Systems of charity in Turin (1541-1789)
The thesis represents the first thorough study of forms of charity and medical and poor relief in an Italian city in the post-Renaissance period. It complements the studies of other Italian cities carried out for an earlier period and contributes to comparison between European patterns of charity. The study reverses the usual demand-centred approach, which sees transformations in charitable provision mainly as a response to changing demographic and economic conditions, by focusing instead on the role played by changes in the nature of "supply", i.e. in the social composition of governors and benefactors and in the indirect and symbolic meanings which charity embodied for its dispensers. The main argument of this study is that the nature of control over charity had a significant impact on the form initiatives towards the poor took: dynamics of conflict, prestige and patronage among the elites contributed to forge charitable attitudes and definitions of poverty to a much larger extent than it has been recognised. Wills and other biographical material, figurative representations of charity and analysis of the architectural form of institutions have been used, besides the more obvious sources, to trace shifts in the symbolic implications of charity. This study also contributes to a reassessment of the periodisation and the features usually regarded as typical of the 'Italian model' of charity and poor relief. It argues, in particular, that the importance of institutional forms of care and assistance has been exaggerated and the role played by outdoor relief for the poor and sick underestimated. Moreover, it emphasises the crucial function of the municipal government as agency of relief well into the early modern period.