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The Piazza as Political Public Space in Renaissance Italy


The Renaissance piazza was the natural setting for the ideological display of authority; the public arena of encounter between sovereign and governed; the theatre of civic and religious processions; the stage for political propaganda.

Nevertheless, the principal urban space was lived and used in ways not necessarily approved by the authorities; ways that could undermine or subvert official conceptions of order and control. The people were not only passive spectators of rituals and once information had been put out into the public arena, they appropriated it, re-elaborated it in autonomous and unforeseen ways. The city square was a “practiced space”, to use the words of De Certeau, shaped both from above and below. The Renaissance piazza was not only a physical space able to be controlled by the authorities or delineated in the treaties of urban planners, but was also a "space in motion" – according to the definition of Henri Lefebvre – defined by the actions that individuals enacted there.

In the field of the history of political communication there has been growing attention to the theaters of events and the materiality of spaces where early modern publics came together and exchanged opinions. The interdisciplinary approach, involving scholars of urban studies, historians of art and architecture, has widened the analytical confines of public space. Employing a notion of communication which includes discursive practices, places and subjects not previously included in the political arena, the aim of this project is to arrive at a new definition of public space which encompasses both topical (physical/spatial) and metatopical (metaphorical/discursive) dimensions. The piazza was the real embodiment and the symbolic representation of public political space in Renaissance Italy.

This project focuses on forms of control and on the actors that populated the Renaissance piazza during the Italian Wars, a period that brought an extraordinary vitality to the spaces of public debate, generating political discussion involving the entire population. In the city square an evanescent (pre-modern) form of the sphere of political debate came into being, difficult to capture as in a constant process of creation and dissolution and because of its contingent nature bound to contemporary events.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015