2023 IAS Dissertation Research Grant

Graylin Harrison (PhD Candidate, Stanford University)

City of Skulls: Art, Ritual, and the Afterlife in Early Modern Naples (ca. 1550-1700)

City of Skulls will be the first comprehensive study of death culture in early modern Naples, examining funerary art, devotional texts, and ritual objects to reconstruct what social scientists call a “deathscape.” It focuses on one city and one epoch (ca. 1550-1700), but incorporates diverse geographical comparanda and diachronic analyses to contextualize the research within broader historical narratives. This dissertation comprises four chapters rooted in the early modern period. They examine local iterations of the ars moriendi, the cult of souls in purgatory, family burial chapels, and the rediscovery of the Paleochristian catacombs. The epilogue explores the modern cult of “abandoned souls,” revealing how Naples’ premodern death culture has persisted in unexpected ways. This focus on Naples addresses a significant gap in Italian studies, as the city is still under-researched relative to others, despite being the most populous in Italy during this era (nearly 400,000 inhabitants, by some estimates). There remain institutions, churches, and whole neighborhoods whose histories are barely drafted, and many of the city’s archives are scarcely examined. City of Skulls contributes to the burgeoning field of Neapolitan studies by reconstructing the city’s deathscape, the study of which mobilizes discussions of its art and architecture, environmental history, religiosity, gender politics, and medical culture.

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