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Choir stalls in Venice and northern Italy : furniture, ritual and space in the Renaissance church interior

By Joanne Allen


This thesis seeks to re-establish the significance of choir stalls in Venice and northern\ud Italy and seeks to place stalls in their artistic, liturgical and spatial context. Although\ud now situated in remote locations in the church, stalls were once highly prized items of\ud furniture and considered to be praiseworthy artistic structures in their own right. As\ud the location for religious ritual, the elevated status of the choir area was reflected in\ud the detailed and sophisticated design of its wooden furniture. Through an analysis of\ud visual and documentary material, stalls will be brought to the fore to consider broader\ud questions. What can documents reveal about Renaissance workshop practices and the\ud relationship between craftsmen and patrons? How did the form of stalls reflect their use in\ud religious ritual and the organisation of sacred space? How did choir furniture develop as\ud an independent medium within the artistic context of the Renaissance church interior?\ud Four main topics will be considered in the first four chapters: the visual history of stalls;\ud the contracting procedure; the use of stalls in liturgical practices; and changes to choir\ud placement. Chapter One reconstructs the stylistic history of north-Italian choir stalls from\ud the fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries and contains an excursus on the development and\ud meaning of intarsia iconography. Chapter Two focuses on choir contracts, which confirm\ud that choir furniture was a considerable investment and a potential source of rivalry between\ud church communities Chapter Three moves the focus away from stalls as material objects\ud to their role in liturgical practices. An excursus on the established use of misericords\ud in Carthusian liturgy will demonstrate the close interaction between form and function\ud in stall design, and places Italian stalls in the context of their European counterparts.\ud The placement of choirs in the church interior will be examined in Chapter Four using\ud case studies of choir placement in different secular and religious houses, in particular the\ud Franciscan Observants, Franciscan Conventuals and the Dominicans. Although changes in\ud choir placement are often associated with liturgical reforms implemented by the Council of\ud Trent, church renovations in fact occurred well before this period.\ud Two Venetian case studies demonstrate the value of examining individual choir precincts\ud in their original stylistic and spatial context. Chapter Five focuses on stalls in the\ud Benedictine nuns’ church of San Zaccaria in Venice, completed by the Cozzi workshop in\ud 1464. The choir precinct in the Frari in Venice is amongst the best-preserved choir precincts\ud in Italy and is discussed in detail in Chapter Six; the circumstances of its construction\ud are closely related to new choir furniture in the Santo in Padua. Specific terminology\ud is explained and collated in the Glossary and an Appendix contains transcriptions and\ud translations of significant documents

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