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.
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.