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On the Cusp of Legend and History: The Myth of Alexander the Great in Italy between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century

Citation: Daniotti, Claudia (2016) On the Cusp of Legend and History: The Myth of Alexander the Great in Italy between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

CDaniotti_Dissertation_volume 1.pdf

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CDaniotti_Dissertation_volume 2.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

This dissertation concerns the reception of the myth of Alexander the Great in Italian art during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In particular, I discuss the turning-point in the tradition which took place in Renaissance Italy around the middle of the fifteenth century: the transition from the medieval imagery of Alexander as a legendary, almost fairy-tale, figure to the historical portrait of him as an exemplum of moral virtue and military prowess. On the basis of the corpus known as the Alexander Romance, during the Middle Ages Alexander was depicted as a fabled explorer and knight, whose marvellous adventures enjoyed huge popularity both in the literary tradition and in the visual arts. Around the mid-fifteenth century, with the changing cultural atmosphere associated with the rise of humanism, this medieval conception was superseded by a different image of Alexander, drawing on the newly discovered ancient historical accounts of Plutarch, Curtius Rufus, Arrian and Diodorus Siculus. There are five chapters, all illustrated, plus an introduction and conclusion. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the literary and iconographic tradition of Alexander in Italy from 1100 to 1400, exploring the most popular episodes from the legend. In Chapter 2, I present examples of the persistence of the legendary tradition in the Quattrocento (especially, some fresco cycles of the Nine Worthies). Chapter 3 is concerned with the humanist recovery of ancient sources and its impact on the received view of Alexander; the important contribution of Petrarch and Boccaccio is also examined. Chapter 4 deals with the emergence of a new Renaissance portrait of Alexander around 1450, notably in paintings on marriage chests. In Chapter 5 I discuss the development of this new image of Alexander in the sixteenth century, with the establishment of an iconographic repertoire, centring on novel episodes taken from ancient historical sources.

Creators: Daniotti, Claudia and
Subjects: Culture, Language & Literature
Divisions: Warburg Institute
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 1 February 2016 (submitted)


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