Recently, our class visited the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus to view artwork that would help the class visualize the characters and setting of I promessi sposi. Although Manzoni describes each character's dress and appearance in depth and guides the reader to envision the abhorrence of the famine and plague of Milan, it is useful to examine artwork from the time period in which Manzoni was writing and the time period in which I promessi sposi takes place in order to see another artist's point of view. There are four pieces in particular that I would like to discuss: head of a monk (artist unknown), Two gentlemen of Verona, Act V Scene III by Angelica Kauffmann, an untitled work by Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, and The Plague of Phrygia by Raphael.
The first piece of art, head of a monk, is a chalk sketch done by an unknown artist from a Roman school. The sketch was done during the time period in which I promessi sposi takes place. This work is an excellent visualization of the character Father Cristoforo. In I promessi sposi, Father Cristoforo is friar of the Capuchin Order, and this sketch helps the reader to vision the hairstyle and beard of a friar. Friars practiced tonsure, the removal of their hair, to show that they were slaves to God. In this sketch, the monk is deep in thought, shying away from the viewer. This piece of art helps the reader to imagine the stress Father Cristoforo's face when he is trying to decide how to help Lucia and Renzo, or perhaps how to confront Don Rodrigo.
The second piece of art, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V Scene III, is an engraving done by Lewis Schiavonetti. The original artist Angelica Kauffmann completed the work sometime between the late 1700s and early 1800s. The piece depicts a scene from Shakespeare's 17th-century comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona. The scene is being reinterpreted during the time of the Schiavonetti. This piece was completed during the time that Manzoni was writing I promessi sposi, another example of an artist reinterpreting the work of previous artists. This piece also helps the reader to speculate the dress and demeanor of the characters of I promessi sposi. It also provides an example of female-male interaction. In contrast to this work, the character of I promessi sposi show little affection, even the betrothed Lucia and Renzo.
The third piece of art is an untitled work by Giuseppe Bernardino Bison. This piece was completed sometime during the late 1700s and mid 1800s. The sketch was done with pencil, pen, ink, and wash and depicts a women with a grapevine, a man with a laurel wreath, and another woman on horses. Since this piece was also done during the time that Manzoni was writing I promessi sposi, it is inevitable that the viewer can utilize this piece to imagine the dress and demeanor of the characters. In my opinion, this image can be used to envision the scene in which Lucia and Agnese flee from Lecco. The women wear hooded tunics to hide their faces and Lucia holds a grapevine. In the Old Testament, the grapevine is a sign of the chosen people. Lucia represents the truth and the light in I promessi sposi. Her presence helps the Unnamed to abandon his life of sin for one of morality. Lucia's virtuous nature and devotion to God are matched to the woman in this piece.
The last piece of art, The Plague of Phrygia, is an engraving done by Marcantonio Raimondi sometime between the late 1400s and early 1500s. The original artist Raphael recreated the plague that devastated the ancient kingdom of Phrygia. This piece can be utilized for the reader of I promessi sposi to visualize the plague that struck Milan in 1629. In this piece, there is a clear division between private and public, or rich and poor. However, in I promessi sposi, Manzoni describes how the plague made class division null. The plague of Milan forced everyone to dress the same, eat the same, and die the same. In this piece, there is also a statue in the middle, which divides the public from the private. The statue represents either political or religious institutions that stands above everyone else and remains untouched by the plague. This is similar to the plague of Milan in which the highest political and religious figures remained unaffected by the tragedy.
As I look at my calendar, I realize that we are quickly approaching the end of the semester (which seems unbelievable for many reasons, including the fact that it feels like we still have quite a bit to read in order to resolve many of the characters' problems!). Throughout the semester, I've kept expecting for all of it, the digital humanities and Manzoni's novel, to all come together in an "aha!" moment, a moment of clarity where it all clicks. ....I seem to still be waiting.
So I ask myself (and my classmates), how does it all come together? Will we reach this "aha" moment in the upcoming weeks, where Manzoni's novel and the digital humanities come together in a way that can be represented which is not only visually appealing but also informative? (I certainly hope so, since that will be the goal of our final portfolio!) Or is the concept of welding together the digital humanities with 19th century literature something that one has to continually push towards? It feels as though we are only beginning to get a grasp on how to commence expressing our ideas and Manzoni's novel accurately through the use of digital tools. And yet, we have been working on this project for close to four months now.
I ask these questions almost rhetorically, in hopes that the next few weeks provide at least some answers. Yet I can't help but feel that a semester does not seem to be quite enough time to cover such a growing and relatively new way to think about literature.
We’ve come to the point in the semester where we are finally getting down to the nitty gritty of a language: the words themselves. Not just how many words are counted in a specific excerpt, which has been demonstrated by our Word Clouds, but word choice itself and what it really means. This is where we run into some issues. Mainly, the occasional but glaring differences between the original Italian version of I Promessi Sposi and its English translation.
As a class, we have begun to compare translations with our assigned portfolio chapters and have found some interesting discrepancies. Some are small, such as the use of one particular word in my chapter, “sentenza,” as compared with essentially every synonym you could possibly ask for in the translated text (sentence, verdict, decision, observation, etc.). However, some are more important. For instance, we discovered that in certain chapters, the character Lucia’s (Lucy) name has been used more in the Italian version than the English one. Additionally, the Archbishop Federico Borromeo was not mentioned by first name at all in the English version, but several times in the Italian text. This may seem like the inconsequential tossing around of synonyms and proper nouns, but are the readers getting the same message or feeling from both texts? Are we subject to the influence of the translator’s discretion more than we have ever believed?
It is often said in foreign language classes that there are some words, phrases, and meanings that just cannot be translated exactly. To this, I wholeheartedly agree, and maybe this is the problem. However, it is impossible and ridiculous to always expect texts to be read in their original languages. I personally have never even thought about the possible differences between one book and the other, although they are intended to be the same thing. We have more investigating to do, but it seems as though the words and sentiments that sometimes slip through the cracks of translation not only lose the significance of the original text, but can also create something entirely new.
At this point in the semester, I am beginning to feel the woes of technology. This is the first semester in which I have had to learn this many new technological platforms and it has brought an entirely new set of problems. I feel like our group is very lucky to have Professoressa Hall and Keah Cunningham to guide us through. If we were on our own, we probably would have all given up by now, or at least, I would have. Please do not misunderstand me, I am loving all of these new platforms and I think the use of them will result in a fantastic final portfolio at the end of the semester, but at the moment I am frustrated.
VoiceThread, probably one of the coolest technologies we have learned about, is causing me the most trouble right now. Over the past few weeks, I have tried to do voice recordings to accompany my section of the classes “Nun of Monza” VoiceTread. I am sure the issues are largely stemming from my need to record and constantly rerecord (about 20 times), however, I can’t help but be discouraged a little at my inability to get anything to post. Foolishly thinking I could make it work on my own; I have postponed emailing Keah about this issue until today. She promptly emailed me back with a list of possible hindrances and I plan to try out her solutions here in a few minutes. I’m sure this will all be resolved momentarily but it does all make me think, What about the people who don’t have a Keah?
For those who do not have a tech savvy friend like Keah, VoiceThread appears to have a pretty comprehensive help page that could be helpful.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.