Medieval Padua: Digital Cultural Heritage: Medieval Padua Art in the UNESCO World Heritage List

Padua Urbs Picta, or The Painted City

Cultural heritage sites are well documented in the humanities: through texts, images, and annotations, information is available, and interpretations are provided on historical sites, and current ones as well. However, public recognition often comes with public acknowledgment of the relevance and peculiarity of one feature, one historical memorable moment, or one geospatial aspect. In the case of Padua, a city in the north-east of Italy, medieval art has come to the fore recently, when Padua fresco cycles were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List (WHL), in July 2021. With the celebration of 14th-century art in Italy, the city of Padua nominally received the award. Since Padua has a unique series of fresco cycles, and those frescoes are located within its city walls, the local administration accordingly nicknamed Padua ‘Urbs Picta,’ or ‘The Painted City.’ The public engagement team at Padua launched a project website, a series of lectures, introductory videos, and more advanced interviews with experts on the topic of 14th-century art in Padua.

Outreach and promotion are essential components to circulate, discuss, and popularize cultural history to the widest audience possible. The popularity of cultural heritage sites, both physical and digital, is relevant also in the GLAM professions – in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. By combining the humanities and cultural heritage, through technology and communication, I will introduce and share digital humanities tools ranging from visualization techniques to mapping and digital exhibitions and collections. As digital humanists in training, students will get familiar with project management practices, digital workflows, and archiving guidelines to make their project, and our class initiative searchable, preserved, and shareable online. Students will develop a collaborative portion of the project. Additionally, they will develop a section on their own, highlighting one local, or global medieval fresco in Padua, or elsewhere by one of the artists mentioned in the Padua roster. Through this experience, students will discuss findings with people who share their views, learn to keep on track, mark project milestones, work towards deliverables, and negotiate to work towards a common goal. It is not unusual for a humanities scholar to interact with those who agree, and those who do not agree with us.

As medieval artists, patronage and schools have been ascertained, the question of local and global cultural heritage, however, invites further inquiries to examine the role of global collections and global medieval studies and narratives, as innovative cultural representations of European cultural heritage and visual history. The digital project I propose, “Digital Cultural Heritage: Medieval Padua Art in the UNESCO World Heritage List,” remedies this gap by analyzing fresco cycles in my hometown, Padua, as part of a larger cultural phenomenon in Italy, and current medieval studies worldwide. As medieval art, its legacy, and the consistent permanence of artworks in their designated locations, and in cultural institutions worldwide have been ascertained, the question of local and global cultural understandings of autobiographical, textual, visual, and documentary connections to the fourteenth century, however, invites further inquiries to examine, and teach historical interpretations of European textual and visual history of fresco art, and the idea of fresco cycles as visual narratives.

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