Monday, November 19, 2012

Vespucci Conference

On 22-24 November the University of Florence will host a conference on Amerigo Vespucci. Interesting papers, programme below

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin

This is a very special post dedicated to a writer who is first a friend: Alana White. I “met” Alana virtually, she was the very first person to get in touch with me as soon as I started blogging on the Vespucci family a couple of years ago. We soon became “email friends” (can’t really say pen friends in this virtual age….) and started exchanging knowledge on the Vespucci and Renaissance Florence. I found out Alana was a short-story American novelist and that she was writing her first book with two Vespucci family members as main characters. That sounded so fascinating and I was thrilled when, a few months later, she announced that her book was going to get published…!

Here we go, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is about to come out and I really c.a.n.n.o.t w.a.i.t to have it in my hands. What intrigues me most is the fact that, despite what one could imagine when thinking of the name “Vespucci”, her novel does not simply deal with Amerigo the explorer but also with his uncle Guido Antonio. Now, having studied the Vespucci for two years (can't believe two years are gone already!) I can assure you that nearly nobody knows who Guido Antonio is. Avid reader of Renaissance history, culture, and art books, Alana engaged with some serious research and I am curious to find out more about her work. If you want to know about Guido Antonio and follow him across the street of Florence with his nephew Amerigo do not miss out on this book. Oh yes, nearly forgot. They are investigating a fifteenth century crime,  Bring out the detective in you and get ready to solve this mystery…

Coming out in Winter 2012, it is possible to preorder a copy of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin through Amazon (hereIf in the meantime you want to know more about Alana and her novels visit her website:

If you have ever been to Florence or you are going to Florence, or you want to go to Florence, if you’ve ever whiled away an afternoon in company of Renaissance masters in an art museum - or if you just want a really good read filled with colour and intrigue a story peopled with characters who are at once exotic and humanly familiar in their universal lust, passions, fears, and ambitions, then this mystery, set in  Renaissance Italy, is for you. Through Alana White’s elegant prose and skillfully integrated research the 15th century City of Flowers come to life” - Brenda Rickman Vantrease author of “The Illuminator” and “The Heretic’s Wife” 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Events - more to come!

Yet another book on Amerigo Vespucci and the Florentine explorers. Tantalizing title ...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Events, Events, Events!

So far 2012 has indeed been very much Vespucci-oriented (for my joy!). Many initiatives have been organized throughout Italy and, judging from what’s still to come, the Vespucci season has not finished yet.

For those of you who happen to be in Florence at the beginning of October (I know, short notice I am afraid...) do not miss out on the event organized by the Comitato Amerigo Vespucci, scheduled for Wednesday 3 October. In the church of Ognissanti at 4.00 pm attendants will have the opportunity to see a life-size copy of the Waldsemuller Map, displayed next to the Vespucci chapel. The presentation of the volume I segreti delle antiche carte geografiche by Claudio Piani and Diego Baratono will follow at 5.30 pm in the Libreria de’ Servi. The book will reveal the authors’ ideas on the Waldsemuller map and its relation with the frescoed lunette of the Vespucci chapel. Piani-Baratono already developed the hypothesis that the Waldsemuller Map might be derived from the cloak of the Virgin represented in the chapel’s lunette. According to the authors, in fact, the map has the same shape of the Virgin’s mantle. This theory is now further investigated in I segreti delle antiche carte geografiche where the authors sustain that the name America did not come from Amerigo but from Maria which would establish a link with the devotion the family showed towards the Virgin Mary in the fifteenth and sixteenth century (first contribution on the subject available online:

                                                  (Image from:

For those of you who cannot make it to Florence there is still the chance to know more about Amerigo the explorer at the Italian Cultural Institute of Edinburgh on Thursday 15 November, 6.00 pm. Margherita Calderoni, an Italian journalist, historian and lecturer will take us through the life and travels of Amerigo Vespucci bringing the attention on Florence’s network dynamics that sealed the friendship between Amerigo, Leonardo da Vinci, Paolo Toscanelli and Lorenzo il Magnifico. Dealing with fifteenth century geographical discoveries, humanistic culture, and love-related gossips, the talk seems to have the right mix of ingredients to attract the curiosity of many. For more information on the event visit the Italian Cultural Institute website:


Monday, September 17, 2012

Conference: New Directions in Renaissance Italy

I'll get the chance to publicize here on my blog an exciting upcoming event at The University of Edinburgh. I have been busy organizing this for the past six months with two other fabulous PhD students, Natalie Lussey and Jackie Spicer.

We are proud to announce that on 2 November the University of Edinburgh will host the interdisciplinary conference 'New Directions in Renaissance Italy'. Gathering postgraduate students and early career researchers from a wide range of disciplines, the event provides a forum to explore and discuss emerging areas of enquiry related to the Italian Renaissance. Please follow the link for information about programme, papers and registration 

Hope to see you all there!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Music and love: 2012 just like the Renaissance?

