The Topography of Commemoration

in Renaissance Florence, 1250-1550

An examination of how societies cared for the dead offers key insights into the beliefs of the living, The Topography of Commemoration in Renaissance Florence documents all tombs installed in the city between the mid-thirteenth and early seventeenth centuries, analyzing information contained in manuscript tomb registers (sepoltuari) kept in various Florentine archives. In medieval and Renaissance Florence, families commonly established multiple commemorative burial sites. Florentines were keenly aware of the symbolic power of place in their city, and burial location was among their most important life decisions. Florentine tombs manifest a conflicting mix of piety and social calculation that reflects tension between Christian humility and social recognition.

This project seeks to answer the questions: How did Florentines decide on their final resting places? What led them to their choices about tomb placement, form, and decoration? Though many Florentines found their final rest together with siblings, spouses, and children in an ancestral parish tomb, and many more in common parochial graves, numerous individuals chose to build separate monuments in one of the city's friaries, monasteries, convents, or the cathedral, often far removed from kinfolk and to the great dismay of local parishes that relied on burying their dead as a steady source of income.

The Topography of Commemoration reconstructs the mosaic of tomb markers that once covered the floors, walls, and yards of the Florentine cityscape and surrounded its citizens with ubiquitous reminders of the city's past, present, and future. By correlating large numbers of memorials, rather than focusing on a single institution or type of monument, this project will create a topography of tombs that brings us closer to how Renaissance Florentines experienced death and commemoration.

Support for this project has been provided by the American Philosophical Society, ARTstor, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, and the Renaissance Society of America.