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“Art & Inequality in the Shadow of the Black Death”: New ideas, New questions

17 April 2024
2:00 pm
San Francesco Complex - Classroom 1

My talk will explore archival samples centred on last wills and testaments that my team and I are collecting across Italy and eventually for selected regions across the Alps. These samples extend from the late twelfth until the first quartile of the sixteenth century and constitute the building blocks for my ex-ERC Advanced Grant (now funded by UKRI). I will begin my talk with a brief summary of the project and its central hypothesis: Just as peasants, artisans, and shopkeepers were enjoying the longest period we can presently quantify when the gap between rich and poor was narrowing, their prerogatives and powers were declining in non-economic spheres: one was politics, another was culture.

The project concentrates on the cultural sphere, or one aspect of it, which intersects with religious piety and a zeal for remembrance. To illustrate and quantify this culture, I will concentrate in this talk on two samples I have collected over the first year and-a-half of the project. Embedded in testaments, these consist of commissions and bequests of objects through which testators from peasants to wealthy merchants and their wives and widows sought to preserve lasting remembrance in sacred places. For this paper, I will compare these cultural patterns for Florentine Tuscany and Rome. This is a study in material culture, in which the vast majority of objects have vanished.

The project purports to introduce two new methods, one for art history, the other for inequality studies writ-large. To know what these are and whether you would agree that they are fundamentally new, you will have to attend the seminar.


Join at:

Samuel Cohn, University of Glasgow