The Department of French and Italian

Douglas G. Biow


Superior Oil Company-Linward Shivers Cenntenial Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Douglas G. Biow


  • Phone: 512-471-7267
  • Office: HRH 2.110B
  • Office Hours: T/Th 2-3
  • Campus Mail Code: B7600


cultural, literary, art, medical, diplomatic, and intellectual history of Renaissance Italy; masculinities; the history of individualism


Douglas Biow is the Superior Oil Company-Linward Shivers Centennial Professor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Director of the Center for European Studies and the France-UT Institute.  He is the author of a number of articles and five books: Mirabile Dictu: Representations of the Marvelous in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (Michigan, 1996); Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries: Humanism and Professions in Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 2002), the recipient of a Robert W. Hamilton Book Award; The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy (Cornell, 2006), named a Choice Outstanding Title; In Your Face: Professional Improprieities and the Art of Being Conspicuous (Stanford, 2010); and, most recently, On the Importance of Being an Individual: Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).  He has been the recipient of a number of scholarly awards, including NEH, Delmas, and Guggenheim Fellowships.





University of Chicago Press, 2002                 



ITL 390K • Ariosto And Renaissance Italy

36300 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm CBA 4.346

This class focuses on Ariosto’s masterpiece, the Orlando furioso (OF), but it does so by placing it in the context of Renaissance Italian history and culture.  Students will be required to develop and present on independent projects.  All students will be required to read one additional substantive work from the Italian Renaissance (eg. Castiglione’s Cortegiano, Petrarch’s Letters or Canzoniere, etc.) as well as one substantive study on the cultural or literary history of the Italian Renaissance

ITL 382 • Cul Of Ars Renaissance Italy

37115 • Fall 2012
Meets M 330pm-630pm HRH 2.106C


The Culture of Ars in Renaissance Italy


This graduate research course will examine the “arts,” broadly conceived as “techne,” in light of cultural, intellectual, and literary history.  Our focus will be the importance of “ars” in the Italian Renaissance.  The first few weeks of the class will be dedicated to investigating Greek, Roman, and medieval conceptions of ars as background.  By tracing the history of the concept of techne and exploring how political and social conditions contributed to the changing conceptions of techne as it evolved into ars and “arte,” we will be able to see how the Italian Renaissance treatment of it rehearses as well as revises elements that are embedded in the very notion of techne itself.  The core of the course will then focus on some key Italian works dedicated to ars and arte, including Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (selections).  In the final section of the course, students will be required to present their own independent work on a treatise from the European Renaissance that is dedicated to ars.


Required Readings (tentative list):


Historiographical Studies:

Serafina Cuomo, “The Definition of Techne in Classical Athens”

Joseph Dunn, Back to the rough ground : 'phronesis' and 'techne' in modern philosophy and in Aristotle 

Jacques Le Goff, Time, work & culture in the Middle Ages

Brigit van den Hoven, Work in Ancient and Medieval Thought: Ancient Philosophers, Medieval Monks and Theologians and Their Concept of Work, Occupations and Technology

Pamela O. Long, Openness, secrecy, authorship: technical arts and the culture of knowledge from antiquity to the Renaissance

-----.  Artisan/practitioners and the rise of the new sciences, 1400-1600

George Ovitt, The restoration of perfection: labor and technology in medieval culture

Elspith Whitney, Paradise Restored: The Mechanical Arts from Antiquity Through the Thirteenth Century


Discourses of “ars” and “arte”:

Cellini, Treatises on Goldsmithing and Sculpting

-----.  La vita

Cicero, De oratore

Castiglione, Il cortegiano

Machiavelli, Arte della Guerra

Vasari, Le vite



ITL 390K • Ariosto And Renaissance Italy

37275 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 930am-1100am HRH 2.106C

Coming soon.

ITC 349 • Rome, Eternal City-Rome

84130 • Summer 2010

**Course Restricted to Students Who Are Participating in the Rome Study Program**

UGS 303 • Italian Cinema

65320-65330 • Fall 2009
Meets TTH 930-1100 PAR 301

UGS 303  Italian Cinema


Prof. Douglas Biow, Instructor


Tel: (512) 471-7267 (office)

Office: HRH 2.110B

Office hours: TTh 12:30-1:30


Christine Deden, TA


Office: HRH 4.102A

Office hours: MW 3-4


Lectures: TTh 9:30-11:00 in PAR 301

Discussion sections:            F 1-2 in RLM 7.116

                                    F 2-3 in ECJ 1.214

                                    F 3-4 in BUR 128

Film screenings: Selected Monday and Wednesday evenings at 6pm in MEZ B0.306


Course Description

This course will consist of a broad and varied sampling of classic Italian films from WWII to the present.  We will consider the works that typify major directors and major trends through five decades of filmmaking.  I will trace a certain stylistic and thematic development from neorealism to postmodernism, pointing out both the continuity of the tradition and exceptions to it, in an attempt to define the art of Italian film.  In the process, we will become more aware how we, as viewers, respond to films in socially and culturally determined ways.  Classes will include visual analysis of films.  Students will be required to see films at the regularly scheduled viewings (Mondays and Wednesdays, with one Friday thrown in) unless they can demonstrate that they have a class conflict.



