Notwithstanding our daily interaction with images, our contact with historical paintings is mostly that of museum-goers looking at framed surfaces from a safe distance, or commuters swiping through Instagram feeds on their cell phones.
However, many early modern paintings were originally engaged with on a physical level. In sixteenth-century Italy, paintings in the (semi-)private space were touched, moved, kissed, and conversed with for many different reasons. ‘Polyfrontal’ paintings facilitated these multisensory interactions as they were painted on two sides or had mobile parts like hinged doors or sliding covers that encouraged beholders to touch the works with their hands and manipulate their mobile parts. These multifaceted objects thus lured the spectator into a kinetic interaction that was both physical and intellectual. These experiences were influenced by Renaissance ideas about revelation and sensory perception, and responded to contemporary developments in art theory.
Paintings with moveable parts operated at the crossroads of art, philosophy, theology, literature, and science, but have never been analysed as phenomena within these frames. This project offers a new perspective on early modern material culture by asking: How did Renaissance paintings with moveable parts invite the beholder to move and touch, and how did this physical and mental interaction influence the construction, transfer, and reception of meaning?