Theses Doctoral

Dante and Boccaccio: A Poetics of Textiles

Visco, Julianna Van

This dissertation examines the literary depiction of textiles and textile-adjacent objects in Dante’s Commedia and Boccaccio’s Decameron using a two-pronged approach: answering Barolini’s call to historicize and incorporating Smith’s approach to investigating materials and workshop practices. While being physically engaged with textiles is a universal experience, the Trecento Florentine was immersed in a textile-driven culture. Dante and Boccaccio’s deployment of textiles reflect and engage with this specific historical moment and geographic location. This project uses an exploration of the production practices, in other words a focus on the processes of making, as a lens for the text. Techniques, such as the hem, are a site of skilled practice; linking the physicality of craft production with the tacit knowledge of craftspersons. The dual-sidedness of textiles provides a material example of the recto/verso relationship inherent in cultural production. Dante, often using simile or metaphor, represents textiles in the Commedia to make spiritual and cosmic concepts more clear and comprehensible to his readership. Weaving, for Dante, is intricately connected to writing and provides a model for meditating on the process of making. Boccaccio locates, in the specific material conditions of the textile industry, categories—such as gender, occupation, and social status—with which he makes radical narrative choices in order to disrupt the essentializing nature of categories themselves. Finally, an exploration of wrapping and disintegration reveals the inexorable fate of textiles.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Barolini, Teodolinda
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 7, 2020