Sabina Brevaglieri

I am an Early Modern historian (PhD University of Florence), with a significant background in art history (Sapienza Università di Roma) and post-doctoral research and teaching experience in the history of knowledge and science (Florence, European University Institute). I was IEF Marie Curie Fellow at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz (Historisches Seminar – Kunsthistorisches Institut), where I have been teaching courses in the history of knowledge (2013-). I was also awarded international fellowships in Münster, Paris and Washington DC.

At the Humboldt Universität Berlin (wiss. Miterbeiterin at the Zentralinstitut für katholische Theologie- Historische Theologie 2020-), I have launched my new project on non-European objects and their complex biographies with a “dispersed” workshop on Missionary objects and collecting (16th-20th centuries). In Berlin, I am also cooperating as an external expert with the Max-Plank Institute for the history of science– Dept. 1 (2020-). 

My research work and publications explore knowledge production and circulation issues, censorship, cultural mediation, missionary agency, and the political role of knowledge and artefacts with a strong focus on Rome in an entangled and global perspective (16th-19th centuries). After my Natural desiderio di sapere: Roma barocca fra vecchi e nuovi mondi, Roma, Viella, La corte dei papi, 2019, I started working on a new book project (English) on Baroque Rome as an ambiguous and fluid space of cultural mediation, exploring entanglements between knowledge networks, the Papal confessional, and universalistic politics from a trans-imperial perspective. In parallel, I am working on the missionary object collective project, to be published in a «Quaderni Storici» special issue.  

Missionary objects and collecting (16th-20th century)

News from a «Quaderni Storici» Lab

As the editor, I am currently preparing this special issue for the international peer-review Journal «Quaderni Storici» to be published in early 2022. With the aim to launch and develop a collective research agenda, I have designed and convened between March and April 2021 a new seminar series, which explores missionary engagement with objects and collecting through time and space.

Missionary objects and collecting draws attention to the complex dynamics of both physical mobility and cultural transformations permeating the tension between objects produced by local indigenous communities worldwide and the missionary agency since the 16th century. This collective project investigates entanglements of missionary object collecting within the competitive and conflictual colonial spaces and highlightes the essential role of religion in defining their complex meanings while continuously reconfiguring their contexts. The seminar series investigated missionary practices of object attention, selection, accumulation, and monopolisation. Indeed, we retraced creative practices of resistance and efforts to keep indigenous worship alive; we engaged with anti-idolatry campaigns and addressed both the material destruction and epistemic aggression of the sacred matter. At the same time, we explored missionary travels and circulations across the world, triggering complex perception and reception dynamics, display and exposition creating new publics, as well as competing patrimonialisation processes the objects embody through time and space.

Our regular zoom meetings allowed us to exchange our work with colleagues, academics and curators from many different countries, in a highly interdisciplinary environment and to establish promising partnerships, as the ones with Sapienza Università di Roma, Università di Roma Tre, Museo delle Civiltà Roma. Thanks to all participants for their valuable contribution to such a collective undertaking!

“Dispersed” workshop


Humboldt Universität zu Berlin



University of Bologna

4 March 2021, 5-7 pm
Handling sacrifice. Reception and perception of Mesoamerican knives in early modern Italy

Sergio BOTTA

Sapienza Università di Roma

11 March 2021, 5-7 pm
The Franciscan struggle against “sacred matter” in the New Spain (1524-1615)


University of Caen Normandie

25 March 2021, 5-7 pm
Instrumentos de misión y objetos de idolatría en Filipinas: un ensayo de etnografía misional en tiempos del arzobispo Felipe Pardo (1677-1689)
Discussant (English): Birgit Tremml Werner - Linnaeus University Växjö and Kalmar   


University of Florence

1 April 2021, 5-7 pm
“O Nigrizia O morte”. Le collezioni coloniali nei musei missionari in Italia 1882-1943.
Discussant (English): Elena Canadelli – University of Padua. The presentation has been kindly hosted by Antonio Clericuzio, Università Roma Tre

Alessandro DI MEO

University of Tuscia Viterbo

15 April 2021, 5-7 pm
Il museo cinese di Parma nella prima metà del Novecento
Discussant (English): Elisabetta Corsi –Sapienza Università di Roma
The presentation has been kindly hosted by Elisabetta Corsi and Sergio Botta, Sapienza Università di Roma

Mariana de Campos FRANÇOZO

University of Leiden

22 April 2021, 5-7 pm
Searching for Athanasius Kircher’s Brazilian collection 
The presentation has been kindly hosted by Antonio Clericuzio, Università Roma Tre and Loretta Paderni, Museo delle Civiltà - Roma. Discussant: Filippo Comisi, Museo delle Civiltà – Roma


Humboldt Universität zu Berlin 

29 April 2021, 5-7 pm
The origins of Propaganda Fide Museum. Tairona artefacts in Baroque Papal Rome.  

in cooperation with:

Natural desiderio di sapere

«Brevaglieri writes an insightful biography of the Tesoro Messicano, a compendium of knowledge relating to Mexican plants, many of which were believed to medicinal properties, which was compiled by Federico Cesi in Rome […]. But this book is so much more than that».
Robert John Clines, Western Carolina University, «Renaissance Quarterly», LXXIV, 1 2021

«Her impressive evocation of the intellectual fervour in Rome in the first half of the seventeenth century, […] makes the city come alive. Readers are treated to a riveting depiction of the city and the learned players involved in sharing and disputing ideas and circulating new knowledge about the Asian and American worlds».
James Nelson Novoa, University of Ottawa, «Renaissance and Reformation» 43, 3, 2020

«I protagonisti di questa stagione di apertura e curiosità non sono più solo le grandi figure a cui in genere si è associata la nascita dell’Accademia dei Lincei, da Cesi a Galilei, […], quanto i medici, gli speziali, i giardinieri, i missionari che contribuiscono in maniera determinante a creare il contesto in cui si pensò possibile dare l’avvio a più audaci intraprese intellettuali. È questa una delle proposte più innovative del Natural desiderio di sapere»
Stefano Villani, University of Maryland, «Rivista Storica Italiana», 2, 2021, forthcoming 

«Opzione di metodo è quella di indagare il sapere naturalistico come risorsa politica. […] Queste modalità del politico sono molto diverse da quelle privilegiate in studi, che, ragionando di storia naturale in relazione al farsi di imperi commerciali, tendono a risolvere il politico nelle pressioni dell’economico. Brevaglieri eccelle nell’analisi di come i significati della natura mutassero quale effetto di continui riaggiustamenti politici»
Silvia De Renzi, Open University (UK), «L’Indice dei libri del mese», 3, 2020