The Baptismal Font: Art and Ritual in Italy - The Courtauld Institute of Art

The Baptismal Font: Art and Ritual in Italy

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Medieval and Renaissance, Research Forum

The Baptismal Font: Art and Ritual in Italy

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London

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  • Professor Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby - Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Organised by

  • Dr Scott Nethersole - The Courtauld Institute of Art
Open to all, free admission

Seats are allocated on a first come first served basis.

The baptismal font held a significant place in Italian churches as a site symbolic of local pride. One of the oldest forms of church accoutrements, the baptismal font has occupied a prominent position in basilicas, cathedrals and churches since early Christian times. Its importance as an item in churches and baptisteries grew following the evolution of ritual and liturgy, and developments in the arts led to a new complexity in this traditional genre. The fonts discussed in this project are to be found in the various towns of Tuscany – Florence, Prato, Lucca, Siena, Montepulciano, Pistoia, Cortona, Volterra, San Gimigiano, Arezzo and Pisa. Some fonts were designed by such renowned artists as Donatello, Ghiberti and Jacopo della Quercia, while others, for the most part simpler in appearance, are the work of less-renowned artists. I propose an interdisciplinary approach to the topic combining historical analysis, sermon studies, liturgical studies and art history. The main contributions of an interdisciplinary study of the baptismal font in Renaissance Italy will be: to examine its symbolism and its chronological development, and to explore the interrelationship between works of art and theology, by analyzing the manner in which the nature and content of religious discourse shaped the Renaissance baptismal font.

Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby is Professor in the Arts Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. Her main field of research is art and preaching in early modern Italy. She is the author of Renaissance Florence in the Rhetoric of Two Popular Preachers: Giovanni Dominici (1356–1419) and Bernardino da Siena (1380–1444) (Brepols, 2001); The Renaissance Pulpit: Art and Preaching in Italy 1400–1550 (Brepols, 2007); The Cult of St. Clare of Assisi in Early Modern Italy (Ashgate, 2014);  Predicatori, artisti e santi nella Toscana del Rinascimento (EDIFIR, 2015); Crusade Propaganda in Word and Image  in Early Modern Italy: Niccolò Guidalotto’s Panorama of Constantinople (1662) (Toronto, 2016).

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