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Naples – Voices

Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist 1

Can you study Neapolitan History while based in London?

by Thomas Denman (University of Reading)

I am a PhD candidate studying the history of Neapolitan art in the early seventeenth century, particularly the period following Caravaggio’s first visit to Naples in 1606. The investigation concerns the social and intellectual impact of Caravaggio’s presence. His stylistic influence has already been well examined. But my concern is how the Neapolitan patronage of Caravaggio changed local perceptions of art from the perspective of his public. The PhD is part of a research project based at the British Library entitled ‘The Italian Academies 1525-1700: the first intellectual networks of early modern Europe’ (2006-2014), which involves researchers from Royal Holloway (University of London), the University of Reading and the library itself.

For the past 18 months I have been pursuing research while based in London. Here my main resource is the British Library, and the nearby Warburg and Welcome libraries have also been of considerable use. I am privileged to be involved in a project at the British Library. But what first and foremost makes the library an indispensable resource is its collection, which is accessible to everyone. The British Library has one of the largest collections of early modern Italian books across the globe (in Italy books remain dispersed across the peninsula, while in the UK they have gravitated to London). Therefore, although Naples receives less scholarly attention from the Anglo-Saxon world than other Italian centres – namely Rome, Florence and Venice – in London the necessary resources for studying Neapolitan history are well provided for. As a result, doing a Ph. D. on Naples from London is not as perilous as it might seem on the outset. Nonetheless, it is essential that I spend a serious amount of time in Naples exploring the archives, libraries and museums, and more generally familiarising myself with the city. I plan to visit Naples in May and stay for about four to five months. The libraries in London are excellent resources for planning such a trip.

Furthermore, in recent years, several conferences and workshops have taken place at British universities in which early modern Naples has received ample attention. In May 2011 the University of Cambridge held a workshop entitled ‘Citizen cultures and ritual in early modern Italy and Spain’, devoted to two new books: John Marino’s Becoming Neapolitan: Citizen culture in Baroque Naples (Johns Hopkins, 2011) and Gabriel Guarino’s Representing the king’s splendour: Communication and reception of symbolic forms of power in Viceregal Naples (Manchester, 2011). Both of these books explore the dynamics of urban life in Naples in the early modern period. In January 2012 a workshop took place at the University of Oxford entitled ‘Renaissance Italy and the Idea of Spain 1492-1700’. Since the kingdom was ruled by the Spanish throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in this workshop Naples was much discussed. In April later that year, the University of Reading held a workshop entitled ‘Naples: Past and Present’, which considered not only Naples of the early modern period, but also the city’s more immediate history in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Last November the Warburg Institute held the colloquium ‘Antiquities and Local Identities in Southern Italy: Art, Architecture and Literature between 1300 and 1700’. Scholarly attention towards Neapolitan history is communicated through the online Neapolitan Network, hosted by the University of York (see All things considered, plenty of academic support can be found for students based in London wishing to study the history of Naples.

Thomas Denman is a PhD candidate in Italian Studies at the University of Reading. His research focuses on the relationship between the Accademia degli Oziosi and the history of Neapolitan art in the early seventeenth century, and is part of the AHRC-funded project ‘The Italian Academies, 1525-1700: The First Intellectual Networks of Early Modern Europe’. The project includes researchers from the University of Reading and Royal Holloway University of London and is based at the British Library (

Image: Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (London), 1607-10, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.


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This entry was posted on June 11, 2013 by in Voices.
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