The IAS hosted three linked sessions and a reception on Friday, May 15, at the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Civic Foundation Legends in Italian Art I-III
Organizer: Max Grossman, University of Texas at El Paso Read abstract
Nearly every Italian civitas created one or more foundation narratives that glorified and advertised its origins. In Florence, for example, an anonymous writer drafted a chronicle circa 1200 that recounted the city’s ancient past and the heroic exploits of its early leaders. In the trecento, Giovanni Villani expanded upon the story and embellished it with the addition of fanciful anecdotes. Other major centers, such as Arezzo, Perugia, and Bologna, formulated similar narratives, which told of conquering Romans or the noble Etruscans before them. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, civic legends—typically a conflation of history and myth—were already being promoted and disseminated through art and architecture, long before the age of Coluccio Salutati and Flavio Biondo. In cities that had actually been founded in antiquity, such artworks commonly served to enhance or exaggerate the historical truth, often with propagandistic intent. Other cities, such as Siena and Venice, were not established until the Middle Ages and thus found themselves in the difficult position of having to invent their ancient pasts. In Siena, the communal authorities adopted the Roman she-wolf as the primary symbol of the Republic by the middle of the duecento, and it was systematically replicated in painting and sculpture, including on the exterior of public buildings, until the end of the Renaissance period. These sessions investigate the artistic programs of Italian cities in the medieval and early modern eras as they relate to their foundation legends. These sessions aim to advance our understanding of the interrelation between civic identity and visual culture while exploring the complex sociopolitical circumstances underlying the manufacture and propagation of historical narratives.
I: Rome and the City-Republics
Friday, May 15, 10:00 a.m.
Presider: Judith Steinhoff, University of Houston
A City Divided: Geographic Hierarchy and Civic Identity in Late Medieval Rome
Catherine R. Carver, University of Michigan — Ann Arbor Read abstract
While other medieval Italian cities sought to create foundation legends that associated their histories with the glories of Ancient Rome, the Eternal City has always been inextricably tied to its particular historical origins. This intimacy has complicated the study of civic identity in late medieval Rome. From the age of Augustus through the medieval period, the city of Rome was marked by the development of multifarious institutional topographies, systems of urban organization that provided religious, social and administrative identities to the different sectors of the city. These cartographic designations simultaneously addressed and determined the social and spatial realities of the inhabitants of each respective quarter. Yet in the complexity inherent in Rome’s urban character, different moments were marked by interrelated institutional topographies. This paper investigates a key moment of the development of a lasting institutional topography in Rome’s history: the transition period in the era of the Roman Commune, when the legacy of Augustus’ division of the city into fourteen sectors was revived and the organizational structure of the Rioni system emerged, the very moment that also witnessed the rise of the parish basilica, a phenomenon that changed the topographic face of the city. This study thus asks how the narratives driven by the desire to associate Rome’s institutional topography with her antique heritage melded with the realties of her physical topographical changes.
The scholars Louis Duchesne, Camillo Re, and Louis Halphen laid the foundation for studies of the development of Rome’s urban organization studies from Antiquity through the Middle Ages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their investigations considered the systems of institutional topography in Rome as an evolution of successive responses, responses ultimately tied to Rome’s ancient foundation. Augustus’ division of the city into fourteen regions (vici) established the framework for the organization of Rome’s urban space. In the third century with the advent of institutionalized Christianity, the Augustan system gave way to a division of the city into seven ecclesiastic regions. Under the auspices of the Byzantine presence in the seventh and eighth centuries, the city was again divided into twelve administrative districts. The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed a revival of the Augustan schema, solidified as the regio system by the thirteenth century.
These scholars held a meta-view of the city, calculated analyses that regard the division of the city as a practical division of administrative units. Yet this streamlined narrative, which privileges the Renaissance notion of Rome’s return to her antique legacy, belies the messy realities of the micro-urban existence and civic identities operative in Rome in the twelfth and thirteenth-centuries. Rioni may have been an evolving administrative unit, but contrade, intimate neighborhoods, with their individual parish basilicas clearly acted as significant markers of topographic association. This paper, thus, seeks to tease apart the broader, post-medieval narrative of return to Augustan organization from the complex geographic hierarchies that marked civic identity in late medieval Rome.
The Ponte Vecchio in Giovanni Villani’s History of Florence
Theresa Flanigan, The College of Saint Rose Read abstract
In his fourteenth-century history of Florence, the Nuova Cronica (c. 1300-1348), Giovanni Villani spins an apocryphal tale of the construction of Florence’s first bridge, now known as the Ponte Vecchio, as part of Charlemagne’s also apocryphal refoundation of the city in 801, almost 400 years after he claims the Roman colony of Florentia was destroyed by troops led by the barbarian commander Totila flagellum Dei (“the scourge of God). Villani is the first Florentine historian to state that Florence lacked a bridge until the Carolingian era – a claim that is contradicted by archaeological and demographic evidence. What led Villani to intentionally manipulate the history of the city’s first bridge in this way? Why was it so important to link this bridge with a fictitious refoundation of the city by the Christian emperor Charlemagne? This paper will trace the history of the Ponte Vecchio as it appears in Villani’s Cronica and demonstrate a connection with the bridge’s centrality at key moments in the city’s political and economic history. It shall be argued that the Ponte Vecchio’s role in events closer to Villani’s day, including the disastrous flood of 1333, led him to manipulate the early history of the bridge, which becomes a physical symbol of the city’s good and bad fortunes.
