Theses Doctoral

Devotional Overdoors in Medieval and Renaissance Italy

Marzullo, Francesca

This dissertation offers a wide-ranging examination of the half-length sacred figure over the door in medieval and early Renaissance Italian art. Drawing on a wealth of visual material that has attracted little attention among scholars, it argues that such images played a vital role in the religious lives of their beholders, transforming doorways into sites of devotional experience both within and beyond the church. Depicted incompletely, the holy body joined with the threshold below it to form a synthetic, composite image, one that invited the imaginative and corporeal participation of the viewer.

This project employs various lenses to interpret the meaning and function of works about which scant written documentation comes down to us. In addition to considering scriptural metaphor and exegetical thought regarding the significance of doors, it explores the relationship of overdoor frescoes, mosaics, and reliefs to sacred icon panels, suggesting that the former might be recognized as wall icons, possessive of a heightened devotional appeal. It also uses overdoor images to illuminate broader spiritual and artistic concerns, including the nature of passage to the Christian afterlife, and the interaction between picture and frame, a topic central to Renaissance illusionism. Serving as an introduction to an important yet overlooked aspect of Italian visual culture, this text provides a conceptual framework for understanding a vast corpus of images that were essential to everyday piety, and that inflect our view of familiar art historical narratives.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Cole, Michael W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2020