Project Description

Devotions, from routine prayers to extraordinary religious experiences such as miracles or exorcisms, frequently took place within the home: they were also specifically shaped to meet the demands of domestic life – childbirth, marriage, infertility, sickness, accidents, famine, death. Our research starts from the view that religion was key to the life of ordinary Italians and the period 1400-1600, far from being one of increased secularization, was a period of intense religious revitalization.

Ex voto commemorating a family and home rescued from an earthquake by San Nicola da Tolentino (detail), Image courtesy of the Museo del Santuario di San Nicola da Tolentino

This tight bond between the domestic and the devotional was neither institutionally nor legally defined. It cannot be adequately traced in any one type of source nor by means of a single approach. A rare combination of expertise and experience across several disciplines – social history, textual scholarship, and the study of art and architecture – is required to reveal the pivotal place of piety in the Renaissance home.

The project moves beyond traditional research on the Renaissance in two further ways. Firstly, it breaks free from the golden triangle of Venice, Florence, and Rome in order to investigate practices of piety in three significant zones: Naples and its environs; the Marche in central Italy; and the Venetian mainland. Secondly, it rejects the standard focus on Renaissance elites in order to develop our understanding of the artisanal household. Inspired in part by the rich historiography on the Protestant family, Domestic Devotions will shed new light on the roles of women and children in the Catholic home, and will be attentive to gender and age as factors that conditioned religious experience. Our multidisciplinary approach will enable unprecedented glimpses into the private lives of Renaissance Italians.


Learn more about the research being conducted by Dr Mary Laven, one of our principal investigators, in the video below. For more information about this research, visit this page.

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