Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, DC 
Flag of the Italian Republic
Logo of the Italian Cultural Institutes: half section of the sculpture "Large Sphere" by Pomodoro over red background Image of the painting "The Ideal City" by Piero della Francesca
italiano | News
| The Istituto
| Events
| Learning Italian
| Library
| Opportunities
>Istituto events-
>Other events-
>Events in Italy-


Special Events

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A lecture by Sheila Barker-

Pills, Poison, and Power

The Role of Medicine at the Court of the Medici Grand Dukes


Pills, Poison, and Power

COVER IMAGE: Pharmacy vase, XVI century, Villa la Pietra - New York Universty, Florence
Medici, the name of the family that ruled Tuscany for two hundred years, means 'doctors.' This curious fact, however, is only the beginning of the epic story of this Italian court's role in unshackling medicine from ancient authorities like Galen and Hippocrates and leading it to the modern laboratory. Between 1537 and 1737, six generations of the Medici family enriched medical science with new drugs from the Americas, the Levant, and Asia; they created and managed botanical gardens, pharmacies, a hospital, and a university (Pisa), where new therapies and theories were always welcome; they recruited leading innovators in medicine and pharmacology from all over Europe and without regard to religious creed; and they themselves—the grand dukes and grand duchesses of the House of Medici—were avid amateur chemists and medical practitioners, delighting in the discovery of an opiate based recipe to relieve arthritis, or an oil of scorpion venom used to counteract any poisons that might infiltrate their banquets. Even more importantly, the Medici sovereigns recognized early on that their technological leadership in such a crucial human concern as medicine could be exploited for the purposes of statecraft and international diplomacy. Using almost exclusively unpublished documents from the Medici Granducal Archive, the presentation will reveal the Medici court's key role in the quest for knowledge of diseases and their cures.

This lecture will be followed by a presentation of The Medici Archive Project by Alessio Assonitis, and a musical performance by Barbara Hollinshead and Howard Bass.


In collaboration with The Medici Archive Project
The Medici Archive Project


Embassy of Italy
3000 Whitehaven Street NW
Washington, DC 20008



Please click on "Make a Reservation" by September 18, 2013 at 2PM

The Reservation System will allow you to register until we reach capacity or by the event's date at 2:00 PM (whichever comes first.)



