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IT9: Text and Image

This paper is available for the academic year 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.


The topics for 2023-24 will be as follows:

Topic 1: Narrative in Early Italian Art

How do we tell a story?  This is one of the fundamental questions posed by literature.  Beginning in the 13th century, this concern was taken up with increasing urgency in the visual arts as well.  Complex pictorial cycles—in fresco and relief sculpture—appeared across the Italian peninsula at the same time that authors of devotional texts, such the Meditations on the Life of Christ, deployed new strategies for eliciting the engaged response of readers.  To what extent did these phenomena intersect?  How might techniques for affective stimulation have been shared across media?  And how did concepts of temporality and sequence—so crucial to the unfolding of narrative—function in the visual and literary arts?


Topic 2: Parole in libertà/Words in Freedom  [N.B. This topic is cross-listed with paper IT6]

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.


Topic 3: Michelangelo and Counter-Reformation Art  [N.B. This topic is cross-listed with paper IT8]

One of the key battlegrounds between the Catholic Church and Protestant reformers was the cult of images, famously resulting in violent waves of iconoclasm in Wittenberg, Zurich, and other northern European cities beginning in the 1520s.  While in Italy no such dramatic incidents occurred, anxieties about art and its role within the Christian context mounted.  In the decades following the final decrees of the Council of Trent (1563), this topic became a popular literary subject, with Michelangelo’s Last Judgment forming a frequent focal point of debate.  This module will examine Italian texts alongside contemporary works of art in order analyse what impact, if any, public attitudes about reform actually had the production, patronage, and reception of the visual arts in the late sixteenth century.


Topic 4: Pasolini Between Text, Image and Art  [N.B. This topic is cross-listed with paper IT6]

Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of the most significant writers and filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century in Italy. His eclectic interests also included extensive engagement with and theorization of the image - from Renaissance and Mannerist art and art history, to modernist painting, to the semiology of film. This topic will examine a series of works by Pasolini where text and image, or rather a complex triangle between text, art and moving image intersect and interact in ways that include, but also go radically beyond the paradigm of adaptation, centred on a philosophy of transposition and analogy between diverse sign systems. The key film works at the centre of the topic will be the short film La ricotta (1963), Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964) and the 1968 book and film Teorema.


Topic 5. Leonardo da Vinci: Vision and Creation

This topic will consider the following issues through consideration of text and image in Leonardo's notebooks:

  • Leonardo's anatomies, dissection work, and depictions of the body 

  • Leonardo's theories on painting, notions of the artist and artistic creation 

  • Kinesis: the principle of animation, Leonardo's studies of motion, and the ways in which animation may be rendered visible through the static image or comprehensible through text 

  • Definitions, visualisations, and configurations of gender in Leonardo’s work.


Topics previously covered:

  • Illustrating Dante

  • Bruno Munari

  • Representing the Author in the Renaissance: Verbal and Visual Portraits and Self-Portraits


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 examination will consist of TWO parts:

1) Lent term Coursework Essay: Answer ONE question from a list that will be released at the end of Lent term. You should write no more than 1,800 words. 

2) Easter Exam: A 3-hour timed online examination. Answer TWO questions. For each answer write no more than 1,500 words. Or Answer one question selected from those which are marked with an asterisk (*). Your answer should be no more than 3,000 words. 

Past papers and the specimen paper are available on Moodle.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Jessica Maratsos