A Poetry of Art: Burchiello Redressed

David Christiana, Professor of Art

During his lifetime, a number of people proclaimed Burchiello to be one of the greatest Italian poets, asserting that he rivaled Dante and Petrarch. Burchiello’s verse was considered the model of comic poetry, on par with Petrarch’s revolutionizing the sonnet form. His influence was so widespread that literary scholars often refer to that century as the “age of Burchiello.” But Burchiello’s poetry raises a serious interpretative problem for its study today: it is deliberately crafted nonsense. This raises the question of the role of nonsense in public and poetic discourse, and why fifteenth-century Florentines might have been more comfortable with nonsense than with contemporary poetic discourse.

This project brought together two literary scholars and a visual artist to investigate two creative modes of inquiry—linguistic translation and visual counterpoint in literature—in order to both make Burchiello’s nonsense poetry accessible to a larger audience and to show the symbiotic relationship between text and image. Fabian Alfie and Aileen A. Feng, professors of Medieval-Renaissance Italian literature in the Department of French & Italian, have been engaged in a multi-year project to publish the first English translation of Burchiello’s collection of 204 Italian poems (The Poetry of Burchiello (ca. 1404-1449): Deep-Fried Nouns, Hunchbacked Pumpkins, and Other Nonsense). David Christiana, professor in the School of Art, engaged in a second level of interpretation by providing visual counterpoint to select poems and created fourteen etchings. See the first four images in the “printmaking” section on DavidChristiana.com.

The etchings were exhibited in Orvieto, Italy summer 2016 and the team presented during Humanities Week, October 2015.

Last updated March 20, 2017.