Visual Representation of Power in Paintings (L4) – Project Overview

The Venetian renaissance painting was one of the most significant periods in the history of painting, which can be seen by hundreds of work created by renowned painters such as Giovanni Bellini [1], Titan [2], Giorgione [3], etc. These paintings on one hand embody priceless value of art but on the other hand, reflect many aspects of contemporary life including social events and even the presentation of social status. The famous ‘Procession in Piazza San Marco’ [4] by Bellini shows a procession in St Mark’s Square where bystanders, spectators including men, women, foreign and local, rich and poor all seem to appear somewhere in the painting. While it lessens the difference within Venice’s diverse population, at the same time, the painting reveals the visual representation of power.


Figure 1. The painting ‘Procession in Piazza San Marco’

Descriptively, the foreground of the painting is devoted to the members of the scoula [5] and at the left, we can see the signers of the scoula  and three instrumentalists playing a lute, a harp and a rebec. On the contrary, the musicians appear at two places in the painting, both of them on the periphery and somewhat obscure. In the right of the image, the procession continues with the ambassadors in varied costumes, followed by several symbols of the doge: the doge’s white candle, and later on, the doge’s umbrella, the cushion for the doge’s crown and finally, the doge himself.

The above ensemble was very typical ensemble of the scoula of the period with strongly distinct rule of standing within the procession. In other words, the content of the painting, which was made to simply describe the social event, can also reveal the visual symbol and recognition of political system in Venice at that time. Thus, it could be of highly promising to dig deep into the visual content of Venice’s painting to understand the conventional power representation.

This project aims to obtain an understanding of visual representation in Venice’s painting during the High renaissance periods. Specifically, by investigating carefully the paintings of social events during that time together with the knowledge on the power system in Venice, we can find some visual cue to decide the social status of an object appearing in a painting. Since there are hundreds of works, we can have an abundant resource to dig deeply into.

By the end of the project, a system of visual clues of power representation in Venice will be presented from various data sources being collected, classified and analyzed. The collection will be investigated further with some already known visual representations of other research projects to compare its quality and motivate future improvement. The final product which has been carefully checked and evaluated will be posted on the project’s blog, along with descriptive reports of the entire process.

More about the project


Project plan and milestones