Italian Fellow Daniele Giorgi Shines a New Light on Giotto

June 1, 2015
Daniele Giorgi
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Despite the fact that Italian Renaissance painter Giotto is renowned for reintroducing realistic expression into Western art, his life is largely shrouded in mystery. Legends about him abound, however, as do scholarly analyses and accounts of his life and work. Daniele Giorgi, an Italian Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, is using his time at the AAR to work on his dissertation – a critical study of the scholarship on Giotto’s work, from the 15th century onwards. Below, he talks about the exciting and challenging aspects of this complex project, and what it means to study Giotto, who is quintessentially Italian, in an American context.

Where are you originally from?

I am from Sulmona, in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

When was the first time you encountered the art of Giotto? How come you decided to make the reception of his work the focus of your dissertation?

Giotto is universally famous for completely changing painting by abandoning the Byzantine technique that had been in place for centuries. My dissertation focuses on the scholarly interpretation of Giotto since the age of the rediscovery of the Old Masters at the end of the eighteenth century and onwards. This critical-historical approach enables me to understand how philosophical theories, cultural contexts and methodological developments have affected the interpretation of his work.

What led you to apply to the Italian Fellows program?

I wanted to have an academic experience outside the Scuola Normale Superiore and I knew that the AAR would be the best place for me to conduct my research, thanks to its facilities and its proximity to important Roman collections.

What does a regular day at the AAR look like for you?

I usually have breakfast with the other fellows in the bar at the Academy, and then I study in the library until the evening. I have English-Italian language exchanges with other fellows, and I often go jogging with some of them.

Many of those who reflect on their fellowships speak about the interdisciplinary exchange that takes place on a regular basis at the Academy. Is there any interaction or moment of shared knowledge that stands out to you in particular?

Of course. I have learned from the way contemporary sculptors, designers, and architects work on their projects, something that provides me with a comparative insight on what used to be the technique of medieval artists and the way that has evolved. Being able to talk to scholars from other fields has enriched my perspective on my own discipline. A stay at the Academy is an outstanding experience in this respect.

What, to you, is most exciting about Giotto?

In my opinion, Giotto was an outstanding painter. He was able to create local schools of painting in the places where he worked. I think this is the most important contribution he made to the overhaul of painting technique in Italy.

What has it been like to study this Italian painter in an American context?

It means that I can make comparisons between different methodological approaches, which is a very enriching experience.

What are some of the challenges you anticipate over the course of this project?

The critical approach I have chosen entails a huge amount of scholarly reading. This is obviously interesting and central to my research, but it is a bit of a challenge to digest all scholarly contributions in a way that is both inclusive and respectful of differences. At this point, I feel I have read thousands of articles and books, and the exciting final part of my project will involve recomposing all these points of view into one that sheds new light on what Giotto has represented for art historians and, through them, society.

How do you anticipate that your time at the Academy will influence your future work and academic career?

After I finish my dissertation, which is my main goal at the moment, I would love to apply to postdoctoral programs abroad, especially in the US. The possibility to have conversations with American scholars on a daily basis has enabled me to refine my knowledge of both the language and the academic culture of the US, and I believe that will prove to be a determining factor in my success overseas.