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Joanne Allen

Thesis (fully funded by AHRC): 'Choir Stalls in Venice and Northern Italy: Furniture, Ritual and Space in the Renaissance Church Interior'
Supervisor: Donal Cooper

Research Summary
A major trend in current art-historical methodology focuses on religious ritual and sacred space, placing artworks in their original functional context. This approach, however, has not yet fully encompassed church furnishings, which remain one of the most under-researched areas of Renaissance scholarship. Choir stalls played a central role both in the liturgy and in the segregation of clergy and laity, yet, unlike paintings or sculptures, liturgical guidelines give precise instructions for their functions and uses. Contracts indicate that stalls were expensive and hotly coveted status symbols for every serious religious institution, sparking intense competition between patrons. While the literature has previously viewed Italian choir stalls as utilitarian objects, my research has shown that contemporaries viewed stalls as indispensible components of any great church. The large amount of original, detailed commentary (previously ignored by scholars) fundamentally reverse modern conceptions of the status of so-called ‘decorative arts’ in the Renaissance.
My doctoral research centred on Venice and Northern Italy, an area which witnessed a sharp increase in stall production in the later fifteenth century. The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was a particularly fruitful time for the construction of new stalls, but also witnessed the moving of choirs from the nave to behind the high altar. In my thesis, I reassessed accepted notions about motivations for changes to choir placement based on analyses of original documents.
Two case studies of choirs in San Zaccaria and Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, which were both completed by the Cozzi workshop in the 1460s, apply these themes to individual precincts. The studies view stalls contextually within their artistic and architectural settings, particularly focussing on the position of the choir in the church interior.

Research interests:
-The relationship between art, architecture, furniture and music in Renaissance Italy, especially performance practices
-The relationship between art and liturgy
-The contracting procedure for works of art, legal implications and guild regulations
-The development of the retrochoir in Renaissance Italy
-Form and function in the decorative arts

The Choir Stalls of Lincoln Cathedral, Chester Cathedral and St Mary’s Church, Nantwich, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, vol. 161 (2008), pp. 104–130
Various articles in The Art Newspaper, including book reviews, 2005–2006

17th October 2009 Tutor on British Archaeological Association, Historic Woodwork Study Day, Lincoln Cathedral
Oct-Dec 2009 History of Art Department, University of Warwick: Seminar tutor for first-year core course ‘Classicism and the Arts of Christianity’.
Jan–June 2009 History of Art Department, University of Warwick: Seminar tutor for first-year core course ‘Classicism and the Arts of Christianity’.
Oct–Nov 2007 Undergraduate and postgraduate site visits in Venice
Nov 2007 Tour of Basilica dei Frari for Warwick Alumni Association
Dec 2007 After hours tour of Basilica di San Marco, Venice
Jo Allen in the Frari Choir stalls in Venice, dated 1468
 A beautiful intarsia image of a caged bird, Santa Corona in Vicenza. Late fifteenth century