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An Urban Humanities Initiative

Technologies of Segregation in Italian Renaissance Cities

Saundra Weddle and Daniel Bornstein

This project focuses on the cities of Cortona and Venice, whose differences of geography, history, and scale offer revealing test cases for how the natural and built environment reflected and shaped social differentiation in pre-modern Italian cities.

For Venice, we will demonstrate how legal and administrative systems of social segregation responded to perceived threats to the desired equilibrium and found expression in architectural and urban forms.  Institutional examples include the Jewish ghetto; dedicated living and storage spaces for foreign merchants; the public brothel; hospices for laywomen; and hospitals. These will inform a particular focus on the forced confinement of upper-class women in convents. This study focuses attention on specific technologies of segregation:  patterns of convent foundation and development, conventions of building form and function, patronage networks, and the influence exerted by civic and religious authorities, setting convent architecture and its associated urban morphologies in relation to other segregating institutions.

For Cortona, our project will rely on the city’s rich series of fourteenth-century land tax records, or Catasto, and will develop its own digital platforms. This study will allow for analysis of the distribution of wealth, residential and occupational patterns, and economic sorting in Cortona before the great plague of 1348, providing a baseline for measuring the impact of that demographic disaster on socio-economic relations.

Both case studies will rely on pre-modern urban representations, including Jacopo de’ Barbari’s  view of Venice (ca. 1500) and Pietro da Cortona’s 1634 view of Cortona, to map qualitative and quantitative data and to support analysis of architectural and spatial expressions of socio-economic differentiation and segregation.

Past event, Spring Symposium: Technologies of Segregation in Early Modern Italian Cities, April 16, 2018.

Past event, Visualizing Renaissance Histories: A Symposium on Digital Narratives, Nov 10, 2017.

Saundra Weddle, Visiting Professor, Sam Fox School of Visual Arts & Design, Washington University in Saint Louis; Professor, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University
Daniel Bornstein, Professor of History and Religious Studies and Stella K. Darrow Professor of Catholic Studies, Washington University in Saint Louis