Publisher: Saint Joseph's University Press
Date Published: 2013
Book ID: 70
Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts Series, Vol. 7
512 pages + index and bibliography | 269 color images
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Lavishly illustrated and compellingly written by Barbara Wisch, an art historian, and Nerida Newbigin, an historian of Italian theater and spectacle, Acting on Faith: The Confraternity of the Gonfalone in Renaissance Rome is the first interdisciplinary study of the oldest lay brotherhood in the Eternal City. From its origins in the mid-thirteenth century to its extraordinary expansion and development over the course of six centuries, the Gonfalone confraternity, named for the banner carried in processions, is key to understanding lay spirituality, art, and performance practices in Rome. Based on newly discovered documents, unpublished texts, and fresh interpretations of the art, architecture, and plays that the confraternity commissioned, this book illuminates how the Gonfalone negotiated religious and civic tensions, mediated change, and transformed the sacred topography of Rome.
Acting on Faith brings together art, theater, religion, and social relationships. The extraordinary range, originality, and quality of the visual material, much of it unpublished, recreate the sacred and civic spaces of Rome at the height of papal power. New interpretations are proposed for the paintings in its famous oratory, the role of miraculous icons in its celebrations, and its sacred drama performed in the Colosseum. The Easter plays, written and acted by the Gonfalone brethren, were the most elaborate confraternal theatrical events in Renaissance Italy, groundbreaking in text, music, stagecraft technology as well as in their ferocious invective against the Jews.
Acting on Faith uncovers significant new information on confraternities and anti-Semitism, the role of women in confraternal devotions, and the response of the Gonfalone to the challenges posed by the Protestant Reformation. Setting the standard for religious, philanthropic, and festive performances in the Eternal City, the Gonfalone served as an important model for sodalities across Europe and the New World.
Publication of this book was assisted by the Weiss/Brown Publication Subvention Award from the Newberry Library, as well as by a subsidy from the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
Barbara Wisch is Professor Emerita of Art History at the State University of New York College at Cortland. She co-edited Confraternities and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Italy: Ritual, Spectacle, Image (2000) and the two-volume "All the world's a stage . . .": Art and Pageantry in the Renaissance and Baroque (1990). A specialist in Roman visual and festive culture, she has written extensively on confraternities, miracle-working images, Holy Year processions and maps, and anti-Semitism in the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Nerida Newbigin is Emeritus Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Sydney, with a research interest in late medieval and Renaissance theatre and spectacle. She is the editor of Nuovo Corpus di sacre rappresentazioni fiorentine (1983) and author of Feste d'Oltrarno: Plays in Churches in Fifteenth-Century Florence (1996). She has prepared critical editions of more than thirty Florentine sacre rappresentazioni, and written extensively on the contexts in which they were performed.
"This lavish production, long anticipated, is to be prized for its deep research, clear writing, and spectacular illustrations. The large format 500-page volume includes 238 figures in outstanding color (with many photos by Barbara Wisch herself) of church exteriors and interiors, altarpieces, frescoes, and sculptures. Also reproduced are etchings, engravings, archive pages, printed plays and poems, and architectural drawings, as well as period maps marked to indicate procession and pilgrimage routes. More than a study of one confraternity for fraternity specialists, we receive a crucial work for all interested in medieval and early modern Rome and its religious and social history in the arts, religious theater, music, and material culture."
Christopher F. Black (University of Glasgow), Renaissance Quarterly
"A new book of great visual impact, because of the many wonderful illustrations, and cultural significance—for the accurate reconstruction of the history of the Gonfalone, one of the most important and ancient confraternities of Rome—is the result of the fruitful partnership between Barbara Wisch, an art historian, and Nerida Newbigin, a historian of Italian theater. . . . For its detailed use of documentation and in-depth analysis, the book stands not only as an instrument for understanding the spirituality, the artistic interests, and the theatrical performances of Rome in the Renaissance but also offers a model to anyone wishing to study the confraternal institutions."
Anna Esposito (University of Rome, La Sapienza), Catholic Historical Review
"With a wealth of illustrations and primary source texts, and a wide-ranging and heavily documented text, Wisch and Newbigin portray the Gonfalone's steady rise and point to its relative decline. Their rigorous scholarship contextualizes the confraternity's urban presence, architectural profile, artistic innovations, and political and social roles in a critical period when Rome began settling the Church Local more firmly within the Church Universal. Their thorough collaboration offers an unparalleled example of seamless interdisciplinary work. This is an indispensable text for anyone wishing to understand the emergence of early modern Catholicism as an artistic and social phenomenon."
Nicholas Terpstra (University of Toronto), Renaissance and Reformation