2012 College Art Association Annual Conference, Los Angeles
IAS-Sponsored Session

Territory and Border: Geographic Considerations of Italian Art and Architecture (Long Session)

West Hall Meeting Room 502B
Saturday, February 25, 2012, 2:30–5:00pm

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

This session examined the geographic parameters that circumscribe the art and architecture of Italy. What common elements of intellectual inquiry are shared by scholars of Pompeii and those of Piedmont? How do the geographic boundaries of modern Italy shape the study of Italian art? What is gained—or distorted—by dutifully fitting eclectic and regional trends into a coherent narrative spanning centuries but limited to modern territorial borders? In light of Italy’s relation to the Mediterranean Sea, what geographic considerations ought to define the study of Italian art? As the culminating session of the year-long Italian Art Society theme “The Study of the Art and Architecture of Italy: A Reassessment of the Discipline,” papers reconsider fundamental assumptions underlying the current study of the art and architecture of Italy from antiquity to the present by addressing broad methodological themes centered around geographic definitions and boundaries. This session forms part of the IAS 2012 theme, “The Study of the Art and Architecture of Italy: A Reassessment of the Discipline.”


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

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.

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

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).

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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