Bull's work was greeted with an outbreak of academic controversy when it was first published, with reviews posted in papers such as the Guardian, Times and London Review of Books. It purports to overturn the established art-history view that Renaissance artists rediscovered the classical pagan gods as part of an integrated and institutionalised attempt to uncover eternal truths, and suggests instead that the gods were just decorative and ornamental, separate from any kind of ideaology, and dislocated from both their textual and monumental sources.
To this end, Bull certainly provides plenty of evidence. But the premise which he kicks against is itself, now, one that does not necesarily stand up, especially in the wider, inter-disciplinary Renaissance studies world which seeks to move away from traditional art history or literary criticism as stand-alone disciplines and instead reconstruct a whole culture and its contradictory, multiple manifestations.
So this is certainly worth reading (and almost necessary for anyone working on Renaissance visual culture and/or classical influence) - but is it truly groundbreaking? Or does is simply argue against a viewpoint which has itself already been superceded?
on 14 May 2013
Was hoping for a more esoteric interpretation of the artists reinterpretation of the classical works they'd been exposed to, since they were all knocking about with the scholars and interpreters of the hermetic texts that were pouring into Florence at that time: but l found the book quite hard to read and maybe l didn't understand the authors point. My fault - small text, cheap print, should have gone for the hardback!