Sculpted tombs of the professors of the University of Padua, c. 1358-c. 1557

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gary M. Radke


Italian art, tomb inscriptions, Art History, European history, Womens studies

Subject Categories

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture


The present study examines the forty-two monumental sculpted tombs of one of the most highly respected occupational groups in Padua, its university professors, during the first two centuries in which they were made, beginning in the mid-Trecento. It examines the institutions in which the professors worked, patronage and manufacture of the tombs, the two major tomb types and other tombs outside the prevalent designs, and the significance of the tombs.

The first chapter examines the character of university life to understand the identity and status of the professors. It shows that law professors enjoyed a higher reputation and were accorded more generous salaries than their counterparts in liberal arts and medicine. Professors from outside Padua received preferential treatment compared to the locally-born, though many of the latter whose tombs are the subject of the present study attained the prestigious teaching posts and were paid generous, albeit somewhat lower salaries.

Chapter Two analyzes documents and tomb inscriptions to understand the circumstances of creating the tombs. Documents show that professors considered the matter of their burial important and often requested a funerary monument. Epitaphs focus on their renown for learning and teaching, sometimes record noble titles, family lineage, and homeland as marks of honor, and less often express belief in the everlasting life of the immortal soul.

Chapter Three treats the format and development of the eighteen tombs which feature a gisant effigy of the deceased. The traditional gisant figure was adapted for professors by the addition of books at the head and feet, so that this combination of effigy and books becomes identified exclusively with the occupation of university instructor.

Chapter Four treats the antecedents and development of the sixteen tombs which feature the figure seated in isolation with a book and one additional tomb with a teaching scene. The effectiveness of what is termed the scholar figure in communicating the professors' erudition is enhanced by the association of this image with celebrated intellectuals who had particular connections to Padua.

Chapter Five gives separate treatment to five tombs with unique imagery and treats two tombs featuring a portrait bust within the late development of the bust portrait in northeast Italy.

Chapter Six concludes that erudition and teaching are the consistent themes of the tombs. The display of books, the scholar figure of the professors, and content of the epitaphs, unique to university instructors, affirm their special identity as a learned elite. While the focus is on the earthly renown of the deceased, in many tombs the fervent wish for immortal fame for secular pursuits coexists with the hope for the everlasting life of the soul.


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