Brenna McWhorter, a senior majoring in Art History with a minor in Business Administration and Italian Interdisciplinary Studies, won the 2020 Art History Symposium for her paper “Piety and Reform: The Visual Transmission of Savonarolan Doctrine by Artists of the Italian Renaissance”. The symposium took place on February 13, 2020 in Hatton Gallery.

McWhorter will represent CSU at the annual Front Range Art History symposium, which will feature student presentations from universities all across the Front Range. The event rotates among the participating institutions and will be held at CU-Denver this year. Typically, it is a daylong event with groups of presenters where students read their work and respond to question from the audience.

The symposium is a wonderful opportunity for students to gain professional experience in a conference/symposium setting, to present work to a broader public audience, build their CV, and support graduate school applications.

Her paper focused on the visual transmission of the visions and sermons of the prophet Fra Girolamo Savonarola in Florence at the beginning of the 16th century. In it, she discusses “how artists such as Fra Bartolommeo, Raphael, and Botticelli visually translate Savonarola’s ideology in order to make it more palatable to an audience that may have been put-off by Savonarola’s radical rhetorical style, and to disperse it to audiences who may have been unfamiliar with Savonarolan doctrine in order to promote reform within the Catholic Church.”

“While all of the finalists developed wonderful essays, Brenna’s presentation was chosen because it best represented a topic that was original, and that required original, critical research that ultimately contributes to the broader field of art history,” says David Riep, Associate Professor of Art History, “Her paper had a clear thesis and arguable claim for which she located firm supporting evidence, and she best articulated it in a clear and nuanced manner.”

Her interest in Savonarola developed when she began reading about the life of Michelangelo, who was working in Florence under the Medici family when Savonarola first came to Florence and began issuing his diatribe against the Medici. While studying in Florence, she visited the site Savonarola was burned at the stake for heresy in the Piazza della Signoria, as well as the convent of San Marco where Savonarola was abbot of the Dominican order.

During her research, McWhorter’s shifted her perspective of Savonarola from an iconoclast and religious zealot, finding him to be an intensely fascinating character and focused her research on his impact on artistic production in Florence.

“I am so honored and excited to have been chosen to represent CSU at the Front Range Art History and Visual Culture Symposium,” McWhorter says of her win, “I found this research to be incredibly fascinating and I am excited to be given the opportunity to share it with others, and I am even more excited that others seem interested in hearing about it. I am hoping that this is a stepping stone that will lead to future opportunities to share research like this, and I’m so grateful to the Art History Department and faculty for their help and guidance. “

The Front Range Art history symposium provides an opportunity for her to represent the department of Art and Art History to a larger audience, demonstrating the rigor of the program, and the quality of our students.