Thursday Seminar: Jeremy Melius / Joseph Luzzi


Thursday, October 12, 2017, 6:00pm


Gould Hall

“Gothic and Anti-Gothic in Ruskin’s Renaissance” / “The Secret Lives of Books: Toward a Biography of Dante’s Divine Comedy” 

“Gothic and Anti-Gothic in Ruskin’s Renaissance”

This presentation stems from a larger project that aims to reconsider the Victorian critic John Ruskin’s intense and complex investments in Italian Renaissance art, especially as they took on a new intensity in the searching, difficult texture of Ruskin’s later writings.The development of his attitude may be be traced through his shifting conception of the Gothic. In The Stones of Venice (1851-3), with its unbridled hostility towards Renaissance culture, and especially in its most famous chapter, “The Nature of Gothic,” the term emerged as the cri de guerre of a polemical struggle against the spiritual, social, and artistic degradations of modern life. And yet, in later accounts of Renaissance art written during the 1870s, the Gothic came to serve as one term within a fruitful dialectic of historical emergence, as Ruskin described a more nuanced set of relations between the classical and the Gothic as constituting the leading edge of early Renaissance art—an art he had by now come to worship. The work of key quattrocento painters, Ruskin suggested, embodied a ceaseless tension between “Greek” qualities of “motion,” “indifference,” and “fleshiness,” on the one hand, and an uncanny persistence of a “Gothic” marked by “quietness,” “passion,” and “hungry wasting of the self-forgetful body” on the other. The presentation explores the stylistic and temporal complexity of such tension, and hopes to suggest something of its continued relevance in looking, both with and against Ruskin, at Renaissance art.

JEREMY MELIUS is Assistant Professor of Art History at Tufts University, where he specializes in modern art and art writing, as well as the afterlives of Renaissance culture. His writings have appeared in Art History, October, Critical Inquiry, and elsewhere. He is currently completing a book entitled The Invention of Botticelli and at work on another concerning the fraught relation between Ruskin and Art History

“The Secret Lives of Books: Toward a Biography of Dante’s Divine Comedy” 

This talk will draw on current research for Joseph Luzzi's forthcoming book, “Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Biography,” which will appear in Princeton University Press’s Lives of Great Religious Books series. He will focus on three major moments in the history of Dante’s reception: (1) Giovanni Boccaccio’s paid lectures on the Commedia in Florence in 1373 and his heated debates with Petrarch over the value of Dante; (2) Sandro Botticelli’s intense engagement with Dante during the 1480s and 1490s, when he illustrated the entirety of Dante’s epic poem; and (3) the modern rediscovery of Botticelli’s Dante drawings by such key figures as Walter Pater and Bernard Berenson. We will explore how these individual episodes share common ground in key elements of Dante’s transhistorical and interdisciplinary reception – a reception, Luzzi will argue, that Dante helped create through his own specific poetic theories and practices.

JOSEPH LUZZI (PhD, Yale) is Professor of Comparative Literature at Bard College. He is the author of In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (HarperCollins); My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; A Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film (Johns Hopkins UP), a finalist for the Book Award “The Bridge,” from the American Initiative for Italian Culture Foundation; and Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy (Yale UP), winner of the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, TLS, Chronicle of Higher Education, Bookforum, and American Scholar. Awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and NEH Fellowship from the National Humanities Center.