Welcome to the Renaissance Centre's research blog! This page provides a space for all our members to write about current work. Entries might relate to particular sources/publications, archival visits, conferences, project ideas, reflections on new approaches/concepts or any other aspect of research. Do come back to see the latest updates. We warmly welcome contributions from anybody with interests in our period. Entries should be emailed to Jayne Sweet at firstname.lastname@example.org Blog posts are listed chronologically, alternatively you can jump straight to specific articles by clicking on contributor names below.
Jenny Alexander; Stephen Bates(1); Stephen Bates (2); Ingrid De Smet; Rocco Di Dio; Liam Lewis/Paloma Perez Galvan; Elizabeth Goldring; Lawrence Green (1); Lawrence Green (2); Amanda Hopkins; Ioanna Iordanou; Beat Kümin (1); Beat Kümin (2); Beat Kümin (3); Sara Miglietti; Femke Molekamp; Alexander Russell
Report on the International Medieval Congress, July 2017 at the University of Leeds, by Lawrence Green (CSR Honorary Research Fellow)
As I had received my first degree at the University of Leeds in 1965 it was with some feelings of nostalgia that I returned during the summer – over half a century later – to deliver a paper at the University’s 24th International Medieval Congress (IMC). Established in 1994 and organised and administered by the Institute for Medieval Studies (IMS), the Congress has established itself as an annual event and is the largest conference of its kind in Europe. The University hosted 2,444 delegates from 56 countries, bringing together researchers from Chile to China, the US, Russia and Algeria. The academic programme, too, swelled to include just under 2,000 individual papers given in 627 academic sessions, spanning the full range of disciplines in medieval studies: topics included medieval Ethiopia, religious conversion narratives, Byzantine architecture, palace cities in Japan, Europe and the Middle East, and Old English riddles – and many more.
In addition, an eclectic programme of public events, concerts, and fairs provided plenty of opportunities for delegates to immerse themselves in the Middle Ages, as well as getting to know each other informally at the many social spaces on campus. Having said that, the conference happened to coincide with the only really hot spell of the summer so that even with the addition of hastily-commandeered room fans there were times when the bar tent proved a more seductive attraction than the lecture theatre. Some 230 of the sessions were related to the special thematic strand, ‘Otherness’, a topic which brought together papers on a wide range of subjects, from monsters and monstrosity to the relationship between otherness and time, via cross-cultural encounters, otherness within individual religious traditions, and the discourses of otherness within individual religious traditions, and the discourses of otherness in contemporary medieval studies.
The strand was brought together by four well-attended keynote lectures. On Monday morning, the traditional double-keynote session featured Nikolas Jaspert (Historisches Seminar, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg), speaking on ‘The Mediterranean Other and the Other Mediterranean: Perspective of Alterity in the Middle Ages’, and Eduardo Manzano Moreno (Instituto de Historia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid), with his lecture ‘Drawing Boundaries: Inclusion and Exclusion in Medieval Islamic Societies’. Felicitas Schmieder (Historisches Institut, FernUniversität Hagen) gave the Monday lunchtime keynote, entitled ‘The Other Part of the World for Late Medieval Latin Christendom’. Sylvia Huot (Pembroke College, University of Cambridge), spoke about ‘Other Sexualities - The “Natural” and the “Unnatural” in Medieval French Ovidian Narratives’ in the Tuesday keynote lecture.
There was a sense in which I personally represented the notion of ‘Otherness’ since by no stretch of the imagination would I presume to claim kin with Medievalists. The subject of my paper, ‘The Otherness of Shakespeare’s Invisible Architecture’ manifestly breached by fully a century the notion of ‘Medieval’, defined for purposes of the Congress to be c.300-1500. However, my anxieties on this count were soothed with the reassurance that “the reception of the Middle Ages and ideas of continuity across periods” were also regarded as areas of legitimate study.
I shared a panel, ‘Imaginary Objects, Buildings and Currencies in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature’ with a post-doctoral scholar from Lincoln College, Oxford (‘The Economics of Literary in “The Man of Law’s Tale”’) and an independent scholar from Chandler, Arizona (‘Sir Orpheo’s Castle as Reliquary’).The panel was moderated by Dr Heather Blatt of Florida International University. My own paper sought to explore how notions of ‘otherness’ – of inclusion and exclusion, of friendship and hostility in both domestic and civic terms – operate at an interface defined in terms of admittance to or exclusion from the barriers that circumscribe the physical boundaries of the private home and the city; admittance within the boundary bestows identity and security – exclusion signifies suspicion and foreignness, even hostility.
