From Propaganda to Science: Looking at the World of Academies in Early Seventeenth-century Naples
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From Propaganda to Science: Looking at the World of Academies in Early Seventeenth-century Naples


Early seventeenth-century Naples was a fragmented society where individual communities had their own religious and secular rulers. Locally deployed confraternities, saints and political representatives granted special protection to single groups, thus becoming symbols of the various districts, corporations, and nationalities settled in the city. The delicate task of managing the spiritual and the political dimension of Neapolitan life favored forms of power interaction between politics and religion that often served a wider need for propaganda. Within this context, academies were commissioned to produce art and choreographed spectacles that provided an idealized and exportable image of Naples, emphasizing symbols of civic unity, political strength and economic stability. In a world where the relationship between people and rulers was far from being peaceful.  Contemporary historiography has looked at Italian academies in different ways, though with little attention to those in Naples. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the publication of pioneering works by Carlo Minieri Riccio, Lorenzo Giustiniani, and later on Michele Maylender discovered valuable material on the world of southern Italian academies. By adopting a methodology aimed at collecting data on the number of academies and their members these works became reference tools for scholars. Benedetto Croce’s criticism of seventeenth-century Neapolitan academies as being aspects of the cultural decline that affected Baroque Italy played an important role in cementing a negative perception of this period. These dismissive positions, however, have been cautiously reassessed in view of an increasing scholarly interest in exploring the importance of academies in early modern Italy. Recent scholarship, for example, such as Simone Testa’s work on the transnational impact of Italian academies, has convincingly shown how they were a cultural phenomenon intrinsically linked with the development of a European Republique des Lettres. Moreover, the new Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project - ‘Italian academies 1525-1700: the first intellectual networks of early modern Europe’- has led to a major reassessment of how traditional historiography has looked at early modern Italian academies. By bringing to light hitherto unknown material concerning academies that flourished in Naples and other major Italian centers throughout the Italian peninsula this project has demonstrated that academies were major platforms which, on the one hand, promoted an intellectual debate on science, literature, and visual arts, and on the other, often functioned as institutions promoting political and religious propaganda.

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