Luke Clossey

Published On


Page Range

pp. 377–410


  • English

Print Length

34 pages

14. Art and the Deep Ken

  • Luke Clossey (author)
The first of three art chapters describes deep-ken approaches to the problem of representation: Deep-ken art is beautiful and proportioned, indifferent to plain-ken particularities, and richly (literally, with expensive material) coloured. The chapter looks in particular at consonances between symbol and referent, between exemplars of a tradition, between parts and the whole, between the expense of the pigments and the awesomeness of the subject, and between the depicted and the context of the art. The fifteenth-century is one of the great turning points in Western art history, celebrated as a shift towards images more three-dimensional, natural, and realistic—that is, closer to the plain-ken spacetime we generally perceive as natural and real. Rather than talking about a shift from abstract to real, we might consider a shift from a deep-ken realism to a plain-ken realism. Each style looks real if the viewer has the appropriate perspective. Indeed, in eastern Orthodox societies, Christians who had religious visions could and did use these “abstract” icons to identify their apparitions. Looking at Renaissance art as a shift between two kinds of realism, from the deep ken to the plain ken, makes it easier to dispel, or even reverse, triumphalist accounts of Renaissance art as progress.


Luke Clossey

Associate Professor of Global History at Simon Fraser University

Luke Clossey is an associate professor of global history at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. His first book, Salvation and Globalization in the Early Jesuit Missions (Cambridge UP, 2008), won the Canadian Historical Association's Ferguson Prize for best work of non-Canadian history; a chapter from it won a paper prize from the World History Association. His writings on global religion, the history of ideas, and history methodology have appeared in the Journal of World History, the Journal of Global History, the Journal of Early Modern History, the Sixteenth Century Journal, Global History Review 全球史评 论 , History Compass, the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature, and The Cambridge World History.