The Renaissance Unveiled: The Façade of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Florentine Feasts of May 1887
Tommaso Zerbi is an architectural historian who specializes in the history, theory, and historiography of neo-medieval architecture and medievalism, with an emphasis on modern Italy. Between completing his doctorate in Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh (2021) and joining the Bibliotheca Hertziana as a Postdoctoral Fellow (2022), he held the 2021/2022 Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellowship at the British School at Rome. Prior to these, Tommaso graduated (MArch, BArch) summa cum laude from the Politecnico di Milano. An Early Career Member of the Royal Historical Society and a recipient of the Barrie Wilson Award, he has conducted research on the neo-medieval architecture and medievalism of northern, central, and southern Italy.
The project examines the urban feasts that were held to commemorate the unveiling of the newly completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore and the inauguration of a plaque and bust in Piazza Duomo for the 500th anniversary of Donatello’s birth. It offers a sustained discussion of the politics at play in this moment in May 1887 when Renaissance Florence was self-consciously revived to celebrate the completion of a quintessential architectural heirloom of Italy’s late medieval past and the anniversary of one of its masters. Alongside Queen Margherita’s revealing of one of the most debated neo-medieval projects in nineteenth-century Italy and a historical pageant that re-enacted the ‘Green Count’ Amadeus VI of Savoy’s visit to Florence in 1367, the celebrations were saturated in medievalist rhetoric. While neo-medieval architecture and the Green Count had long been linked to the legitimation of the House of Savoy in the Risorgimento, the façade of the Duomo of Florence and the re-enactment of the visit of the King and Queen’s medieval ancestor are discussed as political devices that assimilated, recrafted, and employed the Florentine Renaissance legacy in the myth-making of the Sabaudian monarchy as the Crown of Italy and the consolidation of an Italian nation-state. The study explores how the staging and commemoration of the urban feasts were tied to a political dynamic that intertwined notions of toscanità and italianità with a growing sabaudizzazione of Italian nationhood.