Staging horror. Violence and Death in Seventeenth-Century Italian Art (II)

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No prerequisites are required. The course is aimed primarily at PhD students, but is also open to undergraduate students.


As in the last two years, this year's courses will continue to dwell on the critical problem of (pictorial and sculptural) 'reasoning by genres', approached starting from an analysis of the artworks in their relationship between form and content, in the light of the historical, social, collecting and literary context of their creation and reception. In particular, the lessons will tackle the depiction of the horrid and macabre in the figurative arts of 17th century Italy. The aim is to explore, with an interdisciplinary approach, the boundaries of visual communication in the Baroque age, the mechanisms of image transmission and the cultural horizon of their circulation. 

In the second course (April-May 2023), figurative themes relating to 'death' will be considered, starting from an anthropological and historical-religious approach, with a special focus on funeral rituals of the Baroque age. After an introduction to the different burial techniques of the time, the course will address, with a broad slant, various themes: not only the rediscovery of Roman catacombs, the discovery of saints' bodies and their visual fortune (the case, for example, of Maderno's Saint Cecilia), but also the use of mortuary catafalques, 'thematic' objects (marble skulls etc.) created to accompany spiritual exercises, the setting up of crypts and ossuaries, and the broadening of iconography to include themes of witchcraft and alchemy in the paintings of the so-called 'dissenting' painters (such as Salvator Rosa), with insights from Bamboccio to Magnasco. The last lessons will be devoted to Bernini: to his tombs and his depiction of Death.

Though this course is planned as a unit in itself, it is highly recommendable to attend the other course on a similar topic taught by the professor this year. The lessons will be complemented by a series of seminars held by Italian and foreign scholars who have dealt with related themes and works, and (if possible) by some field trips (outside the class schedule). During the course (both in the lectures and in the seminar activity), images of works and contexts that might offend sensibilities will be projected.

Educational aims

The aim of the course is to increase students’ historical and artistic knowledge and to bring them closer to some of the key themes of early modern age painting, accustoming them to tackling the issues according to a broad geographic development. Off-site lessons should allow students to approach the works de visu, to learn to value them in their context, both original and in the museum. At the end, the students will be required to give a seminar, choosing topics related to the lessons and previously validated by the professor, to evaluate the terms in which they understood not only the course contents, but above all the proposed study methodology.

Bibliographical references

Bibliographical advice will be provided at the beginning of the course and during the lessons. As a background on the arts and architecture in Italy in the Baroque era, we recommend the study of Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600-1750 by Rudolf Wittkower (also available in Italian translation).