Lorenzo Gatta

PhD candidate; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: The carving of souls: Jesuit confessionals in the seventeenth-century Southern Netherlands.

Supervisors: Joanna Woodall and Christoph Frank (Academy of Architecture, Mendrisio, CH)

Advisor: Katie Scott

Funded by Swiss National Science Foundation (Doc.CH in the Humanities and Social Sciences)


My thesis focuses on the confessionals commissioned by the Jesuits in the seventeenth-century southern Netherlands. Moving beyond issues of style, iconography and taste, it assumes an anthropological perspective to examine the relationships between art and ritual. On the basis of historical evidence, it challenges the conventional understanding of confessionals as private spaces, showing that they were originally conceived as structures of an eminently public character, meant to suppress, rather than protect, the privacy of the ritual. In addition, the thesis contends that the construction of these objects was more akin to a stage set meant to be replaced over time, than to permanent sculptures intended to last for eternity.


This thesis is divided into three parts, each following a specific methodological perspective:

“The Design of Confession” shows how the confessionals were introduced to discipline the physical execution of the ritual and provide a public setting for its performance. The earliest examples were built as open frames in which groups of penitents would take the sacrament in close proximity to each other and in plain sight. The ultimate aim of their design, then, was neither privacy nor seclusion, but the public exposure of the ritual.

“The Space of Confession” illustrates how the arrangement of the confessionals along the entire length of the side aisles was an expression of the public, collective, and even gregarious character of confession. Designed to accommodate more than forty people at the same time, these imposing wooden structures were integrated into the side walls to produce a condition of “perpetual equality,” and hence to erase any distinction of status within the community. Their spatial arrangement was thus aimed not to the cultivation of the individual self, but to its ultimate negation.

“The Materiality of Confession” examines the replacement process undergone by different groups of confessionals. The evidence of their material degradation, wrought by repeated use and natural processes such as woodworm infestation, reveals that these objects would be dismantled and rebuilt over time, even if retaining the same design and spatial configuration. Unlike traditional artworks created to leave enduring traces to posterity, the confessionals belonged to an art of the provisional, whose ambition was not to last but to survive.

Teaching Experience

Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio:

Teaching Assistant, Workshop: Berlin, Reuse, Restoration (MSc), 2023
Associate Lecturer, Architecture on Display: The John Soane Museum (MSc), 2023

Associate Lecturer, Enlightenment (MSc), 2022

Associate Lecturer, Methodologies of Art History (MSc), 2022


The Courtauld Institute:

Teaching Assistant, Frameworks for Interpretation (BA), 2020–22

Guest Speaker, Bodies of Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands (MA), 2021–22
Teaching Assistant, Art History Summer University, 2021–21


PhD, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2019-Present

MA History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2018-2019 – Special option: “Bodies of Knowledge in the Early Modern Netherlands, 1540–1660” – Thesis: “Mimesis as a source of knowledge in seventeenth-century Dutch missionary accounts of South India.”

MSc Architecture, Accademia di Mendrisio (CH), 2016-2018

International Exchange, Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Faculty of Architecture, Stockholm (SE), 2015-2016

Bsc Architecture, Accademia di Mendrisio (CH), 2013-2015.

Research interests

Early Modern art and material culture

Anthropology of art


Doc.CH in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Swiss National Science Foundation, Bern (CH), 2019-2023

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Scholarship, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London (UK), 2018-2019

Swiss-European Mobility Programme Scholarship, USI, Lugano (CH), 2015-2016

Other professional activities

Associate editor, Immediations