Some 500 years ago, Sandro Botticelli, an Italian painter of humble origin, created work of unearthly beauty. An intimate associate of Florence’s unofficial rulers, the Medici, he was commissioned by a member of their family to execute a near-impossible project: to illustrate all 100 cantos of The Divine Comedy by the city’s greatest poet, Dante Alighieri. A powerful encounter between poet and artist, sacred and secular, earthly and evanescent, these drawings produced a wealth of stunning images but were never finished. Botticelli declined into poverty and obscurity, and his illustrations went missing for 400 years. This presentation will show how the nineteenth-century rediscovery of Botticelli’s Dante drawings brought scholars to their knees: this work embodied everything the Renaissance had come to mean. Today, Botticelli’s Primavera adorns household objects of every kind. Together, we will see how and why Botticelli became iconic, but why we need still need his work―and the spirit of the Renaissance―today.
Joseph Luzzi (PhD Yale, 2000) is the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Literature at Bard and the author of Botticelli’s Secret: The Lost Drawings and the Rediscovery of the Renaissance (Norton), a New Yorker Best Books of 2022 selection. His other books include Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy (Yale University Press, 2008), which received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies; A Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), a finalist for the international prize The Bridge Book Award; My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (HarperCollins, 2015), which has been translated into multiple languages. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, TLS, Bookforum, and American Scholar, among others, and among his media appearances are a profile in the Guardian and interviews with National Public Radio. Luzzi’s honors include a Dante Society of America essay prize, Yale College teaching prize, and fellowships from the National Humanities Center and Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center, a Wallace Fellowship from Villa I Tatti, and an NEH Public Scholars Award in support of his current book project, Brunelleschi’s Children: How a Renaissance Orphanage Saved 400,000 Lives and Reinvented Childhood, which will be published by Norton. Luzzi’s other forthcoming books are Dante’s New Life: A Translation of the “Vita Nuova” (Norton, 2024) and Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2024).