Anca-Delia Moldovan

Anca-Delia Moldovan

Melville J Kahn Fellow
“The Noblest of All Plants”: A Visual and Cultural Study of the Olive Tree and Oil in Sixteenth-Century Tuscany
Anca Delia Moldovan


Anca-Delia Moldovan received her PhD from the University of Warwick in 2020. She has been a long-term fellow at the Warburg Institute in London and the Newberry Library in Chicago. Her work investigates calendrical and agricultural representations at the intersection of art, science, and intellectual and material cultures, focusing on Early Modern Italy. Moldovan has authored articles in the Rivista di Storia della Miniatura (2018); Renaissance and Reformation (2021); and Renaissance Quarterly (2024). Her forthcoming book Illustrating the Year: The Calendar in Northern Italy during the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries was awarded a Weiss-Brown Publication Subvention Award.

Project Summary

This project proposes a multifaceted approach to the visual and cultural history of the olive tree and oil in connection both to specific politico-economical, scientific, and social transformations in sixteenth-century Medici Florence and to wider historical and geographical processes. The fall of the Roman Empire and subsequent social and economic unrest brought about a sharp decline in olive cultivation. The gradual reintroduction of olive trees into the Tuscan landscape between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries corresponded to a rise in visual representations. The project examines artworks created in various media (from Leonardo’s technical drawings to Alciato’s emblems, and Vettori’s medals) to demonstrate how images can complement perspectives arising from material evidence and textual sources. More broadly, the rich imagery and imaginary of the olive tree will offer a lens through which to explore other aspects of sixteenth-century culture. These include a renewed interest in the study and illustration of plants, husbandry, artisanship, technological advancements, dietary and religious shifts, and an increased exploitation of natural resources. By looking through representative and often overlooked images at the interconnections of multiple factors in Florentine high and low culture, this study shows that traditionally distinct fields of enquiry such as intellectual, environmental, and art history, must be brought into fruitful conversations.