Shakespeare was keenly conscious of such structures, employing a language of architectural components – walls, doors and windows – by which degrees of exclusion and inclusion are defined and negotiated. The walls of the domestic house – like those of the sovereign city – establish a line of demarcation defining ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, distinguishing ‘friend’ and ‘citizen’ from ‘stranger’. Justified as a protection against the ‘other’ they bestow identity to what is enclosed within, while engendering a sense of alterity to what is beyond. Crucial to this negotiation is the potentially ‘magical’ area of the threshold. The domestic threshold marks the ritual point of negotiation of the complex of cultural and behavioural norms we term hospitality that transform ‘stranger’ into ‘guest’; at dusk city gates are ritually closed and guarded by the Watch – the citizen remains secure within while the stranger at the gate, unrecognised and unacknowledged occupies an undefined world ‘beyond’. In brief, the paper explored the varieties of ‘otherness’ which Shakespeare’s invisible architectural walls construct together with the apertures that perforate those walls and by which ‘exclusion’ may be qualified.
Returning to one’s first university for only the second time in over half a century was bound to be an unsettling, not to say surreal, experience. The strikingly new sat cheek by jowl with façades and street names that were curiously familiar whereas the Students’ Union Refectory and the Brotherton Library seemed quite unchanged; it was an experience in which déjà vu collided uncomfortably with half-remembered dream. Quite unforeseen, however, was the contrast between the student accommodation, then and now: even in the 1960s student flats had seemed bleak rather than ‘bohemian’ – and no poster of Che was ever likely to lend a spurious glamour to any of my walls – whereas Storm Jameson Court in the Charles Morris Hall where I stayed for the Conference boasts 4* hotel quality. As I have been invited to join a panel for the 2018 Congress whose umbrella theme is ‘Memory’ it will be interesting to see what further memories are stirred on my return. Interested readers can learn more of the IMC 2017 at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ims/gfx/IMC/pdf_links_IMC_2017/August_2017_IMCNewsletter.pdf
We are entering a great phase of remembrance: the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation or, to be more precise, of Martin Luther’s Thesenanschlag – his nailing up of the Ninety-five Theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Schlosskirche or Castle Church. This event almost certainly never happened, but owes its popularity to Philipp Melanchthon’s Vita Lutheri, published following Luther’s death in 1546. Luther did write the Ninety-five Theses on 31 October 1517, but he put them in a letter to his primate, Albrecht, Archbishop of Magdeburg. Writing a letter is not nearly as dramatic a symbol as hammering a nail into a door. The physicality of the anschlag (the attack) gave the moment enormous potency; Luther might have been hammering a nail into the coffin of the medieval papacy. Yet, in truth, the Ninety-five Theses reveal Brother Martin circa 1517 as a loyal critic of the Church. From his covering letter to Albrecht it is clear that Luther assumed that the Archbishop would join him in denouncing the vulgar salesmanship and exaggerated theological claims of Johann Tetzel’s campaign to sell indulgences across Saxony. He was in for an unpleasant surprise.
To find Luther the religious rebel, we need to look elsewhere: perhaps his burning of the papal bull excommunicating him, or his defiance before Charles V at Worms, or the three key treatises he published in 1520. The Address to the Christian Nobility called on the princes of the Empire to become the agents of ecclesiastical renewal, exploding the clergy’s claim to spiritual authority with his ‘priesthood of all believers’. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church was an angry theological essay, written in Latin, which asserted the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, displacing any need for ‘satisfaction’. In so doing, Luther placed a fresh emphasis on the importance of baptism and denounced four of the seven sacraments, a move that drew a response from (among others) England’s Henry VIII, whose Assertion of the Seven Sacraments earned him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ from a grateful pope. By contrast, Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian was an eloquent and conciliatory treatise setting out his understanding of justification by faith alone. There was no comparable dismissal of important aspects of medieval theology in the Ninety-five Theses.
Unsurprisingly then, there are more important incidents on the road to the end of Christian unity in the West that have little or no relation to Martin Luther. The publication of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament with copious and increasing annotations across various editions from 1516 comes to mind. It was a hack job, but it still inspired several vernacular translations including Luther’s into German (1522), Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples’ into French (1523); and William Tyndale’s into English (1526). This invited anyone, regardless of theological training, to offer competing interpretations of biblical texts and challenge the Church, as indeed they still do today. Luther’s ‘achievement’, if it can be called that, was religious fragmentation. It was unintentional, accidental, and he blamed himself for causing it. Luther had aimed at reforming the Church and failed; he was probably too volatile and uncompromising a personality to have ever succeeded. His break with Rome, protected by his prince, emboldened other critics to do likewise, notably in the cities of Switzerland and along the Rhine. The more radical theology of Huldrych Zwingli quickly surpassed Luther’s in importance and influence (as subsequently would John Calvin’s). Zwingli the parish priest, in contrast to Luther the university academic, brought a social dimension to the idea of reform. It was Zwingli’s theology, not Luther’s, that would eventually inform the English Reformation under Archbishop Cranmer.
