Chiara Siravo

History of Design

Jacques Callot, Second Act Where Hell Was Seen Taking Arms to Avenge Circe Against Tirreno (early seventeenth century)


27 x 29 cm

Title of Dissertation: The Material Culture of Hell – Shaping a parallel world (Italy 1500–1700)

This dissertation is an attempt to look at hell as a geographical space and a parallel world within which materials, people and things took on new shapes and meanings. It was a world, and therefore, as with many other worlds, attempts were made to describe it, imagine it, explore it and, ultimately, to get as close to it as possible, without of course falling into the ‘pit of destruction’. This was done, to name a few, via the written word, scientific investigation, spiritual exercises, theatre and all of the arts. Therefore the Italian hell of the early modern period must be approached and studied from a multidisciplinary perspective, as indeed hell was designed by architects, painters, dramaturgs, artisans and by writers, printers, scientists and of course clerics, not to mention a few heretics.

Rather than tracing a linear transformation in the perceptions of hell in early modern Italy, this paper has attempted to study its material world in all its variety, in order to establish how hell was indeed made material.

Many if not most of the objects and material ideas explored have led me to conclude that the material world was used both to open hell and to harness it. From measuring this invisible world to searching for it in the surrounding natural landscape, as well as by attempting to make concrete the physical pain of the hidden souls of hell, we realise that above all else hell was a mystery that needed to be solved.

+44 (0)7724 555 993


Supported by: Gillian Naylor Essay Prize in Memory of Tom Naylor

Harry Beard Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum – S.1832-2009



BA (Hons), History, School of Oriental and African Studies, 2008


Stylist, Atelier VM, Milan, Italy, 2010–12; Internship, The Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Egypt, 2010; Assistant to the historian, Comuniteé Urbain de Douala/Cotecno-MGA, Douala, Cameroon, 2009; Internship, Robert Capa Archive, International Center of Photography, New York, USA, 2008


Best first term essay V&A/RCA MA, History of Design, Gillian Naylor Essay Prize Award in the Memory of Tom Naylor, 2011


'The Design of Hell in Early Modern Italy 1500–1700', Article written by Chiara Siravo, Arc Editor Charmian Griffin, Arc 16, Royal College of Art, 2012