Bard Professor Joseph Luzzi Receives $60,000 NEH Public Scholars Award in Support of His Book Project Brunelleschi’s ChildrenANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Bard College Professor of Comparative Literature Joseph Luzzi has been selected for a Public Scholars award in the amount of $60,000 by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) in support of his book project, Brunelleschi’s Children: How a Renaissance Orphanage Saved 400,000 Lives and Reinvented Childhood. The NEH Public Scholars award funds well-researched books in the humanities aimed at a broad public audience. Luzzi’s grant supports researching and writing a cultural history of the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence, Italy, an exceptional institution for the care and protection of abandoned children and a notable example of both early Italian Renaissance architecture and the power of Renaissance humanist principles, from 1419 to the present.
“I am deeply honored and grateful for this generous grant from the NEH,” says Luzzi. “This support will enable me to tell the dramatic story of how the Hospital of the Innocents saved the lives of so many children while also reflecting the remarkable cultural and creative developments that were transforming Florence into a center of the European Renaissance. I am especially committed to exploring how these discoveries made by the Hospital of the Innocents centuries ago can be a vital source for our own understanding of childhood today.”
The “Innocenti,” as the hospital is called, originated as a home for babies and children born “out-of-wedlock” or who could not be raised by their parents due to illness, poverty, or other reasons. Initiated by a charitable bequest from philanthropist Francesco di Marco Datini, the orphanage was one of the first major architectural commissions of Filippo Brunelleschi, a pioneer of Renaissance architecture who also engineered the Duomo, the massive cupola of the Florence Cathedral. One of the most recognizable buildings in all of Florence, the Innocenti is known for its dignified and compassionate design.
From its opening until 1875, the Innocenti rescued more than 400,000 abandoned children from starvation, exposure, and other threats, offering them care that went beyond mere physical protection. The Innocenti’s pedagogical practices revolutionized childhood educational curricula, moving away from being primarily religious towards a more humanistic understanding, grounded in a rediscovery of the morals, values, beliefs, and cultural forms of ancient Greek and Roman worlds. The foundlings were taught music and the arts, previously reserved for the Florentine elite, and “unwanted” girls were taught a trade and provided with a dowry, so that they could enjoy economic independence or find suitable marriages. In the 19th century, the Innocenti modernized medical science to create the conceptual underpinning for the birth of the field of pediatrics as a viable scientific discipline. To this day, Andrea della Robbia’s high-relief, glazed blue figures of swaddled babies that have adorned the façade of the Innocenti since 1487 are still the inspiration for the American Academy of Pediatrics insignia.
With the support of the NEH Public Scholars award, Luzzi will conduct research, travel, and writing leading towards the publication of a comprehensive history of the Innocenti and its groundbreaking impact over six centuries. Brunelleschi’s Children: How a Renaissance Orphanage Saved 400,000 Lives and Reinvented Childhood will be the first deeply researched, nonfiction book on the Hospital of the Innocents, and the first work to combine the history of childhood and children, children’s rights, and Renaissance Studies, encapsulating rich analysis on the history of art, architecture, medicine, and Italian culture and society.
About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov.
About Bard College
Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year, residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City. With the addition of the Montgomery Place estate, Bard’s campus consists of nearly 1,000 parklike acres in the Hudson River Valley. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with majors in more than 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 13 programs; eight early colleges; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on its 161-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College has expanded its mission as a private institution acting in the public interest across the country and around the world to meet broader student needs and increase access to liberal arts education. The undergraduate program at our main campus in upstate New York has a reputation for scholarly excellence, a focus on the arts, and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. For more information about Bard College, visit bard.edu.
Bard Press Contact:Jennifer Wai-Lan Strodl
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