It is interesting, then, that posterity has settled on the mythical moment of the Thesenanschlag as the origin of the Reformation; indeed it may be informative of the way historical narratives are created. Erasmus, of course, never broke with the Catholic Church but did abandon Basle when iconoclasm broke out there in 1529. He remained an ambiguous figure, a Nicodemite to his Reformation critics, but not a Protestant and therefore not an acceptable causa Reformationis. Zwingli’s career never offered a satisfactory Reformation moment: the ‘affair of the sausages’ was too trivial (one cannot possibly imagine Ferdinand Pauwels painting Zwingli eating a sausage with the requisite gravitas), while the Zürich disputations were perhaps too imprecise. Besides, both events took place long after Luther’s ‘hier stehe ich’ at Worms. By contrast, the Thesenanschlag literally nailed the Reformation to a date and a place. Memory seems to prefer those sharply-defined edges, and that is why the Reformation will be commemorated this month rather than on the quincentenary of one of those more schismatic moments that actually took place.
Shakespeare, Memory and the Iconography of Death by Dr Lawrence Green (CSR Honorary Research Fellow), February 2017
When the skeleton unearthed in a car park in the City of Leicester in September 2012 was confirmed in February the following year to be that of King Richard III there was almost universal rejoicing. The Guardian reported that “there were cheers” when the identity was verified “beyond reasonable doubt” and announced at a Press Conference; the Express – with a characteristic pun – cordially declared: ‘Hunch pays off…’.
However, this spirit of mutual conviviality was soon superseded by a bitter and acrimonious dispute between the cities of Leicester and York for the right to claim the remains as belonging rightly to themselves. While Leicester unquestionably had the benefit of possession – indeed, it was the University of Leicester that had excavated and now housed the remains – while York, represented by a nascent ‘Plantagenet Alliance’ – a small grouping of individuals claiming to be descendants of the House of Plantagenet – appealed to the king’s presumed wish to be buried in his ancestral home of York. In due course the High Court ruled in favour of Leicester in a judgement that was described as “lengthy, elegant and literary”. Sadly, the judgement was not accepted with much evidence of grace by the more aggrieved members of the Yorkist camp and recriminations continued.
It was in a spirit of ‘ecumenism’, then, that a Research Workshop was mooted by Dr Nicole Fayard of the University of Leicester and Dr Erica Sheen of the University of York who saw the workshop not only as a means of building bridges between recently contending civic factions but also as a “unique opportunity to reflect on past and present negotiations between the living and the dead”. In due course the Workshop was convened on Friday 27 March 2015 at King’s Manor in the University of York under the umbrella title ‘Over His Dead Body’ and just a short distance from the Yorkshire Museum which was curating an exhibition – ‘Remembering Richard’ – as part of the City’s commemorative programme.
The previous day King Richard’s remains had been reinterred in a specially constructed stone tomb in one of Leicester Cathedral's ambulatories and later that same day a Solemn Evensong dedicated to commemorating King Richard was conducted in York Minster by the Dean of York, Reverend Vivienne Faull – a unique occasion to which all of the Workshop’s contributors were invited.
The need for such a symbol of fraternity represented by the Workshop was vividly demonstrated during the service when the Dean’s reading of the Homily was interrupted by a small group of protesters who chose to leave rather conspicuously during her reading of the Homily. The Dean, it seems, had formerly been Dean of Leicester Cathedral and was considered by some local campaigners to have favoured that city over York during the rival claimants’ exchanges prior to the court judgement.
The Workshop itself proved to be a truly international occasion since apart from the British universities of Glasgow (Katherine Heavey), King’s College, London (Gemma Miller) and the University of Warwick’s Renaissance Centre (myself) there were contributions from Lund University, Sweden (Dr Kiki Lindell), Bonn University (Dr Imke Lichterfeld), the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio Meridionale in Italy and Kwansei Kakuin University, Japan (Dr Daniel Gallimore).
The papers presented during the course of the day proved to be quite as varied as their authors and academic origins; they included the titles: ‘“Meet I an infant of the House of York…?”: The Classical Dead Body in Shakespearean Tragedy’ (Ms Heavey); ‘“Accents yet Unknown”: Re-enacting Caesar’s Death in a Roman Gaol’ (Dr Valentini); ‘“The king, my lord, has passed away”: Collocations for Death in Japanese Shakespeare Translation’ (Dr Gallimore); and ‘Putting the Fun Back into Funerals: Dealing/Dallying in Romeo and Juliet’ (Dr Lindell).
