Florentine Modernism: The American Avant-Garde, Renaissance Art, and the History of the Aesthetic
Allison Neal received her PhD in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she wrote a dissertation on American poetic voice and sound technology. In 2019, she was elected to a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. Her research centers on twentieth-century American literature, poetry and poetics, and the relation of literature to the other arts.
This project recovers the importance of Florence, as both a twentieth-century metropole and an emblem of the Renaissance past, to American literary modernism. In the years leading up to World War I, an array of modernist artists and writers congregated in the city, drawn to its rich artistic heritage and vibrant cultural present. The project centers on three women writers—Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, and Mabel Dodge—who all lived in or spent significant time in the city, knew and wrote about one another, and went on to become central nodes in the networks of cosmopolitan modernism. As an emerging epicenter of the American mania for Old Master paintings, Florence prompted each of these writers to mobilize new aestheticizations of the past, and in so doing, to reimagine the relationship between art and life on the cusp of fascism. Surrounded by major art historians and connoisseur-collectors like Bernard Berenson, Arthur Acton, and Charles Loeser, these writers experienced how the art of the Renaissance past was appropriated, commodified, and transfigured by the present, sparking them to reconceptualize the history of the aesthetic and its fate.