Courtright, Nicola 1954-
Courtright, Nicola 1954-
Academic. Amherst College, Amherst, MA, associate professor, 1998-2004, professor of fine arts, 2004—, associate dean of the faculty, 2008—.
College Art Association (president, 2006-08).
Honorary A.M., Amherst College, 2004; honorable mention, Premio Salimbeni per la Storia e la Critica d'Arte, for The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Gregory XIII's Tower of the Winds in the Vatican. Received Fulbright grant, 1976-77, Rome Prize Fellowship, American Academy, 1982-83, American Council of Learned Societies post-doctoral fellowship, 1994-95, and American Association of University Women postdoctoral grant, 2004-05.
In The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Gregory XIII's Tower of the Winds in the Vatican, art history professor Nicola Courtright examines one of the lesser-known monuments of Renaissance Rome: the great Tower of the Winds, which was built by Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Boncompagni), who ruled from 1572 to 1585. The tower is located alongside the Cortile del Belvedere in the Vatican. Part of the reason the building is not well known, Courtright points out, is because it is obscured by constructions started by later pontiffs, which blocked external views of the tower. "To see the Tower of the Winds, one has to be taken there, and that requires special permission," explained Tod A. Marder in the Art Bulletin. "These circumstances help to explain the relative neglect of the building and the importance of Courtright's new book. The book is divided into three large parts: a discussion of the pope, the period, and the other protagonists of the story; the history, style, and interpretation of the monument; and a catalog of its imagery. The author's goal is to rediscover the intentions for the Tower of the Winds, as envisioned by its creators, their advisers, and the papal patron."
Gregory XIII is best known as the pope responsible for reforming the Julian calendar. In 1582, he issued the papal bull Inter gravissimas, which stated that, in order to standardize the date of Easter, it would be necessary to change the number of leap years in certain centuries and to drop the ten extra days which the Julian calendar had shifted since it was put into place. (The Julian calendar was a bit longer than the solar year. Over the centuries, this added ten extra days to the year.) The Tower of the Winds is a memorial to Gregory's legacy, including the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar is the most commonly used calendar in the world today. "Courtright believes that the Tower of the Winds was meant to be understood as a kind of symbol of the public persona promulgated by Pope Gregory as Vicarius Christi [the Vicar of Christ, the Pope's title] and of his vision of the reformation of Christianity," declared Pauline Moffitt Watts in the Renaissance Quarterly. "This public persona, at once the pastor of the universal church and temporal ruler of the patrimony of Peter, possessed unique spiritual and temporal powers." The calendar reform was memorialized in the Meridian Room, in which a window "let in a ray of light that marked the passage of the seasons along a meridian on the floor, reaching the center on the spring equinox," the time nearest the date of Easter, Watts concluded.
The Tower of the Winds is also a monument to the power of the Papacy in the Counter-Reformation era. A large part of Gregory's duties involved controlling the damage done to the Church by the Protestant Reformation and, in fact, the need to reform the calendar was part of this Counter-Reformation agenda. By defining the date of Easter, Gregory hoped to reunite the splintered church under the leadership of the Roman pontiff. The symbology of the Tower, including its many paintings featuring Biblical stories about storm and turmoil, or which drew on books of the Catholic Bible not accepted by Protestants, or even the landscapes (both real and imaginary) depicted on the walls of the chambers in the Tower's topmost levels, reinforced the idea that only the Roman Pope had the power and the authority to lead the world at the end of the turbulent sixteenth century. "In her exposition of the Tower of the Winds," Marder concluded, "Courtright carries the study of the Vatican Palace a good deal further than previous authors have managed to do in explaining science, art, and imagery in the time of Gregory XIII."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Art Bulletin, March, 2006, Tod A. Marder, review of The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Gregory XIII's Tower of the Winds in the Vatican, p. 181.
Art History, June, 2005, review of The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome.
Renaissance Quarterly, spring, 2005, Pauline Moffitt Watts, review of The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome, p. 208.
Sixteenth Century Journal, summer, 2005, Christopher J. Pastore, review of The Papacy and the Art of Reform in Sixteenth-Century Rome, p. 530.
Amherst College Web site,https://cms.amherst.edu/people/ (March 25, 2008), "Nicola M. Courtright."
College Art Association Web site,http://www.collegeart.org/ (March 25, 2008), "Nicola Courtright Elected CAA President."