Fabulous Donations: England and Italy, 1350–1550

AHA Session 230
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Fairfield Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Rudolph M. Bell, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
For the Greater Glory of My Soul and Memory
Barbara Harris, University of North Carolina
The Donation of Marco Carelli
Martina Saltamacchia, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Pious Legacies of Professors and their Families in Trecento Bologna
Shona Kelly Wray, University of Missouri at Kansas City
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session directly addresses a key theme for the AHA Convention’s 2011 meeting: intersections between the secular and the sacred. It does so with three papers focused intensely on the moment of death, when the secular necessarily ends and individuals who have made final arrangements for their absolute transition to the sacred share with historians a glimpse, or in some cases quite a detailed account, of how they have attempted to negotiate, shape, and even retain control over their destinies, in both their post-mortem secular world and their sacred place in the hereafter. All three papers deal with people of considerable wealth and power whose decisions about how to use their secular patrimony for sacred ends constituted exempla, quite consciously crafted by benefactors and beneficiaries alike, we believe, for how their compatriots of lesser means should face human mortality and eternal life.

The papers represent different geographic and temporal locales, with the two from fourteenth century urban Italy juxtaposed against Harris’ treatment of aristocratic women from the English countryside a century and more later. The relationship between gender and purpose looms large, as we seek to explain continuities between Milan’s Marco Carelli, a very rich old man who died alone and virtually without kin; Bologna’s distinguished law professors, Giovanni di Folco Paci and Jacopo di Jacopo Bottrigari, better known for their ancestors than their progeny; and the women of Yorkist and Tudor England, largely heiresses and childless widows whose donations enabled them to create independent identities and embody those identities in religious and charitable foundations that they expected to last forever.

The three presenters come from a wide spectrum of the professional ranks among AHA members but in common they share a passionate commitment to deep research in primary sources. The session promises a robust, visually rich insight into the archival materials newly discovered and explored by these three scholars, as well as the material artifacts associated with these fabulous donations. Harris uses wills, tablets, inscriptions, charters and records from 16th and 17th century antiquarians to recover the financing of buildings, stained glass, furniture and religious objects that collectively played a significant role in the flowering of late medieval English religious art. Saltamacchia digs into the inventories of Carelli’s vast quantities of warehoused goods and records, running to hundreds of folios listing his debtors and creditors. They contain notations of the likelihood of making or recovering payment, and show us the sarcophagus he earned in return--alas, a masterpiece tucked away for centuries in the sub-terrain of the cathedral his money launched. Kelly Wray mines municipal and local Dominican and Franciscan church archives for notarial registers known as Libri Memoriali and testaments in the Fondo Demaniale, drawing from these a vivid comparative portrait of pious donation among Bologna’s leading aristocratic families.

Overall, the session promises to enrich our understanding of a critical intersection between the secular and the sacred in late medieval Europe, with contributions to the fields of women’s, cultural, economic, political, and artistic history.

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