Vincent Roy- Di Piazza - The Oxford Venice Initiative Blog Report

My name is Vincent Roy-Di Piazza, I am a DPhil student at Linacre College in history of science and medicine & economic and social history. I am an AHRC funded student and the current Ryle Scholar in philosophy of science at Oxford. I am working on 18th century Swedish civil servant, natural philosopher and visionary theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). My DPhil dissertation focuses on Swedenborg’s soul-body interaction theories, and one of the goals of my research is to shed new light on Swedenborg’s scientific methodology and use of evidence when he started to define himself as an anatomist. Swedenborg’s travel to Venice in 1738 marked an important step in his scientific career, and illustrates the particular role maintained by the Venetian republic for the study and practice of anatomical dissection during the 18th century. Swedenborg went to the city of Venice for 4 months from April to August 1738. He reportedly came here to complete his major work on the brain, which potentially involved witnessing and practicing cerebral dissections. However, Swedenborg’s gave very few details in his diary and personal letters for this period, only saying that he left the city “having completed his work”. Specialists regularly speculated on the true nature of Swedenborg’s training and activities during his Venetian residence. The goal of my research in Venice was therefore to contrast the conclusions of existing scholarship with archival research to assess if more could be found.

Thanks to the Oxford-Venice Initiative, I was able to stay in the Vittore Branca Center of the Fondazione Cini, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, in front of the Piazza San Marco. I met scholars and artists at the Branca Center, and worked in libraries at the Cini and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in San Marco. While doing my research there, I found that most of the assumptions made by previous scholars about Swedenborg’s Venetian travel were actually untrue, a fact which was promising for my future research. Being in Venice during the 2019 Biennale of Contemporary Art across town was also an intellectually stimulating experience. On the day before my leave, residents were graciously invited to attend a classical concert in the auditorium of the Fondazione Cini, with its astonishing view on the sea. I felt very fortunate for the support I received during this traveland hope to publish an article out of my researches on Venice in the future, and I am most grateful to Torch, the Fondazione Cini, the archivists and all the people who supported and made it possible.


Vincent Roy- Di Piazza


Click here to see some pictures Vincent took during his stay at the Fondazione Cini!