My own paper was entitled ‘“… a fine and private place…”: Shakespeare, Graves and Space Invaders’. It took its inspiration from the inscription marking the grave of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, in my own home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The inscription is a stern one, inflicting a solemn curse on “HE TH[A]T MOVES MY BONES” and is clearly intended to discourage any future church sexton from unearthing Shakespeare’s remains and depositing them in the charnel house adjacent to the church in order to make room for another occupant. The paper, therefore, sought to explore the motif of disturbance, violation and desecration of the inhabited burial space within the literary and historical contexts of Shakespeare’s own time.
The Workshop proved to be as stimulating and convivial an occasion as could be wished but we were agreeably surprised to learn subsequently that Western Michigan University had expressed an interest in publishing a Special Issue of their Comparative Drama journal devoted to the research profiled in the Workshop. In due course the collection was published as Comparative Drama Vol. 50 No. 2 & 3, Summer & Fall, 2016.
Inevitably, during the processes of revision and expansion several of the articles acquired modified identities from when they had been aired as speculative 20-minute papers for the Workshop. My own contribution acquired a new title: ‘“And do not say ’tis superstition”: Shakespeare, Memory and the Iconography of Death’. This change of focus was prompted by a Guardian historian who had expressed astonishment at “the hullabaloo over the bones of a king dead for over 500 years” in what he saw as a “reboot of the medieval craze for relics”. Taking my cue from this observation I was prompted to explore the possibility that the phenomenon reported in the environs of Leicester might be the stirrings of deep-seated collective cultural memories of a time when such relics were, indeed, venerated and superstition stalked the land. After this it was a relatively short step to exploring ways in which the works of Shakespeare – written in a reformed, ‘Protestant’ age – might carry memories of Catholic practice and ritual; memories that might be unconscious but could also serve a conscious dramatic purpose.
The final article still focused on the transgression of the space of the living by the dead but developed the notion of cultural memories relating typically to rites of passage, principally to the iconography manifested at moments of intense personal grief, moments when ‘Catholic’ images might return to challenge an iconoclastic creed implicit in Luther’s declaration that Christ’s kingdom was “a hearing-kingdom, not a seeing-kingdom”. It explored visual echoes of the emblematic vocabulary of Death through an examination of the language of the transi- or cadaver tomb, the deathbed tableau and the Danse Macabre, arguing that much of the power of Shakespeare’s language and stage semiotics arises from spatial transgression. The theme was manifested in crucial scenes and episodes in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King John, Othello and The Merchant of Venice while still relating this to the stimulus prompted by both the inscription on Shakespeare’s tomb and by the ‘Medieval’ resonances suggested by the re-interment of the mortal remains of King Richard III.
The interested reader can access the abstracts of all of the individual articles as well as an introductory overview of the double issue of Comparative Drama by the Guest Editors, Dr Fayard and Dr Sheen at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/compdr/ .
MLA (Modern Language Association) Annual Conference, 7th-10th January 2016, by Dr Elizabeth Goldring (CSR Honorary Associate Professor)
A whirlwind trip to the USA for the 131st annual MLA conference – held this year in Austin, Texas – in the course of which I was presented with the MLA Prize for a Scholarly Edition for my work as General Editor of John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources (Oxford University Press, 2014). Founded in the USA in 1883 to promote the study and teaching of modern languages and literatures, the MLA today has over 26,000 members in 100 countries and is one of the world’s largest academic associations. At the organisation’s annual conference – held each winter in a different North American city – members come together to share scholarly findings and pedagogical techniques, to discuss trends in the academy, and, via the MLA prizes, to recognise new publications of note in the field of modern languages and literatures.
My personal highlights from the rich 2016 conference programme – which featured more than 800 sessions and related events – included: a stimulating round-table discussion, moderated by MLA President Professor Roland Greene (Stanford), in which Professor Albert Ascoli (University of California, Berkeley), Professor Bruce Holsinger (University of Virginia), and others explored the conference theme, ‘Literature and its Publics: Past, Present, and Future’; a creative conversation/interview between novelist and critic Cólm Toibín and Professor Stephen Burt (Harvard), which culminated in a Q&A session with members of the audience; and, of course, the MLA awards ceremony itself, held on Saturday, 9th January, the final night of the conference.
Twenty-four books were recognised by the judges, and it was a great source of institutional pride to see Warwick so well-represented amongst the award-winning titles and authors. Not only is John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources the primary output of the CSR-based John Nichols Research Project, but all four General Editors – myself, Dr Faith Eales (formerly Associate Fellow in the CSR), Professor Elizabeth Clarke (English), and Dr Jayne Elisabeth Archer (formerly Associate Fellow in the CSR) – are, or were, based at Warwick, as, indeed, are/were many of the scholars who contributed to the five-volume set as section editors and translators. In addition, Professor Maureen Freely of Warwick’s English Department was honoured at the awards ceremony as the recipient, with Alexander Dawe, of the MLA’s Lois Roth Award for a Translation of a Literary Work for The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (Penguin, 2014).
