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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Beauty in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Seminar Series - Caravaggio and the Spell of Beauty

22nd November 2011, 17:30 to 18:30, Seminar Room 1, History Department, North Bailey, Dr Stefano Cracolici (Durham University)

This is the fourth seminar in the IMRS Beauty in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Seminar Series.

Caravaggio's paintings count among the strongest optic triggers for the strong haptic sensations that have now become perfunctory in defining the so-called Stendhal Syndrome. This abnormal reaction to art concerns sensitive and impressionable tourists, often of foreign origin, often unmarried and often from small towns and without travel experience, overwhelmed by the huge number of places they think they should visit, by the heap of information poured over them by guides and guidebooks, and by the cultivated demand of running from one masterpiece to the other. The acute symptomatic of a panic attack governs the clinical picture. Victims report of being watched, touched and persecuted by an external agent, as if possessed by a threatening force, emanating from the admired artwork, piercing their eyes and taking control over their mind and body. My talk focuses on Caravaggio's 'Boy Bitten by a Green Lizard' (London, National Gallery), seeking to unravel its mystery through a scrutiny of its historical configuration and emotional reception. In offering a powerful effigy of human anxiety, Caravaggio's lizard offers a manifesto of early modern horror.


Stefano Cracolici is Reader in Italian at Durham University (MLaC).His specialization is Italian early modern culture, broadly defined as the age spanning from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Four main concerns have guided his research: the enduring impact of the classical legacy on Italian literary and artistic heritage; the interactional dimension of humanistic discourse and its crucial role in establishing academic, courtly, religious and diplomatic networks; the heuristic force of imagination and the poetics of visual entertainment; and the interdisciplinary study of Italian culture, with a special focus on the history and theory of the emotions in their medical, religious and aesthetic inflections. His most recent book is devoted to Mantua in the age of Andrea Mantegna ('Il ritratto di Archigynia: Filippo Nuvoloni e il suo "Dialogo" d'amore', Florence 2010).

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