Italian Religious Broadsides

Guide to Research

This research collection has much to offer scholars and curious individuals in a variety of fields who are interested in the complex relationship between artists, authors, the print trade, and the public they all strove to reach in the early modern period. What follows offers a few suggestions of the types of information one might find in these broadsides, although they are by no means comprehensive. For further guidance on these materials and their historical context, please consult the bibliography.

History of Printing

For those interested in the history of print, the broadsides are excellent examples of everyday printing, that is, objects designed and produced quickly for immediate use. Such broadsides addressed a broad public with decoration, layout, and typographic design that could be read and appreciated by individuals with widely differing levels of literacy. Most of the sheets were compiled from types and illustrations that were already on hand in the print shops, so these sources also give us a sense of how printers worked under tight deadlines and low budgets, and also how such works attempted to grab the attention of the public in a highly competitive visual marketplace.  

Social History

Those interested in the social history of religion may use these resources as a way to understand early modern religion and patronage. As most of the broadsides were commissioned by confraternities and trade guilds, the finished products help visualize early modern religion as a public function, serving both God and the needs of the guild. They embody a devotion to the saints that was both public and popularizing. Moreover, many broadsides were dedicated to particular patrons – most often officials in the papal Curia. These references allow scholars to track networks of patronage between confraternities, the high clergy, and the print trade.

Art and Literary History

The poetry and iconography on these broadsides will be of interest to fans of art and literary history. Unlike the lofty poetry and visual art produced in and around the aristocratic courts of the time, the words and images here are occasional works made by artists for hire: poetry made in praise of particular saints or clerical patrons, and imperfect reproductions of famous images that were intended to catch the public’s eye. As such, these broadsides help show the broad range of applications for poetry and visual art in marketing and public engagement.

View all digitized broadsides

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  1. Saint Lawrence of Rome [detail]
  2. Saint Mary, Blessed Virgin, dei Monti [detail]
  3. Saint Lawrence of Rome [detail]