Bondanella.  Italian Cinema (available at University Coop)

Other material on Blackboard


Assignments and Grading

There will be 5 papers.  No exams. BUT: Quizzes every weekQuizzes will be held at the beginning of class and may not be made up.  Come on time!

The 5 papers will be 2 pages in length.  Each paper should have a separate title page with your name and email address on it.  Neither the title nor your name should appear at the top of the first page of the paper proper.  The papers should be double-spaced, with 1” margins and 12 pt Times type.


60% - Essays

15% - Quizzes

25% - Class Participation and Friday writing/discussion activities


More than 3 absences will automatically lower your final grade.  (NOTE: Absences for both lectures and Friday discussion groups count!)  For each additional absence your final grade will be lowered by 1/3 (a B becomes a B-, etc.).


The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities.  For more information, contact the Office off the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641.


Class Work

You are required to attend class and actively participate in discussions about the reading material.  The material assigned for each class corresponds to the date. Make sure you view the films at the assigned screenings and do the reading before class (TAKE NOTES on the films; you are expected to have something to say about them).  You will occasionally have short in-class “thought pieces” to write, just to get you formulating ideas for discussion and to make sure you are reading the material with some thought.



Your writing matters.  It is not enough to have interesting thoughts.  You must express those thoughts in an intelligible, structured, and eloquent prose.

Your writing must be your own work.  If you plagiarize egregiously on a paper, you will flunk the entire work for that semester.  Simple rule of thumb: “If you use words or ideas that are not your own you must cite your sources. Otherwise you will be guilty of plagiarism.” If you have any questions as to what constitutes plagiarism, consult the definition in Hacker, A Pocket Manual of Style (I think we all know what it means, however). 

If you are concerned about what it means to write a college paper, you can find sound advice in Trimble, Writing with Style (you can easily purchase a second-hand copy of this book).  Rhetoric & Composition recommends SF Express by Ruszkiewicz (again, you can easily find a second-hand copy).  I will also be putting on Blackboard copies of some sound suggestions written by a colleague of mine in the English Department, Professor Wayne A. Rebhorn, who is a first-rate scholar, teacher, writer, and editor.  I hope you will find all his suggestions to be helpful.  If you follow them, you are bound to do a good job on your papers.


Schedule for Film Screenings


Aug. 31  Monday, SCREENING, Open City

Sept. 4  Friday, SCREENING, Paisan

Sept. 16  Wednesday, SCREENING, Bicycle Thief 

Sept. 23  Wednesday, SCREENING, La Strada

Sept. 28  Monday, SCREENING, La dolce vita

Oct. 7  Wednesday, SCREENING, Bellissima

Oct. 14  Wednesday, SCREENING, Red Desert

Oct. 21  Wednesday, SCREENING, Mamma Roma

Oct.  26 Monday SCREENING, The Conformist

Nov.  4  Wednesday, SCREENING, We All Loved Each Other So Much  

Nov. 9   Monday, SCREENING, Icicle Thief

Nov. 11 Wednesday, SCREENING, Stolen Children

Nov. 18  Wednesday, SCREENING, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso VHS version

Nov. 23 Monday, SCREENING, Life is Beautiful  NOTE: WE MEET IN MEZ 1.306

Nov. 30  Monday, SCREENING, Caro Diario


Schedule for Lectures


Aug. 27  Introduction to course.  History of Italian Cinema until WWII




Sept.  1  Discussion: Open City (Rossellini) (Read Bondanella, 1-30; Giannetti on Blackboard)

Sept.  3  Review of Italian Political History, Rossellini.  (Read Bondanella, 31-52, 161-66)


Sept. 8 Discussion: Paisan  (Rossellini)

Sept.         10 Discussion:  Paisan


Sept. 15 Classical Neorealism (Read Bondanella, 52-66; Zavattini and Bazin on Blackboard)

Sept. 17 Discussion: Bicycle Thief  (De Sica)



September 21

The State of the Economy

Tom Gilligan

Dean, Red McCombs School of Business


September 22

How to Know a Tyrant When You See One:

Models of Tyranny and Leadership from Classical Drama

Paul Woodruff

Dean, School of Undergraduate Studies

















Sept. 22 Federico Fellini: Beyond Neorealism (Read Bondanella, 113-41; 228-52; Fellini on Blackboard) FIRST PAPER DUE

Sept. 24  Discussion: La Strada  (Fellini)


Sept. 29  Discussion: La dolce vita (Fellini)

Oct. 1 Discussion of Gilligan & Woodruff talks. 


