In September 2018 it was announced that one of our graduate students, Ariella Minden, received a Max-Planck Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut (KHI) in Florence. We asked Ariella to reflect on her time at the KHI under the supervision of Prof. Alessandro Nova and what the next 18 months have in store for her as she continues this amazing fellowship.
As a second year PhD student in the Graduate Department of Art at the University of Toronto my desk looks exactly like what one might expect of someone who has just started to undertake a book-length study also known as my doctoral dissertation. There are books piled high, well above my head, notes scattered about with ‘brilliant ideas’ that turn into passing thoughts, and a to-do list or three written on post-it notes stuck to the frame of my computer screen. The slight difference, however, is the location of my desk, which is not in Toronto, but instead at the Kunsthitorisches Institut in Florence where I am a pre-doctoral fellow.
The Kunsthistorisches Institut (KHI) is a Max Planck Society institute for art historical research, which also houses one of the largest art libraries in Europe. Having just celebrated its 150th birthday, the KHI remains a vibrant intellectual centre with hundreds of scholars making use of its resources, a regular program of lectures and seminars, and a team of pre- and post-doctoral fellows divided between two departments who carry out their own research while also taking part in larger working groups led by the directors of each department.
“What is your role in this ecosystem?” I hear you ask. I am a member of Prof. Alessandro Nova’s department where I am writing my dissertation on visual culture in Bologna during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. My project examines the ways in which artists and scholars worked in concert to generate knowledge, a conceit facilitated by the presence of the University, the oldest in Europe. During my two-year fellowship at the KHI, I am expected to give regular research-in-progress papers both at departmental meetings as well as for my pre-and post-doctoral colleagues. I presented the initial results of my research last October, speaking about three illustrated anatomical treatises published in 1521, 1522, and 1523. Focusing on the texts’ woodcuts, I discussed these books as sites of collaboration and experimentation to better understand print culture in Renaissance Bologna. Complimentary to my own research, I am part of the working group “Rinascimento Conteso”- “The Contested Renaissance.” Within this framework I take part in site visits, reading groups, and seminars where the goal is to reconsider and challenge traditional narratives of the Italian Renaissance by offering new critical methodologies or reintroducing previously neglected corpora.
I cannot overstate how fortunate I am to be part of such an intellectually vibrant community. At the KHI itself, I am surrounded by colleagues and mentors who continue to be lively interlocutors as my dissertation begins to take shape. The weekly academic programming has exposed me to a range of topics with which I had little prior familiarity. Furthermore, living in Florence has allowed for me to be immersed in the works of art that I study and am passionate about. I have had the opportunity not only to explore the artistic collections of the city itself, but to travel to other cities throughout Italy, an experience that has enriched my perspectives on certain object. This has opened up new avenues in my current project and continues to create fertile grounds for work in the future. With such a rich start to my fellowship, I look forward to what the next 18 months have in store!