‘The Great Pox in Early Modern Italy: imagining and experiencing’ (Joint Early Modern Italian World Seminar)

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John Henderson (University of Cambridge)

The Great Pox, along with plague, was one of the major epidemics to afflict early modern Europe. It infected all levels of society, from popes and cardinals to princes, courtesans and the poor, and led to long drawn-out suffering, poverty, destitution and death. This paper is part of an on-going project on how the Great Pox was imagined, received and experienced in sixteenth-century Italy. Building on the approaches and findings of studies in early modern England, Germany and Spain, this paper will compare the experience and representation of female and male Pox patients through both written and visual evidence, and discuss some of the methodological problems encountered in this analysis. Sources will include contemporary descriptions in satirical and moralistic poems and plays, and visual evidence, ranging from broadsheets to medical illustrations and representations of St. Job, the patron saint of the disease. It will be argued, that only by analysing these literary and iconographic sources through the prism of contemporary medical understanding of the Pox and its symptoms that we can begin to understand more clearly how this disease was understood and experienced in early modern Italy.

The seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology is convened by Alex Aylward (University of Oxford), Hohee Cho (Wolfson College), Mark Harrison (University of Oxford), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College), and Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford)