IMS Open Lecture Series Franciscus Traini pinxit: The Many Authors of an Altarpiece of St. Dominic in 14th-Century Pisa

The second lecture of the 2016-17 series was delivered by Joanna Cannon: 'Franciscus Traini pinxit: The Many Authors of an Altarpiece of St. Dominic in 14th-Century Pisa'.

The second lecture of the 2016-17 series was delivered by Professor Joanna Cannon, who led her audience through relatively little-studied painting of St Dominic signed by the Pisan artist Franciscus Traini. Twenty people attended the lecture, including a number of current and retired lecturers from the department.

Professor Cannon’s lecture approached a fascinating topic with great clarity, as she introduced her audience to the many varied ways of ‘reading’ a painting. Our eyes were drawn to details that other viewers may previously have overlooked, such as the image of the two midwives bathing St Dominic as a child. Professor Cannon explained how Traini had elided this standard trope with a story from The Life of St Dominic, where a midwife found a star on the child’s forehead as an indication of his bright future. Examples such as this highlighted the cleverness and subtlety of Traini’s artistry, and a sensitivity to context and content which has created a painting rich in meaning. Professor Cannon also suggested that the images depicted in the painting – for example the drowning pilgrims – may have appealed to fears and feelings in Pisa at that time.

In addition to this close analysis of the artwork, Professor Cannon used floor plans of the Santa Catarina church to help her audience visualise an exact location for the altarpiece and explained to what extent this location - with close proximity to the church cemetery - may have influenced the content and usage of the painting.

Professor Cannon concluded that there is no single way to read an altarpiece, as viewing is subjective and often directed by an individual’s own interests. Given that each person may have a different experience of any given work, we may consider this altarpiece as having a multiplicity of authors and a multiplicity of interpretations.

Joanna Cannon studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate at The Courtauld Institute of Art, receiving her PhD in 1980. She has taught at The Courtauld since 1977.  She was appointed Professor in the History of Art in 2014. Joanna was the Head of the Classical, Byzantine and Medieval Section of The Courtauld from 2004-2008, and Head of Examinations from 2012-2014.

Joanna’s research interests centre on the art and architecture of Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with particular interest in evaluating the visual as a historical source and assessing the impact of historical circumstances on the formal development of art.