The Arts of Domestic Devotion in Renaissance Italy: The Case of Venice

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Morse, Margaret Anne
Colantuono, Anthony
This dissertation examines the rich visual culture that developed around the pervasive practice of religion in the Renaissance household, with a specific focus on the city of Venice in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is a subject that has received little attention in the recent art historical scholarship that has focused on the domestic arts in early modern Italy. Documentary evidence confirms, however, that over ninety percent of Venetian homes contained articles of spiritual import and function, consisting of a wide range of goods, from paintings by the period's most renowned artists to mass-produced items, such as prints, amulets, and prayer beads. These visible expressions of religion within the household context were essential for the formation and preservation of a devout familial dwelling. Sacred imagery fostered devotion and spiritual activity within the everyday lives of Venetians and ritual environments were fashioned throughout the household, from a picture hung on a wall to an altar furnished with the appropriate vessels and linens for mass. Images of prophylactic saints, like Christopher, Roch, and Sebastian, along with thaumaturgic objects, such as amulets and prayer beads, provided bodily and spiritual protection to family members in this sea-faring city that continually faced disease and a host of other misfortunes. The religious visual culture of the <em>casa</em> also shaped the sacred and ethical character of the family, which included the moral formation of children, the role of women in the home as spiritual educators, and the preservation of the household for future generations. Additionally, while located within a "private" setting, religious objects from domestic spaces were intimately tied to Venice's mercantile economy, and connected individuals and families to the city's wider community of Christian devotion. In a period in which the laity assumed greater control over their spiritual lives, the home served as one of the most salient settings for religious activity and expression, made possible by the acquisition and display of a variety of devotional goods.