Images, Objects and a Sacred Site: Assisi in a Transcultural Perspective

Summer School

Concept and organization: Vera-Simone Schulz and Gerhard Wolf

Scientific Guests: Claudia Bolgia, Frank Martin

The 2013 Summer School of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut (Studienkurs) will be held in Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, the founder of the Franciscan order, and 'locus' of its monumental mother church San Francesco. The Summer School will discuss the making of this sacred topography, a city-sanctuary perched high on a hill, in a trans-regional or even global perspective from its antique Umbrian-Roman origins through the centuries to the present day.

Francis was the son of a cloth merchant, a fact which raises the topic of the multiple late medieval trading networks in which Assisi participated. Once the new order was founded, Assisi's influence as an international nodal point spread out in many directions: Franciscan missionaries were sent throughout the known world, to the Mongol Empire as far as China, as well as to Africa; the martyrdom of the five Franciscan friars in Marrakesh in 1220 is represented on one of the glass windows in San Francesco. Meanwhile, Assisi became one of the most important pilgrimage sites on the Italian peninsula, with ever larger masses of pilgrims arriving in the Umbrian town. Objects and artefacts were brought or sent to the sanctuary forming a treasury which is partially still preserved.

Taking these dynamics into account, the Summer School invites participants to rethink the process, of how, from the 13th century onwards, the 'locus sanctus' quickly became a major 'locus imaginum', a sacred site housing images, most famously the wall paintings in San Francesco. The Summer School will take a fresh look at these frescoes which have led to the centuries long debate regarding the style, provenance and identity of the artists that were involved in their production. We will analyse not only their narrative strategies and iconic dimension, but also the relationship between built, (liturgically/performatively) used and painted space, the representation of objects in painting, as well as the crucial role of framing devices and vegetal, interlaced and geometrical ornament. Furthermore, the Summer School will pay attention to the specific qualities of media and the materiality of artworks in the city: we will analyse for example the interplay between stained glass windows, wall paintings, wooden panel paintings and woven images such as the 'paliotto' of Sixtus IV.

The Summer School will discuss the production and reception of images and artefacts in the city through the centuries, not only San Francesco, but also its "female counterpart" Santa Chiara as well as the sites in the surrounding area, even during the rather neglected periods after 1500. We will also consider the history of the restoration campaigns (up to those after the earthquake of 1997). Finally, we will discuss the role of Assisi in the discipline of art history, its reception by artists such as Johann Anton Ramboux and the approaches to 13th- and 14th-century painting in classical modern art.


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