I am a social and cultural historian of early modern Europe with a particular interest in the nobility and religion. My work often approaches these subjects with the help of theoretical concepts from sociology and anthropology.
My forthcoming book, Aristocratic Power in the Spanish Monarchy: The Borromeo Brothers of Milan, 1620-1680 (OUP, 2023), offers a fresh take on the transformation of the warrior nobility into a court aristocracy in the seventeenth century. It locates the birth of the service nobility in the trough of the crisis of legitimacy that the government of minister-favorites ushered in across Western Europe in the 1640s. By that time, the war mongering of the warrior nobility had fostered widespread opposition to the rule of an elite who purported to govern in the name of the collective good but all too often seemed more interested in its own social advancement. That resistance from below spawned a reinvention of nobles as disinterested princely servants committed to the good governance of the king’s commonwealth. Using the Borromeo family from Spanish Milan as a case study, Aristocratic Power in the Spanish Monarchy shows how a governing class under pressure from below gave its rule a facelift that changed early modern societies forever.
My current research project is titled Between Baroque Piety and Enlightened Catholicism: The Cult of the Immaculate Conception in Spain, Italy, and France, 1650-1800. It examines how the exchange of printed texts and visual images, invisible ideas and tangible material objects simultaneously promulgated and reshaped the belief that the Mother of God had been conceived without the stain of original sin. Building on recent work on the “dynamization” of Catholicism at the turn of the eighteenth century, the project looks at how increased mobility and new media invigorated debates between proponents of traditional expressions of baroque piety, with its exteriorized and collective belief in the supernatural, and votaries of austere, enlightened forms of religiosity, with its commitment to abstract spirituality. My goal is to use the devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception as a lens through which to explore the negotiated character of early modern Catholicism and, more broadly, the dynamics of debates on proper spiritual practice at work in many religious traditions across time and space.