2012 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, Washington D.C.
IAS-Sponsored Session

Public Art and Contested Spaces in Early Modern Italy I: Sacred and Communal Spaces:  Pisa, Siena, and Venice

Grand Hyatt, 5B - Independence Level, Independence D 
Friday, March 23, 2012, 8:45-10:15am

Organizer and Chair: Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College

Abstract for the three linked sessions:
These linked sessions addressed the rich and varied role of art and architecture in creating, transforming, appropriating or reinventing public spaces and public life in Early Modern Italy.  Whether religious, civic or mercantile, the public spaces of Italy have long been acknowledged as important but contested sites of power and authority.  This topic encompasses a broad range of approaches, and these sessions seek to cover a diverse range of material and modes of inquiry, including but not limited to: familiar monuments in a new light; the role of the ephemeral or works or aspects of works no longer visible; the influence of various socio-cultural factors on the interactions between space, art and viewers, such as rituals, urban legislation, celebratory processions, criminal punishments, merchant activity; the application of methodologies relating to gender, race and social class, interdisciplinary work, or studies relating to visual culture; theoretical discussions of what “public” might mean in this period or problematic aspects of such a term.


Jean Cadogan, Trinity College
"Urban Saints in Trecento Pisa:  Murals of the Life of St. Rainerius in the Camposanto"

The murals of the life of St. Rainerius (1117—1160) in the Camposanto in Pisa, begun by Andrea da Firenze about 1377 and completed by Antonio Veneziano in 1384-86, present a new view of sainthood compared to the murals of Lives of the Hermit Saints painted some fifty years before.  While the latter reflect aspects of Dominican piety shared by the clerical elite in Pisa during the early Trecento, the former promote the urban, secular life of a local saint.  Using unpublished eighteenth century drawings of the murals, I will present a more precise reading of the murals than has been possible.  I also propose that the murals were part of a campaign during the signoria of Pietro Gambacorta (1369-92) to reclaim the Camposanto as a communal space.  Their imagery celebrates Pisa as a locus of sacred and secular activity that promised material and spiritual wealth for all its citizens.

Daniele Rivoletti, Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa
"Pinturicchio’s Crowning of Pius III: the interests of a family in a republican context" 

How can a work for a private patron subtly manipulate public values? In about 1503, the Piccolomini family commissioned Pinturicchio to create a fresco in the Sienese cathedral, depicting the papal crowing of Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, alias Pius III: a private commission (as coats of arm show) for a public place (the cathedral’s nave). Curiously, out of the flat surface of the fresco rises a sculpted element: the pope, created in stucco. Several aspects of the 15th century Sienese public life help explain such a detail: in a politically difficult time, paintings in the Public Palace and sacre rappresentazioni often portrayed the pope as a defensor civitatis, essential to the survival of the republic. Pinturicchio’s formal choice seems to shrewdly allude to that: since the republican balance prevented them from doing explicitly, the Piccolomini circuitously tried to exploit public values in a public place for the rise of their family.

Christine Scippa Bhasin (Northwestern University
"Public Theatre in 'Cloistered' Environs"

Post-Trent, public activity in the parlatorio of Venetian convents was regulated by not one, but two bodies of oversight: the religious office of the Venetian patriarch and the state-sponsored Provveditori Sopra Monasteri. Frequent visitations by both have left us with records of the nuns’ activities throughout the 17th-century. Public performances of plays in the convent parlatorio are mentioned not only in visitors’ records, but in prohibitions, licenses, and the dedicatory prefaces to plays published throughout the Veneto. This paper explores the highly contested space of the convent parlor as the perfect, if incongruous, setting for the practice of theatre–an art form in which women were still largely absent as players on Italy’s professional and court stages. In presenting the “cloistered” nun-as-actress before a diverse, public audience, this essay invites a reconceptualization of the space of theatrical production and reception in the early modern period.

Back to Conference

Officers & Contacts