Past Event

Columbia Renaissance Seminar: Sarah McHam (Rutgers)

September 13, 2018
5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Columbia University Faculty House

“Riccio’s Paschal Candlestick at the Santo in Padua as a Traditional Liturgical Furnishing”

Almost all scholarship about Andrea Riccio’s (1479-1532) masterpiece, the towering bronze Paschal Candlestick for the Santo (Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova) in Padua (1515), concerns its unprecedented, arcane antiquarian format and decoration. Such focus is justified by the intellectual interests of the candlestick’s learned commissioners, the Santo’s overseeing board, and by prominent aspects of its imagery, e.g., a relief of pagan sacrifice, and groups of sphinxes, centaurs, and satyrs. Even its first historian, a friar writing about the Santo in 1590, described some Christian imagery but left future generations to intrigue about the “mysteries” the candlestick depicted that he could not decipher. His puzzlement has shaped all later scholarship.

Very little studied are the candelabrum’s meaningful continuities with medieval traditions. From the early Middle Ages on, Paschal Candlesticks were major liturgical objects with crucial ecclesiastical functions, especially between Holy Saturday and Ascension/Pentecost. Unexplored issues to be considered in this presentation include the Christian implications of the candlestick’s material and its structural scheme of stacking registers. Additional major points of investigation involve the choice and position of narrative scenes and their meaning in relation to paschal ritual, as well as the implications of the candlestick’s orientation in the Santo’s choir.


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.