The Bourbon Middle Ages: Neo-Medieval Architecture and the Politics of the Risorgimento

Tommaso Zerbi, Ph.D.

Starting from the assumption of a powerful resurgence of the Gothic as a reaction to the shockwaves of the Age of Revolutions, this project explores the interactions between architecture, political crisis, and the reception, recreation, and adoption of the Middle Ages in the Italian Mezzogiorno under Bourbon rule. Spanning from the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily in the second half of the eighteenth century to the dismantling of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1861, it suggests that medievalist rhetoric and neo-medieval imagery expressed values crucial in exercising and normalising power amidst epochal challenges to the monarchical model. It examines the contribution made by neo-medieval architecture to the reactionary agenda and, in turn, the political dynamics that fueled the medieval revival. The study aims to counter the marginalisation of Southern Italy’s neo-medieval architecture in art and architectural histories, offering a deeper interpretation that recognizes its cultural agency. It considers both ecclesiastical and secular architectural enterprises, either permanent or ephemeral, exploring the evolving tension between reactionism and medievalism vis-à-vis the First and Second Bourbon Restorations and the Sicilian Revolution. The case studies include the Church of Saint Mary of Graces in Caserta (c. 1801–1805), the Neapolitan pavilion for the wedding of Ferdinand II of Bourbon with Maria Cristina of Savoy (1832), and the reconstruction of the Church of Saint Francis in Gaeta, commissioned after Pius IX’s stay in the city (1848–1849).

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