ITALIAN 191: Disease and Disabilities In Medieval and Early Modern Art and Literature

Instructor: Massimo Ciavolella

Humanity has always shown a keen interest in the pathological, ranging from a morbid fascination with `monsters’ and deformities to a genuine compassion for the ill and suffering. Medieval and early modern people were not exception, expressing their emotional response to disease in both literary works and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the plastic arts. But what motivated workers and artists to choose an illness or a disability and its physical and social consequences as subjects of aesthetic or intellection expression? Were these works the result of an intrusion in their intent to faithfully reproduce nature, or do they reflect an intentional contrast against the pre-modern portrayal of spiritual ideals and, later, through the influence of the classics, the rediscovered importance and beauty of the human body? In this course we will try to address these questions, mainly through an analysis of the societal reactions to the threats and challenges that essentially unopposed disease and physical impairment presented.

Taught in English.