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Waxing devotion: the economic and devotional lifecycles of wax ex-votos in Florence 1300-1500

Citation: McKenzie, Louisa (2023) Waxing devotion: the economic and devotional lifecycles of wax ex-votos in Florence 1300-1500. Doctoral thesis, The Warburg Institute.

17.2.25 Warburg Louisa McKenzie PhD Thesis Submission.pdf

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Wax ex-votos were a vibrant part of everyday devotional practice in late medieval and Renaissance Florence, although little survives of them today beyond documentation. While there is an existing body of literature on votive gifts, this thesis reorientates the study of wax ex-votos by exploring them along the lines of research on other artworks. Thus, it focusses on the practical aspects of their material, manufacture, commission and purchase, use, and in this case demise, in order to explore the meanings, functions and visual evolution of wax ex-votos. It offers a broad social perspective, being concerned not only with the highest end of the wax ex-voto market which is commonly the subject of scholarly study, but with investigating the use of wax ex-votos among a variety of social classes. Studying the economic and devotional life cycles of the wax ex-voto in Florence has revealed a crucial change. Wax ex-votos were being increasingly produced by specialist workers, who may have had increasing levels of skill, and were working for a market the influence of which was felt far beyond the confines of the ex-votos themselves. As many ex-votos were portraits, the project also contributes to an understanding of fourteenth and fifteenth century conceptions of the visual representation of the individual and the visualisation of personhood. Thus, this investigation of a hitherto neglected object-type spans a cluster of issues central to the study of art history and material culture: the significance of materials to those who were deploying them, a reframing of trades and materials traditionally considered to be ‘low culture’, the question of what defines a work of art, the role of artistic networks in promoting innovation, and the sharing of artistic techniques and aesthetic influences across genres. A close study of the materiality of wax has revealed new facets of its significance as a votive material in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A consideration of how wax-workers, as a newly specialised trade, may have gained their skills, has highlighted that some wax-workers operated within a network of artists in other media, leading to a mutual interchange of technical and aesthetic knowledge. Thus, this thesis also strongly argues for the need for a rehabilitation of wax as a material, and wax-workers as artists, within the artistic canon.

Creators: McKenzie, Louisa and
Subjects: History
Keywords: Art history, Material Culture, Renaissance, Florence, Wax, Sculpture, Wax Sculpture, Workshop Practice, Religious History, Economic History
Divisions: Warburg Institute
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 28 February 2023 (completed)


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