Welcome to ACIS, the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies – a connection-point for the communities of Italianist scholars in Australasia and beyond.
Catherine Kovesi (University of Melbourne)
For twenty years I have been teaching first year students at the University of Melbourne about the Black Death and its social, cultural, economic and political knock-on effects. In these two decades I have been struck consistently by the continuing relevance of this most gruesome and visceral of topics, but never more so than in this present iteration of my subject. Whilst in previous years I have made comparisons with AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Ebola – the list goes on – never before have students had a virus affect them all personally and dramatically. As students read the vivid accounts of Giovanni Boccaccio, Marchionne di Coppo Stefani and Agnolo di Tura of an Italy in crisis in 1348, their nightly news showed them the unfolding horror in Bergamo and nearby towns in 2020.
The point was brought home even more forcefully when the very week in which I had to talk about the Black Death, our University suspended all face-to-face classes and notified us that there were three confirmed cases on campus. And so I sat at home, preparing to record the lecture in which I recount the contingent fragility of civil life and the multiple ways in which this broke down in 1348, and I spliced a depressing succession of images from 1348 with current examples.
Taking a break from the task, my social media feed showed me instead the glorious Russian-born soprano Anna Sanachina singing a prayer to her adopted city from her Venetian window. On the bridge below stood an audience of two – transfixed, whilst scrupulously observing Social Distancing protocols.
Although we have seen a succession of moving clips of Italians singing from their balconies in recent days, all of which provide the most poignant of reminders that even midst extreme crisis civil society does not always break down, Anna’s voice was a singular one. I asked Anna whether I could show the video of her singing to my students. She generously agreed but told me to emphasise to the students the words of her chosen aria, ‘La mamma morta’ from Act 3, of Umberto Giordano’s 1896 opera Andrea Chénier, in particular its final four lines:
Tu non sei sola!
Le lacrime tue io le raccolgo!
Io sto sul tuo cammino e ti sorreggo!
Sorridi e spera! Io son l’amore!
In subsequent days, Anna has continued to sing her glorious sonic prayers and she has gained an increasing worldwide audience. The BBC interviewed her and then, most stunningly of all, a video montage by Andrea Rizzo, shot in black and white, of an exquisitely beautiful yet eerily deserted Venice in these days of lockdown, concludes in vivid technicolour with Anna singing her prayer (see 2’33”) as the camera scans across a city swathed in banners declaring ‘Andrà tutto bene’ – ‘All shall be well’.
‘They fell ill daily in their thousands … many fell dead in the open streets … such was the multitude of corpses there was not sufficient consecrated ground to bury them’. And: ‘the plague came from afar … that part of the world called Asia’. A historian in 2120 describing the horrors of a century earlier? Extracts from a comparative study of plagues and pestilence? An epidemic seen from the grassroots today? No, Boccaccio and Villani talking of events in Italy as the Black Death and other disasters wreaked their havoc, as quoted by Tim Parks in the introduction to his dispatch from northern Italy, ‘Milan in a time of coronavirus‘ in this week’s TLS (March 20, 2020). For descriptions of life in the plague-ridden Florence of 1630, see the review in the LRB (20 March, 2020) of John Henderson’s Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City (Yale UP 2019).
THIS LECTURE SERIES HAS HAD TO BE POSTPONED BECAUSE OF CURRENT PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Joseph Talia OAM, singer, artistic director, teacher and scholar, will be giving a series of talks on Italian opera from the Renaissance to Bellini between March and November 2020 at CO.AS.IT, 199 Faraday St, Carlton, from 6.30-8.00 pm on the last Tuesday of every month (except June). Entry is free, an aperitivo is included, but registration is requested. Apart from his teaching work, Maestro Talia is the author of the trilogy A History of Vocal Pedagogy: Intuition and Science; Vocal Science for Elite Singers; and Italian Bel Canto in the Age of Vocal Science. Here is his description of each of the 8 lectures ……
What is the position of women in the groups of football fans in Italy called the ultras? Newspaper reports of ultra activities emphasise the men and the systems of power, exchange and violence they manage. But women belong to the groups too, often from a very early age. Can they accede to positions of responsibility, issue orders, organise the rituals of fandom on and off the pitch or do they play a subordinate role at every point? Can they have anything that corresponds to a career in such groups? Ilaria Pitti interviewed the women at the core of one group (in Serie A but not specified) to track their perspective on their lives. Her report, ‘Being women in a male preserve: an ethnography of female football ultras‘ (Journal of Gender Studies, Volume 28, 2019, 3) considers the options which women themselves see as available and acceptable.
