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

Public Art and Contested Spaces in Early Modern Italy III: Machinations of Power in the Republic, Duchy and Beyond: Florence

Grand Hyatt, 5B - Independence Level, Independence D
Friday, March 23, 2012, 2:00pm-3:30pm

Organizer: Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College

Chair: George L. Gorse, Pomona 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.


Roger J. Crum, University of Dayton
“Art and Freedom in Quattrocento Florence: Contesting Why Florentines Commissioned Art for Contestable Public Spaces”

Frederick Hartt’s “Art and Freedom in Quattrocento Florence” (1964) argued that Florentines punctuated their city with statuary that proclaimed liberty over oppression, embodying a consciousness shaped by World War II and post war politics. Hartt’s work came on the eve of a dramatic shift in both society and scholarship that presented multiple ways to understand cultural productions.  These ranged from feminist inquiry to post-Structuralist analysis, psycho-analytical approaches to reception theory.  Now, in the internet age, our conception of the Renaissance stands to change again.  This paper takes a broad historical, methodological, and even speculative view of art in Florentine public spaces less to explore the phenomenon itself than to reveal the very contested spaces of our minds that have been shaped and continue to be formed by events as diverse as the Nazis marching down the ChampsÉlysées, the massacre at Kent State, and the so-called “Arab Spring” from Tahrir Square.

Felicia M. Else, Gettysburg College
"The Story of Biancone:  A Contested Block in a Contested Space"

From the start of its long and tortuous history, the Neptune Fountain in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence has been the subject of much contestation.  Scholars know well the competition for the commission between Bartolomeo Ammannati, Benevenuto Cellini and Giambologna.  Centuries of viewers have voiced their disappointment at the resulting blocky colossus, dubbed “Biancone”.  This paper seeks out the origin of this great nickname, looking at the ways this work and others have been described.  As a public fountain commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, the work was an ambitious expression of political power and artistic form, set in one of the most charged civic spaces of the Renaissance.  Drawing on sources from urban legislation to early city guides, I trace the reception of this work from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century and how it reflected the changing fortunes of the city’s history and viewership.

Sarah Blake McHam, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
"The Disputed Space of the Casino and Giambologna’s Samson and Philistine"

In the early 1560s Giambologna executed for Francesco I de’ Medici a Samson and Philistine that the commissioner installed as a fountain in the semi-public space of the Garden of Medicinal Plants at his palace known as the Casino di San Marco completed in 1567. At the Casino Francesco performed scientific experiments, supervised workshops in various crafts, and entertained diplomatic visitors. After the simultaneous deaths of Francesco and Bianca Cappello, his longtime paramour and second wife, his brother Ferdinando took over rule, despite the fact that their young son and designated successor still lived and Ferdinando had to renounce being a cardinal. This paper will investigate Ferdinando’s machinations to expunge Francesco’s memory at his favorite palace and in regard to one of his major commissions, the Samson and Philistine, as part of his larger campaign of Bianca and Francesco’s damnatio memoriae.

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