Malevolent or Benevolent Brushstrokes?: Exploring the Depiction of Disability in Renaissance Paintings Using a Critical Disability Studies Lens
Keywords:Disability; Painting; Child; Adult; Renaissance; Art History
It may be important to situate disability historically to move toward understanding the rise of contemporary and often dominant ableist approaches to thinking about and representing disability today. The arts serve as “living artifacts” which store historical ideas about disabled bodies. Using a critical disability studies (CDS) lens, we explored the historical depiction of disability through Renaissance paintings created between 1300 and 1700. Our formal and semiotic analysis suggests that disability was depicted in ways that reinforce a medicalized notion. Malevolent representations seem to focus on the notion that a disabled body exists in service to an able-bodied other, the healing of disability by a god, or disability as a source of entertainment. In contrast, disability and tenderness may be seen as a more benevolent portrayal but not without paternalism and infantilization. Although paintings of children were few, disabled children were depicted in a more compassionate and vulnerable light than disabled adults, perhaps highlighting differing degrees of acceptance on the basis of age. Our use CDS in this paper highlights the problematic persistence of biomedicalization and pathologizing in Renaissance art. We encourage further use of CDS perspectives in art history analysis in the future, given the potential to generate emancipatory artistic movements and new conversations about bodies in space and time.
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
There are no article processing or submission charges for CJDS authors.
Author(s) are not required to assign their copyright in and to their article to the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. Instead, The CJDS asks for one-time rights to print this original work.
All articles in the journal are assigned a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.
Authors are asked to contact the journal Editor if they wish to post the article on any website; translate or authorize a translation of the article; copy or otherwise reproduce the article, in any format, beyond what is permitted under Canadian copyright law, or authorize others to do so; copy or otherwise reproduce portions of the article, including tables and figures, beyond what is permitted under Canadian copyright law, or authorize others to do so.
Contacting the Editor will simply allow us to track the use and distribution of your article. We encourage use for non-commercial, educational purposes.
Authors must provide proof of permission clearance prior to the publication of their work if they are including images or other materials that are not their own. Keep in mind that such clearance can at times be costly, and often takes time. The journal editor can often work with you to seek permissions if you need information, advice or assistance.