2012 CAA: Abstracts for IAS Sessions

Territory and Border: Geographic Considerations of Italian Art and Architecture

Chairs: Nicola Camerlenghi, University of Oregon, and Catherine C. McCurrach, Wayne State University

Forging a National Audience for Regional Monuments: Giuseppe Fiorelli and the Superintendency for Excavations and Museums.  J. Nicholas Napoli, Pratt Institute

Examining Giuseppe Fiorelli’s work as the manager of Italy’s cultural patrimony for the newly unified Italian state, I consider how the notion of an Italian artistic geography (not unlike the idea of the modern Italian state) required a shared sense of national cultural patrimony that transcended regional affiliations. Focusing on Fiorelli’s tutelage of the monastic complexes of San Martino in Naples, Santa Maria delle Grazie outside Pavia, and the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, my paper considers how his initiatives sought to create a peninsula-wide network of sites and museums and to generate a national audience for these monuments.  Conversely, it explores the cases, especially the monasteries of Naples and Pavia, where monuments retained a stronger regional character despite their designation as national museums.  Ultimately, Fiorelli’s initiatives had a paradoxical effect on the artistic geography of Italy:  they simultaneously nationalized and regionalized Italian art and culture.

Defining Territories and Borders in Italian Romanesque Architecture: Regions, Sub-regions, Meta-regions.  Michele Luigi Vescovi, Università di Parma

From the earliest studies on Italian medieval architecture, the concept of Romanesque has been intricately connected to the notion of regions. Yet nearly one century after Arthur Kingsley Porter’s Lombard Architecture, it is time we return to questions of borders. In this paper, different cases will be used to highlight why we must reconsider historical boundaries, and to show the problems inherent in the concept of “regionalism”. I believe we must re-conceive of our notions of the geography of Italian Romanesque architecture as a connection of distinct historical sub-regions. I will discuss the problem related to transmission and cultural contacts between different regions and sub-regions and argue that the latter should be viewed within a wider context, one subject to the diverse phenomena of cross-cultural exchange (the demand of patrons, the installation of “foreign” monastic orders, or the transmigration of workshops).

Tracing Renaissance Geographic Imagination in the Chronicle of Benedetto Dei.  Niall Atkinson, University of Chicago

In his 15th-century chronicle, Benedetto Dei adapts the accounting practices of Florentines merchants to organize his urban world into an aggregate and random textual urban geography.  He merges this with accounts of foreign travels, collapsing the spatial and temporal coherence of travel literature into a disconnected series of juxtaposed fragments.  Conventional notions of territorial contiguity are therefore undermined by an author probing his own social geography.  What emerges is an alternative geographic imagination that dispenses with the logical relations between events and places, reconstructing the world as a series of fluid territories.  It challenges the assumption that the increasing topographical and historical accuracy of Renaissance representational practices necessarily lead to the fixed and expanding borders of nation and empire or to the colluding geographic boundaries of our discipline. Instead, Benedetto overlays strange discoveries onto familiar spaces, collapses geographic distances into new contiguities, transforming territorial boundaries into modes of cultural exchange.

Geography, Hegemony, and Expansive Examples from the Veneto.  Diana Gisolfi, Pratt Institute and Pratt in Venice

Sydney Freedberg once remarked that Italian art historians tend to frame studies geographically (Parma) whereas Americans tend to limit work chronologically (Quattrocento). In our “global” era we both look at connections across boundaries, remembering trade routes and complex interrelationships of geography and economic/political history. Italy’s very form and many port cities indicate at once the importance of relationships across seas as well as within the peninsula. Verona’s strategic location at the crossroads of North Italy made her important: in Roman times, as independent medieval commune and as powerful Signoria under the Scaligeri in the Trecento. Second only to the capital in population, her strong identity survived the dominion of the Republic of Venice after 1406. Among architects/artists who served Venice and her territories on land and across sea, three “Renaissance” men from Verona played parts that illustrate reach across time and borders: Fra Giovanni Giocondo, Michele Sanmicheli and Cristoforo Sorte.

For an Italian Landscape: Regionalism in the Postwar Period.  Karen Pinkus, Cornell University

In the 1940s, as fascism waned, a number of Leftist filmmakers (including Giuseppe De Santis and Luchino Visconti) and artists (including Renato Guttoso), explored the possibilities and limits of authentic Italian landscapes. Regionalism in Italian painting was maligned, practically a synonym for “kitsch.”  Simultaneously, artists felt a compelling commitment to represent and preserve both geological and cultural specificity. Much was at stake, politically and aesthetically, in the choice of location, the relation of background information to foreground figures, the use of dialects in soundtracks, and so on. In their engaged quest for authenticity, rather the history of Italian painting, artists turned to a rather impressionistic and aleatory series of references, from Brueghel’s landscapes to American urbanism.  This talk explores these issues in the interrelations of painting, location shooting, filmic neorealism and politics in the postwar  period.


Urbanism in Italy: From the Roman City to the Modern Era

Chairs: Areli Marina, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Phillip Earenfight, Dickinson College

From the establishment of Greek settlements to Richard Meier’s 2006 reformulation of the Ara Pacis site in Rome, the creation and manipulation of urban centers has been a constant on the Italian peninsula.  This session will consider notions of urban identity, motives of urban creation, and modes of urban patronage in Italy.

