This dissertation examines the representation of visual art in the poetry of Giacomo da Lentini, Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch through the lens of cultural practices for making, seeing, and interpreting art in late thirteenth and fourteenth century Italy. By turning to visual art, medieval Italian poets explored the possibilities for representing immaterial phenomena through the textual representation of an image, thereby exploiting tensions between artificial, naturalistic, and divine representation in order to convey meaning that is experienced rather than narrated to readers. My dissertation shows how these poets recurrently turn to art to reflect on representation not in terms of its verisimilar capacities, but rather as a means for inciting the reader to visualize, through text, phenomena that are typically experienced but unseen, thereby extending the limits of textual representation. While select studies have examined visual representation in individual works by these authors, no sustained critical study of the representation of visual art in medieval Italian literature exists. In adopting an interdisciplinary approach, this dissertation contributes to scholarship on visual and textual representation in late medieval Italy, making an intervention through the study of non-descriptive uses of ekphrasis employed by Italian poets in order to convey meaning that resists mimetic representation. My study uncovers heretofore unrecognized intervisual — in addition to intertextual — relationships in ways in which each author deploys visual art, revealing that in turning to visual art, medieval Italian poets dialogued with one another in developing a repertoire of images and practices for employing art as a means for representing immaterial and invisible phenomena through text. In “turning to visual art”, my dissertation considers the ways in which these poets develop a unique form of ekphrasis that is not concerned with visual content, but rather, with the kind of knowledge that visual experience can facilitate. How, for example, can visual terms be employed to transform external realia or experiences into immaterial images in the mind’s eye? Beginning with Giacomo da Lentini, the image of the poet’s beloved is introduced as a representation of absence, and thus as a visual manifestation designed to convey the experience of longing rather than a physical description of the donna. By not describing his beloved yet using her image to convey the experience of her absence, Lentini invites readers to understand and empathize with his internal emotions, invoking mental images that bypass the need for external ones. Likewise for Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, visual art becomes a means through which these poets call upon readers’ own knowledge of emerging practices for seeing and engaging with visual art including painted walls, images of angels, and portraits, in order to convey immaterial phenomena understood through experience. My study examines the ways in which these medieval poets exploit conventions of visual art in order to represent immaterial phenomena with ethical, social, and religious meaning through text.



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