Spectacular images of the feminine embodiment of luck – Fortuna – illuminate manuscripts of philosophy, drama, and literature like Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, the Roman de la Rose, and Christine de Pizan’s Le livre de la Mutation de Fortune. For two millennia, this allegorical figure prompted readers and viewers to consider their own relationships to hope, fate, and personal agency.
This seminar will consider visual illustrations of the complex verbal concepts of luck in human lives. We will begin with representations of the goddess Fortuna in classical antiquity. The heart of the seminar will focus on the efflorescence of images of Fortuna as she moves from goddess to personification in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It will conclude with the evolution of attitudes towards the accidental and the diminution of images of Fortuna in the Modern era.
We will investigate how allegorical images of Fortuna both shape and reflect thinking about human control over the mutability of fate. How much faith do we have in taking a chance? Is life really the luck of the draw? How do popular songs like Luck, be a Lady Tonight or games like Wheel of Fortune or Devil May Cry or practices like Tarot reflect notions of fortune?
We will discuss authors including Aristotle, Ovid, Virgil, Juvenal, Plautus, Boethius, Chaucer, Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare. Concurrently, we will examine representations of Fortuna in architecture, sculpture, paintings, coins, prints and emblem books. Classes will include discussions of slide lectures and the examination of a few illustrated books and facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts. Suggested readings will be distributed at the beginning of the seminar.