Dr Emanuela Vai

Emanuela is the founder of the Renaissance Musical Instrument Network (ReMIn) and she teaches on the Master of Advanced Studies in Renaissance Polyphony Performance at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana. She also collaborates with the Royal Academy of Music in London and she serves on international editorial boards.

Emanuela’s research is located at the interdisciplinary intersection of art history, architectural history and musicology. Her work combines the analysis of historical materials with 3D virtual modelling, GIS platforms and acoustic analyses, to investigate the relationship between art, music, space and the senses in the Renaissance. She recently joined the TORCH research group ‘(En)coding Heritage‘ where she explores the benefits and limitations of digital humanities methods for approaching and understanding historical sources, material objects and cultural heritage.

Her publications focus on musical instruments, soundscapes, space and the senses in Renaissance social life and her articles have appeared in publications by Bibliotheca HertzianaBrepolsOlschki and Skira, among others, and in journals such as Renaissance QuarterlyRenaissance Studies and Art History.  Co-author of Reshaping Sacred Space: Liturgy, Patronage and Design in Church Interiors ca. 1500 – 1750 (2015), Emanuela is currently working on two main projects. The first is a monograph that explores the multiple sensory registers through which urban events and rituals were encountered and experienced in early modern northern Italy. Her second book project, entitled Music Materialities, explores the carvings of human and nonhuman figures, monsters and grotesque creatures on the scrolls and headstocks of stringed musical instruments. This work constitutes the first comprehensive study of these decorative elements, exploring what they say about the visual, material and non-auditory dimensions of Renaissance music culture. Emanuela is also currently editing a collection of essays on the material culture of Renaissance music entitled Rethinking Renaissance Musical Instruments.

Academic Engagement

Emanuela champions the public engagement of academic research, working across a diversity of cultural heritage and digital humanities projects, serving as consultant and advisor for international institutions and associations, with the aim of building and improving partnerships between academia, policy and industry for the study and preservation of tangible and intangible culture.

She acts as a mentor for early career researchers with the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) and serves as an advisory member for international projects in Europe and the US. At Oxford, she continues to serve as the Research Staff Representative for the Faculties of History and Music and the Conference of Colleges, and she sits on the Humanities Research Committee as Research Representative.


Vai, E., Crosbie, M., Reshaping Sacred Space: Liturgy, Patronage and Design in Church Interiors ca. 1500 – 1750, co-authored (University of St Andrews: North Street Review, Special Edition, 2015).

Di Teodoro, F.P., Corrain, L., Vai E., ed., Architetture e Identità Locali II, (Firenze: Biblioteca dell’Archivium Romanicum Olschki, 2013).

Vai, E., Di Teodoro, F.P., Niebaum, J., ed., Bramante e la sua arte nel Rinascimento, Max-Planck Institute for History of Art & Bibliotheca Hertziana 2021. (In press)

Vai, E., Sensorial Encounters in Renaissance Northern Italy (in preparation).

 Vai, E., ed., Rethinking Renaissance Musical Instruments, ed. (in preparation).

Book Chapters and Articles

Vai, E., ‘Looking for Harmonia at the time of Bramante in Renaissance Italy’, in Bramante e la sua arte nel Rinascimento. ed. Di Teodoro, F.P., Niebaum, J., Vai, E., (10,000 words), Max-Planck Institute for History of Art & Bibliotheca Hertziana 2021. (In press)

Vai, E., ‘Introduction’, The Museum of Renaissance Music, ed. Shepard, T., Borghetti, V., (4,000 words) Brepols 2021. (In press)

Vai, E., ‘Staging Music, Shaping Sound at the Confraternity of the Misericordia Maggiore’, Music and Art in the Italian Church Interior, Renaissance Studies Special Issue, ed. Stefanescu, L. C., Sessini, S. (Cambridge University Press 2022).

