Current Institutional Affiliation
Senior Lecturer, History of Art and Visual Culture, Rhode Island School of Design

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Brown University
Rituals and Images: The Unifying Power of Confraternity Banners in Late Medieval and Renaissance Umbria

My dissertation deals with "gonfaloni", little-studied paintings on wood or fabric which lay confraternities proudly paraded in cities on religious feast days, during civic celebrations, or in crisis processions when epidemics or natural disasters occurred. I focus on Umbria, an Italian region particularly rich in extant banners for the period 1450-1530. Taking into account ritual theory, I will examine the specific uses and functions of these gonfaloni for indoor and outdoor ceremonies and the ways in which they succeeded in fostering unity and identity. I treat them as symbolic representations which cannot be dissociated from their visual environment, i.e. other identity markers such as flags, processional paraphernalia or confraternity furnishings. I will consider the commercial circuits of fabrication and consumption in order to understand what made a portable image the successful representative of a sodality. I will also study the processes through which many gonfaloni became imbued with miraculous properties and how their power may be of a different nature than fixed images. Furthermore, I will examine banners as a means of civic or religious propaganda constructing political authority or Faith through visual associations. This topic resonates with contemporary urban culture because of the need for signs of identity or membership. Umbrian banners are still part of a ritual experience of a touristic or devotional nature according to their staging in a museum, on an altar, or in a collective parade. I see my work as a contribution not only to Italian Renaissance scholarship but also to the history of social movements and to a better understanding of present-day ritual behavior.