The third issue (January 2020) of the open-access journal Modern Art of the Center for Italian Modern Art (New York), is dedicated to the proceedings of the conference “Methodologies of Exchange: MoMA’s Twentieth-Century Italian Art (1949)”. CIMA’s publications advance innovative scholarship in the area of twentieth-century Italian art and promote Italian modern artists who remain particularly understudied among US audiences. On a different front, the publication of Emma Barron’s book Popular High Culture in Italian Media 1950-1970: Mona Lisa Covergirl (Palgrave Macmillan 2018) has been very favourably received (Barron was one of the 2019 ACIS Save Venice Fellows). Here is the review in the latest issue (2020) of the journal Modern Italy.
Defined as ‘borderlands’ by Tracey Banivanua Mar, the sugar towns of North Queensland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries hosted a great variety of ethnic groups: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, ‘Malay’, Pacific Islander and later South European. Violence between members of different groups was common. In ‘Beyond whiteness: violence and belonging in the borderlands of North Queensland’ (Postcolonial Studies, February 2020, online ahead of publication) Maria Elena Indelicato examines the case of three South Sea Islanders attacking an Italian farmer in the city of Ingham in 1927. The motive behind that particular attack remains unknown. Indelicato treats it not as a random episode but as a sign of the way in which migrants were involved in the subjection of ‘natives’ and South Sea Islanders. Violence can thus be seen as a claim to belonging by migrants, Italian or not, and as a technology used by settlers to manage ‘undesired’ populations.
Vittorio De Sica was one of the most important actors and directors in 20thC Italy and his influence is still felt today both in Italy and abroad. In partnership with Melbourne Cinémathèque, Elisabetta Ferrari (Italian Studies, University of Melbourne) will introduce his life and work on Tuesday 11 February at the Italian Institute of Culture in Melbourne, 233 Domain Rd, South Yarra, at 6.30 (booking here) in preparation for the Vittorio De Sica Retrospective that will take place between 12 and 26 February 2020 at The Capitol cinema in Melbourne. Elisabetta’s talk is free and in English.
Jen McFarland, enrolled in a History MA at the University of Melbourne, spent September to December 2019 in Venice as an ACIS Save Venice Fellow researching the identity, status and activities of the pizzocchere (associations of lay religious women) in the city in the 16th century. It was not her first exploration of religion there. In 2019 the journal Renaissance Studies published her study of Catherine of Siena’s incorporation into the iconography held in the Dominican convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the late 15th century, in particular the ways in which the convent wanted to emphasise Catherine’s status as a legitimate stigmatic and to promote the then-current Dominican reform. Jen has written an interesting piece summarising her recent stay in Venice which can be found here.
ACIS is calling for applications for up to two ACIS Save Venice Fellowships for 2020. The Fellowships are based in Venice, open to postgraduate and early career researchers, cover the three months between mid-September and mid-December 2020, and are worth $8000 each. Fellows will be EITHER a current Masters or PhD candidate in any area of Italian Studies at an Australasian university OR a postdoctoral researcher in any area of Italian Studies within 3 years of successful completion of their Masters or PhD at an Australasian university. The Fellowship is designed for those researchers and scholars whose research and/or career can benefit in any way from a period in Venice and the use of the city’s substantial resources. ACIS expects that people working in the fields of History, Art History, Fine Art, Cultural and Media Studies, and Restoration and Museum Studies will be particularly interested, but applications will be welcome from any field across the humanities and social sciences. Further information about the Fellowships and the application process can be found here and on the page under Fellowships. The closing date for applications is 9 March, 2020.