The prizes were formally presented by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, who, in his capacity as First Vice President of the MLA, lent the evening a suitably splendid sense of occasion. Each award winner was called to the stage to shake Professor Appiah’s hand and to receive a handsome, leather-bound certificate inscribed with the text of the judges’ award citation, which, in the case of John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources, reads:
Although neither Elizabeth Clarke nor Jayne Elisabeth Archer was able to attend the ceremony, it was a great pleasure to be reunited for the evening with Faith Eales – as well as with our editor at Oxford University Press, Jacqueline Baker, who cheered us on from the audience.
Professor Maureen Freely (Warwick) & Dr Elizabeth Goldring. Dr Elizabeth Goldring, Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah (First Vice President of the MLA), and Dr Faith Eales
The Charity of the Poor in Late Renaissance Venice by Dr Ioanna Iordanou (CSR Honorary Research Fellow)
|The Venetian popolani were a social group distinct from the higher levels of Venetian society, namely the patricians – the Venetian ruling class – and the cittadini – the Venetian citizens. They comprised the mass of Venetian residents who enjoyed no legal status and were divided into two categories, the popolo minuto – the city’s workers – and the popolo grande – ‘the well-to-do commoners’, those who owned workshops, employed workers, and possessed property. Concerned with how the popolani contributed to the Venetian economy through their labour, a great deal of scholarly attention has been placed on their professional services. Some significant work has also been done on their civic function, especially their participation in well-documented rituals like the battaglie dei pugni, the famous battles for sole possession of a bridge that entertained laity and royalty alike. An area that has been poorly researched, mainly due to scarcity of archival material, is their charitable activity. Based on a thorough analysis of 225 last wills from the Venetian State Archives, this post exposes a hitherto unexplored and, in consequence, unknown contribution of the Venetian popolani to the city’s economy and society; their conscious charitable activity towards the needy of their community. As a case study, we will use the well-defined popolani group of the Venetian shipbuilders and sailors. This is because their professional homogeneity somehow preserved their presence in the Venetian State Archives.
The last quarter of the 16th century was a period of significant economic turbulence for the maritime communities of Venice. Firstly, while other Venetian industries, like printing, wool and silk production, were thriving in the period, the latter was particularly harsh for Venice’s shipbuilding industry. The rich loot of Turkish ships captured during the War of Cyprus, necessitated their maintenance at the expense of the production of new vessels. As a result, shipwrights, whose expertise lay in designing and building ships, were left with no occupation. By the end of the century, Arsenal caulkers followed suit. The Venetian sailors faced similar difficulties, as the war, and ultimately the loss of Cyprus had significant repercussions for maritime transport and trade. Work was by no means available by the cartload.
To make matters worse, in 1575 a devastating plague struck the city, claiming a quarter to a third of the population in just two years. While human resource recovery was steady, the plague was accompanied by typhus that added to the death toll. Unable to escape and with large families to sustain, despite high rates of infant mortality, the popolani were the most susceptible victims. In many cases entire families perished. Alvise di Francesco, a caulker in the Arsenal, lost his wife and new-born son to the plague. Isepo de Nicolò was more fortunate, since his entire family survived. Still, he did not manage to escape the plague of unemployment.
A spell of bad weather after the plague, followed by ‘a disastrous decade of famine’, led to heavy inflation that was particularly harsh on wage earners. The shortage of agricultural products caused the prices of basic victuals to rocket. Between 1575 and 1590 the price of wheat rose by a staggering 125 per cent, while in the late 1590s it fell and adjusted to double its value in 1580. Food supplies could not keep up with the growing needs of the recovering population; nor could salaries, even those that rose due to the temporary shortage of skilled craftsmanship owing to the plague. While the wages of some specialized workers increased significantly, the shipbuilders only saw a marginal pay rise in the 1580s, the first one they received after 1407. Needless to say that the heavily inflated prices of goods annihilated this pay rise.
Yet, consider the following. In July 1585 Andrea d’Armar, a Greek sailor in Venice, left 100 ducats in his will for the benefit of orphaned children. Two years later, the Arsenal worker Zorzi from Messina made provisions for 60 ducats to be granted to impoverished maidens for their marriage. Marriage was a crucial priority at the time, mainly because it offered a degree of financial stability, but also emotional security though lasting companionship. In numerous last wills Arsenal workers and Greek men and women donated significant sums as dowry portions to random young females. Lucretia, for instance, the wife of an Arsenal caulker, dictated that 100 ducats from her dowry be equally divided and distributed to ten poor unmarried women after her husband’s death. Aside from destitute maidens, the popolani donated sizeable sums to the poor in general. The sailor Nicolò d’Arcà, for instance, instructed that half of his property should be dispensed to the needy every Sunday. He also left 100 ducats for the production of shirts and shoes for those who could not afford them.
