Neri di Bicci: Art, Theater, and Popular Culture in Renaissance Florence
Laura Stefanescu is an art historian specializing in Italian Renaissance art and particularly fifteenth-century Florence, interested in the interplay between art, theater, music, and religious experience. She has received her PhD from the University of Sheffield (2020), where she has subsequently worked as Research Associate on Prof. Tim Shephard’s project Sounding the Bookshelf 1501: Music in a Year of Italian Printed Books, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Her publications include the co-authored article “Music, Silence, and the Senses in a Late Fifteenth-Century Book of Hours,” in Renaissance Studies (2017) and the co-authored book Music in the Art of Renaissance Italy c. 1420-1540 (Harvey Miller, 2020).
According to the tax survey of 1480, the richest painter in Florence was Neri di Bicci. His workshop was one of the most successful in the city, and his religious artworks a reflection of the popular visual culture of the time, strongly rooted in theatrical performances. A multi-faceted creator, Neri di Bicci had contributed extensively to the production of a very successful sacred play, being fully immersed in the fascinating phenomenon of religious theater, which had taken over the devotional life of fifteenth-century Florence through the system of confraternities. This rich theatrical experience, in turn, influenced the creation of his artworks, sparking iconographic innovations. In spite of this, Neri di Bicci’s contribution to the visual culture of Renaissance Florence has never been fully examined by art historians, interested mainly in his business and workshop practice, while neglecting the artworks themselves, often still inaccessible to scholars today. This project aims to prepare the first monograph, followed by a complete catalogue dedicated to Neri di Bicci, an interdisciplinary exploration of art, theater, and society, aiming to understand the relationship between innovation in painting and the visual culture of theater, and to address our misrepresentation of fifteenth-century Florentine art by reinserting one of its crucial figures into the narrative.