The Fresco Decoration of the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino: Piety and Charity in Late-Fifteenth Century Florence

Hughes-Johnson, Samantha J.C. (2017) The Fresco Decoration of the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino: Piety and Charity in Late-Fifteenth Century Florence. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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Despite the emergence of various studies focusing on Florentine lay sodalities, the Procurators of the Shamed Poor of Florence, otherwise known as the Buonomini di San Martino, have received little attention from social historians and much less consideration from historians of art. Consequently, there are several distinct research gaps concerning the charitable operations of this lay confraternity and the painted decorations within its oratory that beg to be addressed. The greatest research breach pertains to the fresco decoration of the San Martino chapel as, despite the existence of various preiconographic descriptions of the murals, comprehensive iconographic and comparative analyses of these painted works have never before been carried out. Moreover, the dating of the entire cycle and the attribution of one of its lunette paintings is questionable. Accordingly, the present study addresses these deficiencies.

Central to the current research is an original, in-depth art historical analysis of the frescoed paintings. Involving the methodologies of iconographic and comparative analyses alongside connoisseurship, the present investigation has allowed the researcher to establish the following: the art historical significance of the oratory murals; the dating of the fresco cycle; the attribution of an executor for the Dream of Saint Martin fresco; the identification of portraits of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici within the Buonomini cycle; the disclosure of the shamed poor as non-patrician representatives of Florence. Furthermore, by placing data gained from the Buonomini’s archived primary sources and the oratory’s murals in juxtaposition with other contemporary Florentine literary and visual materials for the purpose of analysis, the researcher has been able to elucidate the term ‘lay piety’ and define a set of criteria which the shamed poor must meet in order to be termed so. This sustained use of artworks as documents, supported by other pertinent textual and visual sources has also allowed for further insight into the following spheres: religious doctrines supporting the acts of pilgrimage; the state of the Florentine pilgrim trade and the hospitality associated with this business during the quattrocento; the rituals surrounding the burial of poor people and early Medici patronage of the sodality. Additionally, the present research has more extensive implications: it contributes to material culture studies with regard to the lives of the less-than-wealthy and crucially gives a voice to the silent poor; it reveals that the complex messages contained within the sodality’s painted cycle provide more than just a set of instructions to confraternal members. Crucially their content has repercussions beyond the microcosm of confraternal life and their advice and intimations extend onwards into the macrocosm of the civic sphere.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: For a beautiful girl in yellow shoes. As a neophyte postgraduate researcher I was warned by the historian and broadcaster, Doctor David Starkey that working towards a PhD in art history was to temporarily pursue a very lonely existence. And yes, data collection, research and writing are often tasks for the author and the author alone. Countless hours, as long in the fabric of time as Jacob Marley’s chains were in the afterlife (or so it seems), have been spent in silence in archives, libraries, in my study, on planes, trains and alone at dinner during foreign research trips. Nevertheless, this thesis cannot be considered simply my magnum opus as, without the help of certain individuals and institutions, this study would not have been begun, let alone completed. The notion that grew to become a fully fledged multi-disciplinary study was not actually my own. It was proposed to me by two scholars who had taught me at undergraduate level and who went on to encourage me to pursue a postgraduate degree: the late Professor George Noszlopy and his wife, Doctor Susan May. Unfortunately George passed away during my second year of research and I still miss his judicious advice, encouragement and above all, the scrutiny of such a keen mind. I consider myself fortunate to have known George, however briefly, and luckier still that Susan May agreed to take on my supervision alongside Doctor Kenneth Quickenden. Sue embodies everything that one expects from a supervisor and more and if I could live a hundred lifetimes I could never repay the attention and advice that she has given me and the kindness that she has shown to me. Additionally Ken’s contribution to the process has 18 undoubtedly helped to bring out the best and most important aspects of the thesis as his attention to detail is second to none. Furthermore, his vast knowledge of various methodologies along with his experience as an examiner has proven priceless and I thank him whole-heartedly for his skill and consideration. I would also like to acknowledge the following individuals (past and present) from the research faculty of Arts, Design and Media as each has played a crucial part in allowing me to progress with my research topic: Professor Darren Newberry; Doctor Anne Boultwood; Yanyan Wang; Doctor Lorna Hards and Yvette Burn. I also owe profound gratitude to the library staff at the Birmingham City University for arranging countless inter-library loans for me. Furthermore, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Birmingham City University, Doctor Lawrence Green and the Funding Scrutiny Committee for having enough faith in my project to grant me money for conference attendance and research visits both at home and abroad. With regard to institutional funding from outside of my own university I must make mention of The Royal Historical Society and the Windle Charitable Trust who between them have generously funded this research project on several occasions. Outside of my own institution help was also forthcoming and I hope that the relationships that have begun to flourish continue to blossom and grow. I am beholden to Dr Ugo Silli, Procurator of the Shamed