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Poetry in a World of ThingsAesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis$
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Rachel Eisendrath

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226516585

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226516752.001.0001

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Subjectivity and the Antiquarian Object: Petrarch among the Ruins of Rome

Subjectivity and the Antiquarian Object: Petrarch among the Ruins of Rome

(p.24) Chapter Two Subjectivity and the Antiquarian Object: Petrarch among the Ruins of Rome
Poetry in a World of Things

Rachel Eisendrath

University of Chicago Press

At the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, Petrarch described in a letter the ruins of Rome. Modern scholarship tends to link this ekphrasis with the objectivity of the antiquarianism that developed soon after his death. However, Petrarch was actually using this passage to articulate a radical subjectivity, creating a portrait of the Eternal City that is also a portrait of a human mind discovering itself in historical time. Later, in his epic Africa, he reworked his ekphrasis of Rome, this time describing the city’s landmarks as seen through the eyes of the vanquished Carthaginians. As the defeated Carthaginians encounter what used to be their own possessions, now turned into spoils on display, they are made to witness their own astonishing transformation into an objectified spectacle of Roman power. Now Roman artifacts no longer disappear into the fluidity of human consciousness as they did in the earlier ekphrasis; rather, the fluidity of human consciousness disappears into Roman artifacts. In this way, Petrarch illustrates how history can solidify even human beings (especially defeated ones) into things, thus giving his readers intimations of the suffering that this rising emphasis on objects can entail.

Keywords:   Francesco Petrarch, Rome, antiquarianism, ekphrasis, artifacts, ruins, objectivity, subjectivity, ubi sunt, things

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