Vai, E., ‘The Sensorial Experience of the Heavens in Renaissance Italy’, in Air and Heavens in the Hierotopy and Iconography of the Christian World, ed. Lidov, A. (Moscow: Lomonosov Moscow State University – Russian Academy of Arts, 2019) pp. 121-128.

Vai, E., ‘Urban Processions as Theatrical Sensoryscapes in Early Modern Bergamo’, The Theatre of the City, ed. Centanni, M. (in preparation with Engramma)

Vai, E., ‘Sounds of Devotion? Religious and Civic Performances at the Confraternity of the Misericordia Maggiore in Early Modern Bergamo’, The Soundscape of the Venetian Terraferma in the Early Modern Era, ed. Bryant, D., L. Collarile (in preparation with Brepols)

Vai, E., ‘Renaissance Musical Instruments’, Routledge Encyclopaedia of the Renaissance World, ed. Poole, K. (in preparation with Routledge)

Vai, E., ‘Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe’Renaissance Quarterly, 72(3), September 2019, pp.1118-1121.

Vai, E., ‘The Quest for Lost Sound’Art History, Volume 42, Issue 3, June 2019, pp. 599-605.

Vai, E., ‘Extreme Gardening: 300 years before the Chelsea Flower Show. Architecture, Mechanisms and Music’, University of York Research Digital Repository, May 2016.

Vai, E., ‘Polyphonic Space. Harmony and measure in the Palatine Basilica of St Barbara in Mantua (Mantua, 1562)’, in Spazi aurali. Archiettura e sound design, ed. Pe, R. (Milano: Postmedia books, 2016), pp. 39-71.

Vai, E., ‘Music at the time of Piero della Francesca between Art and Science’in Piero della Francesca. Il disegno tra arte e scienza, ed. Camerota, F., Di Teodoro, F.P., Grasselli, L. (Milano: Skira, 2015), pp. 100-113.

Vai, E., ‘Ad efformandos Principes. The ‘selected’ library of the Miles Christianus of the Jesuit Antonio Possevino: Music and Architecture’in Il Principe Invisible, ed. Bertolini, L., Calzona, A., (Brepols: Turnhout 2015), pp. 431- 451.

Vai, E.,  ‘Magnificentia. Devotion and Civic Piety in the Renaissance Venetian Republic’, Investigating and Writing Architectural History: Subjects, Methodologies and Frontiers, EAHN International Meeting, ed. Rosso, M. (Compagnia di San Paolo Torino 2014), pp. 1219-1230.

Vai, E., ‘The Basilica of St. Barbara: A Sounding Architecture’ in Monteverdi Vespers, Cantar Lontano, ed. M. Mencoboni (dir), (Pesaro: E lucevan le stelle Records, 2011), pp. 17-20 and pp. 33-38.

Review of Francesca Muzio. Un trattato universale dei colori.Il Ms 2861 della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna, Leo Olschki editore Firenze 2012, HISTARA, Les Comptes Rendus, August 2012.

Review of Susan Pollack ed., Il Dolce potere delle cordeOrfeo, Apollo, Arione e Davide nella grafica tra Quattro e Cinquecento, Leo S. Olschki, Florence 2012, HISTARA, Les Comptes Rendus, September 2012.

A complete list of publications, conferences and lectures is available at:


Dr Emanuela Vai is a Research Fellow and Lecturer at Worcester College, University of Oxford and an Associate Lecturer in History of Art at Oxford Brookes University. Previously, she has held positions at the University of Cambridge; at the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the University of York (CREMS); and at the Harvard Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, where she was Hanna Kiel Fellow. She has recently been appointed a visiting professor at the Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance de Tours (CESR).

Emanuela’s research is located at the intersection of art history, architectural history and musicology and her publications focus on musical instruments, soundscapes, space and the senses in Renaissance social life. Her work has received the support of fellowships and grants from the Society for Renaissance Studies, the Royal Historical Society, the Renaissance Society of America, the Kress Foundation, the École Pratique des Hautes Études, the Academia Belgica and the Newton Trust at the University of Cambridge, among others.