Poor in Florence, for his assistance in the Archivio dei Buonomini di San Martino. Dr Silli has given up countless hours of his time and travelled from Val d’Arno to downtown Florence each time that I wished to attend the archive and for this I shall be forever indebted to him. I also owe a great debt of obligation to the confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino as a whole for allowing me almost 19 limitless access to their precious documents and artworks. Additionally, I extend a lasting and deep gratitude to a gentleman who, although we have shared correspondence, I have yet to meet – the fine art photographer, Antonio Quattrone. It is only through his generous gift, which consisted of ten high resolution images of the Buonomini frescoes, that I am able to provide such wonderful illustrations of the confraternity’s murals. Thank you also to my friends at Café Dante Alighieri: Samantha; Nino; Danielle, the sacristans of the Buonomini oratory and the other residents of San Martino who made each research visit feel like I was returning home. Because I possessed, and still retain, a great enthusiasm for my research topic, I aspired from the very beginning to publish parts of my findings prior to completing the thesis and I was extremely fortunate to find an ally, advisor, editor and most importantly, friend, with an unparalleled knowledge of Early Modern confraternities. This individual is Professor Konrad Eisenbichler of Toronto University and it is through his gracious patronage that I have achieved so much as regards the dissemination of my work. Konrad is also responsible for introducing me to Ficino, the electronic seminar and bulletin board that encourages the circulation of information between its members worldwide. Consequently, I am indebted to a number of the Ficinisti who have taken the time to give advice and share their knowledge with me: Professor Phillip Gavitt; Professor Alexander Gourlay; Dr Heinrich C. Kuhn; Professor Giuliana di Biase; Professor Molly Bourne; Dr Elizabeth Tobey; Professor Michael Bury; Dr Stephen Clucas; Professor Linda Pellecchia and Professor Charles Rosenberg. I must mention especially Dr Elena Brizio, who has given up precious time and generously shared her exerpertise in order to aid my scholarly 20 pursuits. I would also like to express profound thanks to Professors Nerida Newbigin and Blake Wilson for trusting me with their unpublished research data. Gratitude also to Professor Leatrice Mendelsohn and Dr Carolyn Wilson who befriended me at my first RSA conference and remained in contact with me ever since. A little closer to home I must make mention of David Hemsoll from the University of Birmingham whose probing questions, following my first public lecture in the United Kingdom, encouraged the best results from my scholarship. Moving on from the individual to the institutional, I also wish to make mention of some of the libraries, museums and specialist centres for study that were essential to the completion of this piece of research. As regards Florence, I extend gratitude to the staff of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, the Kunsthistorisches Institüt, the Archivio di Stato, the Archivo Archivescovile, the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Museo del Opera del Duomo, the Museo Bigallo, the Museo Fugolino and the Museo Stibbert. Special thanks also to the curator of the tiny museum at the Torre della Castagne, San Martino for the time and effort devoted to me during a private visit there. Gratitude is also due to the owner and staff of the Residenze Contessina on the Via Faenza who made it possible for me to use their superb private library during my stay there. In London I proffer my thanks to the staff of The Warburg Institute libraries, the Witt Library at The Courtauld Institute, The National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the British Library. By far the greatest amount of support, however, has come from my family and friends and for this I owe a debt of gratitude as deep as an ocean and as high as a mountain. Jennifer Wright, Patricia Ogilvie, Jan Edwards, Iona Robertson, Emma Lewis, Kirsten and Rick Hermolle, Geoff Ward and Peter Colborn - thank you for your abiding friendship, support and endless tea and sympathy. To my long-suffering parents, George and Audrey Hughes - thank you for all that I am and all that you have done to make my notion of being a scholar become a reality. To my handsome son Joshua, thank you for making me proud and especially for the afternoon chats and keeping your Dad company when I was away or busy working. To my beautiful daughter and fellow doctoral researcher, Alexandra, how will I ever repay you for the regular afternoon tea service and your company on research trips to London? To my husband, Mark, well what can I say? Any assistance that I have required, be it emotional, financial or practical, you have provided it. On the many occasions that I have had to work away from home you have either accompanied me or ensured that I was free to pursue any trips and visits without let or hindrance. You have given me so much love, stability and freedom that this project, which should have been a task and a trial, was a pleasure to complete albeit a hard earned one. My love and deepest thanks to you my darling for making all of my dreams come true and helping to furnish me with a head full of memories, more vivid and entertaining than the very best photo album or home video. And finally, to my canine research partners: Rocky and Chloe, my imperious, faithful boxers who have now passed over the rainbow bridge, I miss you terribly; Poppy and Florence, my darling pugs, your beautiful little faces and wagging tails make each day in your company a pleasure and without your comforting snores I would never have set pen to paper.
22 February 2017Completed
Uncontrolled Keywords: Buonomini, San Martino, Poveri Vergognosi, Shamed Poor, Domenico Ghiradaio, Lorenzo Di Credi, Medici, Saint Antonius, Piety, Charity, Confratenity
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-04 - languages and area studies > CAH19-04-03 - Italian studies
CAH20 - historical, philosophical and religious studies > CAH20-01 - history and archaeology > CAH20-01-01 - history
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-02 - art
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2019 11:46
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:50

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