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Brunelleschi’s Dome at Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is one of the most iconic works of Italian art, built between 1420 and 1436, the beginning of the Renaissance.

Four hundred years later another dome stood on the skyline of Florence, that of the Great Synagogue, a majestic, grandiose construction celebrating the Emancipation of Italian Jews, a minority for which the Renaissance meant mostly ghettoization and separation from the majority’s social fabric. Culturally, ethnically, even linguistically heterogeneous, consisting of different Jewish “nationi” (Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Italki Jews), Italian Jews collectively implemented a series of strategies that turned segregation and the ghetto themselves into microcosms of artistic and intellectual creativity — absorbing, transforming, and mingling together Jewish and non-Jewish traditions.

From music with Salomon Rossi’s “Songs of Solomon” — vocal and instrumental polyphonic compositions for the synagogue liturgy done on the model of the Renaissance madrigal — through choreography with Guglielmo da Pesaro’s De pratica seu arte tripudii, one of the most systematic studies of classic and modern choreography, to the field of architecture with the making of synagogues heavily relying on non-Jewish models (for example the Sephardic synagogue of Venice, designed by “archstar” Longhena on the model of San Rocco Christian confraternity), we will be visiting and exploring together some of the most significant chapters on the history of the Jews in Renaissance Italy, from the time of Brunelleschi’s masterpiece to the Jewish “other dome.”

Gabriel Mancuso received his doctorate in Jewish studies from University College London, 2009. He also studied in Oxford (Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies) as a PhD student fellow (2004) and at the Warburg Institute, London (Sophie Fellowship Program, 2006). He is a senior lecturer on the history of music and Venetian history at Boston University Study Abroad (Padua) and at the University Cà Foscari, Venice (Department of Oriental Languages).

In 2001 he received a music degree (viola) and since 1997 he has been an active member of Laboratorio Novamusica, a contemporary music ensemble based in Venice. His research interests include Jewish music in early modern Italy and Jewish ethnomusicology, medieval Italian Jewish community, Venetian history, and the history of the Jews of Venice. In June 2013, he was appointed director of the Eugene Grant Research Program on Jewish History and Culture in Early Modern Europe at the Medici Archive Project, Florence. In 2017, he launched the Ghetto Mapping Project, a major research program aiming to reconstruct, on the basis of archival documents, the architectural, demographic, and nonetheless artistic and cultural features of the Florence ghetto (1570-1888).

In 2018, he published a book on the musical traditions of the Jews of Venice, Musiche della tradizione ebraica a Venezi. In 2020 he became a fellow of the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and is currently the scientific coordinator of the study group for Jewish music at the Fondazione Levi, Venice.

Read more in this NewYork Times article →
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