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Looking at Words Through Images. Some Case Studies for a Visual History of Italian Literature

Final Report Summary - LOOKINGATWORDS (Looking at Words Through Images. Some Case Studies for a Visual History of Italian Literature)

The enormous success gained by Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso since its first appearance in 1516, and the general acclamation of its definitive version, published in 1532, profoundly affected the cultural life of the epoch. Furioso’s popularity brought an overwhelming number of illustrated editions, it got out of the book pages to attain visual and performing arts, and led to an intense theoretical debate over the literary canon of the modernity. It also determined a renewed interest in the poem’s medieval romance tradition, gave birth to a series of Furioso’s sequels and spin-offs, and influenced, in both narrative and formal terms, the vernacular translations of the ancient epic. Inspired by McLuhan, we can speak of an “Ariosto Galaxy” that is the entangled network of cultural objects created by Ariosto’s poem and the intertwined paths connecting them.
Aim of the project, led by Professor Lina Bolzoni, was to start to map and explore this galaxy, which represents a paradigmatic example of the dynamics and strategies of reception in the early age of printing. We were focused on the Renaissance illustrated editions: therefore books, which means first of all texts, but also complex objects which, by way of meaningful verbally and visually added elements (such as comments, layouts, historiated initials, illustrations...) convey a particular interpretation of the text and dispose the reader to embrace it, conditioning his/her reception. On the one hand, we have investigated how the sophisticated printing format of Furioso’s illustrated editions actually contributed to its acknowledgment as a literary model, a modern “classic”. On the other hand, we have explored the ways in which the poem’s editorial packaging was systematically used by the printing press both to give prestige to the contemporary epic production and boost the editorial success of the classics of antiquity and the medieval romance tradition.
The starting point of this inquiry has necessarily been the analysis of Furioso’s editorial success and the study of six 16th century editions of the poem endowed with original illustrations [Zoppino (1536), Giolito (1542), Valvassori (1553), Valgrisi (1556), Varisco (1563) and De Franceschi (1584), with the odd and mysterious figurative set used by Rampazetto (1563 and 1570)]. Investigating the ways in which the stories of Ariosto’s intricate plot were read, selected and managed during their trans-codification in the illustrative sets has appeared vital to outline not only the selection criteria and their ideological premises, but also the possible alterations of the narrative substance and their subtle meanings. In this way the poem’s peculiar memory, conveyed through the illustrations, can be defined.
In parallel, we have engaged in the study of Furioso’s editorial and iconographic impact on works belonging to the ancient, medieval and early modern epic tradition through a sample analysis of books by Lodovico Dolce, Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara, Luigi Pulci and Matteo Maria Boiardo. The analysis of Tredici canti del Floridoro by Moderata Fonte has allowed us to explore some aspects of Furioso’s canonizing influence on the 16th- century chivalric production, whereas through the study of three editions of Gerusalemme liberata we have investigated the editorial impact of Ariosto’s poem on the second great epic model of the Italian Cinquecento, the one offered by Torquato Tasso.
To manage this huge mass of verbal and visual documents, support its complex analysis and make the outcome available at its best to a broad scientific community, we have decided to embrace a digital approach to humanistic inquiry, and create a Digital Archive: thanks to the results of our research are online, open to the public, free and reusable; that is open access. The outcomes of the research are also being published in a number of essays and journal articles; at the same time, we chose to disseminate and communicate the results of the research by a variety of means, such as exhibitions and multimedia products, intended to transfer this knowledge not only to the academic audience, but also to the vast non-academic public.