Rome, before the State: Architecture and Persuasion in the Early Modern City

Santoyo Orozco, Ivonne (2017). Rome, before the State: Architecture and Persuasion in the Early Modern City. PhD thesis The Open University.



Rome, before the State is a historical exploration of the role architecture has played in constructing affective relations of power. It is an attempt to trace the transformation of the city of Rome against the background of shifting state–church relations between the mid-fifteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. This period is framed by two events: the struggle of the papacy to establish its seat of temporal power in Rome in the quattrocento and the convoluted context of the Thirty Years’ War in the mid-seventeenth century. This is the period in which an increasingly polycentric and rational, political world was emerging. Central to this work is Paolo Prodi’s critical exposé of papal power over this period, which he elaborated in Il Soverano Pontefice. While Prodi closely follows the legal, administrative, and organizational attempts by which papal power was transformed and centralized, here I will entangle this history with its spatial and sensorial correlates, which mark out a particular history of architecture. If Paolo Prodi argued that, during the period explored here, Rome became a political laboratory that influenced the process of state-building in Europe, my contention is that Rome’s contribution to modern statecraft was not restricted to its administrative practices, as Prodi emphasizes. Rather, I will argue that it was in the affective and spatial techniques of persuasion that were discovered throughout this period that a certain legacy of modern western European power could be observed. In other words, it is in early modern Rome that a new form of modern power emerged that was characterized not only by the rationalization of its practices and development of early governmental mechanisms but also by the embracement of a spatial and affective dimension to cultivate relations of allegiance through the city itself.

This thesis is thus an examination of the correlation between the spatial, affective and administrative means by which the papacy began to fashion the pope as a sovereign, and Rome as the capital of the Papal States. I argue that it is in Rome during this period that the simultaneous transformations of the space of the city and of power became indistinguishable from one another. The papacy’s continuous intervention to the city of Rome set in motion over the course of these two centuries not only harnessed allegiance through the traditional means of legal and military force, but also through the cultivation of an affective grip on the life of the city’s citizens. Over this period, the papal court, I will argue, began to develop sensory and spatial techniques that subsequently became instrumental to the formation of modern state machinery. In this way, Rome, before the State, has two aims: on the one hand, it seeks to achieve a spatial extension of Prodi’s argument; and on the other hand, it is an attempt to construct a history of the spatial techniques of persuasion that the papacy developed as a means of transforming its power. In this way, the thesis is an effort to understand the affective dimensions of power which arguably precedes the emergence of the modern state, but nonetheless contributes to it.

More specifically, the thesis follows three distinct spatial moments in the history of the papacy during the period that Prodi examines. I will question how three distinct popes – Eugenius IV, ruling from 1431 to 1447, Sixtus V, ruling from 1585 to 1590, and Urban VIII, pope from 1623 to 1644 – each enabled a series of transformations of the space of Rome whose resulting organizations and architectures had indirect, but nevertheless real consequences in the sphere of power. In investigating these three popes and the Rome they shaped, I will not restrict my reading to the works that they directly authored, but will also include those that they strategically enabled. In this way, what will be emphasized is the predominance of three conceptual categories that, under their respective papacies, became crucial frameworks through which to reconsider the coupling of each pope’s temporal power with the realm of spatial experience: magnificence, liturgy, and admiratio (wonder). In each case, I will provide a brief conceptual history of the concept, the historical context in which they acquired specificity, and a series of architectural and urban vignettes that collectively illustrate their broader spatialization. In tracing the theological and philosophical histories of these concepts, as well as the distinct manner in which a set of spatial interventions were deployed by the papal court, I will attempt to frame a certain relation between the secular and the theological from an architectural perspective.

Throughout this work, Carl Schmitt’s famous words, “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” resonate. This argument was not foreign to Walter Benjamin, nor to Max Weber, Ernst Kantorowicz and, more recently, Giorgio Agamben. In these scholars’ writings, the relation between the secular and the theological acquired a specificity through the understanding of liturgical acclamation, canon law or biblical exegesis, among other things. Yet here, this thesis proposes to contribute to our understanding of such convoluted relations by instead following the continuous interest the papal court maintained in transforming the space of the city in early modern Rome. In doing so, I underline certain persuasive techniques that lay at the heart of papal power, which were instrumental in imagining an early modern power that constituted itself through the affective and, we could say, sensual dimensions through which it operated. In following the spatialization of these categories, I begin to distance my reading of papal power from that of Prodi, to frame instead the historical basis on which I can contribute to an architectural understanding of the relation between secular and theological concepts. That is to say, what we will find in this study is that architecture and city space, more broadly, takes on the role of a conduit between the theological and the secular. In doing this, the transformation of city space becomes a crucial lens by which to understand the conditions of emergence of an early form of modern western power.

While clearly attempting to contribute to a political understanding of the affective dimension of architecture, this thesis is nonetheless shaped by the intersection of architectural historiography, political theory and philosophy. It is only as such that in each moment we can ask what the role of space is in the assertion of the temporal power of the papacy. Or, to put it differently, how can our understanding of the papacy’s temporal power shed light on the political role of the experience of space? And, finally, it is in this way that we can advance conjectures as to how this period provides an image of the manner in which space, architecture, and artifacts have contributed to the early formation of modern subjectivity.

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