Call for Papers & Applications

The conference focuses on the presence and circulation of Medicean cultural models within an Italian, European and global research framework, from the beginning of the ducal era (1530) to the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648).

After the creation of the Duchy, (anti-)Medicean interests can be traced out of Florence, as a result of the Duchy’s competition with other great European powers. Counselors, ambassadors, diplomats and other ‘representative’ political figures start populating the international scene, destined to become promoters of new forms of patronage and collecting. The family’s growing interests towards Rome and the Neapolitan Viceregno turned these centers into fundamental junctions of Medicean international politics. The presence of the Medici was felt in Spain, especially after the marriage of Cosimo I with Eleonora di Toledo (1539), and in France, thanks to Maria de' Medici’s Regency from 1600. However, Medicean presence was not limited to Europe and recent studies have shown how the Levant and the principality of Transylvania, among other areas, were included into the sphere of the family’s patronage and influence. The aim of the conference is to investigate interaction (and opposition) strategies put forward by the Medici within this broad geographical and cultural framework.

We welcome contributions on the topic which focus on objects, collections and the mobility of artists, tying the arguments to specific political-ideological contexts, focusing on the relationship between art and power, and on the exchange, hybridization and recontextualization of political values and their symbols.

To participate, proposals of up to 2300 characters and accompanied by a brief CV of up to 1800 characters should be sent to by 30 September 2021. We welcome 20-minutes-long papers in Italian, English, French and German. The proceedings will be collected in a volume published by Campisano editore (Rome). The conference will be held in presence, remotely or in hybrid form in accordance with current restrictions.

Scientific Committee

Alessandro Nova (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut), Novella Barbolani di Montauto (Sapienza Università di Roma), Gianluca Petrone (Sapienza Università di Roma), Stefano Pierguidi (Sapienza Università di Roma), Marco Ruffini (Sapienza Università di Roma), Lunarita Sterpetti (Sapienza Università di Roma).  

Against the backdrop of contemporary debates over the creative potential and embodiment of cognitive processes, imagination, a concept that traditionally mediates between perception and thought, has acquired particular topicality. From their diverse perspectives and premises, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, sociology, aesthetics, and art history, as well as historical and cultural studies, have long been contributing to a rediscovery and reevaluation of imagination. Whereas its positive role as productive faculty and agency of knowledge is often underlined, concomitant ethical and political problems, traceable in the longue durée of the critique of imagination, remain largely unilluminated. The inherent ethical-political “danger” residing both in the imaginative and its misuse, is evident, for example, in current public discourses, where the power of the imagination is frequently played off against scientific discourse. Yet it is precisely through the embedding in and sensitivity to the multidimensionality of its historicity that the imaginative may enable us to grasp contemporary questions and problems in all their contrariety.

In fact, the conceptual pair phantasia/imaginatio has always mediated between sensuality and intellect on the theoretical level while at the same time delineating a practical-ethical battlefield, where “higher” and “lower” forces of the soul and – depending on the cosmology in question – demonic powers struggle for supremacy. In Western culture, an exceptional seductive power is attributed to the visual potential of the imagination, which may influence the individual in positive as well as negative ways. It is in the borderlands of ideas and illusions that intra-, inter-, and supra-human conflicts are staged and the psychological hierarchies that ultimately determine the good and evil of religious-political life are determined. In this context, imagination proves itself an ambivalent faculty: It is either in the service of true knowledge and virtue or it unleashes an uncontrollable life of its own – an excess of figuration that can no longer be rationally tamed, that threatens to undermine the prevailing political, scientific, and religious systems. Significantly, this excess of imagination is often pathologised, demonised, and sexualised. This is evident both in the long history of monastic melancholia and in the connotative assumption of a specifically female predisposition to imaginative-affective overstimulation. 

The fear of vices and diseases of the imagination is certainly not new, but it reached a particular climax in the early modern period, when numerous imaginary orders were simultaneously shaken up. The obsession with witches, together with Protestantism and the so-called scientific revolution can be understood as profound crises of imagination. Given such crises, the partial reevaluation of the imagination, which among other things became apparent in the art theories of the Renaissance, in modern philosophy, or in the theological discourses of the (counter) Reformation, was always accompanied by corresponding forms of regimentation and instrumentalisation. On the one hand, the excesses of imagination – which always included the physical – if not averted by censorship, were tamed by collective and individual practices in public or private space (of the imagination). On the other hand, these excesses and their perilousness had constantly to be imagined and materialised in order to establish the urgency of disciplining them in the first place. The process of materialisation itself, whether in painting, writing, or the other myriad forms of expression, plays a pivotal role in this. Not least because here, too, the boundaries of imagination, both within and beyond the secure realm of the imaginable, were constantly redrawn and renegotiated, and wherein excess and discipline were mutually dependent.

The planned workshop aims to explore this reciprocal relationship between the excesses and disciplining exercises of the imagination. The focus will be on the epochal transition from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period, which will be defined relatively broadly in terms of both time and geography; the purpose of the workshop is not to arrive at an exhaustive historical reconstruction of Western theories of imagination and imaginary practices. Rather, we hope to tease out the ethical-aesthetic, artistic, and political dimensions that have been overlooked in previous historically oriented considerations of the concept. It is therefore more a matter of critically analysing how ruling societies have often misused the category of the imaginative in order to stigmatise and discipline unruly or intransigent “others”. Indeed, the demarcation between the legitimately imaginable and the unimaginable is not confined to private cognitive and meditative practice, but encompasses rituals, ways of speaking, ways of remembering, multiple ways of generating knowledge, artistic production and reception, configurations of public space or everyday objects, and so on. This pluralism is rooted in the very concept of imagination, which since antiquity has been equally situated in rhetoric, mnemonics, epistemology, psychology, poetology, and art theory. The workshop will thus cut across disciplinary boundaries and attempts to approach the problem of imagination from different disciplinary directions, including philosophy, history of art and images, history of science, literary and cultural studies.

Since the concept of imagination is an essential part of the (pre)history of aesthetic theories, this project is part of the interdisciplinary research platform Etho-aesthetics of the Visual.

The range of possible questions is broad and could cover any of the following topics in the workshop papers and discussion:

• Why is the imagination so particularly polarised in the early modern period?

• How do theoretical discussions of the concept of imagination or classifications in its traditional contexts correspond with artistic, aesthetic, and ethical practices in political space or social action?

• What productive and effective aesthetic strategies to stimulate or control imagination do artists use?

• How do censorship and iconoclasm fuel the power of the imaginary? How does and how should a society deal with phantasms?

• In which sociopolitical contexts and in what forms do “excesses” of the imagination manifest themselves, or when and why are they condemned as such in the first place?

• What forms of excess are condemned and what regulatory practices are introduced to prevent the supposed violence of the imaginary, which is often attributed to “others” in a negative sense? And related to this: What may be said about the construction of a typically female connoted imagination, which is always embedded in discourses of power?

The workshop will take place online and at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck- Institut, depending on feasibility, from 25-27 November 2021.

Contributors are invited to present a short talk of about 20 min (followed by discussion). We welcome both specific case studies as well as methodological-systematic or theoretical investigations. These can be devoted to a wide variety of questions and cultures and may also focus on the longue durée of early modern imaginative practices. Please send an abstract of max. 2000 characters and a short curriculum vitae (as a PDF) in German, English or Italian by e-mail to:

Please submit your abstract no later than 1 October 2021.

Confirmation of participation in the workshop will be provided by 8 October 2021.


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