This summer, second-year Masters student Samantha Rhodes received funding through the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award. Here, she describes her research experience:
“In July, I travelled to Florence, Italy to analyze and research Nardo di Cione’s Inferno fresco, located in the Santa Maria Novella Church. The fresco is part of a Final Judgment scene located in the Strozzi Chapel. Nardo’s fresco is not well documented and neither is the Florence Baptistery ceiling. My trip allowed me document the fresco and baptistery fully, to assess the accessibility of the fresco, and to account for the numerous points from which visitors may have viewed the fresco.
In-person analysis of the fresco allowed me to recognize the artist’s deviations from Dante’s literary work in his Divine Comedy, such as the handling of Limbo residing before the first circle of Hell. This specific deviation allows for debate concerning what happens after a person dies, thus seems to contradict Catholic understandings of the afterlife. This realization helped me to construct a hypothesis that the fresco allows for a very early Reformation interpretation of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, one that predated the Protestant Reformation proper. This suggests that there were diverse understandings of theology in fourteenth century Florence, and illustrates the conflicting nature of Catholic doctrine within a Catholic space.
Having seen the fresco in its original location, I could also better understand how the work related to the larger body of people attending church during the fourteenth century. The visibility of the work by the congregation would suggest a large group of people aside from the Strozzi family or the monks who resided at the church would have witnessed this fresco and perhaps understood its meaning.
The trip allowed me to spend significant time within the church and other related churches located around Florence and the Baptistery for further connections. The work that I have done since then on my thesis was only possible through the generous funding of Carol Bird Ravenal. It was an incredible opportunity, and much gelato was consumed.”