New history article in Human Relations

A fabulous new early modern (!) history article by my colleague Elena Giovannoni has been published in Human Relations – which has become a great place for historical research in management organization studies.

City governance and visual impression management: Visual semiotics and the Biccherna panels of Siena ​

Jane Davison, Elena Giovannoni
First Published August 13, 2022 Research Article 


A major preoccupation in the contemporary organizational landscape is governance and how to cope with conflict and uncertainty. These challenges are particularly evident in the governance of cities, with their complex histories, politics and administrative processes. We argue that visual artefacts can form powerful visual impression management, constituting ‘visual governance’, for dealing with such complexities. We construct a framework from the visual semiotics of Umberto Eco, extended by medieval aesthetics. We analyse the pre-modern case of the Sienese Biccherna panels (painted covers and paintings linked to the city accounts) to show how their calligraphy, heraldry and pictures convey idealized reassuring images of orderly administration, in times of complicated, disordered underlying realities. In demonstrating how art and accounting are intertwined as tools of governance, and that there are contemporary resonances in corporate annual reporting, we add both to research in governance and to visual organizational research, and pave the way for further interdisciplinary work on the relationship between art and organizations.

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