Amherst College Art Historian Nicola Courtright Looks at Counter-Reformation Rome in New Book

March 2, 2004
Director of Media Relations
413/542-8417

AMHERST, Mass.- In a new book, The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Gregory XIII''s Tower of the Winds in the Vatican ($85, 344 pp., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004), Nicola Courtright, professor of fine arts at Amherst College, explains the import of the "Tower of the Winds," a three-story Vatican apartment built and painted to celebrate Gregory's greatest achievement: calendar reform and creation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The tower, she writes, "proclaimed with assurance not only Gregory's political and religious authority over the capital," but also his "domination of nature, time, and past and present cultures."

In response to the Protestant Reformation, Gregory, who led the Roman church from 1572 until his death in 1585, rebuilt and restored many of Rome's streets, churches and public monuments-and remade the calendar. Courtright writes, "The [Gregorian] calendar's purpose has become obscured in our post-Enlightenment age, because it was not changed for the sake of scientific accuracy." The Tower of the Winds "made clear to contemporaries the inextricably intertwined relationship of Gregory's calendar reform to his mission to renew faith and lead the Christian world toward redemption."

The Tower of the Winds has remained a mostly unknown and unstudied monument to Gregory's mastery of the temporal and eternal, the political and the spiritual worlds. Courtright considers its innovations in architecture and decoration, explores the efflorescent Flemish landscapes in all of its seven rooms, and explains its wider religious and political purpose in the culture of Gregorian Rome and the Counter-Reformation. Another important contribution of The Tower of the Winds is the first translation of an unpublished treatise on the winds by Egnatio Danti, the 16th-century mathematician and cosmographer.

Courtright has taught at Amherst since 1989. She received a B.A. degree from Oberlin College, an M.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. She is a Fulbright Fellow, a fellow of the American Academy in Rome and a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. The College Art Association recently elected Courtright its vice president of publications, and a member of its executive committee.

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Peter Rooney
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