A proposal to include a statue of the world’s first woman to receive a doctorate among 78 dedicated to prominent male figures in a prominent square in northern Italy has sparked controversy.
Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Pescopia received her Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Padua in 1678. But it was not included when Padua officials devised a project in the late 18th century to erect statues in Prato della Valle – Italy’s largest – dedicated to notable historical figures who were either from city or have connections with it.
Originally there were 88 statues adorning 90 meters2 An oval-shaped square, all in honor of men, including Italian scholar Galileo Galilei, sculptor Antonio Canova, and several popes. But 10 statues of Venetian dogs were destroyed by Napoleon’s army after they invaded the Republic of Venice. Eight were later replaced by obelisks, while two of the pillars remained empty.
Although there is already a statue honoring Biskobia at the University of Padua, two local chancellors, Simone Peltieri and Margherita Colonello, suggested celebrating her with another on one of the empty pedestals in Prato della Valle. “It may not have been well known that the figures to whom the stone statues are dedicated are all, without exception, men,” the couple wrote in a motion to the city council.
The proposal came after Mi Riconosci, an association of professionals working in the cultural heritage sector, conducted a census of all statues of Italian figures erected in public spaces across the country and found that only 148 are for women.
Federica Arcoracci, art historian with Mi Riconosci, said the male-only Prato della Valle lineup “has had an impact on our lives and our collective imagination.” She said: “The Prato della Value Act of 1776 prohibited statues of saints, living persons, and people without connections to the city, but it never prohibited representations of women.
“Obviously this was the result of a certain trend in history. But today it is possible to create a project connected to the history of the entire square.”
However, the proposal immediately sparked controversy, with critics arguing that placing the Piskobia statue in the square would be “out of context” with its history. Carlo Fumian, a professor of history at the University of Padua, said the “extravagant and grotesque” idea was “a bit fashionable, but culturally inconsistent”.
“Moving the landmarks as if they were a Lego is a dangerous and unintelligent game,” he told local newspaper Il Mattino di Padova. “Instead, we should help people discover the origin [statue], seated triumphantly in the university.”
Art historian David Tramarin has said that the two pedestals should remain empty because they are symbolic of the historical destruction by Napoleon’s forces.
Fabrizio Magani, supervisor of Padua’s cultural heritage, is open about the idea, but suggested that a female figure from recent history should be celebrated in the square.
“It is appalling that the mere suggestion of acquiring a statue representing such an important figure in the city has caused such controversy,” said Leonardo Besson, a journalist based in Padua. “But surprisingly, Piscopia isn’t around while there are other, less important male characters.”