Alessandro Scafi

Lecturer in Medieval and Renaissance Cultural History


My research interests over the last years have been varied but all are firmly grounded in a common theme: the way in which spiritual beliefs not only shaped contemporary world views but were also fundamental to cultural expression and political activities. My work to date has been in the following areas:

The notion of the earthly paradise: I investigated this topic whilst writing my doctoral dissertation on
The notion of the earthly paradise from the Patristic era to the fifteenth century (Warburg Institute, 1999) and have since studied in more depth and over a wider chronological span whilst preparing my book Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth (London: British Library; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006; Winner: 2006 Awards for Excellence, Association of American Publishers; Italian transl. Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2007). I now intend to complete a nuanced exploration of the ways in which between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Christian theologians have imagined the perfect condition of Adam and Eve before the Fall.

History of Cartography and Sacred Geography: I have a strong interest in the ways in which religion and geography intersect and interact, particularly in the context of medieval and early modern sacred geography. I maintained my interests in a number of related aspects of medieval and Renaissance cartography, including the shift from medieval to Renaissance mapping; musical iconography on medieval and Renaissance maps; the representation of non-Christian religious traditions; allegorical cartography in the early modern period. I have worked on the Hereford, Ebstorf and Psalter maps, the Fra Mauro World Map, the Kunstmann II Map.

Literature on journeys to the otherworld: I devoted particular attention to a little known text by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, the Dialogus de somnio quodam, which I translated from Latin into Italian and for which I wrote a detailed commentary (Turin: Aragno, 2004). I have also a strong interest in Dante. I have been working in connection with the Centro Dantesco in Ravenna, participating in many of their initiatives and supervising theses on Dante at their library.

Medieval and Renaissance views of the temporal and spiritual powers and their history: I have researched a number of inter-related subjects including papal art patronage in Church Jubilee years and medieval Christian ideas about pilgrimage and death. I have received a grant (with Dr Avril Maddrell, University of the West of England, Dr Heather Walton, University of Glasgow and Dr Veronica Della Dora, University of Bristol) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (within the Religion and Society Scheme) for a research project on pilgrimage practices in different Christian traditions. I have focussed on pilgrimage through mental landscapes in the Roman Catholic tradition (at the monastery of Subiaco, Italy, in particular).

History of utopian thought and cultural interchange in the early modern age: I have worked on Filarete’s ideal city (Sforzinda) and on the relationships between Italy and Hungary in the Renaissance.

Aby Warburg: Warburg’s interest in musical iconography (a topic so far ignored by Warburg scholars) and Warburg’s involvement in World War I.

I have also authored publications intended for a wider readership,  for example a book on the graphic design and imagery of the European single currency (Eurodesign: Immagini, avventure e misteri della moneta europea, Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2009), and a survey of paradise visions and journeys throughout the world (Alla scoperta del paradiso: Un Atlante del cielo sulla terra, Palermo: Sellerio, 2011). I have presented papers at international conferences and given public lectures in many countries, including Belgium, Finland, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA.


(MA course in Cultural and Intellectual History 1300—1650)

Core course: Religion and Society in Italy, 1300—1650

 The aim of this course is to explore the religious context and underpinnings of the cultural, political and social history of Italy from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The course takes the religious history of Italy as the point of departure for an in-depth investigation of the significant social and political changes that took place between 1300 and 1600. The focus is on the primary sources (hagiographical, literary, architectural and cartographical) which provide evidence for the reconstruction of religious customs and habits of mind and for the understanding of political events.

Option: The Transmission of the Classical Tradition in Dante.

At the same time as offering a close study of a major author of the medieval period, this course illustrates key aspects of medieval culture, such as cosmography, astrology and mysticism. The aim is to introduce Dante Alighieri’s thinking and poetry to students by examining the way in which he interpreted and made use of the classical and medieval tradition. This is carried out by establishing the background to Dante’s work and by exploring his position regarding particular topics. The focus is on Dante’s Divina Commedia and to relevant passages from those primary sources which Dante either drew on directly or knew indirectly through other intermediaries.


Follow this link for a list of publications in print

Serious Science

Renaissance Maps of Paradise