An Unprecedented Model for a Research Institute

Since its foundation in the early 1990s, the Medici Archive Project (MAP) has been innovating new strategies for research in the Humanities. During the early stages of its existence, MAP’s mission was to merge archival research with technological innovations for data management. A pioneering group of scholars began to catalog in a rudimentary electronic database the letters of one of the most exhaustive and complete courtly archives of early modern Europe: the Medici Granducal Archival Collection (Mediceo del Principato). This archival collection ? comprising over four-million letters distributed in 6,429 volumes and occupying a mile of shelf space ? covers a chronological span of two hundred years, from 1537 to 1743. It documents the political, diplomatic, gastronomic, economic, artistic, scientific, military and medical culture of early modern Tuscany and Europe.
In the decade following its founding, graduate students, university professors, museum curators, and independent researchers paid regular visits to MAP’s workspace at the State Archive in Florence in order to have access to unpublished documentary material or to seek help with archival research strategies related to their scholarly endeavors. At the same time, thanks to the NEH Fellowship Program and other similar fellowships, generations of MAP researchers, experienced in archival and paleographic studies, have worked continuously to populate this database with new material gleaned from the Medici manuscripts. Initially collected in an in-house database (Documentary Sources for the Arts and Humanities, 1537 to 1743) accessible only in situ, this vast repository of transcribed and contextualized documents was published on-line in April 2006, free of charge, for the benefit of the entire Renaissance community. As of today, August 2011, the Documentary Sources database comprises over 21,000 letters, 15,000 biographical entries, and 80,000 geographical and topographical tags; the online version of the database receives an average of 20,000 monthly hits. Despite this impressive effort, MAP, for nearly all its existence remained fettered to a restricted scholarly niche, oftentimes estranged from mainstream academic discourse.
During these past two years, this trajectory was radically changed. Rather than serving as a provider of primary sources to restricted academic audiences, MAP set out to become a research institution with the mission of actively generating scholarly discourse and embracing disparate dimensions of scholarly experience. At the center of this operation is MAP’s new BIA on-line Digital Interactive Platform, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which will replace the current on-line database in July 2012. Aside from providing a faster and more user-friendly interface for document entry, the Digital Interactive Platform will enable scholars from all over the world not only to view digitized images of archival documents, but also to enter transcriptions, provide scholarly feedback, and exchange comments in designated forums. The management and elaboration of the database, once the prerogative of MAP Fellows at the State Archive in Florence, can now be performed not only by on-site Staff but also with assistance from a new category of researchers called Distance Fellows, who will work on assigned digitized documents from anywhere in the world.
In keeping with its evolving role as a research institute, MAP has committed itself to entering the traditional arenas of academic production. In 2011, MAP launched a peer-reviewed publication series with the academic publisher Viella Editore; three titles are due out in 2011-2012. MAP now also administers a very successful educational program. Two semester-long on-line paleography courses have been taught since 2009; a third course begins this fall. Thanks to the support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, MAP offered this past June a two-week graduate seminar at the library of Santa Maria Novella in Florence that was devoted to the study of Florentine historical archives. Also notable is MAP’s organization of and participation at international conferences, as well as its active role within the Renaissance Society of America, at whose annual meetings MAP has sponsored sixteen panels since 2008. Lastly, two independent research programs have been created under MAP’s tutelage: the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici (with its own internship program for undergraduates) and the Jewish History Program.

ALESSIO ASSONITIS received his doctoral degree in Renaissance art history from Columbia University in 2003. He has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, Herron School of Art, and the Christian Theological Seminary. In 2003-4, he served as Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He arrived at the Medici Archive Project in the fall 2004, with a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He became MAP Research Director in 2009 and Director in 2011. His position is endowed by the Florence J. Gould Foundation. His research interests include Quattrocento and Cinquecento painting in Rome and Tuscany, antiquarian studies, history of Mendicant pauperism, and early modern travel history. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of the historical journal Memorie Domenicane. His monograph on the painter Fra Bartolomeo della Porta and his workshop at the convent of San Marco is due out in 2012. Along with Brian Sandberg, he is editing a collection of essays on the Medici Granducal Archive (The Medici and their Archive: Power and Representation in Early Modern Tuscany, Rome: Viella Editore, 2013).

SHEILA BARKER graduated from Amherst College in 1993 and completed an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph. D. at Columbia University with a specialization in Italian Baroque painting and a doctoral dissertation on plague art in 17th-century Rome. In addition to teaching art history for many years (currently for the University of California EAP in Florence) and managing an Old Masters gallery (Robert Simon Fine Arts), she has also worked in a museum as the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2003-4. Her research fellowships include a Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2005; a Samuel H. Kress Fellowship at The Medici Archive Project from 2005-2007, and a Medici Archive Project Fellowship in 2007-2008. From 2011 to 2012 she was on the editorial staff of the journal Medicina e Storia. Her publications have dealt with plague art in Baroque Rome; Saint Sebastian's iconography; the art of Nicholas Poussin; Pope Urban VIII; women artists in Florence; women and medicine; and the early history of the antimalarial drug quinine. Her forthcoming book on the career of Gian Lorenzo Bernini views the artist exclusively through the lens of contemporary journalistic reports that she found in the Medici Granducal Archive.

