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Domestic Devotions: the place of piety in the Italian Renaissance home

Domestic Devotions

The ground-breaking interdisciplinary project ‘Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home’ demonstrated that religion played a key role in attending to the needs of the laity, and explored the period 1400-1600 as an age of spiritual - not just cultural and artistic - revitalisation.

The project was one of only two projects from the Humanities and Social Sciences to be awarded ERC ‘Synergy’ funding in 2013, and the only project to be led by an exclusively female team. The competition for ERC funding attracted more than 700 applications, only 1.5 per cent of which were retained for funding.

By bringing together the study of books, buildings, objects, spaces, images and archives, the project’s nine researchers showed how religion functioned behind the doors of the Renaissance home. Devotions, from routine prayers to extraordinary religious experiences such as miracles or exorcisms, frequently took place within the home and were specifically shaped to meet the everyday demands of domestic life.

The three principal investigators, Abigail Brundin (from the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages), Deborah Howard (Architecture and History of Art) and Mary Laven (History) offered a rare combination of expertise and experience across several disciplines.

The project moved beyond traditional research on the Renaissance in other ways. Firstly, its scope broke away from the ‘golden triangle’ of Venice, Florence and Rome in order to investigate practices of piety in three highly significant yet under-explored zones: Naples and its environs; the Marche in central Italy; and the Venetian mainland. Secondly, it rejected the standard focus on Renaissance elites in order to develop an understanding of domestic devotion across a wide social spectrum.

In addition to Deborah Howard, two of the team were based in the Department of History of Art:  Research Associate Dr Maya Corry, and doctoral student Zuzanna Sarnecka.  Dr Corry is now teaching at Oriel College Oxford, and Dr Sarnecka at the University of Warsaw

In the spring of 2017 the project mounted the exhibition Madonnas & Miracles, in collaboration with the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, visited by around 50,000 people.

The catalogue, Madonnas & Miracles: The Holy Home in Renaissance Italy, was edited by Maya Corry, Deborah Howard and Mary Laven (London, Philip Wilson publishers: 2017).

The final book of the project, The Sacred Home in Renaissance Italy, co-authored by Abigail Brundin, Deborah Howard and Mary Laven, will be published by Oxford University Press in August 2018


For more information visit Domestic Devotions website