While investigating Renaissance marriages and wedding pieces, I came across studies on the connection between music, love and the erotic. This intersection, which can take various forms, has been widely explored by art historians and musicologists. Analyses have mainly taken into consideration the XVI rather than the XV century: while in the Quattrocento very few households had musical instruments listed among their possessions, by the mid sixteenth century the material presence of music in the home increased (Dennis 2010). Instruments were adorned with elaborate carved or inlaid decoration and kept in painted cases. Usual motifs involved naked bodies or mythological scenes with clear love-related references (Figure 1).  Explorations on secular vocal music has also revealed that explicit allusions to sexual practises where concealed in sung texts especially in genres such as the frottola or madrigal (Macy 1996).

In some works of the XV and XVI century, texts play on the syllables of the music scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. By pulling these sounds together authors created erotic subtexts, embedded in the musical setting: “I should like you to sing a song/while you’re playing the viol for me/and that you would say fa ma la mi so la”. The text “hides” the sentence “fammel’a mi sola” which means “do it only to me” (Dennis 2010). Also Aretino, in his Ragionamenti, linked the musical scale to the erotic. Describing the culmination of an orgy he said “[..] listening to them you would have thought they were running the scales sol fa me re do” (Dennis 2010; Prizer 1991).

I happened to be in lovely Ferrara a couple of weeks ago.  While browsing through the open market in the main square (restaurant reservation at 1 pm, had a few minutes to kill!) I stopped in front a stall that sold T-shirts. They all featured quirky prints and some had this sentence written on the front: “Mi piacciono le ragazze che cantano si la do” (Figure 2). A literal translation would sound something like “I like girls that sing yes I give it”. I laughed. Now … The musical puns used by Aretino and others in the XVI century are still used today. Have things changed much between then and now??

PS. If you are in Edinburgh area don’t miss out the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments. The Renaissance pieces of the museum can be browsed online (some Italian examples too!)


Dennis, Flora. 2010. “Unlocking the gates of chastity. Music and the erotic in the domestic sphere in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy”, Erotic Cultures of Renaissance Italy (Ashgate)

Macy, Laura. 1996. “Speaking of sex: metaphor and performance in the Italian madrigal”, The Journal of Musicology, 14: 1-34

Prizer, William. 1991. “Games of Venus: secular vocal music in the late Quattrocento and early Cinquecento”, The Journal of Musicology, 9: 3-56.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weddings, aphrodisiacs and…..onions!

Piero di Cosimo’s Discovery of Honey has long been considered a marriage piece commissioned for the wedding of Giovanni Vespucci and Namiciana di Benedetto Nerli (c.1500). The presence of bees (wasps?) swirling around the hive on top of the tree was interpreted as a punning reference to the Vespucci family whose name has the same root of the modern Italian word vespa (wasp). Set in a rural landscape, the scene is populated by satyrs and fauns engaging in different activities. In the foreground Pan stares straight at the beholder holding up three onions. According to some, onions have all the rights to appear in a wedding painting due to their well-recognised aphrodisiac qualities (Geronimous 2006). Personally not aware of the onion-love association, I tried to investigate this curious aspect further.

Piero di Cosimo, The Discovery of Honey (Worcester Art Museum)


Research has proven that onions - as well as garlic - were viewed as aphrodisiacs worldwide, from far China to the Mediterranean. Greeks identified onions as an erotic stimulant more than other aphrodisiac (Koerper and Kolls 1999) while in Rome it was often included in culinary recipe books. The writer Martial suggested to eat plenty of onions if “your wife is old and your member is exhausted” (for citations and other examples check the Wellness Blog). Love-related features seem to be embodied also in the round, golden object hold by Venus, goddess of love, in Bronzino’s Allegory (c.1545). Appearing like an apple, a closer looks reveal it might well be an onion. The artist’s interest in linking these two elements seems to be confirmed by the poem La Cipolla del Bronzino Pittore (On Bronzino’s Onion) where the effects of onions are compared to those of love (Cohen 2008).

Bronzino, Allegory (London, National Gallery)

As the aphrodisiac properties of onions were celebrated since ancient times, it comes with no surprise that Renaissance Florence - where classical culture was widely assimilated and reinterpreted - adopted the same attitude. Piero di Cosimo’s panel therefore present several elements that justify its nature as a wedding piece: onions; honey (again associated with sweetness and love); and the presence of Pan/the satyrs, symbols of physical love. Furthermore the tree trunk in the middle of the panel has been recently seen as the grotesque of a woman in labour (idea advanced in the article The Discovery of Honey byBacchus revisited). Arguable point.  

Now…onion soup anyone?