Last week our project team had the pleasure of travelling to Oxford to present our progress on Domestic Devotions to a joint meeting of the university’s Early Modern Catholicism Network and Early Modern World seminars. In order to give a more comprehensive view of the various components of our project, each of the Post-Doctoral Research Associates and PhD candidates presented a portion of their research.
Marco Faini (Post-Doc, Italian) started our discussion by exploring the life of a popular Marchigian healer, who later became a patron saint of day labourers. Accounts in manuscript and print form of miracles performed by Santi Saccone revealed much about the beliefs and daily devotional practices of ordinary people in the Marche. Following Marco’s exploration of belief and practices, Zuzanna Sarnecka (PhD Candidate, History of Art), introduced objects into the discussion. Zuzanna presented religious-themed tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica) inkstands, focusing upon the type depicting the Nativity, known as the presepe. Zuzanna illuminated the possible ownership and use of such inkstands by drawing connections between archival documents, extant examples, analysis of their composition, as well as possible links to religious music. Irene Galandra Cooper (PhD Candidate, History) then moved us into the home, the Neapolitan home to be exact. Beginning with a methodological overview of her approach to the extant archival documentation, Irene illustrated how such documents revealed various facets of devotional and domestic life in sixteenth-century Naples—from the topography of the home and practices of daily piety within to objects of devotion. Katie Tycz (PhD Candidate, Italian) then introduced the concept of protective prayers, showing examples of those meant to aid pregnant women during the frightening period of pregnancy and childbirth. Katie explained how believers might attribute efficacy to the texts and images present in the prayer examples, which would be heightened by wearing such prayers on the woman’s body. Alessia Meneghin (Post-Doc, History) concluded our presentation by delving into the mind of Antonio Trento through the inventory of his personal library in Vicenza (Veneto). Alessia’s analysis of Trento’s inventory revealed his ownership of devotional works as well as some which might have been questioned by Church authorities for their heretical undertones, such as the banned books, the Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo verso i christiani (commonly referred to as the Beneficio di Cristo), and the Islamic Alcorano di Macometto, in addition to several astronomical treatises.
Following our presentation, the audience offered thought-provoking questions and enlightening commentary on our various papers and project as a whole. We were asked questions ranging from how we were differentiating between our regions of enquiry to how their vastly different political, economic, and social structures might influence domestic devotional practice? How do we justify using traditional sources centred around ecclesiastical entities when exploring the home? Are we finding any indication that religious festivals governed the scheduling of domestic devotions? Do we have any indication if certain rooms within the home were dedicated to devotion? It was affirming to know that some of our questions are shared by others, but these comments also certainly gave us new things to think about and explore.
After being treated to a lovely lunch at New College, we headed over to the Ashmolean Museum for special sessions with devotional objects from the collections. We were privileged to see a range of objects from the museum’s stores—prints, drawings, bronzes, maiolica, jewellery, paintings, etc. During our up-close viewing of the objects we probed deeper into the role they might have played during domestic devotions. How is one sure an object was in fact ‘domestic’? What sort of people might have owned such objects? Do all objects with religious imagery denote devotional purposes or might they have been solely decorative pictures? How might such objects been experienced by Renaissance Italians? How important was sensory experience in engaging with objects during devotion?
We left Oxford with our minds full of beautiful things and new lines of research to chase. We appreciated the opportunity to pick the minds of some of Oxford’s brightest and most innovative scholars regarding our project. We’re very thankful to everyone involved in organising our day, for the generous hospitality we received, and most of all for the enthusiasm for our project!