A palace in Prato

A palace in Prato

17 September 2001

The idea of Renaissance historian Professor Bill Kent, the Prato Centre is one of Monash’s most successful international ventures. The tourist hotspot of Florence was passed over in favour of the nearby town of Prato. While Professor Kent was at first sceptical, the idea of a Monash centre in Prato soon won him over. Situated only 19 kilometres from Florence, Prato boasts much of the historic and artistic history of the nearby city, but without the tourist crowds. Monash students and staff would be close to the cultural metropolis but away from the tourist crowds, and surrounded by. To complete the historical experience, an eighteenth-century classical palace, the Palazzo Vai, was suggested as the home for the Monash centre. In Prato, students can encounter the real Tuscany. With the philanthropic support of a prominent Italian-Australian couple, Rino and Diana Grollo, the project was launched.

Professor Bill Kent

One of Australia’s most distinguished Renaissance scholars, Professor Bill Kent was one of Monash’s academic stars. In a career spanning over 40 years at Monash, he inspired generations of students, achieved international renown as a scholar of Renaissance Italy, and established Monash’s Prato Centre.

Born in working-class Footscray, Francis William (Bill) Kent developed an interest in Renaissance history early. After completing his honours degree at the University of Melbourne, he headed to the University of London to complete his doctoral training. Professor Kent’s doctoral thesis, tracing kinship among the most prominent Florentine families, put him at the forefront of Renaissance social and urban historians.

In 1971, Professor Kent returned to Monash, where he had begun his teaching career in the 1960s. He started the first Renaissance Florence history course, and, in 1996, took the course overseas, teaching The Renaissance in Florence. But his vision wasn’t only to teach Monash students in Florence. He wanted to establish a teaching and research centre in Italy, like the Harvard I Tatti Centre in Fisole. He wanted Monash to have a place where students and staff could immerse themselves in Tuscany and its rich history. This idea turned into one of Monash’s most successful international ventures and the Centre was established in Prato in 2001. After a number of years as the director of the Prato centre, Professor Kent returned to Monash Clayton, where he continued his important work on Renaissance Florence as a professorial fellow.

In 2010, he died of cancer after a two-year battle with the disease. The Bill Kent Foundation was established to honour his life and work. The Foundation includes a library and offers two fellowships for postgraduate or post-doctoral researchers.