Oct. 6  Luchino Visconti and Marxist Aesthetics (Read Bondanella, 66-73, 96-100, 196-210)

Oct. 8 Discussion: Bellissima  (Visconti)


Oct. 9 VISIT TO THE BLANTON, Guest lecturer: Katie Anania (Art History): Modernism in the Visual Arts.  Please arrive at the Blanton Museum by 12:55, 1:55, and 2:55, depending on your section.   It usually takes a few minutes just to store stuff, and I’d like us to be in a position to dedicate as much time as possible to viewing a choice selection of European Modernist art.


Oct. 13 Antonioni

Oct. 15 Discussion: Red Desert  (Antonioni)  (Read the Antonioni on Blackboard.)




Oct. 20. Pasolini and the Poetics of Juxtaposition SECOND PAPER DUE

Oct. 22  Discussion: Mamma Roma  (Pasolini)


Oct. 27  Discussion: The Conformist (Bertolucci) 

Oct. 29 A break: Commedia all’Italiana (clips)




Nov. 3 Modernism/Post-Modernism—definitions/shared assumptions (and errors)

         (Collins on Blackboard: PLEASE READ!)  THIRD PAPER DUE

Nov. 5   Discussion: We All Loved Each Other So Much  (Scola)


Nov. 10  Discussion: Icicle Thief (Nichetti)

Nov. 12  Discussion: Stolen Children (Amelio)




Nov. 17  NO CLASS: Make-up class on Nov. 24th, afternoon lecture by Professor Millicent Marcus, Yale University

Nov. 19  Discussion: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore)  FOURTH PAPER DUE


Nov. 24 Guest Lecture, Discussion of Benigni

Nov. 24  Millicent Marcus: Lecture on Life is Beautiful (Benigni) 5 pm in Garrison 0.102

Nov. 26 NO CLASS: Happy Thanksgiving!


Dec. 1 Discussion: Caro Diario (Moretti)

Dec. 3  Concluding Thoughts





ITC 349 • Rome, Eternal City-Rome

83930 • Summer 2009

Rome, ITC 349            Prof. Douglas Biow                          cell phone: 339-168-7980


This class is organized around field trips, from walking around the ruins of Rome to visiting the Vatican museums.  It seems to me that there is no point in being in Rome if we’re not out and about a good deal, especially in the early part of our visit, when the weather should be decent. 

If you do not like entering churches, looking at sculpture and paintings in museums, and wandering around ruins while trying to imagine what the area once looked like, this may not be the class for you.  I should stress that: This is a course that requires you to look at things and think, as well as talk, about what you’re looking at.


Required reading material and suggested reading material: 

1) You must have a copy of the Blue Guide Rome, 9th edition.

2) You must have the reading packets (available at Jenns).  There are 3 of them.


I would suggest for anyone interested in ancient Rome that you pick up Rome: An Oxford Archeological Guide (Amanda Claridge)


Grading: 1/3 participation (includes oral presentation), 2/3 exams and book report


Field Trips:

Your grade will be based in a significant measure on active participation.  At the very least, it means being there, at the field trips, looking (and not just sitting on the bench, gazing at the ground).  If you miss a field trip, that will be counted substantially against your grade.



There will also be THREE exams, one on the classical period, one on the medieval and early Renaissance periods, and the last on the high Renaissance as well as, if we get to it, baroque material.



I will be asking you to write up a report on some of the material given to read in packets in relation to something you choose to write about that we haven’t covered in class.  This will not just be a synopsis: I would like you to relate the material directly to material you’ve seen in Rome that we haven’t seen or discussed in class—to make some sense of it in terms of your own experience there and in the context of what you’ve learned.  For instance, we will not be going to visit S. Pietro in Vincoli, where Michelangelo’s “Moses” is located; we will not be going to visit the Vatican Pinacoteca, where a host of important paintings from the periods we are covering are located; we will not be visiting, well…lots of things.  Rome is a treasure house, and you would do well to discover something on your own and think about it.


