From the thirteenth century to early modern times, Venetian church interiors gleamed with brilliant gold and silver altarpieces and frontals, enlivening dim naves and providing awe-inspiring backdrops for the celebration of the liturgy. Grand in scale and materially sumptuous, these artworks were ingenious viewing machines. Many could be opened and closed horizontally to reveal and conceal multiple layers of imagery. When closed, they were further screened behind purpose-made panel paintings, called contropale or pale feriali. These multimedia ensembles - the best known of which is formed by San Marco’s Pala d’Oro and Pala Feriale - played a vital role as intermediaries between architecture and rite, and they represented the radiant core of rich religious rituals that dramatized Christian notions of divine revelation. Yet, despite their attraction, Venetian gold and silver pale remain insufficiently studied. This article brings an initial analysis of these artifacts into dialogue with broader art historical debates about the materiality and the performativity of medieval artworks. By doing so, it demonstrates the significance of gold and silver pale in defining Venice’s religious and aesthetic cityscape, and it lays the methodological groundwork for future research into these complex artifacts and their environment.

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Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterreanean

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Print ISSN: 2336-3452 Online ISSN: 2336-808X

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