These instances of generosity on the part of the maritime folk of Venice are by no means exceptional. 55% of testators (124 out of 225) bequeathed substantial portions of their property to people outside of their immediate family, displaying a general concern for the welfare of others. In 76 cases (c. 32%), donations were directed to beneficiaries who were unrelated to the testators. A cursory reading of the documents could lead to the hypothesis that such generosity was due to the plague having deprived several popolani from their immediate relatives. But out of the 225 cases presently analysed, only 11 testators (c. 5%) seem to have been left with no relations to nominate as beneficiaries.
Let us be clear before we go on, that in Renaissance Venice charity was not the responsibility of the labourers. Indeed at that time, influenced by the doctrines of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, charity was systematised as the moral obligation of the government and wealthy patricians. The distribution of alms was made through the religious confraternities, the scuole, and, to a lesser extent, the occupational confraternities, the arti. So, what was the motivation behind the charitable activity of the lower classes, that were regarded, both by the authorities at the time and by contemporary historians, as recipients rather than providers of alms?
Attempting to fathom the motives behind such generosity is not an easy task. This ostensibly altruistic attitude was, to be sure, not entirely selfless. The contemporaneous connection between charity and the salvation of the soul was a key drive, evident in nearly every testamentary document. However, a thorough analysis of the records suggests a proliferation of bequests to non-relatives out of compassion, sympathy, even gratitude for the kindness and care received, especially during and shortly after the plague. Is it possible that that the plague raised these people’s social awareness and turned them towards one another?
Romano, indeed, claimed that the plague’s gruesome combination of poverty and contamination increased people’s social alertness and produced a new form of charity as an antidote to the ills of society. This found expression in the charitable activity of the city’s scuole. The philanthropy of the maritime popolani towards strangers, however, indicates that the Venetian scuole were not the only agents of this new form of charity in post-plague Venice. In an act that illustrates their mutual sense of solidarity, the Venetian shipbuilders and sailors opted to directly assist the needy of their community. Living in the same neighbourhoods, exercising similar trades, and developing a common sense of professional identity and pride, it is highly likely that misfortunes, such as the sudden loss of family members, were experienced collectively. This solidified their sense of community. Perhaps, it was this sense of community that can, in part, explain their conscious altruistic behaviour.
What, then, can we conclude about the socio-economic role of the popolani in late sixteenth-century Venice? As I hope to have demonstrated here, it is not only the products of their work and their occasionally volatile civic function that are worthy of the historian’s attention. Their contribution to the economy and society of Venice at that particular point in time exceeded the realm of constructing and staffing merchant and warship vessels or entertaining locals and visitors with their civic rituals. Their contributions encompassed their substantial charitable bequests, principally to those who, though able-bodied, lacked the means to support themselves. At a time of financial hardship, rather than seeking benefits themselves, they offered benefits to others.
The interested reader can read the detailed article on which this post is based in The Economic History Review: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ehr.12131/abstract
Reconstructing Medieval Construction by Dr Jenny Alexander (History of Art)
We have just published our work on the early phases of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the site of the shrine of St James and the end of the camino, he pilgrimage route across northern Spain from the Pyrenees. I was co-investigator on the project, funded by the regional government of Galicia, and was responsible for a stone by stone survey of the masonry of the area around the cathedral’s high altar. Other members of the project studied the sculpted capitals, and the project’s brief was to gain a better understanding of the progress of construction of its earliest parts.
We were all held up by the fall-out from the theft of the famous Codex Calixtinus from the cathedral’s treasury and when we finally gained clearance to start work we were faced with a whole new set of rules and regulations about access and working times. Fortunately the security guards were friendly and became interested in what we were doing, even joining us when they had a spare moment, but we were now working against a very short deadline.
My team recorded the marks made by the stonemasons on the walling stone, and it soon became apparent that we needed more people, so I called on three ex-students from the History of Art department and we were able to get a great deal of work done in the reduced time that we had. Working in a great cathedral after hours is a strange experience, sometimes we were the only people there and it made a stark contrast to the rest of the time when the building could be filled with people and with the sounds, and smells, of the services. Compostela has a spectacular addition to its noon-time pilgrim mass when the Botafumero, the great incense-burner, is swung through the building. It is so large that it takes nine men to haul on the ropes to get it moving and it is a moment of pure theatre, complete with a series of little rituals for lighting the incense, and for slowing down and catching the burner at the end. We had a very priviledged view of the whole thing from the galleries upstairs.
