Florence offers a lively English-language intellectual community thanks to the presence of many American and other foreign universities, as well as libraries and research centers. Many of these offer lectures open to the public. I’ve gathered as much as possible for the academic lectures in Florence from January to June 2017.

The garden at Villa i Tatti, Harvard's center for Renaissance Studies | Photo: fiesole.it
The garden at Villa i Tatti, Harvard’s center for Renaissance Studies | Photo: fiesole.it

At the British Institute Library on the Lungarno, there are regular talks by scholars, museum directors and public personalities either residing in or passing through Florence. Of those listed here, the talks at the British are the most accessible for the general public. Membership of the British Institute Library is requested.  Lectures are all at 6pm. For the full schedule of their events see here.

Let’s look at some of the highlights in Spring 2017. US Consul-General in Florence, Abigail Rupp, looks at a slice of American musical history in her February 1 talk “Rock and roll diplomacy: how American music influenced the Rolling Stones, and how the Stones changed America”. On February 8th, Renaissance fans will enjoy the talk by Professor Chriscinda Henry (who was my fellow student at the University of Chicago in what seems like a century ago!) entitledPlayful pictures: art and carnival culture under Lorenzo de’ Medici.” If you’ve ever read her classic book on Florence, you’ll want to hear Eve Borsook talk about artisans in the Tuscan capital on March 15th. And another interesting lecture will be that given by Uffizi director Eike Schmidt on April 12, “The English and the Uffizi: three centuries of cultural exchange”.

Slightly further out of town lies one of the most peaceful places on earth to study (well, probably there’s a monastery in remote Japan that even more closely fits that description). The I Tatti Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies features one of the best-stocked libraries for this field in the world. It was my safe haven when I was studying for my doctoral dissertation. While they have some very small talks mostly for within the community, the Berenson lecture series are open to the public (and free). This year the speaker for the three lectures is Victor Stoichita, who will give three talks on the theme “Body Politics in the Italian and Spanish Renaissance”, in Italian (nota bene!), all at 6pm at the center up at Ponte a Mensola (bus 10 towards Settignano).

The series starts on January 26 with “Giotto: The Eye and the Gaze—an exploration of the power of the gaze motif and its roots in the Arena Chapel in Padua”. He continues on Feb 16 with “Faces and Shields” focusing on Renaissance portraits as settings of optical conflicts: if the portrait exhibits the person, how can it be protected? The final talk, “Second Skin” will look at armor during the High Renaissance as a double of the body, a kind of super-body, a simulacrum that is inhabited. For info see here.

The German art history institute in Florence, Kunsthistorisches Institut Firenze, holds occasional specialized conferences that usually last multiple days and are often in three languages (without simultaneous translations). Of those that look like they might interest readers of this blog, there is an exploration of the network of art exchange by the religious order of Cassinese monks in the 15th and 16th centuries: “The Network of Cassinese Arts in Mediterranean Renaissance Italy,” from March 16 to 18, 2017, held in the Sala Poccetti of the Innocenti Institute (piazza Ss.ma Annuziata). Here is an excerpt of the conference description from their website:

The Benedictine Cassinese Congregation of Italy was a religious order of humanistically trained monks whose mobility among the network of Cassinese monasteries was paramount to their spiritual reformed agenda. The Cassinese fruitfully engaged with the most eminent artists and architects of the early modern period, supporting the production of imagery and architecture that was often highly experimental in nature. The mobility and flow of artists, materials, and motifs tied together the reformed religious communities affiliated with the Cassinese Congregation and simultaneously connected an antique with a modern Christian artistic corpus. This system resulted in a virtual continuum linking works of architecture, sculpture, and painting, including the Byzantine church of San Vitale in Ravenna, the Norman cloister of Monreale (Palermo), and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in Piacenza.

New York University’s Villa La Pietra up on via Bolognese is perhaps the most active in organizing a calendar of events for both their students and the public, and they’ve already published the schedule from January to May 2017! This is organized in lecture series, as always, and it’s one of the only places you’ll find high-level discussion on very current political issues in this city. The one important thing to remember is that all these talks require RSVP to lapietra.dialogues@nyu.edu.

The first event series is one that particularly interests me, since I used to teach a seminar about Renaissance Women, and I’m a proud member of the Florence Council of Advisors of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation… the series is called “Picturing Women: Constructions of Gender in the Acton Collection and Contemporary Society.”

Here are some highlights from this part of the programme:

  • Silvia Giorgi and Marilena Caciorgna, “Iconography of Violence: Reading the Rotunda Frescos,” February 7, 6:00 pm, Villa La Pietra
  • Gail Segal, New York University, Tisch School of the Arts: “The Camera Eye: Filming Women – Presentation with Movie Clips and Film Screenings,” March 1, 2, 3, 6:00 pm, Villa La Pietra
  • Debora Spini, NYU Florence, “Women and Violence: Contemporary Reverberations,” March 8, 6:00 pm, Villa Sassetti
  • Izzedin Elzir, Imam of Florence, “The Burkini Controversy: Reresentations of Muslim Women in Europe Today,” date TBC
  • Conference on Vittoria Colonna, April 20 and 21, Villa Sassetti

One might add to this programme two (not affiliated) lectures held at Syracuse University in Florence (piazza Savonarola, suflorence.syr.edu): The annual LGBT lecture on March 29 (6:20pm): Maria Arena will be speaking about her film, which will be screened, “Gesu è morto per i peccati degli altri); and on April 3 at 6:20pm, Alessandra Capodacqua speaks about “The Feminine Gaze: self-portrait as the third dimension.”

Following this first NYU series is an equally interesting one called “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” of which a few highlights are:

  • Kate Lowe, Queen Mary University of London, “Mixed Ancestry Babies at the Innocenti: Renaissance Florence Meets Sub-Saharan Africa,” February 28, 6:00 pm, Museo degli Innocenti
  • Jack Halberstam, New York University, : “Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Guide to Gender Variance”, March 15, 6:00 pm, Villa Sassetti

Additional series look at  “Advocacy, Activism and Political Change”, the “EU in focus”, “Contemporary Jewish Studies”, “Failure Humility and Resilience”, and then there are a few events related to the fascinating NYU project of Mapping Contemporary Florence (for students only in this case, sadly!). Find the whole calendar and final dates at lapietradialogues.org.

ADDITION: I’ve been informed of a 5-city symposium organized by the Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre for Art and Spirituality to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The idea under discussion is: The Arts and Ecumenism — What Theology Risks in Artistic Creation. The Florence portion of the event is May 25-27, 2017. See info.

If you know of any other lectures in town this Spring, feel free to add them in the comments so readers can discover them!

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