The Saint as Social Worker: Visual Hagiography and Social Problems in Renaissance Italy
Diana Bullen Presciutti (PhD, University of Michigan) is Senior Lecturer in Italian Renaissance art and visual culture at the University of Essex. Her primary research addresses the visual culture of social problems in Renaissance Italy, focusing on civic ideology, popular piety, urban ritual, and intersections of class, gender, and cultural production. She is the author of Visual Cultures of Foundling Care in Renaissance Italy (Ashgate, 2015) and has published articles in Renaissance Studies, Renaissance Quarterly, the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Artibus et Historiae.
My book project uncovers how visual representations of saints’ miracles shaped perceptions of social problems in Renaissance Italy. In Italian urban centers, I argue, underlying issues of gender, sexuality, and honor manifested themselves as culturally constructed ‘social problems’, such as vendetta, adultery, infanticide, slander, and madness. Depictions of miracles performed by mendicant saints like Bernardino da Siena and Vincent Ferrer played a crucial role in this process. Art historians, primarily medievalists, have devoted considerable attention in recent years to the relationship between image and text in the hagiographical context; cultural and social historians, in turn, have established the rich potential of miracle stories as forms of textual evidence. Yet miracle scenes remain a resource largely untapped by scholars seeking to better understand how images intervened in the daily life of Renaissance people. My interdisciplinary study of this visual corpus will reveal the pivotal role visual hagiography played in constructing social problems in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy.