Dynamic Doorways: Overdoor Sculpture in Renaissance Genoa
Rislow, Madeline Ann
University of Kansas
History of Art
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Soprapporte--rectangular, overdoor lintels sculpted from marble or slate--were a prominent feature of both private residential and ecclesiastic portals in the Ligurian region in northwest Italy, and in particular its capital city Genoa, during the second half of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Sculpted site- or city-specific religious narratives occupy the centers of most soprapporte, and are typically framed with the coats of arms or the initials of their patrons. As this study demonstrates, soprapporte were not merely ornamental, for they acted as devotional objects and protective devices while connecting the citizens who commissioned them to the city, neighborhoods, and religious complexes whose portals they decorated. With a few exceptions, the literature on soprapporte is confined to scholarship produced by a limited circle of Ligurian scholars, and it is not part of the wider discourse of Italian Renaissance sculpture. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach to the relationship between these prominent and expensive objects and the history of ritual, patronage, and religious and domestic art in Genoa, this study represents the first comprehensive examination of these objects in English. In doing so, it also aims to reinstate Genoa into the dialogue of students and scholars of Renaissance politics, society, culture, religion, and art. The dissertation is composed of an introduction that examines traditions in ecclesiastic and domestic façade decorations and considers the sculptors, placement, developments, prevalence, preservation, and materials involved in creating soprapporte. This essential background information is followed by four chapters, which serve as case studies for the various functions, imagery, and dissemination of overdoor sculptures throughout Genoa and the rest of the Ligurian region. The over 350 examples of this sculptural type that I have encountered in my field research and consultation of secondary sources are included in an appendix. The result is a study that broadens the understanding of Ligurian, and especially Genoese, Renaissance art as well as provides a more coherent picture of the appearance and function of soprapporte and the ways in which they helped forge familial, communal, and devotional identities.
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