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Title: Material prayers : the use of text in early modern Italian domestic devotions
Author: Tycz, Katherine Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 1988
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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While scholarship often focuses on how early modern Italians used images in their devotions, particularly in the post-Tridentine era, little attention has been placed upon how laypeople engaged with devotional text during times of prayer and in their everyday lives. Studies of early modern devotional texts have explored their literary content, investigated their censorship by the Church, or concentrated upon an elite readership. This thesis, instead, investigates how ordinary devotees interacted with holy words in their material form, which I have termed ‘material prayers’. Since this thesis developed under the aegis of the interdisciplinary research project, Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, it focuses primarily on engagement with these material prayers in domestic spaces. Using an interdisciplinary approach drawing from material culture studies, literary history, social and cultural history, and art history, it brings together objects, images and archival sources to illuminate how devotees from across the socio-economic and literacy spectrums accessed and employed devotional text in their prayers and daily life. From holy words, Biblical excerpts, and prayers to textual symbols like the Sacred Monogram of the Name of Jesus, this thesis explores how and why these material prayers were employed for spiritual, apotropaic and intercessory purposes. It analyses material prayers not only in traditional textual formats (printed books and manuscripts), but also those that were printed on single-sheets of paper, inscribed on jewellery, or etched into the structure of the home. To convey how devotees engaged with and relied upon these material prayers, it considers a variety of inscribed objects, including those sanctioned by the Church as well as those which might be questioned or deemed ‘superstitious’ by ecclesiastical authorities. Sermons, Inquisition trial records, and other archival documents have been consulted to further illuminate the material evidence. The first part of the thesis, ‘On the Body’, considers the how devotees came into personal contact with texts by wearing prayers on their bodies. It examines a range of objects including prayers with protective properties, known as brevi, that were meant to be sealed in a pouch and worn around the neck, and more luxurious items of physical adornment inscribed with devotional and apotropaic text, such as necklaces and rings. The second part of the thesis enters the home to explore how the spaces people inhabited and the objects that populated their homes were decorated with material prayers. ‘In the Home’ begins with texts inscribed over the entryways of early modern Italian homes, and then considers how devotees decorated their walls with holy words and how the objects of devotion and household life were imbued with religious significance through the addition of pious inscriptions. By analysing these personal objects and the textual domestic sphere, this thesis argues that these material prayers cut across socio-economic classes, genders, and ages to embody quotidian moments of domestic devotion as well as moments of fear, anxiety and change.
Supervisor: Brundin, Abigail Sponsor: European Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: material culture ; material text ; early modern Italy ; domestic devotion ; history of devotion ; Italian Renaissance ; Renaissance Italy ; history of domestic life ; Italian Renaissance literature and culture ; social history ; cultural history ; sixteenth century ; fifteenth century ; piety ; practices of prayer ; objects of devotion ; devotional practices ; Italian Renaissance Home ; European Renaissance ; everyday life ; printed prayers ; early modern art ; prayer books ; jewellery ; architecture ; amulets ; material prayers ; paintings ; printed images ; holy words ; Sacred Monogram ; manuscripts ; inscribed objects ; inscriptions ; Roman Inquisition ; Venice ; the Marche ; Veneto ; Naples ; Tuscany ; Emilia-Romagna ; life and death ; illness ; protection