In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art in Italy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Series
  • Historiography
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Image Databases
  • Journals
  • Spolia
  • Artist Signatures

Medieval Studies Art in Italy
Sigrid Danielson, Evan Gatti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0120


Defining the category of medieval Italy is a challenging prospect, and establishing whether there was a consistent or even an evolving art exclusive to medieval Italy remains a contentious question. There is greater consensus that the geography of modern Italy comprises regions that enjoyed shifting moments of significance during the medieval era, and that this significance was celebrated and fostered by artistic expression. For the purposes of this essay, medieval Italy initiates at the end of the Late Antique period in the early 6th century, and concludes with the Early Renaissance at the start of the 15th century. When possible, publications completed after 1985 have been stressed, with an eye toward works that address earlier scholarship. This ensures the inclusion of recent work but also provides access to a varied bibliography. The entry is divided chronologically into early, central, and later periods. These chronological divisions represent the separate character of scholarship on the various movements within medieval Italian art, many of which take place in parallel with discussions of European historical and stylistic subcategories such as Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, and, to some extent, Gothic. These general subperiods are further divided by media: architecture, mosaics, wall and panel painting, and sculpture and the luxury arts, including manuscripts and metalwork. Studies emphasizing the local contexts for arts production, such as the emergence of the commune and civic identity, are balanced with those related to pan-European concerns such as the Gregorian Reform, pilgrimage, and the mendicant traditions. The regionalist bent of scholarship within these chronological subperiods recognizes the shifting and often coexisting regional centers in which power and creative production went hand in hand. Even among these geographical regions, there were shifting influences that defined artistic production. For example, as a city of emperors and popes—who were both allies and enemies—Rome incorporated diverse spheres of influence. Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and Venice are frequently characterized as looking outward as local traditions were integrated with influences from the Angevin, Byzantine, or the Islamic Mediterranean. What emerges is not a neat, linear narrative from the early medieval period to the Renaissance. Instead, this essay encourages recognition of the diverse cultures of the Italian peninsula and the unique ways in which they imagined and interpreted their pasts, Italian and otherwise, within the complexity of their present.

General Overviews

Works in this section range from encyclopedic studies of Italian art to general overviews limited by medium or geographical regions, to a study of medieval iconography that includes examples of Italian art within a broader European context. The two encyclopedic studies are similar in their organization, combining discussions of medieval Italian art with the methodological approaches used to contextualize them. Bollati and Fossati 1983 includes a single volume on the study of medieval art as part of the comprehensive Storia dell’arte italiana, as well as an introductory volume dedicated to methodological problems; the most notable for medieval art are the essays associated with the problems of periodization. Castelnuovo and Sergi 2002 is a multivolume study dedicated to medieval Italian art, organized thematically. Poeshke 2010 and Andaloro and Romano 2006–2012 provide general overviews with a medium-specific focus. Regional studies include Krautheimer 2000, on the arts and architecture of Rome, and Quintavalle 2004, on the arts of medieval Lombardy. Frugoni 2010 offers a comprehensive study of medieval iconography in a European context.

  • Andaloro, Maria, and Serena Romano, eds. La pittura medievale a Roma, 312–1431: Corpus e Atlante. Milan: Jaca, 2006–2012.

    Multivolume study of medieval painting in Rome from Constantine to Pope Martin V. Of the Corpus, six volumes planned, Volumes 1, 4, and 5 completed. Divided chronologically and organized by program. Of the Atlante, three volumes planned, Volume 1 completed. Organized topographically with maps and reconstructions.

  • Bollati, Giulio, and Paolo Fossati, eds. Dal Medioevo al Quattrocento. Storia dell’arte italiana, Parte seconda: Dal Medioevo al Novecento. V. Turin, Italy: G. Einaudi, 1983.

    Published in the Grandi Opere series, divided into three parts; Part 1: Materiali e problemi, Part II: Dal Medioevo al Novecento, and Part III: Situazioni momento indagini. Part II volume 1 offers encyclopedic overviews of Italian art the Middle Ages through the Quattrocento. Organized into thematic essays authored by noted specialists in the field.

  • Castelnuovo, Enrico, and Giuseppe Sergi, eds. Arti e storia nel Medioevo. Turin, Italy: G. Einaudi, 2002.

    Published in the Grandi Opere series. Organized thematically, including essays by specialist authors. Volumes 1–3 dedicated to themes: time, space, and institutions; architectural techniques, artists, workshops, and patronage; and “seeing,” emphasizing audience, form, and functions. Volume 4 is on historiographical designations of the Middle Ages, past and present.

  • Frugoni, Chiara. La voce delle immagini: Pillole iconografiche dal Medioevo. Turin, Italy: G. Einaudi, 2010.

    Written for a general audience. Discusses iconographic elements commonly found in medieval art. Not focused exclusively on Italian art, but Italian works included as examples. Organized by motif, rather than chronology or geography. Heavily illustrated with many color plates.

  • Krautheimer, Richard. Rome Profile of a City: 3121308. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

    First published in 1980. A comprehensive and accessible introduction to the architecture and monumental arts of Rome. Emphasis on points of continuity and revival, especially with the antique and Byzantine traditions. Periods of transition and revival include imperial church foundations, the Carolingian renovatio, and programs for reform era mosaics.

  • Poeshke, Joachim. Italian Mosaics: 300–1300. Translated from the German by Russell Stockman. New York: Abbeyville, 2010.

    Valuable resource for color images and details of medieval mosaics in Italy. Text emphasizes description, but the volume provides some background for the history of various works and aspects of reconstruction and conservation.

  • Quintavalle, Arturo Carlo, ed. Medioevo: Arte Lombarda; Atti del convengono internazionale di studi Parma, Italy, 26–29 Settembre 2001. Milan: Electa, 2004.

    Focused on Lombardy specifically, but within this regional focus presents some general overview. Essays present a broad spectrum of media, including sculpture and architecture, beginning with the 10th century. Essays are short, but they situate the arts of Lombardy within broader international and regional contexts. Includes critiques of the historiography for Lombard art.

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