Confraternal Piety and Corporate Patronage: A Reconstruction of the Art and Oratory of the Company of San Giovanni Battista dello Scalzo, Florence

Open Access
Dow, Douglas N.
Graduate Program:
Art History
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 15, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Brian A Curran, Committee Chair
  • Charlotte Marie Houghton, Committee Member
  • Craig Robert Zabel, Committee Member
  • Anthony Cutler, Committee Member
  • Marica Susan Tacconi, Committee Member
  • Sheryl E Reiss, Committee Member
  • confraternities
  • architecture
  • art patronage
  • sculpture
  • Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art
This study presents detailed reconstructions of the devotional, administrative, architectural, and decorative contexts of the Florentine flagellant confraternity of San Giovanni Battista dello Scalzo. The suppression of the confraternity in 1785 led to the partial destruction of its oratory and the dispersal of its works of art. Archival documents presented in this dissertation allowed for a reconstruction of the lost portions of the oratory and its missing decoration. At the end of the Cinquecento the Scalzo had at their disposal a large and well decorated suite of rooms—including the cloister, two chapels, a sacristy, a changing room and several auxiliary service areas. These rooms were lined with choir stalls and decorated with works of art that ranged from an altarpiece by Lorenzo di Credi to a sculptural program of terracotta apostles installed in niches in the company’s main chapel. Many of the Scalzo’s members came from Florence’s artisanal class and included shoemakers, blacksmiths, painters, wallers, sculptors, goldbeaters, bakers, and others. The confraternity frequently hired these men to perform necessary jobs, from painting the company’s emblem on robes and processional candles to monitoring the state of repair of the oratory’s roof. Often the confraternity and one of its members agreed to exchange these services for an exemption from the organization’s customary fees and fines. The Scalzo’s voting records reveal that the confraternity procured several of the statues in its main chapel in exactly this manner. In other cases, a group of brothers acting as an anonymous collective underwrote the cost of the sculpture. The Scalzo used collaborative strategies—familiar to the organization from its charitable missions—in order to decorate its oratory. By acting as a collective, the shopkeepers and craftsmen who constituted the Scalzo’s membership were able to cast themselves in the role of art patrons. Moreover, by relying on their own members to outfit the oratory, the brothers strengthened the ritual bonds that knit the confraternity together. The apostles thus served not only as collegial exemplars for the confratelli to emulate, but also provided members and guests with concrete evidence of what the men of the Scalzo could achieve when they acted together as one corporate body.