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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: Italian Studies

Language, Literature and Culture of the Italian Renaissance

Academic Year 2019-20

The Renaissance is arguably one of the most recognizable and celebrated periods of Italian history, hailed for its seminal contribution to the arts, literature and poetry. According to some, it marks the emergence of modernity in Europe. The aim of this module is to provide a broad overview of the Italian Renaissance considered both as a historical period, and as a literary, intellectual and artistic movement. The very notion of a ‘Renaissance’ will be explored at the outset of the module, while the foundational characters of the period and its ramifications will be studied through texts and images that have left an indelible mark on Italian and European culture. Students will read a selection of seminal Renaissance authors, and study some of the most recognizable art of the Italian Renaissance, including works by Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Tiziano and up to Caravaggio. Texts include Niccolò Machiavelli’s political masterpieceThe Princeand Baldassare Castiglione’s dialogue on courtly life and manners,The Courtier.Texts and images from other authors such as Marsilio Ficino, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittoria Colonna and Tullia d’Aragona, will also be considered during the year.

The module takes an interdisciplinary approach, and attention will be paid to the context in which literary works were produced, the ideas they expressed and the use of the Italian language. The module will also introduce the principal trends in Renaissance art and aesthetics. In this case, emphasis will be laid upon episodes of intersection between literature and the arts.

Lectures and seminars, close reading, analysis and essay-writing are aimed at developing skills in oral and written argument and presentation. A linguistic focus on core texts during seminars should help to develop autonomy in reading and understanding Renaissance Italian texts. Analysis of the cultural and intellectual contexts will introduce a discussion on some guiding principles in Renaissance literature and the arts.

By the end of the module students should be able to approach Renaissance literary texts and visual artefacts and derive from them a clear sense of their formal features, function and cultural relevance. Students should have also developed good critical skills, presentation skills, note-taking and research skills and be able to express their ideas in well-structured and confidently written essays.

Set Texts are likely to include:

Texts by other authors will be provided in the course handbook.

Additional course materials, such as primary sources, images and, when appropriate, secondary bibliography will be posted on DUO over the course of the year.


This course is taught by:

Dr Ita Mac Carthy (, Room tbc, Elvet Riverside I

Dr Dario Tessicini (, Room A16, Elvet Riverside I

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment