Picturing Love in Renaissance Italy: Boccaccio, Petrarch and the Return of Cupid

Rebecca Bowen

‘La sancta dea madre del volante fanciullo’, an illumination of Cupid and Venus in Boccaccio’s Filocolo attributed to Pietro Guindaleri, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Ital. 85, fol. 25r (detail).

This project explores how writers and artists imagined love as Cupid in Italian contexts between c.1350 and 1500. The return to favour of Cupid, far from a side-effect of the humanist interest in Antiquity, was a radical development, since his figure had been classified as a demon of lust (complete with talons) for most of the Middle Ages. The reasons behind this development remain underexplored. What sources were being drawn on? Which cultural codes were most influential? Beginning with a thorough survey of the figures of love present in the works of Boccaccio (from c.1340) and culminating in discussion of Botticelli’s illustrations to Dante’s 'Paradiso' (c.1490), this project explores two major stages of development in Cupid’s return to favour: the primary re-emergence of his figure as an acceptable representation of love in trecento vernacular poetry, and its apotheosis as a ubiquitous angel in the Christian pantheon of late quattrocento art and humanist writing. New archival research into early illumination cycles accompanying Boccaccian manuscripts (the 'Filocolo' in particular) will offer an innovative data set for analysing the influence of literary traditions on the representation of love in the late trecento, and each subsequent chapter will examine key exempla with an eye to revealing the layered negotiations between the symbolic foci of the medieval period and the cultural codes emerging in early humanist thought. Taking Cupid as its main point of focus opens the project out to considerations of the early humanist understanding of love as a philosophical and theological concept, uncovering the specific role played by Italian intellectuals in the much longer history of figuring love in the Western tradition.


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