Lecture: “How Kairos Transformed Into Occasio (Grisaille, School Of Mantegna, 1495-1510)”

On 8 December 2021, Barbara Baert delivered the James Loeb Lecture 2021 at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte. This lecture features a grisaille fresco depicting the Kairos/Occasio motif (Museo della Città nel Palazzo di San Sebastiano in Mantua). A female body with hair in front of her face and a bald crown moves with winged feet on top of a globe. Her clothing billows dynamically in the wind. She is a contrast to the woman with headgear, who has been placed on a rectangular pedestal and is keeping a young man from chasing the winged woman in motion. He stretches out his arms to her in vain.

The iconography of this grisaille crystallizes the longue durée migrations of ‘the right moment’ or the fleeting opportunity. The grisaille illuminates a historical juncture in which the Fortuna/Occasio motif fascinated families of art patrons such as the Gonzagas, Sforzas and Estes. The hybrid forms arose with the new, humanist understanding of human destiny. Likewise, the Mantuan grisaille embodies a modern depiction of mankind and its responsibility to society. The grasping of the moment in the fresco allows us to grasp what ‘opportunity’ embodied for 15th -century aesthetics and ethics (fleeing, nymphean, steady, motion, immobility, youth).

For more information on the lecture, please click here:

A recording of the lecture can be found here: