- The Medieval Salento: Art and Identity in Southern Italy by Linda Safran
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 480 pp.
The region of Italy known as the Salento occupies the heel of the peninsula’s proverbial boot and includes the port of Brindisi, the point from which ancient Mediterranean mariners made the crossing over to Greece. Despite its stark terrain, the Salento has always hosted a vibrant, sometime volatile mix of cultures. From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, this mixture included Greek speakers, speakers of Latin and the vernacular form of Latin that would become modern [End Page 344] Italian, and Jews who spoke and wrote their records in Hebrew. They also left a wealth of painted decorations, many of these images flanked by inscriptions. It is Linda Safran’s mission to flesh out the lives of what she calls the “painted people,” and she does so by ingenious means, drawing up a beautifully documented database of pictorial images that allows her to compare such concrete elements as clothing, family relationships, tools, and the rituals that governed the rhythm of daily life. She succeeds in creating a vivid portrait of a place and a time when people of distinct backgrounds and traditions created a culture large enough to incorporate them all. The dozen color plates whet the appetite for more.
Ingrid D. Rowland, professor at the Rome campus of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, is the author of From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town; The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome; The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery; Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic; The Ecstatic Journey: Athanasius Kircher in Baroque Rome; and From Heaven to Arcadia: The Sacred and the Profane in the Renaissance.