Dr Ita Mac Carthy BA, PhD

Photograph of Dr Ita Mac Carthy

Department of Modern Languages
Senior Lecturer

Contact details

Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I received my BA and PhD from University College Cork, and moved from a post at Durham University to the University of Birmingham in 2007 where I became Senior Lecturer in 2013.


Like most Italianists, I teach happily across many areas of Italian Studies, from Dante to Dario Fo and from literature to the history of ideas, culture and society. Courses I have designed and taught include ‘The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Literature and Art’, ‘A History of Italy in 10 Icons’, and ‘Narratives of Fascist and Postwar Italy’. Postgraduate teaching includes MA modules on gender theory, feminist historiography, Renaissance epic in Europe, Renaissance literature and art, and the history of Italian connoisseurship. I have supervised PhD theses touching on the same questions and ranging from the medieval to the modern period. Examples include: the theme of sospiro in Cavalcanti; the figure of Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci in literature and art; representations of the New World in Italian epic; and female-female desire in early modern Italian literature. I welcome applications on topics related to any aspect of my research.

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome research proposals from students interested in: Italian Renaissance literature and art; the connections between literature and the visual arts of the period 1500-1900; the European reception of the Italian Renaissance; early modern translation; questions of literary and aesthetic theory and practice; early modern women’s studies; and cognitive approaches to literary and cultural study.

Research topics I am currently supervising or have recently supervised include ‘Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci: Beauty, Politics, Literature and Art in Early Renaissance Italy’; ‘The New World Mythology in Italian Epic Poetry’; ‘Donna con Donna: Representations of Female-Female Desire in Early Modern Italian Literature’; ‘Language, Gender and Genre in Renaissance Dialogues’; and ‘An Englishman without techyng can not speake the wordse of an Ytalyan’: Italian Language Learning at Henry VIII’s Court’. 


My work focuses primarily on the connections between Italian literature and the visual arts of the period 1500-1900, seen in the context of cultural and social history, questions of literary and aesthetic theory and practice, women’s studies and cognitive approaches to literary and cultural study. Initially grounded in the early modern period, it now bridges the early modern and modern periods, being particularly concerned with the modern European reception of the Italian Renaissance.

I am currently finishing a book entitled The Grace of the Italian Renaissance (forthcoming in 2019 with Princeton University Press) which is supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. The book explores grace as a complex keyword that at once conveys and connects the most pressing ethical, social and aesthetic debates of the Italian Renaissance, both as these are played out in the period and as they are used by the nineteenth century to construct the very category of the Renaissance. I have also started work on my next book, The Art of the Cognoscente: A Pre-History of Cultural Criticism. Here, I aim to examine the specific kind of knowledge increasingly associated in this period with the figure of the cognoscente as well as the cultural shifts that alter the milieu to which the cognoscenti belonged in the period 1500-1900. Both books share close affinities with the ‘Early Modern Keywords’ project I co-direct with Richard Scholar (Oxford) and build upon the ‘new philological’ method developed in the collection of essays I edited, Renaissance Keywords (2013).

My first book (2007) examined the role of women in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso from the perspective of a historically inflected feminist literary criticism. I continue to tackle Ariosto from a range of modern perspectives. Most recently, I drew on case studies from cognitive psychology and philosophy to argue for the benefits of reading Ariosto’s early modern account of madness alongside conditions such as Reverse Othello syndrome (‘Reverse Othello Syndrome by Another Name: Ariosto’s Deluded Hero’); while Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory informed my study of the varied fortunes in English literature of one of his minor characters, the Spanish princess Fiordispina (‘Fiordispina’s English Afterlives: from Harington to Ali Smith’).

Other publications include a (forthcoming) co-edited volume on cognitive approaches to literature, and essays on topics such as travel in Orlando furioso, grace in Castiglione and Raphael, and nomadic subjectivity in contemporary writer Maria Rosa Cutrufelli. 

