Elisa Giuliano: Black Madonnas: Race and Religion in Modern Southern Italy


Thesis Advisor: Ana Teixeira Pinto

Thesis: Black Madonnas: Race and Religion in Modern Southern Italy

August 2022


This thesis will focus on the cult of the Madonna della Bruna, the patron saint of Matera, an ancient city in the southern region of Basilicata, in order to survey the iconographic evolution Black Madonnas, as well as the manipulation of their cults by Church authorities, in modern southern Italy. The whitening of the Black Madonna's complexion will be of particular interest to my analysis. In line with the studies of Italian folklore initiated by writer Antonio Gramsci and further developed by scholars like Ernesto de Martino, Alfonso Maria di Nola and Carlo Ginzburg, I will look at the history of religious beliefs of the so-called subaltern cultures of southern Italy and detail their political impact on statist modernization projects. Looking at this history, which develops in tandem with the whitening of the Virgin Mother's complexion, can illuminate the world-systemic order of colonial modernity and the reconfiguration of social and geopolitical relations under the aegis of racial capitalism. Via this prism I will detail the discussions on the splitting of culture into official and unofficial, sacred and profane, canonical and folk, highbrow and lowbrow, whilst mapping the modern, racialized understanding of the cosmos and the figuration of human beings within it.

Author: Elisa Giuliano