Past Event

Columbia Renaissance Seminar: Michael H. Shank (Wisconsin)

April 9, 2019
5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Columbia University Faculty House

“The Curious Flagellator in Piero’s ‘Flagellation of Christ:’ A Contextual Analysis and a Thesis”

The vast literature on Piero’s “Flagellation” has left one notable problem virtually untouched: the oddity of the flagellator who faces the viewer in the background scene.  After highlighting the idiosyncrasy of this figure, the talk defends the hypothesis that it represents the rhetorician and translator George of Trebizond, who stood accused, in the painting as he was in life, of colluding with the oppressors of Christ, notably Mehmed II, conqueror of Constantinople. This interpretation dovetails nicely with a critical reading of Carlo Ginzburg’s, and gives coherence to several overlooked details in the flagellation scene even as it draws on the broader context of Urbino and the Bessarion circle.


You are cordially invited to the dinner at Faculty House at 7:00 PM, where you will be able to continue the conversation with the speaker and the other Seminar members. If you plan to attend the dinner, please make your check of $30 payable to Columbia University.

Please contact the Rapporteur, Charles Pletcher (, at least ten days prior to the event, if you plan to attend the talk and, especially, if you plan to stay for the dinner. There is no need to contact the Rapporteur if you will not be attending.

In one of the most evocative frescoes of the Renaissance, Raphael juxtaposes Plato and Aristotle. The pairing would seem obvious, since the two thinkers had been for centuries symbols of philosophy and wisdom. But only the recent revival of Plato, begun in the mid-fifteenth century, had allowed Latin West to gain a better understanding of Platonic philosophy and therefore to compare Plato’s doctrines directly to those of Aristotle. Were master and disciple in harmony? And if not, which of the two should be favored? Such questions were less innocent than one might think, and the answers to them had implications for scholastic philosophy, theology, and speculation on the natural world, among a wide range of topics. A preferred vehicle for confronting these issues were works expressly conceived as comparisons between the two philosophers: the comparationes. The comparatiobetween Plato and Aristotle – a legacy from late antiquity – was initially recovered as a genre by Greek authors such as Pletho, George of Trebizond and Bessarion, and eventually appropriated by Latin authors, from Pico to Fox Morcillo, from Champier to Camutius. Driven by philosophical, apologetic and even political concerns, comparationes between Plato and Aristotle were still being composed even at the end of the seventeenth century, as the genre served as a flexible tool for different intellectual agendas. This talk will outline, on the basis of new archival and bibliographic research, some significant episodes in the history of this genre, focusing on its application in the university world, where it served both as a didactic instrument and a cultural manifesto.