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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Ita Mac Carthy

Departmental Rep (MLAC) in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies

(email at

My research chiefly concerns the connections between Renaissance Italian literature and the visual arts, seen in the context of cultural and social history and in a comparative European perspective. Within that, I contribute to evolving scholarly conversations about translation and adaptation across languages, between media and over time. My work is informed by various literary, cultural and art theoretical approaches, engaging in particular with gender studies, reception theory, cultural materialism, philological modes of enquiry and cognitively-inflected criticism. 

I am the author of essays and articles on sixteenth-century Italian writers Ludovico Ariosto, Baldassare Castiglione and Vittoria Colonna and on artists Michelangelo and Raphael. I have published studies of their presence in and impact on aspects of anglophone culture, bringing them into trans-historical dialogue with writers including Shakespeare and Ali Smith. My first book (2007) explored the treatment of women in Ariosto’s literary masterpiece, while my most recent book The Grace of the Italian Renaissance (2019), ranged more widely across the cultural landscape of early modern Italy. With chapters dedicated to major as well as minor Renaissance protagonists, it explored grace as a complex keyword that conveys and connects the most pressing ethical, social and aesthetic debates of that period in time. It was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship ( Other publications include Renaissance Keywords and Cognitive Confusion: Dreams, Delusions and Illusions in Early Modern Europe.


I was appointed Associate Professor in Translation and Italian Studies at Durham in April 2019. This newly created post focuses primarily on translation as a creative art sitting as comfortably within the realms of literary criticism, art history and comparative literature as it does within linguistics and professional translation agencies. As part of a strong and well-established team, I develop and reinforce links between the School of Modern Languages and Cultures and the creative, cultural and heritage industries in the UK and beyond.

Educated at University College Cork and the Università degli Studi di Urbino, I wrote my PhD thesis (funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences) under the supervision of Professor Eduardo Saccone while teaching English as a foreign language in various faculties of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara. I began my academic career as a Lecturer in Italian at Durham (2003 – 2007) followed by twelve years as Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature and Art at the University of Birmingham (2007 – 2019).

Current Research

I am working on two individual projects: a book project, provisionally entitled Renaissance Relevance: Translating Cultures, and a sequence of essays arising out of my grace project. The essays examine topics such as Raphael’s various depictions of the three Graces and the relationship between art and poetry in the work of individuals who produced both. Renaissance Relevance, meanwhile, examines the varied fortunes in anglophone culture and society of two landmarks of the Italian Renaissance – one literary and the other visual. Focusing on select translations, adaptations and reproductions of the Orlando furioso and on selected afterlives of early modern depictions of the three Graces (such as those by Botticelli, Raphael and Antonio Canova), it argues both for the relevance to modernity of early modern Italian culture and for the benefits to translation and adaptation studies of the Relevance Theory model of communication. 

International Collaborations

I co-direct with Richard Scholar (Durham) an international research project entitled Early Modern Keywords. A network of some twenty-five researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, EMKaims to do for early European modernity what Raymond Williams did for British modernity in Keywords (1976). Our work, unlike his, involves taking a multilingual approach and reflecting on questions of method. The project thus offers a unique interdisciplinary interface for language-based research in intellectual, cultural, and social history, the history of art, linguistic and literary studies, and politics. Having published Renaissance Keywords(Legenda, 2013), we have held meetings at the University of Oxford (2014) and the Fondazione Cini in Venice (2016 and 2018). Maintaining strong links with Oxford, Venice and other European centres, the project is now based in Durham.

I was a Visiting Fellow on the ERC-funded research project led by Alexander Marr, ‘Genius Before Romanticism’ (based at CRASSH in Cambridge) and a participant in the research network working with curators Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler during the year leading up to their art exhibition Raphael: The Drawings, which ran between June and September 2017 at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum ( I have also benefitted from a research lectureship on the Balzan project exploring cognitive approaches to literary study which was led by Terence Cave (University of Oxford) and called ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’. Part of my contribution to the Balzan project was the collection of essays I co-edited with Kirsti Sellevold and Olivia Smith (

Other Collaborations

At the University of Birmingham, I worked with third-sector institutions such as the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, where I organized public lectures, concerts and an ‘afternoon dialogue’, and the Cadbury Research Library, where I curated a rare books display to commemorate the 500thanniversary of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (insert link). I have also collaborated on the research-led theatrical experiment in practical utopianism entitled Storming Utopia, directed by Wes Williams and Angharad Arnott Phillips and performed at various locations in Oxford and Venice between April and June 2017 ( 

Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome research proposals from students interested in: Italian Renaissance literature and art; early modern translation, imitation and adaptation; the politics of translation; the connections between literature and the visual arts of the period 1500-1900; the European reception of the Italian Renaissance; questions of literary and aesthetic theory and practice; early modern women’s studies; and cognitive approaches to literary and cultural study.

Research topics I am currently supervising or have recently supervised include ‘Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci: Beauty, Politics, Literature and Art in Early Renaissance Italy’; ‘The New World Mythology in Italian Epic Poetry’; ‘Donna con Donna: Representations of Female-Female Desire in Early Modern Italian Literature’; ‘Language, Gender and Genre in Renaissance Dialogues’; and ‘An Englishman without techyng can not speake the wordse of an Ytalyan’: Italian Language Learning at Henry VIII’s Court’. 

Research Interests

  • Italian Renaissance literature and art
  • Early modern translation, imitation and adaptation
  • Connections between literature and the visual arts of the period 1500-1900
  • European reception of the Italian Renaissance
  • Early modern women’s studies
  • Cognitive approaches to literary and cultural study

Selected Publications

Authored book

Edited book

Chapter in book

Journal Article

  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2018). Raphael: The Drawings. Renaissance Studies 32(5): 848-857.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2009). Ariosto the Lunar Traveller. Modern Languages Review 104: 71-82.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2009). Grace and the “Reach of Art” in Castiglione and Raphael. Word and Image 25: 33-45.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2007). Ariosto the Traveller. Modern Languages Review 102: 397-409.

Show all publications

Selected Grants

  • 2017: Leverhulme Research Fellowship