2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI
IAS-Sponsored Session

Civic Foundation Legends in Italian Art III: Roundtable Discussion

Bernhard 210
Friday, May 15, 2015, 3:30-5:00 pm

Organizer: Max Grossman, University of Texas at El Paso

Presider: Carrie Beneš, New College of Florida

Abstract for the 3 linked sessions:
Nearly every Italian civitas created one or more foundation narratives that glorified and advertised its origins. In Florence, for example, an anonymous writer drafted a chronicle circa 1200 that recounted the city’s ancient past and the heroic exploits of its early leaders. In the trecento, Giovanni Villani expanded upon the story and embellished it with the addition of fanciful anecdotes. Other major centers, such as Arezzo, Perugia, and Bologna, formulated similar narratives, which told of conquering Romans or the noble Etruscans before them. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, civic legends—typically a conflation of history and myth—were already being promoted and disseminated through art and architecture, long before the age of Coluccio Salutati and Flavio Biondo. In cities that had actually been founded in antiquity, such artworks commonly served to enhance or exaggerate the historical truth, often with propagandistic intent. Other cities, such as Siena and Venice, were not established until the Middle Ages and thus found themselves in the difficult position of having to invent their ancient pasts. In Siena, the communal authorities adopted the Roman she-wolf as the primary symbol of the Republic by the middle of the duecento, and it was systematically replicated in painting and sculpture, including on the exterior of public buildings, until the end of the Renaissance period. These sessions investigate the artistic programs of Italian cities in the medieval and early modern eras as they relate to their foundation legends. These sessions aim to advance our understanding of the interrelation between civic identity and visual culture while exploring the complex sociopolitical circumstances underlying the manufacture and propagation of historical narratives.


Max Grossman, University of Texas at El Paso
Judith Steinhoff, University of Houston
Nino Zchomelidse, Johns Hopkins University
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