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IT9: Text and Image

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24. The topics are from 2021-22 and are subject to change in 2023-24.

Visual and textual art in Italy have always fed one another in productive and challenging ways, and this course offers an opportunity to study visual culture as embedded in textual traditions across a broad range of periods and mediums in Italy. Topics taught each year will vary but each topic will emphasise theoretical approaches to the study of visual culture and the interaction between word and image. You will be encouraged to develop your own particular research interests for your written work in consultation with your supervisor.

Four to five main topics will be taught in any one year, and may change from year to year in order to ensure variety.


For information only, the topics for 2021-22 will be as follows:

1. Duccio’s Maestà and Popular Piety

This topic examines Duccio’s Maestà, painted for the cathedral in Siena and a landmark of European art, and the Meditations on the Life of Christ, the most popular devotional text of the later Middle Ages. New research suggests that the original version of this text may have been written by a woman, a possibility that raises important questions concerning European cultural and literary history. We will investigate the types of engagement that image and text invite of their audiences; depictions of space, narrative, and human emotion; and ask how image and text can productively be brought into dialogue.

2. Text and image for devotion, medicine and magic in the Renaissance [N.B. This topic is cross-listed with paper IT8]

This topic examines the ways in which simple texts and images, both printed and manuscript, were deployed for a range of ‘talismanic’ purposes by Renaissance readers and viewers. Texts and images were worn, eaten, applied to the body, buried, recited, gifted and stolen. We will seek to recapture the potency attached by ordinary people to these kinds of works, the reasons for it, as well as looking at individual examples of talismanic text and image and seeking to ‘read’ these works as scholars of word and image.

3. Parole in libertà/Words in Freedom

This topic explores the graphic experimentation introduced by Futurism at the start of the 20th century, with particular reference to visual poetry, advertising, and book production, which fostered a series of visual innovations at the intersection of image and text. Exemplary cases in discussion will be a selection of works by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Fortunato Depero, and Bruno Munari.

4. Italian Photo-Texts After 1945 [N.B. This topic is cross-listed with paper IT6]

This topic explores theories and practices of the photo-text in post-war Italy. The debated notion of photo-text – a combination of textual material and photographic images – has been the subject of several studies in recent years, which have shed light onto the complex and multi-faceted relationship between literature and photography in Italy as part of the international context. Over the course of this module, the artistic status of the photo-text and the different kinds of interactions between photographs and literary texts will be discussed, with reference in particular to two representative cases: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s rewriting of the first cantos of Dante’s Commedia, La divina mimesis (1975); and Lalla Romano’s partly autobiographic Nuovo romanzo di figure (1997).


Topics previously covered:

  • Illustrating Dante
  • Bruno Munari
  • Representing the Author in the Renaissance: Verbal and Visual Portraits and Self-Portraits
  • Pasolini Between Text, Image and Film


Preparatory reading: 

Further details for IT9 and a Reading List can be found on the Moodle site here

Teaching and learning: 

The course will be taught through a combination of lectures, seminars and supervisions. Students will be strongly encouraged to attend all lectures in order to gain a broad insight into the broad range of the paper.

For the It.9 Moodle site, please see here


The paper will be assessed by three-hour examination or by Optional Dissertation. In the examination, there will be a choice of essay questions relating to each topic in that year's list. Candidates will be required to answer three questions, one on each of three topics. There will be no sections on the paper, and no obligation to answer any particular combination of questions, as long as the same material is not used in more than one question.

Past papers and the specimen paper are available on Moodle.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Pierpaolo Antonello