Theses Doctoral

Landscape and Identity in Naples and the Campi Flegrei

Mellon, Diana

The volcanic area west of Naples known as the Phlegraean Fields, or Campi Flegrei, has been an alluring destination since antiquity. Then as now, it is characterized by monumental ancient buildings, natural hot springs and a gentle climate. Yet the same underground supervolcano that is responsible for its thermal power charges the area with instability.

This dissertation centers the Campi Flegrei as a specific environment whose unique properties artists responded to during the early modern period. Picturing this place in a variety of media, they made visible its inherent contradictions—the coexistence of loss with continuity, the entanglement of the natural with the humanmade—and brought these tensions to bear on local history and identity. Manuscripts, prints, maps, and images from printed books form the core body of material discussed. Taking an interdisciplinary and embodied approach, this study draws on the history of medicine, science and the environment and is based in firsthand experience of many of the sites discussed.

The first chapter concerns a body of illustrated manuscripts and printed books that figure the bathing sites of the Campi Flegrei. It traces the popularity of Peter of Eboli’s late twelfth-century or early thirteenth-century poem De balneis Puteolanis (On the Baths of Pozzuoli) through the Renaissance and early modern periods, when it was copied and its images elaborated upon. The practice of bathing itself connected people directly to a rich local history, and these images emphasize the potency of that direct physical experience embedded in the landscape.

The second chapter brings us to the extensive subterranean spaces of Naples, especially its underground aquatic infrastructure. The viscera of the city played an important role in daily life, but were also fertile settings for stories of the city’s past. This chapter contrasts the lack of imagery figuring the Neapolitan underground with the plethora of artworks showing a more porous relationship between above and below in the Campi Flegrei. The visual identities of Naples and the Campi Flegrei were consistently evolving, but constructed and perceived in relationship to one another. During periods in which Angevin, Aragonese, and early viceregal Spanish rulers attempted to impose a new order on the urban fabric of Naples, the Campi Flegrei were pictured in contrast, as the city’s untamable chthonic neighbor.

The third chapter follows specific artists and writers into the Campi Flegrei, where their works turn towards mistaken topographies, visual lacunae, nonlinearity, and loss, teasing out visually the mechanisms by which transformation could come about. Working in an expanded context in which images of the Campi Flegrei and Naples circulated beyond the local, they developed new ways to tether their visual languages in drawings, prints, and paintings to local identity.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Freedberg, David A.
Cole, Michael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 10, 2024