PhD title Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci: Culture and Context
Supervisors Dr Ita Mac Carthy and David Hemsoll
Having completed my BA and an MPhil, entitled ‘Alma Diva Leggiadra Simonetta’: Culture and Politics in Literary Representations of Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, at the University of Birmingham, I am currently in the second year of a PhD in Italian Studies under the supervision of Dr Ita Mac Carthy (Italian Studies) and David Hemsoll (History of Art). I am also a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant, and am currently running seminars on Dante for the first year Department of English module, ‘Landmarks in European Literature’.
My PhD thesis breaks new ground by being the first to use Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci as a point of access through which to develop an original understanding of the culture of late fifteenth-century Florence. Frequently believed by art historians to be the muse of Botticelli, she makes numerous posthumous appearances in Florentine poetry. These largely neglected verses shed light not only upon modes of literary production in Quattrocento Florence, but also upon its links with visual art and social mores. My MPhil offers close-readings of the texts in which Simonetta appears, a study of her place in the Italian poetic tradition, and a reconstruction of the literary circle that transformed her from mortal woman to ‘nymph’. My PhD will build on that work, placing Simonetta within three further contexts that are key to understanding the Italian Renaissance as a whole: Medicean politics, Florentine visual culture and the history of women. It will combine feminist, New Historicist, literary and art historical methodologies to provide an innovative study of the forces that shaped poetic and artistic production in this most influential of periods.
It will answer the following questions:
To what extent should poetry written in Simonetta’s honour be read as a) directly inspired by her fame and beauty; b) an attempt to gain the favour of her admirers, the Florentine patrons Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici; c) a textual conversation within a literary elite?
What light does she shed upon the dialogue between art and literature in fifteenth-century Italy? What are the reasons for the similarities between Simonetta as portrayed in poems such as Poliziano’s Stanze and certain female figures in paintings such as Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’? Why did the myth of ‘la bella Simonetta’ take hold in art history?
How were representations of Simonetta affected by Quattrocento attitudes towards women, and vice versa? How does praise of her virtues impact upon our understanding of Florentine ideals of womanhood?
My research is funded by a scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Title TBC, Society for Renaissance Studies, 5th Biennial Conference, University of Manchester, July 2012
‘Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci: Culture and Context’ (updated version), Society for Italian Studies, Annual Postgraduate Colloquium, University of Warwick, June 2010 and Birmingham- Warwick Postgraduate Forum, University of Warwick, June 2010
‘Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci: Culture and Context’, Graduate Conference in Italian Studies, University College Cork, February 2010
Allan, J. (2010) Review of Mark Jurdjevic,Guardians of Republicanism: The Valori Family in Renaissance Florence. Rosetta, 8. (accessed November 2011).
EMREM Postgraduate Forum Annual Symposium- ‘The Other: The Monstrous, The Marginal, And The Misunderstood’, University of Birmingham, March 2011.
Graduate Centre for Europe Annual Postgraduate Conference- ‘Europe On The Move’, University of Birmingham, March 2011.
EMREM/ Graduate Centre for Europe half-day symposium- ‘Constructing Gender Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Europe’, University of Birmingham, February 2011.
Graduate Centre for Europe Annual Postgraduate Conference- ‘Europe: Inside Out’, University of Birmingham, April 2010.
I am a founding member of the Early Medieval- Medieval- Renaissance- Reformation- Early Modern Postgraduate Forum at the University of Birmingham, am Vice-Chair of the Graduate Centre for Europe, and have been General Editor of the Birmingham Journal for Europe.