Off the Grid: Urban Armatures and Traffic Jams in Ancient Rome.  Diane Favro, Architecture and Urban Design, UCLA

Mention Roman cities and most people think of a rigid grid. The orthogonal regularity of colonial cities stands as a metaphor for the comprehensive laws, military orderliness, and pragmatism of the Romans.  Grid planning facilitated the establishment of new towns and districts, but was not universal.  Many cities developed organically and settlements often abandoned right-angle layouts, expanding in response to topography, preexisting settlements, daily needs, and a preference for urban drama. Architectural historian William L. MacDonald drew our attention off the grid with his influential work on urban armatures.  These major streets traversed cities, the entire length carefully choreographed with monuments, fountains, and colonnades to provide syncopated, sensorially rich experiences.  Study of these impressive avenues has greatly informed our understanding of Roman design principles, but overshadowed consideration of less visually alluring urban features such as street traffic.

Roman cities were bustling places.  In the mid second century CE they sheltered approximately 15 million people (5% of the entire world’s population).   People flocked to Roman urban environments, drawn by the markets, politics, law courts, and innumerable urban amenities, from baths to spectacles.  The Romans lived in the streets.  Not only did they prefer the open air to overcrowded dwellings, but they derived status from being seen. Day and night people, parades, transports, and animals clogged urban thoroughfares creating noisy traffic jams. Large-scale construction projects and recurring public processions stalled urban circulation for days.  In reaction, urban patrons commissioned buildings whose placement and design responded to, and directed, circulation.  Arches mediated traffic speed and direction; steps restricted vehicle access to fora; walled temple precincts necessitated detours.   Across the Empire, urban armatures provided the Romans with legible, attractive experiences freed from the tyranny of the grid while simultaneously, and no less subtly, addressing traffic demands.

Brick Architecture and Political Strategy in Early Modern Siena.  Max Grossman, Department of Art, University of Texas at El Paso

In the course of the late-twelfth through fifteenth centuries, Siena underwent a radical physical transformation from a city of stone to a city of brick.  The somber gray limestone towers and residences that for centuries had dominated its streets and squares gradually gave way to the warm red terracotta structures that today populate every corner of the municipality, to the point that celebrated historian Duccio Balestracci famously declared: “Siena è il mattone.”

It has long been understood that this material metamorphosis was conceived and executed by the Sienese Republic, which systematically introduced the brick industry into the city and, by the trecento, controlled every aspect of its production and distribution.  Moreover, the ruling magistracies enacted legislation that not only established legal dimensions for every brick, but also mandated its use for palace facades and virtually all public works, including the Palazzo Pubblico, Mercanzia, ramparts, gates, fountains, and pavements.  By the era of the Nine Governors (1287-1355), most major public edifices in the rural communities of the Sienese contado were also constructed of the same red medium.

Scholars have long assumed that the reasons for the change from stone to terracotta were purely practical, since excellent clay was locally abundant and bricks could be produced cheaper and more efficiently than ashlar, which had to be imported from great distances and at high cost.  While these considerations may have been paramount until the early Duecento, starting in the Ghibelline era (1236-70) terracotta began to assume symbolic meanings that were increasingly promoted by the communal regime and eventually exceeded in importance the material’s utilitarian qualities.  This paper will analyze and interpret the use of brick in early modern Siena and decipher the meanings, both political and social, that its government patrons intended to project.

Monumental Transformations: Architecture and the Eternal City in Flux. Guendalina Ajello Mahler, Independent scholar

The diverse afterlives of Rome’s ancient spectator buildings raise essential issues that intersect the fields of architectural history and urban development. While the theater of Marcellus was converted into a fortified compound, thus remaining a single building and retaining its monumental character, the stadium of Domitian became Piazza Navona, an urban space defined by numerous individual structures. The theater of Balbus lost its distinctive radial footprint, but kept a certain monumentality as it was reshaped into five Renaissance palaces. The amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, by contrast, was never found: it melted into the city and disappeared without a trace.

Seen together, these monuments offer an instructively varied series of core samples for an exploration of Rome’s evolution over time. Here, as in many long-inhabited cities across the Italian peninsula, the act of building almost always meant either displacing or repurposing earlier fabric. This was true not only as ancient monuments were reinhabited, but again and again as buildings were updated, repurposed and reshaped through the centuries. It seems only natural that historians of architecture would be interested in understanding this process of architectural/urban transformation as a whole. How did it affect the creative act? What happened to the urban environment when buildings migrated between types?

Surprisingly few conceptual tools are available for answering such questions. The most relevant text is Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City, but while Rossi rightly understood the inextricable connection between buildings and the city, as a historian I have found his structuralist model of urban development ultimately unsatisfying. Rossi’s interpretation was much affected by his theoretical agenda as an architect practicing at a particular historical moment. This paper offers a critique of Rossi’s interpretive model, and explores some alternative avenues for understanding architectural transformations, and the city as an entity in perpetual flux.