Suzanne Butters

Suzanne Butters


Personal profile


  • Please see our In Memoriam page for Suzy

    An American, Suzy studied art history, philosophy and music at Mount Holyoke College in the early 1960s, and after a year working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she also studied Italian at Hunter College (Night Division), she moved to Italy. Here she took an MA in art history, studied architecture for three years at Florence University's Facoltà di Architettura, and taught for American Junior-Year-Abroad programmes (Gonzaga, Ohio State, California State). In 1970 she married the historian Humfrey C. Butters and temporarily moved to England, where she began work on her Courtauld Institute PhD under the supervision of Howard Burns, initially on the Tuscan villas of cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici (1563-1587), an area of continuing research, but eventually on the topic she submitted, The problem of working porphyry: sculptors' tools and the tempering of steel under the sixteenth-century Medici dukes. In 1975, she joined the University of Manchester’s Art History department, where she remained until her retirement in 2009.

    Research initiatives at Manchester               

    In 2003, she founded and directed The University of Manchester's Italian Forum, an innovative research grouping of scholars interested in the arts, architecture and archaeology of Italy from antiquity to the present day. Until she retired, she organised numerous international, national and local Italian Forum events: academic conferences, workshops and day schools. From its foundation in 2004, she was a member of the University's cross-disciplinary research group, Landscape and Identity. In 2004-2005, she and Dr Tom Rasmussen devised an interdisciplinary MA for the University's new School of Arts, Histories & Cultures, Constructions of the Sacred, the Holy and the Supernatural; this drew on the research expertise from eight disciplines (Ancient History & Classics, Archaeology, Art History & Visual Studies, Drama, English & American Studies, History, Music, and Religions & Theology), with a view to encouraging new kinds of postgraduate and postdoctoral research projects, and new research groupings at Manchester. This it succeeded in doing, and many of its students went on to do PhDs.

  • Research interests

    Research interests (arts & science)  

    Suzy carries out most of her research in the archives of Florence and other major Italian cities (Venice, Mantua, Modena, Lucca, Rome). Her instinctive attachment to primary source material was definitively confirmed in the early 1970s when she joined the Harvard-sponsored team that identified documents from the Florentine State Archives flooded in 1966, and re-integrated them into their inventories. The wealth and variety of surviving archival documentation go some way to explaining how an expert on Renaissance villas and gardens came to investigate the imperial stone porphyry; her much acclaimed book The Triumph of Vulcan (1996) examined how it was worked and perceived under the sixteenth-century Medici dukes, and, more broadly, the relationship between artistic, technical and scientific innovation during the period. She has a continuing research interest in Medici workshops, technologies and object displays, and in the relationship between art and science under the first Medici dukes (1537-1609) (2000). This has also led her to explore the meanings of the word ‘art’ at the time, how ‘art’ could be valued, and the relationship between knowing, making and ‘the arts’ in the sixteenth century (2003, 2005, 2009, 2014). Her article on gifts (2007) demonstrates her interest in the materials, flexible uses and vascillating meanings attached to different kinds of objects and techniques, and her recent analysis of a ‘Monster’s’ plea to the Grand Duke exemplifies her delight in unpacking single, idiosyncratic documents discovered in the vast Medici letter collections (2015).

    Research interests (architecture, gardens and city planning)          

    Suzy has written widely on Medici villas, gardens, landscapes, architecture and city planning. As a pivotal member of the French-sponsored international team researching the Villa Medici in Rome, under the aegis of the Académie de France à Rome and the École française de Rome, she has written on the villa's principal patron (cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici 1563-88, and grand duke of Tuscany 1587-1609), and on the villa’s architecture and gardens (1991); her monumental co-edition of the documents relating to these studies, and to those of other team members, was published in 2010. With a view to a longer study of Ferdinando as a patron of architecture and the arts, she has written several essays about him and the contexts in which the works he commissioned and collected were understood at the time (1999, 2002, 2010); she is currently writing a book on Ferdinando’s villa, farming estate, hunting park and fisheries at Artimino (1590s), the subject of her MA thesis (1999). Three of her recent articles, on ‘Princely Waters’ (2010), Collemignoli (2009) and the Boboli hill (forthcoming 2017), explore many issues later raised by Artimino, and her article on Christine de Lorraine, Ferdinando’s wife (2011), considers the ducal court’s country pursuits. Suzy’s studies of Francesco I de’ Medici’s villa at Pratolino (1570s-80s) reflect her interests in the impact of forced labour on the design of Medici villas, gardens, territorial landscapes and waterways, and in the relevance of these rural constructions on Francesco’s interest in alchemy and natural magic (2001, 2010, 2012). In a more strictly architectural vein, she has written a case-study on the parameters of Renaissance architectural descriptions (2001), and her lengthy study, with Pier Nicola Pagliara, of the institutional, urban and patronage features of Julius II's reform of the law courts in early sixteenth-century Rome, previewed in 1995, appeared in 2009; her article on the fragmentary state of Rome at the time followed (2012). In her forthcoming study of the Boboli hill (2017), she explores how Cosimo I controlled his capital by judiciously timing Florence’s new civic and military projects; this, too, raises issues germane to the Medici management of the countryside. 

