Scholars at the universities of Bristol and Manchester are marking the 700th birthday of one of the medieval world’s greatest writers, credited with establishing the European storytelling traditions we know today.
Italian Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron – a collection of 100 tales ranging from the erotic to the tragic – will be celebrated through a series of events arranged by Rhiannon Daniels of the University of Bristol with Stephen Milner and Guyda Armstrong of the University of Manchester.
The events provide an opportunity not only to reflect on Boccaccio’s legacy today, but also to seek to shape the ways in which he is studied in an academic context and understood by a non-academic audience.
Tomorrow, a five-month public exhibition opens at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester. Called ‘Locating Boccaccio in 2013’, it will be showcasing the Rylands’ outstanding collections including the ‘Roxburghe Decameron’ – the most expensive book in the world when was sold in 1812 and founding volume of the world’s most exclusive book club, The Roxburghe Club.
The exhibit spans the period from the 15th century to the digital age, from medieval manuscripts and early printed books, through private press editions and popular classics right up to the internet resource, the Decameron Web.
The exhibition is designed to reflect the – still popular – reception of Boccaccio as an author of erotic and light-hearted stories, but also aims to educate new audiences about the breadth and depth of his achievements as a literary innovator, humanist and linguistic model. His prose writing in the Decameron became the basis for the standard Italian language used today.
Professor Stephen Milner explained, “We are delighted to be hosting the world’s leading scholars in Boccaccio studies and showcase Manchester’s outstanding collection of Boccaccio’s works. His impact as a writer is vast, both as a founding father of the Renaissance and the revival of interest in the classical world and as an innovator in writing prose stories. His influence on figures as diverse as Chaucer and Salvador Dali reflect the scale of his literary heritage.”
A conference on ‘Locating Boccaccio in 2013’ will also be taking place at Manchester Town Hall on July 11th and 12th. It will feature over forty speakers, including a keynote talks by Anne Hedeman of the University of Kansas on ‘The Role of the Visual in Translating Boccaccio: Paris, 1400-1420’ and Brian Richardson from the University of Leeds, talking about ‘Locating the Corbaccio in Early Modern Europe’. The conference will a;sp debate the current state of Boccaccio studies and its future directions. The organisers will be setting out their ‘manifesto’ for Boccaccio in 2013 and asking conference delegates to respond to it. .
Rhiannon Daniels notes that “The Decameron is Boccaccio’s best known work because he is a master of the erotic story. But Boccaccio wrote a huge range of different kinds of texts in both Italian and Latin, including the first psychological novel, written from the perspective of a woman.”
Thirteen artists have been commissioned to create new artists’ books in response to Boccaccio and his works. These books will be displayed alongside the historic printed books and manuscripts in order to explore the ongoing fortunes of a medieval author in the 21st century.
Dr Daniels has also worked with a private press to produce a fine press edition of selected texts by Boccaccio, with an introduction and woodcuts from historic editions. .
There will also be ‘hands-on’ sessions in the Rylands library, bringing together academics, curators, conservators, and library staff to discuss manuscripts and early printed books. There will also be further public Boccaccio events at the British Library in September 2013, while the artists’ book exhibition will move on to the University of the West of England in December 2013.
Sources: University of Bristol, University of Manchester