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Zoe Willis

Thesis: Civic Identity and Culture in Late Medieval Zadar, 1358-1468
Supervisor: Donal Cooper

Research Summary
The medieval commune of Zadar - on the Dalmatian coast of modern day Croatia - was the largest and wealthiest of the cities along the littoral of the East Adriatic. Zadar’s wealth was built upon commercial shrewdness, access to commodities such as salt and metals as well as a strategic location that gave easy and secure access to continental and maritime trade routes. The community’s riches provided the capital for impressive displays of artistic patronage, ranging from complex metalwork reliquaries to frescoes, mosaics, paintings as well as public buildings, of which little is known beyond Croatia today.
Zadar’s greatest assets, however, also made it a target of the imperial ambitions of Medieval Europe’s most powerful states; the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Hungary. Both wanted to secure their own flow of trade as well as maritime access for their naval forces. Depending on the stability and protection of the commune’s fiercely protected autonomy offered by these two powers, Zadar’s allegiance switched many times over the course of four centuries. How and why these political developments shaped the culture and civic identity of the community and its city was the subject of my PhD thesis, particularly in this final century before the rise of the Ottoman threat in the Adriatic. Saint’s cults and their associated reliquaries - such as those of Saints Simeon the Prophet and Chrysogonus - became important and contested objects, tools of either imperial ambition or local pride. These were a particular focus of my writing, revealing much when placed within the bigger frameworks of the region’s social and political history.

I did my BA(Hons) in the History of Art at the University of Warwick (2000-2003) and it was during the Venice term in my final year that I discovered Dalmatia’s artistic wealth and the region’s important role in the Venetian foreign policy. I received my research MA at the University of Melbourne, Australia (2005-2006), writing a thesis on the iconography of the Finding of Moses in Venetian art. I returned to Warwick in 2007 to begin my PhD under the supervision of Dr. Donal Cooper.

2009-2010 Gladys Krieble Delmas Grant for Independent Research on Venetian History and Culture
2007-2010 AHRC Doctoral Grant
2007 Warwick Postgraduate Research Scholarship (Declined)

Zoe Willis

Cathedral of Zadar