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

Tommaso Zerbi, Ph.D.

This project explores the relationship between the reworking of the Middle Ages, its architectural manifestation, and the politics of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It suggests that medievalist rhetoric and neo-medieval imagery came together to express values that were central to the consolidation of Bourbon power against the backdrop of Italy’s ‘resurgence’. The study, which examines the contribution made by neo-medieval architecture to this agenda and, in turn, the political dynamics that contributed to the shaping of medieval revivalism, focuses on two architectural enterprises — one ecclesiastical and permanent (the ‘restoration’ of the Church of San Francesco in Gaeta, commissioned by Ferdinand II of Bourbon after Pius IX’s stay in the city in 1848–49); the other secular and ephemeral (the pavilion realised in Naples in 1832 for the wedding of Ferdinand II with Maria Cristina of Savoy). While focusing on neo-medieval architecture and the politics of the Risorgimento, both the new project and Tommaso’s doctorate turn attention to modern, Italian, and royalist uses of the past. Yet where his PhD considered a Sabaudian-centred ‘making’ of Italy, this new project considers a Bourbon-centred context and the challenges, negotiations, and ambitions of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

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