Recording the marks involved locating, identifying and relating them to a site grid, with photographs of all the marks and their sites. The next stage was to code the information and enter it into a database so that we could see the distribution patterns of the different marks. We were also able to see how the masons worked together in teams, to assess the significances of changes in the design of the building and comment on the length of breaks in building activity. Our main challenge was to deal with the massive Baroque altar that dominates the centre of the choir, and with the attendant cladding of the inner faces of the walls around, both of which limited the amount of material we could record. We did discover that some of it wasn’t very closely fitted however, and with a strong light and a certain amount of dexterity on the recorder’s part we did make some discoveries. My Spanish colleague translated our analysis into perfect Spanish, as that is the language we have had to publish in since the financial situation of the country made the usual multi-lingual co-publication impossible. We fully intend to publish an English version when funding permits, and we also hope to be able to go back to Compostela and continue our work on the rest of the building.
Sunlight streaming through the incense cloud left by the Botafumero with the group of vergers responsible for swinging it lower right
Recording work in Progress
The high altar at Santiago de Compostela
The Medieval Werewolf by Amanda Hopkins (English & French)
|Following our recent blog theme of dark wintry nights/supernatural horror/history/myth, Amanda Hopkins's piece throws a different light on the Medieval Werewolf myth. She explains that, the medieval werewolf is not a horror story, perhaps because of the Church's strict attempts to stamp out non-divine supernatural manifestations and other superstitions in narratives. Werewolf stories were frowned upon, and there is more than one Church edict insisting that werewolves are not real and that people should not believe in them. If many of the people who were writing stories down were clerics, there is a potential conflict, and indeed they would often add a Christian spin to the stories. The ‘typical’ Medieval werewolf story involves a hero-knight being locked (usually magically) into wolf form by his wife, and plays down the bestiality entirely in order to play up his obvious humanity. Completely the opposite of the modern werewolf, which (for cinematographic reasons?) depicts the humanity physically (bipedality, for instance, or demonstrations of higher intelligence) and emphasises the bestial ferocity. Click here to read Amanda's full article.||Detail of a miniature of a wolf creeping up on a sheepfold from downwind. Bestiary, England, c. 1200–10 (London: British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, f. 19r.|
Ghosts, Monsters and Scary Creatures by Ingrid De Smet, Beat Kümin, Alexander Russell and Stephen Bates
With the shortening days and the prospect of Halloween and Guy Fawkes night, we asked some members of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance about their favourite ghosts, monsters and scary creatures. Click here to be alarmed, amazed, amused...
Recently I have been doing some research on the very interesting seventeenth-century letter writer Dorothy Osborne. Osborne was the daughter of Royalist, aristocratic parents. In 1646 she travelled to St Malo in France, where her family were residing during the civil wary, and en route she encountered the essayist Sir William Temple, who was to become her secret suitor for many years, before the pair eventually married. Both families were against the match, mostly on financial grounds. Osborne and Temple became correspondents during their courtship, and 77 of Osborne’s letters to Temple survive, written between 1652 and 1654. She wrote the letters covertly, and arranged for each letter to be smuggled out from her family home in Bedfordshire to be delivered to Temple in London. Only one of Temple’s letters survives, as the others were each destroyed after reading. Osborne is a highly engaging, witty epistolary writer, and her letters range over her observations of her society, her private life, the literature she reads and shares with Temple, especially French prose romance, and her philosophical interests. Her letters are artfully constructed, and richly expressive of her ideas and emotions. She gives considerable voice to her ‘passions’ in the letters, and also reflects on the vicissitudes of the passions shared by herself and Temple with recourse to contemporary medical and philosophical ideas. She demonstrates a notable interest in melancholy, and this has been the focus of my research. Her letters at once give voice to the melancholy occasioned by the protracted courtship, and seek means to regulate it. I have recently published an essay on this topic in the Seventeenth Century Journal.
Research on women letter writers of the early modern period is currently flourishing. I recently attended a workshop in Oxford organized by the project Women’s Early Modern Letters Online. WEMLO is in the process of creating a portal for metadata, descriptions, and images of around 3,000 letters from Tudor women. It forms part of the larger Cultures of Knowledge, Early Modern Letters Online project, based at Oxford University, which is creating a catalogue of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century correspondence.
The WEMLO workshop was highly stimulating. I learned that Osborne was not the only woman writing illicit letters drawing on the literary genre of prose romance: Elizabeth Bourne was engaged in similar practices some 70-80 years earlier, as recounted in a paper by Daniel Starza Smith. We also heard about gendered archival practices, emotional debris and political strategies in early modern women's letters, among other topics. The workshop highlighted that the field of research on early modern women’s letters is currently growing. Organizers mentioned that talks should be podcast in due course, so watch their website!