Research groups

I co-direct ‘Early Modern Keywords’, an international and interdisciplinary research network of some twenty-five early modern researchers from Continental Europe, North America, Ireland and the UK, drawn from a range of disciplinary perspectives including Classics, English, History, History of Art, Modern Languages, Romance Philology, and Theology. Our network will do for early modernity what Raymond Williams did for modernity (Keywords, 1976) by compiling a study of 100 words that shaped European culture and society in the period 1450-1700. Based at the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford, it is also co-hosted by the Fondazione Cini in Venice where I have close ties since acting as Visiting Fellow there in 2010. 

As Research Lecturer from 2010–15 on the Balzan-funded Interdisciplinary Seminar run by Terence Cave, ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’ (www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/research/balzan-interdisciplinary-seminar-literature-object-knowledge), I was part of a research group that explored the cognitive value of literature in relation to other kinds of discourse. My participation on this project yieled the volume I co-edited with Kirsti Sellevold and Olivia Smith on Cognitive Confusions: Dreams, Delusions and Illusions in Early Modern Literature.

I am a Visiting Fellow on Alex Marr’s ERC-funded project, ‘Genius Before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art and Science’ (2014-19) based at CRASSH in Cambridge (www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/programmes/genius-before-romanticism), and a member of the Advisory Board on the AHRC-funded ‘Interdiscipinary Italy’ project (2015-18) (www.interdisciplinaryitaly.org), as well as a member of the Society for Italian Studies, the Society of Renaissance Studies and the Birmingham-based Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies.

Other activities

I frequently work with third-sector institutions such as the Barber Institute of Fine Arts where I've organised conferences, given public lectures and, most recently, put on a series of public events to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso. ‘Orlando Furioso at 500’ included a lunchtime concert by ‘Music Segreta’, a rare books exhibition and a public dialogue featuring renowned novelist David Lodge whose campus trilogy brought Ariosto’s Angelica to the University of Birmingham’s fictional alter-ego, the University of Rummidge.

I've been involved, too, in a research network working towards the art exhibition, Raphael: the Drawings and a research-led theatrical experiment in practical utopianism entitled Storming Utopia, performed at various locations in Oxford and Venice.



  • Mac Carthy, Ita (forthcoming in 2019), The Grace of the Italian Renaissance. Princeton University Press.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2007), Women and the Making of Poetry in Ariosto's Orlando furioso. Leicester, Troubador Press.

Edited volumes

Articles and book chapters

  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2018) Fiordispina’s English Afterlives: from Harington to Ali Smith. In Jane Everson, Stefano Jossa and Andrew Hiscock, eds. Ariosto, the Orlando furioso and English Culture.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2017) Reverse Othello Syndrome by Another Name: Ariosto’s Deluded Hero. In Ita Mac Carthy, Kirsti Sellevold and Olivia Smith, eds. Cognitive Confusions: Dreams, Delusions and Illusions in Early Modern Culture. Oxford: Legenda.
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2014) Ariosto’s Grace. Modern Language Notes, 129 (S), pp. 845-59 
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2013) Grace. In Ita Mac Carthy, ed. Renaissance Keywords. Oxford: Legenda, pp. 63 - 78
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2009) Grace and the Reach of Art in Castiglione and Raphael. Word and Image, 25 (1) January - March, pp 33-45
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2009) Ariosto the Lunar Traveller. Modern Languages Review, 104 (1) January, pp. 71-82
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2007) Ariosto the Traveller. Modern Languages Review, 102 (2) April, pp. 397-409
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2005) Marfisa and Gender Performance in the Orlando furioso. Italian Studies, 60 (2) Autumn, pp.178-95
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2004) Alcina's Island: From Imitation to Innovation. Italica, 81 Autumn, pp. 325-50
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2003) Olimpia: Faithful or Foolhardy? Olifant, 22, pp. 103-118
  • Mac Carthy, Ita (2003) Identity and Subjectivity in Maria Rosa Cutrufelli's Il paese dei figli perduti. In Jane Conroy, ed. Cross-cultural Travel. New York et al., Peter Lang, pp. 495-50