2023 International Congress on Medieval Studies, HYBRID, Kalamazoo, MI and online
IAS-Sponsored Session

Unfolding the Past: The Materiality and Temporality of Medieval Southern Italy – Session II

Chair: Adrian Bremenkamp


Wilfried E. Keil
Remarks on the Use of Architectural Spolia in Churches of Medieval Southern Italy

In Medieval Southern Italy architectural elements were often incorporated into churches as spoila. For example the columns in the Cathedral of Casertavecchia and other elements on the facade of Sant’Angelo in Formis are spolia. Columns were repeatedly praised in medieval building descriptions because of their materiality and shape, but also of their ideal use. Spolia can refer to earlier traditions, previous buildings, but also to other places. These references can have theological or manorial character. Depending on the type of installation, the display of spolia can be interpreted as overcoming of previous dominion. The well-known interpretation of columns as symbols for apostles is based on the Holy Scripture and biblical exegesis, e.g. of Beda Venerabilis.

The incorporation of spolia with a reference to an earlier tradition has a kind of relic character. Interestingly it is said that relics were embedded in the capitals of the Montecassino monastery. This creates a different presence of Saints in the church. This idea can be transferred to other churches in different ways. For example, does the interpretation of columns as apostles also generate a different presence of apostles among believers? There seems to be a more frequent use of spolia especially in architectural elements that can be interpreted iconologically.

In Southern Italy the situation is different from that in other regions due to the particularly diverse influence of diverse cultures (Greek, Lombard, Byzantine, Arabic, Norman, etc.). Therefore, the transcultural perspective must also be taken into account in possible interpretations. What is different about the use of architectural spolia in Medieval Southern Italy compared to other regions? Has there been a change in the meaning of the use of spolia over time? The paper will raise questions in this regard and present them for discussion on the basis of corresponding buildings in Medieval Southern Italy.

Nicolas Bock
Useful History: Modernizing Medieval Family Chapels in Naples Between the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

In early modern times, most Neapolitan families invested heavily in the modernization of their inherited chapels. Many of them, however, still contain important medieval monuments, which were mutilated and sometimes reassembled in order to fit into the chapel’s new decoration. Be it the sculptured effigy or the inscription in stone of a funeral monument, the elements were used as visual testimonies of a glorious past. Research tends to focus only on the medieval remnants or the modern decoration, blocking out the historic counterpart. Up to now, we ignore the quantitative importance of this phenomenon as well as the qualitative criteria which lead to conserving and exhibiting these monuments and their parts.

Elisabetta Scirocco
Spolia/Memoria: The Legacy of Trecento Funerary Sculpture in Renaissance Naples

One of the traditional topoi in Art History related to Naples is that which associates stylistic and artistic changes (hence, periodizations) with the reigning dynasties over the Kingdom. By today, this schema has been challenged and overcome by several scholars, who have on the contrary highlighted phenomena of continuity and persistence, even after the transition from the Angevin to the Catalan-Aragonese kings towards the mid-fifteenth century. This is especially evident, for example, in the artistic choices made by feudal elites. It is precisely by looking at the artistic initiatives of the local aristocracy that it is possible to scrutinize the reuse of fourteenth century tomb components for Renaissance funerary monuments, their manipulation, re-semantization, and imitation. Through some case studies, different ways of relating to the legacy of Trecento sepulchral sculpture will be addressed, in material, aesthetic, iconographic, and epigraphic terms. Crucial to the understanding of the phenomenon is the tension between the widespread and accurate display of spolia (a constant practice during the Middle Ages but re-launched under new premises in the fifteenth century), and the memorial practices of the local aristocracy. Many of these families needed to materialize in a monumental way the antiquity of their lineage and their long-term presence in the Kingdom. What else, more than a “palimpsest” and/or an “old-style” sepulchral monument could lend itself to this purpose, visually and materially linking the new tomb to the articulated web of fourteenth-century tombs that crowded church spaces? Looking closer at specific choices and practices, the case studies examined reveal a more nuanced and multifaceted picture than hitherto imagined.

Lucio Oriani
The Reuse of Manuscripts in Alfonso of Aragon’s Library

Alfonso d’Aragona duke of Calabria (1448-1495) is known as one of the great patron princes of the Italian Renaissance. Educated in Humanism, in the second half of the 15th century he set up in Castel Capuano in Naples a magnificent library, consisting of more than one hundred and fifty units, mainly luxurious illuminated manuscripts commissioned by him or offered to him.

However, beside these codices, there was also a group of more ancient books, consisting of more than ten units, made between the 14th and 15th centuries, and passed, by different ways, to Alfonso. In all cases he had decorative elements, especially coats of arms and devices, added to them, as the art-historical analysis of the illuminations demonstrates, so as to emphasize the passage of property. Thus, the past made its way into the present, and a modern humanistic library was enriched with memories more or less ancient, but in any case of strong significance.

The acquisition of these books certainly did not originate from mere convenience. On the contrary, it was motivated by a desire to establish a series of connections, with the books themselves and their contents, but also with their previous owners. The purpose was the staging, before himself and the few visitors to his library, of a convincing self-representation of his own cultural identity and political legitimacy.

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