#CIHA202400450Seawaters on the Alps: Blue Mimesis at the Savoy Court (1611-1660)

G. Ecologie et Politique
Making Green Worlds (ca. 1492-1700)
E. Daniele 1.
1University Of Bologna/ucla - Bologna (Italie)

Adresse email : elisa.daniele3@unibo.it (E.Daniele)


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A large-scale sculpture installed inside the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in 2019 displayed a deep ocean swelling in the confines of a room. Natural light from a window danced on the waves, dappling their surface. As the sun moved the ripples shifted in form, making it appear as a real water body was moving – albeit innaturaly slowly. Made of a synthetic polymer, this static and yet hyper-realistic big blue piece stopped abruptly, becoming thinner until it reached the level of the floor. The clear-cut distinction between the installation and space occupied by viewers created an unnatural geometric shore that thwarted the realism of the waves themselves. This sculptural sea aimed to draw attention to “the inherent unreliability” and uncertain future of the Earth’s oceans. By ensnaring oceanic currents in their natural swelling, the piece played with the manipulation of the physical world and the unsettling of viewers’ perceptions, with its title – Contact – suggesting a potential tactile encounter that was actually denied by the prohibition against touching the installation. 

By focusing on the Savoy Duchy during the lifetime of the regent Christine of Bourbon-France as main case-study, this paper delves into critical instances of Baroque recreations of seawaters. Commemorative drawings, account books, and printed reports for spectacles staged between 1611 and 1660 attest to the Savoy proclivity for fictive maritime environments despite the fragile and tenuous relationship the montainous Savoy Duchy actually held with the sea. Marine eco-systems and phenomenons were recreated with differing intensity: seascapes painted on walls; waves simulated by blue-coloured fabrics or moving and volumetric elements sculpted from timber and papier-mache; the texture of sea surfaces was even emulated by real water pooled in halls “carefully caulked in the guise of ships,” thus allowing viewers to partially engage with the sensorial destabilization provoked by an actual contact with water (similar spectacles were put together in the Palazzo Pitti’s courtyard in Florence and Farnese Theatre in Parma.) Of particular interest is the mock naval battle staged on Mont Cenis pass: this crucial geopolitical and economic hub was transfigured into a majestic seascape, with miniaturized sailing vessels arranged across its small lake. This latter is today replaced by the much larger basin whose waters supply the surrounding Italian and French hydro-electrical plants operating since 1969. The eco-systems that were submerged with the creation of this energy reserve re-emerge in the details left by the texts reporting this spectacle. Similar to the installation Contact, these recreations raise questions about contrasting sensorial qualities, waters exploitability, and re-framing of “terrestrially nurtured” perceptions (to use Melody Jue’s terms), with their shores calling attention to the tumultuous or gentle ebb and flow between the material and imaginative. 

key words: Baroque; Christine of France; Savoy Duchy; Alps; Blue Humanities; Scenography


CV de 500 signes incluant les informations suivantes: Prénom, nom, titre, fonction, institution

Elisa Antonietta Daniele, PhD, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, UCLA/University of Bologna.

website: https://www.unibo.it/sitoweb/elisa.daniele3/en

I am Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow with the research project "ANIMATE - Animation, Materials, Transcultural Ecologies: Performing Worlds at the Baroque Savoy Court of Christine of France." This research project is funded by the EU and develops between UCLA (2022 and 2023) and the University of Bologna (2024). I received my PhD in History of the Arts from the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari in 2018. Between 2018 and 2021, I was Ahamanson-Getty postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Center for 17th– and 18th– Century Studies and Berenson Fellow at Harvard – Villa I Tatti.


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Résumé / Abstract

This paper explores how recreations of seawaters in Baroque spectacles played with the manipulation of the physical world and the unsettling of viewers’ perceptions and ideas. Focusing on the Duchy of Savoy during the lifetime of the regent Christine of Bourbon-France, it considers various simulations of marine ecosystems and phenomena, their potential technologies and effects - in particular, the naumachia staged on the Mont Cenis pass in 1619. Finally, the paper draws attention to the shorelines created in these critical instances: the ebb and flow, tumultuous or gentle, between the material and the imaginative they performed.