Janus, John the Baptist, and Neptune: Foundation Myths in Medieval and Renaissance Genoa
George Gorse, Pomona College Read abstract
Overlooking the nave of the Cathedral of Genoa, a sculpted Janus head, “Primus Rex Italie,” is part of an epic foundation inscription of 1312. Pagan god of portals, the Golden Age, and New Beginnings, this was one of the homonymous foundation myths of medieval Janua. The specific placement of this bust over the entrance to the Chapel of St. John the Baptist in the left side aisle makes the connection between pagan to Christian traditions of mythic foundation and refoundation. This paper considers the development and significance of the Janus myth for Genoa, along with John the Baptist, whose relics were brought from Asia Minor during the First Crusade of 1096-99. Recorded miracles and interventions by these relics in the chronicle pages of Caffaro and his continuators from the 11th to 16th centuries highlight the “sacred” in “civic” foundations and rituals. Janus and the Baptist played a specific part in the “refoundation” of Genoa with the Genoese republic of Andrea Doria after 1528, a continuity of Medieval to Renaissance traditions, in terms of the iconography of the admiral in relation to his port city. In 1517, in the context of Andrea Doria’s first naval victory against the Turks, the admiral commissioned a small chapel to John the Baptist on the harbor front. This chapel became the terminus for the annual “Blessing of the Sea” by the Archbishop of Genoa on June 24 in processions from the reliquary Chapel of the Baptist in the Cathedral to the Molo. Identifying himself with this medieval “civic” tradition of Janus and the Baptist, the admiral commissioned a Renaissance sea villa opposite in the suburb of Fassolo, framing the harbor entrance. There, classical gods from Saturn to Jupiter (including Janus) and Roman republican civic themes gathered, focusing on the admiral’s personal iconography as Neptune, both in the city, at the Palazzo Ducale, governmental center, and at his suburban villa marittima. From Janus and the Baptist to the Baptist and Neptune, Medieval and Renaissance “civic” imagery literally embodied, it “refounded,” the maritime republic in Mediterranean world.
Respondent: Judith Steinhoff, University of Houston
II. The Southern Kingdom
Friday, May 15, 1:30 p.m.
Presider: Chair: Nino Zchomelidse, Johns Hopkins University
A Phoenician Past for Norman Palermo
Evanthia Baboula, University of Victoria, Canada Read abstract
The legend of the establishment of Palermo by Phoenician settlers is grounded both in ancient historical documents (Thucydides) and archaeological finds, but it is not discussed as an important foundation myth for the period when Sicily passed from Byzantine and Arabic to Norman rule in the late eleventh to the late twelfth century. The status of this legend is not known for the period of Norman kingship of southern Italy.
On the other hand, what seems almost like a chance mention of “the Phoenicians” in a twelfth century ekphrastic text deserves further examination. The reference, contained in a description of the Cappella Palatina written in Greek, is intriguing and its meaning yet unresolved. Various scholars have identified these Phoenicians as a group involved in the making of textiles for the royal chapel. The term “Phoenicians” has been read as an archaizing indication of the Middle Eastern origins of this group. I propose that the usage of the term in this instance is only one element of a larger pattern of connections promoted between medieval Palermo and its Punic/Phoenician past. Such connections include a collaborative set of linguistic, textual and visual pointers to a deliberate construction of civic identity by the Norman rulers, especially Roger II and his successor, William I. I also suggest that the effort to reconnect Palermo to its ancient history reflects the wish to form a new identity for the city, which would benefit from the material and cultural leftovers of past Islamic rule, but would be disentangled from the political power of the recent past through placing emphasis on a more malleable, ancient past.
Angevin Cult or Cult of the Angevins? The Procession of the Santa Maria Patrona Statue in Lucera
Alexander Harper, Bryn Mawr College Read abstract
The city of Lucera in northern Apulia, the location of a Muslim settlement from the 1220s until 15 August 1300, commemorates its fourteenth-century re-foundation and re-Christianization every year during a celebration of the Feast of the Assumption. The festival focuses on the veneration and multiple processions of the Santa Maria Patrona, a freestanding wood and polychrome statue of the Virgin and Christ Child. Viewed today as a palladium and liberator of the city, the Patrona possesses an ancient genealogy according to local legends. These myths state that the statue was rescued from Byzantine iconoclasts, brought to Lucera after 744, hidden during Muslim occupation, and then processed by the city’s Angevin liberators during the feast of the Assumption 1300 in thanksgiving for the recent Muslim purge of the city. The statue is central to the myths surrounding the re-foundation of Lucera in 1300 (from Muslim to Christian). Moreover, current manifestations of the legends state that a procession of the Patrona has taken place on the feast day every year since in commemoration of the statue’s role in Lucera’s re-foundation.