BARBARA HOLLINSHEAD (Mezzo Soprano) is a popular soloist in the Washington, DC area. Having studied with Max van Egmond in the Netherlands, she has since sung under the baton of Chrisopher Hogwood and Andrew Parrot, has appeared with many of the finest early music groups in eastern North America including Tafelmusik and Chatham Baroque, and is a regular guest artist with the Folger Consort, Opera Lafayette, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and the Washington Bach Consort. Ms. Hollinshead is a member of the NYC-based early music group ARTEK, and with the group has performed at festivals in California, Indiana, Mississippi, Austria, Germany and Scotland. She is also a member of an 8-voice ensemble in residence at the National Gallery of Art. Ms. Hollinshead rounds out her musical contributions as an adjunct professor at American University and a cast member in the Washington Bach Consort’s much-celebrated program "Bach to School".

HOWARD BASS (lute, guitar, percussion) has performed throughout the United States as a soloist and has been a guest accompanist with vocal and instrumental ensembles throughout the Washington area and beyond. He is a member of Trio Sefardi (with Susan Gaeta and Tina Chancey) and was a founding member of La Rondinella, with whom he recorded three CDs. He has also performed and recorded with HESPERUS, the Smithsonian Chamber Players, the Folger Consort, the Baltimore Consort, and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, among others. In addition to ongoing collaborations with Barbara Hollinshead, he has performed extensively and recorded with Sephardic singer/composer Flory Jagoda. At the end of 2010, Howard retired from the Smithsonian Institution, where he produced programs, festivals, and recordings at the National Museum of American History (1981-2001) and the National Museum of the American Indian (2002-2010).


Music in the Court of the Medici's
Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo-soprano
Howard Bass, lute

Set I
Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643) "Mie speranze lusinghiere"
Marco da Gagliano "Io vidi in terra"
Simone Molinaro (c. 1565 - 1615) Balletto detto "il Conte Orlando"
Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) "Amarilli, mia bella"
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) "Voglio di vita uscir"
Set II
Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) "Anima, oimè, che pensi?"
Francesca Caccini (1587-c. 1641) Aria del pastore, from "La Liberazione di Ruggiero"
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) "Così mi disprezzate?"
Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543) Ricercar (La compagna)
Girolamo Frescobaldi "Se l’aura spira tutta vezzosa"


The Washington Post has described mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead as singing with "an artful simplicity that illuminated the text and beguiled the ear." She studied with Max van Egmond in the Netherlands, and has since appeared with many of the finest early music groups in eastern North America. Barbara is a popular soloist in the Washington area and with groups such as the Bethlehem Bach Choir. On recordings you can find her featured in music from Monteverdi to Mrs. H.H.A. Beach. Barbara is a professor of voice at American University and acts in the Washington Bach Consort’s much-celebrated program "Bach to School," When she is not singing, you can find her sewing and listening to her sons sing as often as she can.

Howard Bass has performed throughout the United States as a soloist and has been a guest accompanist with vocal and instrumental ensembles throughout the Washington area and beyond. A founding member of La Rondinella, with whom he made three recordings for the Dorian label, he has also performed and recorded with HESPERUS, the Smithsonian Chamber Players, the Folger Consort, the Baltimore Consort, and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, among others. In recent years he has worked extensively as an accompanist with Sephardic singer/composer Flory Jagoda and early music singer Barbara Hollinshead. He is a member of the recently formed Trio Sefardi, with Tina Chancey and Susan Gaeta.

Barbara and Howard have worked together for nearly two decades. They have appeared on numerous concert series and have developed several thematic programs for voice and lute. Barbara likens the lutenist/singer relationship to that of a figure skating pair. You practice and work together for a long time, learn each other's timing, master your routines and flourishes--and then you trust your partner enough to take those flying leaps with full confidence that you'll be caught before crashing into the ice.



Date: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Time: 7PM

Venue: Embassy of Italy

Organized by: Italian Cultural Institute

In collaboration with: The Medici Archive Project


<Back to list>




Search our archive

From: - To: -

Please note: Leaving empty fields will result in the search being carried out according to all the events' data.



Links | Map | Disclaimer | Credits