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Art and the Making of Loreto

Antongiulio Sorgini

Donato Bramante, Andrea Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, et al., Marble enclosure of the Santa Casa (the "ornamento"), ca. 1507–1576, Basilica of the Santa Casa, Loreto

My dissertation centers on Loreto, the small hill town in the Marches region of Central Italy where angels supposedly deposited the Virgin Mary’s house—the “Santa Casa”—after having flown it out of the Holy Land in 1291. Drawing on studies of ritual, pilgrimage and its material culture, geopolitics, and, crucially, theorizations of place that emphasize the role of structures in transforming their environments, I trace the ways in which distant locations bore upon the elaboration of a sacred landscape in the Italian hinterland. Specifically, I contend that objects and monuments produced for the Basilica of the Santa Casa—among them, Luca Signorelli’s fresco decoration in the Sacristy of Saint John (c. 1480-5), the Bramante-designed ornamento surrounding Mary’s house (1507-76; see illustration above), and the embellishment of the Chapel of the Dukes of Urbino (c. 1580-5)—responded to political currents in Italy and the broader Mediterranean and, in turn, played a constitutive role in defining Loreto for contemporary observers. Rather than art being the product of place, as many art theorists and historians have maintained since at least the sixteenth century, I endeavor to show that place may be better understood as the product of art.

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