Chiara Franceschini’s Article Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” Wins I Tatti Prize Best Essay 2011


This copy of the Doni Tondo is discussed by Franceschini on p. 167, and illustrated on p. 168.  
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We are very pleased to announce that the “I Tatti Prize for Best Essay by a Junior Scholar” for 2011 has been awarded to:

  • Chiara Franceschini, “The Nudes in Limbo: Michelangelo's Doni Tondo Reconsidered.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 73 (2010, published in 2011): 137-180. Read this article.

Two articles, tied for second place, deserve an Honorable Mention:

  • Emanuele Lugli, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Pietre di Paragone and the Preeminence of Medieval Measurements in Communal Italy.” Gesta 49 (2010, published in 2011): 77-95. Read this article.
  • Ruth Noyes, “On the Fringes of Center: Disputed Hagiographic Imagery and the Crisis over the Beati moderni in Rome ca. 1600.” Renaissance Quarterly 64 (2011): 800-846. Read this article.

This an annual prize for the best scholarly article on an Italian Renaissance topic, written in English or Italian. The subject can be any aspect of the Italian Renaissance, broadly defined as the period ranging from the 13th to the 17th centuries; essays could also address historiography. The author must have obtained a PhD within the last five years. The selection committee looks for rigorous and original research, and convincing results expressed in clear and effective prose. The winning essay is posted on our website, and the author receives $1,000. The deadline each year is 30 June.

We congratulate all three authors, and encourage junior scholars of essays published in 2012 to enter next year’s competition. The submission form is now available on the I Tatti website.

 

Article Summaries


Chiara Franceschini, “The Nudes in Limbo: Michelangelo's Doni Tondo Reconsidered.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 73 (2010, printed in 2011): 137-180.

Summary: This article proposes a new interpretation of the iconography of Michelangelo’s tondo with the Virgin Mary painted for Agnolo and Maddalena Doni in 1504 or 1506, now in the Uffizi Gallery. It argues that the nudes in the background may allude to the resurrected bodies of the unbaptized dead. The proposed explanation of Michelangelo’s painting as a ‘Nostra Donna’ with St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, and people in limbo, is based on both contextual and visual arguments. These encompass, firstly, a study of the Doni family history and the circumstances in which the tondo was produced; secondly, several texts on baptism, original sin and limbo, in particular by Antonino Pierozzi and Girolamo Savonarola; thirdly, a study of other tondi as well as of paintings of different genre which present either some allusion to baptism or the theme of naked figures painted in the background of a sacred group. Particular relevance is given to the Carondelet altarpiece by Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli, the iconography of which may be considered as influenced by the Doni tondo. The essay does not suggest that the tondo merely illustrates conceptions of limbo, but rather that contemporary ideas about limbo — especially for their insistence on the resurrection of the body — could have been a source of inspiration for Michelangelo as well as a source of consolation for his patrons. The proposed reading also has implications for the long-contested date of the painting.

  • Emanuele Lugli, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Pietre di Paragone and the Preeminence of Medieval Measurements in Communal Italy.” Gesta 49 (2010, printed in 2011): 77-95. 

Summary: In the squares of many Italian cities, unnoticed by most passersby, incisions carved in stone reproduce the dimensions of the measurements that were employed locally until 1861, when the nation endorsed the metric system. By gathering the evidence pertaining to these forms of display, this essay hopes to bring them back into historical consciousness. The story that follows is a rich one, for these carvings - here called 'pietre di paragone' - performed many key functions in medieval and Renaissance society. Besides regularizing trade, they were at the center of a concordance of gazes and bodies, social rituals that contributed to the construction of collective identity, and the political establishment of the Italian communes. An investigation into the nexus between politics and measurements shows how the latter originated in the crumbling of imperial authority at the end of the tenth century. In addition, the political significance of the pietre is underscored by the tremendous attention that local authorities have paid to their preservation. These maneuvers lend weight to the cause of those scholars who challenge traditional ideas about the cultural relationships between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

  • Ruth Noyes, “On the Fringes of Center: Disputed Hagiographic Imagery and the Crisis over the Beati moderni in Rome ca. 1600.” Renaissance Quarterly 64 (2011): 800-846.  

Summary: This article sets forth, through a collection of case studies, the extent to which the literal and pictorial figures of the Beati moderni (so-called modern Blesseds) constituted potentially provocative and disputed hermeneutical territory between particular religious constituencies, in this case the Oratorians and the Jesuits, and an increasingly stringent Curia ca. 1600. Shortly after the turn of the seventeenth century, thanks to circumstances the Oratorians and Jesuits themselves stirred up in 1602, Catholic reforms of the cult and canonization of saints collided with reforms of the cult and production of saints’ images. This resulted in curial proscription of certain Beati moderni images, an initiative that was perhaps the most centralized Curia-driven sanctioning of sacred imagery in the history of the Roman Church. These circumstances, today relatively little-known, and their momentous historical repercussions, serve as a case study in the intrinsically linked spheres of hagiography and hagio-imagery, canonization, and image production in early modern Catholicism. A reexamination of Beati moderni hagio-imagery, and curial censorship of such imagery, problematizes scholarly assumptions that these images served the Counter-Reformation Church’s demands to control the meaning of religious images and the cult of the saints. Such reassessment calls for the reevaluation of a newly-constituted, uniquely post-Tridentine genre of hagio-imagery: the Beati moderni devotional altar image and its reproductive printed devotional derivatives. This article sheds light on hitherto unknown and disregarded archival evidence to destabilize notions of center and periphery in Renaissance studies.