Parish Treasures by Beat Kümin (History)
|One of the perks of research trips abroad is the sightseeing squeezed in when the archives are closed. While working on records of the former bishopric of Constance (now kept at Freiburg im Breisgau), I got a chance to visit the Minster of Our Lady, today a cathedral but originally ‘just’ the city’s parish church. It was built over several centuries in the late Middle Ages and remained untouched by a WW2 air raid. The south aisle contains one of Germany’s earliest ‘Holy Sepulchre’ groups dating from c. 1330. Clearly pre-Renaissance in style, Christ (measuring some 2.18 m in length) is surrounded by sculptures of angels and female mourners. Other artworks include a relief of a Compostela pilgrim crowned by St James (c. 1130), a monumental silver cross of c. 1200 and an altar triptych by Hans Baldung Grien (1512-16, complete with portraits of its municipal patrons). Among the written treasures are fabric accounts surviving from 1471. Now back to work …|
Bodin Conference, St Anne’s College Oxford by Sara Miglietti CSR Alumna
|On Tuesday 24th June 2014 I took part in the international conference ‘Community, Government and Territoriality in the Political Thought of Jean Bodin’, organised by Dr Sophie Nicholls and Dr Anna Becker at St Anne’s College, Oxford. The conference brought together junior and senior scholars from the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, and the US to reconsider one of the most important political writers of the French Renaissance in the light of recent scholarly developments. Indeed, 2013 saw the publication of three works which shed new light on Bodin’s thought: the first volume of Mario Turchetti’s bilingual edition of Bodin’s Six livres de la République (Paris, Garnier); a compared edition and Italian translation of Bodin’s Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (Pisa, Edizioni della Normale); and Howell Lloyd’s edited volume The Reception of Bodin (published by Brill), which results from a four-year, AHRC-funded project at the University of Hull (http://www2.hull.ac.uk/administration/bodin.aspx). The conference was successful in reassessing Bodin’s thought in the light of these new findings and in setting the agenda for future research in the field. I presented a paper on Bodin’s views on demographic weight and territorial expansion, arguing that his interest in such issues demonstrates the existence within the République of a non-juridical type of political reflection. Other papers discussed Bodin’s stance on superstition (MacPhail), his notion of ‘police’ (Nicholls) and its concrete application to matters such as census and taxation (Berns), his ideas on history-writing (Claussen), his crucial distinction between despotism and tyranny (Turchetti), the tension between the sovereignty principle and the delegation of power to officers (Lee), and the evolution of Bodin’s legal thought (Lindfors). Yannis Evrigenis illustrated a project which he is currently leading at Tufts University, and which aims at making a variorum edition of the République available for online browsing through Perseus (http://sites.tufts.edu/dynamicvariorum/archives/253 ). Howell Lloyd’s concluding remarks brought this day of fecund conversation to a close.|
A.R.C.H.I.ves by Rocco Di Dio CSR Alumnus
On Monday 2 June 2014, I participated in a very stimulating palaeography workshop on the topic 'The materiality of the Record'. The workshop was held at the Birckbeck University of London and was part of a series of international workshops organised by the A.R.C.H.I.ves project.
A.R.C.H.I.ves is a four-year project funded by the European Research Council and led by Dr Filippo de Vivo in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology in the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy. The project is devoted to the history of documentary production and archival preservation in late medieval and early modern Italy. Since one of my main research interests lie in palaeography, and my methodological approach focusses on the study of both the materiality and textuality of manuscripts, it was my keen desire to participate in the workshop. I felt that this would be a unique opportunity to meet experts on the field and discuss my research with them. Thanks to the generous support of a bursary offered by the Birckbeck University, I was also able to cover my travel expenses.
The workshop focused on different genres and types of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century documents from the point of view of their material form, combining textual, linguistic, diplomatic and palaeographic analysis. Historians, linguists, diplomatists and palaeographers gave short presentations followed by a very stimulating discussion. I am very happy with this productive experience and I am sure that the ties I have forged with this group of researchers will go to the benefit of my scientific growth.
Arriving in the Renaissance by Beat Kümin (History)
|On Thursday 5 June 2014, Rosa Salzberg and I co-hosted a very stimulating workshop on the topic 'Arriving in the Renaissance'. Facilitated by a generous donation to the Faculty in support of interdisciplinary work, we were able to invite an international group of speakers, all of whom with interests in migration, spatial mobility and the hospitality trade. We heard papers on channeling visitors to Siena, Venetian / Florentine inns, the iconography of German public houses, cultural exchange in Bristol/Bordeaux, welcoming strangers to Amsterdam and the migration network of a Jerusalem friary. Participants from ten academic institutions found plenty of scope for discussion, including issues like voluntary/involuntary mobility, the social status of migrants, contrasting local attitudes towards immigration, principal entry points, systems of surveillance and conceptual approaches in the field. We all agreed that the topic merits further collaboration and comparative analysis, not least given its relevance for the societies of today.|