  • Memberships of committees and professional bodies

    Advisory roles                        

    Senior Advisor on Sussex University's three-year research project, The Material Renaissance (funded by the AHRB and the Getty Foundation) (2001-2003), she is a member of the Honorary Advisory Committee of the seminar of IESA (Institut d'Études Supérieures des Arts) on Collecting and Display 100BC to AD1700, based at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research. From its inception in 2001, she has been on the Advisory Board for the multi-volume publication Il Rinascimento italiano e l'Europa, funded by the Fondazione Cassamarca through the Centro dell'Umanesimo Latino in Treviso, and she contributed to its first volume (2005).She has participated in international workshops, most recently the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Metallurgy and Alchemy Workshop (23 June 2004), and the Getty Research Institute’s workshop on The Persistence of Techne: Nature, Design, and Early Modern Practice of the Arts, (Los Angeles, 15-17 March 2006), and is regularly invited to contribute to international conferences, colloquia and seminars.

  • Further information

    PhD supervisions at Manchester University  Suzyhassupervised, and seen to completion, doctoral research on a wide range of topics concerning early modern art and architecture, usually involving several arts or disciplines.

    — Folding Screens, Geography and Cultural Spaces in the Luso-Iberian World: Japan and Mexico, 1580-1716 (Giovanni Raneri, PhD 2015)

    — Michelangelo and San Lorenzo: A Case-Study of Building Practices for Renaissance Church Facades (Darin James Stine, PhD 2014).

    — Splendour displayed: state barges, embroidery and power in Renaissance Ferrara (Beatrice Mezzogori, PhD 2014).

    The Venetian Oltremare: Identity and Visual Culture in the Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean (Eva Stamoulou, PhD 2011)

    Baltic Amber in Early Modern Italy: Creation, Perception, and Consumption(Rachel King, PhD 2011).

     The Influence of Visual Art on English Renaissance Drama (1580-1642) (Chloe Porter, co-supervised with Leah Scragg & Naomi Baker from English & American Studies, The University of Manchester, PhD 2007)

     "Con bellissimo ordine": Antiquities in the Collection of Cosimo I de' Medici and Renaissance Archaeology (Andrea Gáldy, PhD 2002)

     Consuming Matters: Meals and their meanings in Italian painting 1500-1620(Siv Tove Kulbrandstad Walker, PhD 2002)

     Women of Power: Studies in the Patronage of Medici Grand Duchesses and Regentesses 1565-1650 (Alice Elizabeth Sanger, PhD 2000)

     Founders, Floods & Fathers: Narratives of Origin and Renewal in Florentine Art and Culture,1300-1600 (Alexander H. Pilcher, PhD 1998)

     Humoral Theory, Physiognomy and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Italy, 1400-1600 (Piers Dominic Britton, PhD 1997) 

    External PhD examinations  

    The PhD dissertations for which she has acted as an external examiner necessarily reflect the breadth of her research interests and experience. In addition, she has acted as an examiner for many MA and MPhil theses, internally at Manchester and externally at BirminghamUniversity, the Warburg Institute, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Victoria & AlbertMuseum and Royal College of Art, and CambridgeUniversity.

     Consumption and Baronial Identity in Sixteenth-Century Rome: Paolo Giordano I Orsini and his Possessions (1541-1585), Barbara Furlotti, supervisor Professor Evelyn Welch, Queen Mary College, University of London: co-examined with Professor Patricia Rubin, PhD 2009).

     On the Birth of Artefacts. Benedetto Varchi and the Naturalizing Approach to the Arts in Ducal Florence (Lionel Devlieger, University of Ghent, Belgium, supervisors Bart Verschaffel from the University Ghent and Caroline van Eck from the Universities of Groningen and Ghent, PhD 2005).

     The Choir of Florence Cathedral: Transformations of Sacred Space, 1334-1572(Louis Alexander Waldman,, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, supervisor Professor Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, PhD 1999).

     Horticultural Traditions and the Emergence of the Flower Garden in Italy (c.1550-c.1660) (Ada V. Segre, University of York, the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, DPhil, supervisor Professor Amanda Lillie, PhD 1995) 

  • Prizes and awards


    Suzy has received many grants and fellowships. The major ones were awarded by The Henry Moore Foundation (bookThe Triumph of Vulcan, 1991); the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Sylvia Lennie England Memorial Fund (invited public lectureArt and technology at the Medici Court, 1991); the British Academy (research projects The development of the Boboli hill in Florence under Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, 1978; Estense and Gonzaga views of Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, his family and his friends (1563-1587), 1998); the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation (research project Venetian views of Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, his family and his friends (1563-1587), 1998); the Arts & Humanities Research Board (AHRB) (research project Medici Villas, Gardens and Landscapes in the Sixteenth Century, 2002-3); the Leverhulme Trust in 1998-9 (research project Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici as patron) and again from the Leverhulme Trust in 2006-07 (research project Constructing Ferdinando I de’ Medici’s Artimino). She has been a stipendiary Fellow (1987-88) and a Visiting Professor (1998-1999) at the HarvardUniversityCenter for Italian Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti, in Florence. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions