Exploring Visual Images of Fortuna: The Fickle Goddess of Chance

Spectacular images of the feminine embodiment of luck -- Fortuna -- illuminate manuscripts of philosophy, drama, and literature such as 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 has 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, 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. Suggested readings will be distributed at the beginning of the seminar.

Class Recordings:

Class 1 - April 23

Class 2 - April 30

Class 3 - May 7

Class 4 - May 14


Meets on: Fridays 10:00 am to noon
Starting: 4/23/2021
Sessions: 4
Class Size: 30
Teaching Style: Lecture and discussion
Weekly Preparation: None
Group Leader Biography:

Nina Moriarty earned her A.B. in Art History from Wellesley College, her M.A. in Fine Arts from Tufts University, and her Ph.D. in the History of Art from Boston University. Her research is in the fields of early prints and later medieval manuscript illumination. Her fascination with Fortuna began after discovering Boccaccio’s Des Cas et Ruyne des Nobles Hommes et Femmes. She has taught various art history and humanities courses in colleges and universities and still teaches part time at Babson College.