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Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Art History and Archaelogy


William E. Wallace, Gwen Bennett, Paul Crenshaw, Philip Gavitt, Judith W. Mann, Sarantis Symeonoglou, Alicia Walker


English (en)

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2008

Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The artistic and cultural importance of pilgrimage has been treated peripherally in Italian Renaissance scholarship. The perception of pilgrimage as a fervent and backward religious practice does not generally concur with the understanding of the Italian Renaissance as a period of intellectual progress. My study attempts to readjust this scholarly predilection by investigating, as a case study, the decoration at Santo Stefano in Prato and related images. The church of Santo Stefano boasted the Virgin Mary's holy girdle (belt) and attracted many pilgrims from across Europe, ornamented by some of the most prominent Renaissance artists, including Agnolo Gaddi, Donatello, and Filippo Lippi. This study focuses on the aspect of pilgrimage regarding the cult of the holy girdle in Prato and seeks to contribute to the recent scholarly trend that investigates the importance of relics and cult images within Italian Renaissance art. This study employs a broad, interdisciplinary approach and forms arguments based on extensive archival research. I identify the Opera del Sacro Cingolo as the main promoter of the cult and analyze this civic organization's finances and administrative activities, which have escaped singular attention in scholarship. Delineating the Opera's promotional function helps us situate the artistic programs that the organization administered at Santo Stefano within the larger context of propaganda. The practice of pilgrimage also influenced the actual art-making at Santo Stefano. It is proposed that Agnolo Gaddi developed a clear narrative style at the church in order to make his fresco cycle readily understandable for pilgrims and visitors. Luxurious materials and the repeated images of the Virgin's Assumption in the church are examined as effective means to persuade viewers of the relic's importance. The political role of the relic is further addressed from the perspective of international diplomacy. I maintain that special displays of the relic to foreign dignitaries were often important state affairs, which justified the lavish and sophisticated decorations that would elevate the status of the Pratese Commune and, by implication, its overlord state, Florence. Finally, I argue that pilgrimage not only intensified Prato's direct importation of the latest trends in Florentine art but also enabled this somewhat marginal locale in turn to influence the art-making of Florence and other places.


Permanent URL: Print version available in library catalog at Call # LD5791.8 PhD2008 F85.

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