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

Academic year 2022/2023
Lecturer Lucia Simonato

Integrative teaching


Examination procedure



No prerequisites are required.


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 first course (February-March 2023), figurative episodes relating to 'violence' will be considered as an opportunity to critically address the stylistic problem in painting of Caravaggesque and post-Caravaggesque realism, often associated with the depiction of martyrdoms and killings. With openings on social issues such as gender violence and political violence, the lessons will focus mainly on the production of painters such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Giuseppe Ribera, on the destination (including collecting) and reception of some of their works, and on the iconography of the Massacre of the Innocents, both from the different declinations given to this subject by the many artists who translated it into images (among them  Rubens, Reni and Poussin), and in the light of the lively contemporary debate (literary and figurative) that accompanied its seventeenth-century fortune. A brief in-depth analysis will also be given of wooden sculpture (particularly Genoese and Neapolitan), its hyperrealism and its use in various ritual contexts, as well as of the production of the wax modeller Zumbo.

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.

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).