Choir Screens and Digital Technologies: Reconstructing Church Interiors and Mendicant Altarpieces in Medieval Pisa

Change log
Giles, Lucas 

This thesis reconstructs the interior spaces of mendicant churches from medieval Pisa, particularly utilising digital technologies to study destroyed choir screens. Known as tramezzo screens, they played a fundamental role in the formation of sacred space, serving to articulate various liturgical areas whilst containing significant works of devotional art. Tramezzo studies has become an important area of research in the field of Italian medieval art and architecture. However, minimal evidence for these structures survives above ground. Over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they were systematically removed from Italian churches, leaving little trace of their prior existence. Today, only a handful of surviving examples remain in situ. New reconstructions are proposed for three choir screens from Santa Caterina, San Francesco and Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. In combination with traditional archival research, emerging digital technologies are integral to the research methodology, particularly ground-penetrating radar, LiDAR scanning and 3D modelling techniques.

The research is sub-divided into four principal parts. In Part I, a review of the tramezzo studies field is outlined. It is proposed that research has reached a ceiling in terms of documentary discoveries, with new technologies - specifically non-invasive archaeology - required to overcome the limitations in surviving physical evidence. Part II examines the Dominican church of Santa Caterina, providing a digital reconstruction of the church’s destroyed pulpitum, including its disposition of altars, artworks, and shrines circumnavigating the screen. This includes panel paintings by Lippo Memmi and Deodato Orlandi and a sepulchral monument comprising the tombs of Archbishop Simone Saltarelli and Fra Giordano. Part III focuses on San Francesco, presenting a hypothetical proposal for the screen including a pair of gabled panels by Giotto and Cimabue above the tramezzo. Finally, Part IV analyses the interior of Santa Maria del Carmine, outlining a hypothetical location for the destroyed tramezzo. A new 3D visualisation of Masaccio’s Pisa Polyptych is presented, an altarpiece which was described by Vasari on the screen. Two alternative hypotheses are presented for how the chapel may have appeared on the tramezzo based on the patron Giuliano degli Scarsi’s detailed but ambiguous records of the project.

Cooper, Donal
3D Modelling, Altarpieces, Carmelites, Choir Screens, Church Interiors, Cimabue, Counter Reformation, Deodato Orlandi, Digital Humanities, Digital Reconstruction, Dominicans, Fra Giordano, Francesco Traini, Franciscans, Giotto, Ground Penetrating Radar, LiDAR, Masaccio, Medieval, Mendicants, Pisa, Sacred Space, Shrines, Simone Martini, Simone Saltarelli, Tramezzo Screens
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (2115722)
AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership, Cambridge Trust Honorary Vice Chancellors Award