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Title:Relics and artifacts: The materiality of holy bodies in Italian culture from 14th century novella to modern film
Author(s):Spagnolo, Pierpaolo
Director of Research:Stoppino, Eleonora
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Stoppino, Eleonora
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Rota, Emanuel; Rushing, Robert A.; Layton, Richard A
Department / Program:French and Italian
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
religious artifacts
Italian Culture
Art History
Popular Culture
Abstract:This work examines the materiality of holy bodies in the form of relics and religious artifacts across centuries of Italian cultural production. Throughout my project, I offer a new perspective on the centrality of relics and religious artifacts in a series of literary and filmic texts, from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1353) to Alice Rohrwacher’s Corpo Celeste (2011). One of the main goals of my study is, on the macro-level, to investigate the reasons why discourse on the sacred (body) so radically pervades Italian popular culture and, consequently, its literary and filmic production. The Italian literary and filmic traditions are exceptionally rife with texts that involve relics and religious artifacts, and my study aims to contribute to an interdisciplinary understanding of specific practices and features of the cult of sacred bodies in Italian culture. Accordingly, I hope that a study like mine—which contemplates a constant dialogue between novellas and the cult of relics, consulting features from other fields of study such as theology, anthropology, sociology, and religion—will contribute to a slightly richer understanding of these literary works. At the same time, it is vital to document the valuable information that these oeuvres have to offer in order to better understand such cult. The main argument of my thesis is built on determining whether the Trebatius/Agamben definition of profanation is a better tool for contemplating the peculiarities of Italian culture more effectively when compared to the idea of secularization, a theory that many of its advocates now reconsider or disregard. Indeed, though the process of secularization is inexorable to a certain extent, I argue that secularization should be understood not as religion-in-decline per se, but rather as the declining scope of religious authority. With my study, I attempt to demonstrate that Agamben’s idea of profanation might be a better lens for a more productive analysis of Italian culture, which readily appropriates narration of the sacred and renders it free to use. My study was driven by research questions that have been neglected for too long but should be of great interest. For instance, one of the main inquiries of my dissertation is to shed light on how it was possible for Boccaccio and other Italian novellisti of the 14th and 15th centuries—like Franco Sacchetti and Masuccio Salernitano—to include so freely in their works sexualized angels or saints’ undergarments. In addition, in the last part of my dissertation, I show that this proclivity to profane the sacred body in Italian culture is still very much alive. I maintain that just as (or because) Boccaccio uses the body of the Archangel Gabriel in his Decameron (IV, 2), Italian registi of the 20th and 21st centuries like Federico Fellini and Alice Rohrwacher can stage a boy who asks St. Louis if he masturbates or a teenage girl who experiments with her sexuality on a human-size crucifix. In order to trace this arch, I investigate how sacred discourse, once the prerogative of the highly-educated—almost exclusively ecclesiastical—class, became free to use for commoners. In this direction, I examine the volgarizzamenti of the sacred narration and contaminationes among different genres to attest to whether these phenomena assisted the novella in profaning the sacred narration. Concurrently, I attempt to provide a specific reading of a few tales of the Decameron that allow us to better appreciate the mastery of Boccaccio in relation to his outstanding ability to profane sacred matter. It must be noted that Boccaccio’s acts of profanation read not only in a comical tone, like in the well-known tale of Frate Cipolla (VI, 10), but also sorrowfully like that of Lisabetta and Lorenzo, a tale which I demonstrate is abundant in hagiographical elements that evoke various aspects of the cult of relics.
Issue Date:2021-11-23
Rights Information:© 2021 Pierpaolo Spagnolo
Date Available in IDEALS:2022-04-29
Date Deposited:2021-12

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