Treasuries, Invention and the Teodelinda Chapel in Monza

Laura Somenzi

Workshop of the Zavattari: Legend of Teodelinda, scene 20, Entry of the royal couple to Verona, 1445 circa, wall painting. Duomo di Monza, Teodelinda Chapel. © Museo e Tesoro del Duomo di Monza, foto Piero Pozzi.

The focus of this dissertation is the Teodelinda chapel (c. 1441-1446) in Monza's Basilica of San Giovanni, made by the Milanese family workshop of the Zavattari. This chapel, to the right of the main altar, housed the body of the sixth-century Longobard queen and founder of the Basilica, Teodelinda. The cycle of multi-media wall paintings made by the Zavattari commemorate her life and death as well as celebrate her role as founder of the church. This dissertation suggests that the Zavattari's paintings do not merely represent the story of Teodelinda. Rather, it argues that the Zavattari constructed their paintings in relation to the existing material and spiritual wealth of the chapel, and that their artistic work should be understood as the medium that connects and holds together the different threads that make the chapel a particularly sacred space within the Basilica—a space marked by the presence of Teodelinda, treasures and relics (in part still conserved in the Basilica's museum), its titular saints, and its active cult devotion. The intent is to develop a framework which can address questions about the process of artistic making as a relational activity, one that happens over time and amongst different actors.

A key part of this project is concerned with the historiographic division of Gothic and Renaissance painting. It seeks to put pressure on these categories, especially where the concept of invention is denied to "Gothic" painters whose work is seen as contingent on the transmission of traditional models.  By revisiting the concept of "invention" as a recursive process that is activated and sustained by artistic techniques of replication and re-use, the goal is to recover notions of artistic agency in the Renaissance that go beyond the individual to include collective and relational models of art making.


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