The reality, however, is that the Patrona statue is not Byzantine, nor has it been the object of a procession operated annually for the past seven centuries. In fact, the statue, an Italian example of the so-called Throne of Wisdom statues, is much later in date than the eighth century, bears Gothic formal qualities, and is the product of artistic “modernization” under the Angevin Kings of Naples. Moreover, the festival that commemorates the Patrona’s status as palladium and Lucera liberator dates only to the eighteenth century. This paper examines the tensions that have formed between the Patrona statue as a work of art—or more precisely a product of an Angevin cultural milieu as argued by Pierluigi Leone de Castris and others—and the statue as an important cult object and the center of Lucera’s foundation legends. Second, it examines the tension between the local legends’ claims that the procession was initiated in 1300 by the Angevin crown, and the reality that the Assumption procession was institutionalized only after a period of pro-Angevin nostalgia at the turn of the eighteenth century. While the paper focuses on essential historical and art historical issues for medievalists, its conclusions could be illuminated further through work from scholars in the fields of anthropology of religion and ritual, early modern studies, the Italian Risorgimento, and folklore.
Imperial Fabrications: The Habsburgs in Messina and Palermo
Tamara Morgenstern, Independent Scholar Read abstract
The sixteenth and early seventeenth century was an epoch of dramatic urban interventions in the Sicilian ports of Messina and Palermo. A succession of Habsburg monarchs undertook vast building programs to facilitate military ends and to establish a civic identity emblematic of the Spanish conquerors. Architectural patronage, a calculated instrument of informal imperialism, aided in reinforcing Habsburg control. To establish dynastic legitimacy, Spanish Humanists devised mythical historiographies and royal genealogies tracing Habsburg lineage to ancient Rome and to Jerusalem. Charles V was metaphorically equated with the Roman gods and, as Holy Roman Emperor, was proclaimed successor to the Spanish-born Emperors, Hadrian and Trajan. In 1535, following his victory in Tunisia, Charles V sojourned through Italy on a triumphal procession where he was greeted with the pomp and ceremony accorded to the ancient Roman triumphators. Ephemera for these lavish receptions took form in a proliferation of Renaissance classicism based on the imagery and traditions of the Roman Empire. Embellishments for these royal visits provided a model for subsequent urban restructuring.
This paper examines the propagandistic motives behind Habsburg myth-making in Messina and Palermo, and how metaphorical narratives imposing a new collective memory were embedded in stone in both urban settings. Varied strategies in each city were largely based on each town’s legends of origins. Greek mythology played a greater role in Messinese history and subsequent Habsburg symbolism than it did in Palermo. Legendarily, Orion separated Sicily from the Italian peninsula and aided Zanclus, the fabled first king of Messina, in forming Messina’s sheltered harbor. Complex iconography in two fountains by Francesco Maurolico, both memorializing apparati devised for the entry of Charles V, linked the Emperor with the mythical genesis of Messina. Crowning the Orion fountain, the statue of Charles V was equated with Messina’s heroic founder. At the portside Neptune Fountain, figures of Scylla and Charybdis, two monsters guarding the Straits of Messina encountered by Odysseus, melded the theme of territorial domination with tales of antiquity.
To appease the Palmeritans, the Spanish preserved the rich material heritage from the city’s complex history. In that spirit, planners incorporated images of the ancient patron deity of the city—the Genio di Palermo—a crowned and bearded figure with a serpent biting at his chest, into their sculptural narrative, subtly conflating the enigmatic pagan figure with the Habsburg monarchy. In addition to a citywide allegorical program, with suggestions of a fictitious Roman past, the very form of the city was reconfigured to evoke hermetic meaning and Vitruvian ideals. The seaside Porta Felice, emulating the Pillars of Hercules, and the inland, eagle-capped Porta Nuova opened onto a quadripartite urban form that evoked the Garden of Eden and the Heavenly Jerusalem. At the city’s core, the sculpture-laden facades of the Quattri Canti exalted patron saints and Spanish kings. Surviving city maps, vedute and contemporary texts facilitate this analysis of Habsburg mythmaking engrained in the architectural environment of these early modern cities.
III. Roundtable Discussion
Friday, May 15, 3:30 p.m.
Presider: Carrie Beneš, New College of Florida
Max Grossman, University of Texas at El Paso
Judith Steinhoff, University of Houston
Nino Zchomelidse, Johns Hopkins University
Italian Art Society Reception
Friday, May 15, 5:15 p.m.