CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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Empowering Art. Artistic Education at Italian Courts in the Early Modern Period

Session 20 Professional Education and Aesthetic Education


In an engraving dated 1656, the future Cosimo III de’ Medici is portrayed drawing from life the imposing Medici vase under the supervision of Stefano della Bella. As this image suggests, during the seventeenth century Medici princes were trained in drawing by well-established artists. A basic training in drawing and painting was common among Italian aristocrats during the early modern period, as archival documents and contemporary historical accounts demonstrate. The recurring presence of canvases, paper, colours, and even chisels in the inventories of goods belonging to members of Italian ruling families, both male and female, confirms this practice. However, we still know very little about this important aspect of court education. On what theoretical grounds was manual training in an artistic activity considered to be beneficial for future rulers and for their perspective wives? Who was in charge of teaching them and what qualities did a good teacher need to possess? This paper aims at investigating to what extent members of Italian ruling families were competent as art practitioners and to what extent artistic connoisseurship was considered a sign of distinction.


Barbara Furlotti completed her PhD at Queen Mary University of London in 2009.Her dissertation has been turned into a monography, A Renaissance Baron and his Possessions. Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, 1541-1585, published by Brepols in 2012. In 2009-2010, she was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, where she was involved in the research project ‘The Display of Art in Roman Palaces, 1550-1750’, exploring in particular the subject of mobility of artistic and luxury works at aristocratic courts. In 2012-2015, she was a Marie Curie Fellow of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung at the Warburg Institute, where she worked on her new book on the market for antiquities in sixteenth-century Rome and the mobility of ancient marbles, forthcoming by The Getty Research Institute Publications in 2017. She has published extensively on topics related to the history of collecting, the art market, social practices, and material culture in Italy during the early modern period.