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20 June 2023

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27th Henry Rowlatt Bickley Memorial Lecture held at St Hugh’s

On Tuesday 30 May, we were delighted to welcome to College Professor Fabrizio Nevola, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter, who delivered a brilliant presentation for the 27th Henry Rowlatt Bickley Memorial Lecture, entitled: “The Material Culture of Public Space in Renaissance Italy “.

The Lecture developed themes explored in Profesor Nevola’s book Street Life in Renaissance Italy (Yale UP 2020) and the recently completed collaborative research project ‘Public Renaissance: Urban Cultures of Public Space between Early Modern Europe and the Present’. Over recent decades, material culture has provided a useful way to analyse religious spaces and domestic interiors, although how meaning is inscribed on objects through social interactions situated in the public realm has more rarely been considered. And yet public spaces generated formal and everyday meanings through social practices often mediated by objects, at places where goods, knowledge, and news were produced, sold, and consumed, where civic or ecclesiastical authority was enforced and contested or at sites where sociability and communication converged. This assembly of meaning is achieved through a triangulation of people, objects and place, while not overlooking the importance of everyday experience.

Moving between textual sources, maps, the built fabric of cities and museum artifacts, the approach taken by Professor Nevola is interdisciplinary and structured around material objects, while also allowing for a brief foray into digital public history as a practice-based research method. Professor Nevola took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of tabernacles in Florence, fountains in Lucca and piazze in Arezzo to show how historians of architecture can learn much about how societies worked in the Renaissance through paying close attention to both representations of space and material remnants in cities and towns.

Tutor and Fellow in Italian, Professor Emma Bond, commented: “We were delighted to welcome Professor Nevola to College and to celebrate the rich tradition of studying Italian culture and language that distinguishes St Hugh’s. The Henry Rowlatt Bickley Memorial Lecture is the only fully funded, named lecture series dedicated to Italy at the University of Oxford and we are very proud to be able to host such a vibrant and important academic event.”

Fabrizio Nevola is Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. His research focuses on urban and architectural history of early modern cities, paying particular attention to public spaces in Italy. His most recent book, Street Life in Renaissance Italy (Yale UP, 2020), follows several articles and edited collections involving comparative work on urban space. Through grant funded research projects, including the ‘Hidden Cities’ apps and the Florence 4D website, he has developed digital art history approaches using geodata, 3D modelling and GPS technologies; Hidden Cities. Urban Space, Geolocated Apps and Public History in Early Modern Europe (co-edited with Nicholas Terpstra and David Rosenthal, Routledge, 2022) gathers some of that work.

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