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Art, History & Politics, Literature

Botticelli (and Dante) Reborn

The Race to Define the Renaissance and the Rise of the Connoisseur

Thursday, October 3, 2019
6:30 pm


A lecture by
Joseph Luzzi, Bard College

How did the rediscovery of Sandro Botticelli’s art, especially his blockbuster set of Dante drawings purchased in London in 1882 by the German government, contribute to the race to define “the Renaissance” in 19th-century Europe? Prof. Luzzi will begin answering this question by showing how Giorgio Vasari’s critical reading of Botticelli helped banish him—and his Dante project—to oblivion for centuries. This talk will discuss the place of Botticelli and Dante in the pioneering work of Renaissance historians ranging from Jacob Burckhardt to Jules Michelet, and also show how Walter Pater’s landmark Studies in the History of the Renaissance from 1873—along with the work of fellow Oxford professor John Ruskin—helped rediscover and rehabilitate the long-forgotten Botticelli (and his drawings of Dante) in Victorian England and throughout Europe. Attention will also be given to how the rise of “connoisseurs,” professional authenticators of artistic provenance like Bernard Berenson, contributed to the Botticellian rebirth and, by extension, his Dante project.

Joseph Luzzi (PhD Yale, 2000) is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, and was recently a Wallace Fellow at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti, where he was writing a cultural history of Dante’s Divine Comedy that will appear with Princeton University Press. He is the author of Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy (Yale University Press, 2008), which received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies; A Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), a finalist for the international prize “The Bridge Book” Award; My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (HarperCollins, 2015), which has been translated into Italian, German, and Korean. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, TLS, Bookforum, and American Scholar, among others, and his scholarly writing has appeared in PMLA, Modern Language Notes, Modern Language Quarterly, Raritan, Italica, and Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. His media appearances include a profile in the Guardian and an interview with National Public Radio. Among his honors are a Dante Society of America essay prize, Yale College teaching prize, and fellowships from the National Humanities Center and Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. The first American-born child in his Italian immigrant family, Luzzi was named Cittadino Onorario / Honorary Citizen of Acri, Calabria, in 2017.


Organized by Prof. Alison Cornish, “Dante and…” is a series of lectures that focus on Dante’s relevance in today’s world. These lectures feature scholars and experts from many different fields of interest, invited to present their unique readings of the poet’s works.