Dr Emanuela Vai - Bate Conservation, Research and Curatorial Projects


Dr Emanuela Vai is Senior Research Fellow and Head of Research at Worcester College; Hill Collection of Musical Instruments at the Ashmolean Museum and Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, University of Oxford. Previously, Dr Vai  held positions at the University of Oxford as Scott Opler Fellow; at the University of Cambridge; at the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the University of York (CREMS); at the Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance de Tours (CESR); and at the Harvard Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti. 

Her work has received the support of fellowships and grants from the British Academy, 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. 


Research Interests

Her research is located at the interdisciplinary intersection of art history and music history and her publications focus on musical instruments, soundscapes, space and the senses in Renaissance social life. 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. 

Dr Vai is the founder and academic lead of the Digital Humanities and Sensory Heritage Network: Space, Objects and the Senses at TORCH, an interdisciplinary team of scholars working on digital humanities, musical instruments, space and sound from a variety of perspectives and across disciplines. 

Her research has appeared in publications by Bibliotheca Hertziana, Brepols, Olschki and Skira, among others, and in journals such as Renaissance Quarterly, Renaissance Studies and Art History. Her current project, a monograph entitled Fantastic, Monstrous and Marvellous Musical Instruments of the Global Renaissance, explores the carvings of human and nonhuman figures, monsters and grotesque creatures on the scrolls and headstocks of stringed musical instruments. This work, based at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, has been funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust and is now continuing with a EU Commission Grant, and 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.


Recent Projects

Dr Vai has led the following grant-funded projects:

- PI of 'Fantastic, Monstrous and Marvellous Musical Instruments of the Global Renaissance' [funded by EU Commission]

- PI of 'Renaissance Musical Instruments (Digital Humanities and Heritage)' at the Ashmolean Museum [funded by the John Fell Fund, University of Oxford]

- PI of 'Monstruous and Marvellous Musical Instruments: Digital Humanities and Renaissance Music Heritage' [funded by H2020 EU MSCA]

- PI of 'Dis-playing Musical Instruments. Cultures of Collecting and Practices of Performing' [funded by The British Academy/Leverhulme Trust]

- Academic Lead of 'Digital Humanities and Sensory Heritage: Space, Objects and the Senses' Network [funded by TORCH, Humanites Division, University of Oxford]

- Co-PI of 'ATRIUM- Transcription of all of Vitruvius's manuscripts' [funded by ERC-2022-ADG]

- 'Monstrous Materialities: Representations of the Grotesque on Scrolls and Headstocks of Italian Renaissance Stringed Instruments (14th-17th c.)' [funded by Harvard University]

- Academic Lead of  'Space and Sound: Architecture for Music', a regional strand of of 'Architectura e Identità Locali: Dalla Letteratura Architettonica agli Scritti Letterari, Dalla Costituzione di una Tradizione alla Conservazione' [funded by PRIN 2010-2012]

- PI of 'Digital Humanities and Music Heritage: Space, Musical Instruments and the Senses' [funded by the Newton Trust, University of Cambridge]



Dr Vai leads on all conservation, research, management and curatorial aspects at the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments.