Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Victoria Young

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall

Third Advisor

Heather M. Shirey


The pinnacle of sacred architecture during the Italian Renaissance is defined by monumental, opulent, and inherently religious edifices designed specifically for ritual use by the Christian Church, however, I believe that not all sacred spaces are necessarily religious by nature, as I propose is the case with Villa Eolia, a naturally cave-cooled villa located in the hills of Costozza, Italy.

Villa Eolia and its subterranean ventilation system, both designed in the 1560s by local architect Francesco Trento, provide an example of pneumatic architecture, a theme dating back to classical antiquity which describes architecture that involves the channeling of wind or water into edifices which takes the form of pneuma – defined as “breath” or “spirit.” While Trento’s pneumatic architecture was highly praised through the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Villa Eolia remained relatively obscure in the canon of architectural history until discovered by contemporary scholar Barbara Kenda whose work explores the pneumatic architecture of Eolia in relation to well-being.

Using Kenda’s investigation as a point of departure, I layer on the work of contemporary scholars of unconventional sacred space and utilize a comparative analysis of Eolia to other works of architecture to classify the villa specifically as a sacred space. I argue that the pneumatic architecture of Villa Eolia not only influenced the interior atmosphere of the structure, but it also served as a mediator between the earthly and the divine, creating a sacred space for transcendent experiences to occur and impacting activities that took place there. Through an analysis of the cave, the wind, and the cosmos at Villa Eolia, my goal of this research is to convey the power of architecture in creating sacred experiences and connecting the individual to something greater than oneself, even if the architecture itself is not inherently religious.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.