
across traditional gender boundaries. Perhaps the most vivid aspect of this
transformed, feminized, official piety was the androgynous, phallic angel who stood
in for the invisible, mystical bridegroom, Christ.
Gender Issues in the Cornaro Chapel
The absence of women in Bernini’s historical portrait of the most important
Cornaro family members is all the more conspicuous in a work which celebrates a
female saint. Women just didn’t have the same opportunities and institutionalized
power to commission many large works such as the Cornaro Chapel. While some,
like Teresa, had real power, it was still confined to a lower level. It was power from
below. As such, it was always dependent on patronage and support from a higher
world composed almost entirely of men.
On the other hand, official, male-defined Catholic power never existed in a world
apart from and cut off from female patrons (matrons), saints and mystics, writers,
and administrators. If the Cornaro Chapel tells us anything, it suggests an ongoing
interaction between men and women at all levels of the Catholic Church. In the
Cornaro Chapel, St. Teresa remained framed by the powerful men who helped
install her in the Roman Catholic canon of saints and in Roman churches like this
one. Nonetheless, an analysis of the work which looks for gender interaction is far
more productive in the end than one which just sees a static, unchanging patriarchy
In looking at gender or any other socially imbedded values this way, we move away
from the more static social analysis of 1970s and 1980s feminism (and social history
of culture) toward a newer, more dynamic feminist analysis looking at interaction,
cultural exchange, and mutual transformation across all social boundaries.
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