Oral Presentation:

I will also be calling on you for information when we visit sites that have to do with the period you are focusing on.


Things to remember:

ALWAYS bring your Blue Guide with you; this is a basic reference tool.

ALWAYS bring the small packet with maps and basic information on the field trips

ALWAYS bring a writing instrument and a pad of paper on the field trips


Expenses:  There are some costs involved.  Palatine, Ara Pacis, (SS. Quattro Coronati, if we go to it), Santa Maria Maggiore, and S. Clemente (if we go underground), Vatican Museum

            I’ve estimated around 50-60 dollars, but it will probably be less.  To take this class, you must be willing to spend the money to enter these places; you cannot plead the excuse that you are broke and therefore cannot go on the field trip.


Things you may want to bring with you to Italy for trips:  You may want to bring binoculars.  That may sound silly, but you can really make out a lot more of the mosaics in churches with them, and you can see things with them at the Sistine Chapel, for example, that you just can’t make out with the naked eye.



            More than 2 absences will be counted substantially against your grade.







Monday, 1.  The Roman Forum, Palatine, & Coliseum (Meet FORUM: The entrance to the forum)

9 am (NINE am) THIS WILL BE A LONG DAY (bring good, water, umbrella in case it rains or gets excruciatingly hot…)

COST: 12 Euros 


            Suggested readings for classical period:

 “The History of Ancient Rome” (packet)

             “The Late Republic” (packet)

            “Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome” [OAG, if you bought it], 1-59

             “The Mute Stones Speak” (packet)

             “History into Myth” (packet)

             “Rome Under the Kings” (packet)




Wednesday, 3: ARA PACIS (meet at Ara Pacis: for those coming from different places, it is in walking distance from piazza del Popolo and piazza di Spagna; it is along the Tiber, right next to the mausoleum of Augustus)

9:30 am sharp

COST: 6,50 euros (4,50 reduced for students, I think)

            Suggested readings: (same as above, for Monday)  BUDGET 2 HOURS FOR TRIP (though probably won’t need all of it)


Thursday, 4: Imperial Rome (9 am sharp)   Meet at Entrance to Forum

            9 AM

            We will walk along fori imperiali, talking about them, and then go visit the Pantheon




Friday, 5: Trip to Tivoli (Hardian’s villa)  (9 am sharp) Meet at Stazione Termini


Monday, 8.  Powerpoint


Tuesday, 9: EXAM



Wednesday, 10 Lecture: medieval Rome and visual material to see

 “The New Rebirth of Rome” (packet)

“Rome: Artists, Popes, and Cardinals” (packet)


Thursday, 11. SS Cosma and Damian/S. Clemente/SS Quattro Coronati  Meet at Entrance to Forum, 9 am


            (There is a cost associated with S. Clemente, going down into the old church; 5 euros, I think)


Monday 15. Santa Prassede, S M. Maggiore, S. Pudenza  Meet in front of Santa Prassede, 9:30


            (there is a cost associated with going to the loggia of S.M. Maggiore; don’t think it’s much)



Tuesday, 16.  Lecture: RENAISSANCE PERIOD  Meet in School

Spatial reconstruction/Renovation of Rome: Some aspects (Bramante: tempietto, corte belvedere, S. Pietro)

Suggested Readings for Renaissance period:

“The Rebirth of the Myth of Rome” (packet)

“The Ruins of Rome and the Humanists” (packet)

“A Report to Pope Leo X” (packet)

“Rome: Re-establishing Papal Power” (packet)

“The Capitol Renewed” etc. (packet)

“Rome: The Imperial Style under Julius II”

“The High Renaissance in Rome”

“Roma Caput Mundi” (packet)


Wednesday, 17. Meet at S. Maria sopra Minerva (a walk around area)

            (budget about 1 ½ hours for this trip)


Thursday, 18. EXAM


HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ROME  All week meet in school

Monday, 22. M/Sistine Chapel Before M; Sixtus IV

Tuesday, 23. M’s life, in Rome: Bacchus, Pietà, Sistine Chapel vault (begin) and Julius II

Wednesday, 24.  Sistine Chapel vault, Last Judgment

Thursday, 25.  Raphael’s “Stanze”; Julius II


Monday, 29. Last Judgment and Campidoglio  Meet at School


Tuesday, 30. VISIT TO SISTINE CHAPEL, Meet at Vatican Entrance to Sistine Chapel AT 1 PM

            from 1pm-5pm



Wednesday, 1.  Baroque: Talk about Bernini, new developments

We will probably have a guided tour of the Galleria Borghese that afternoon, so we’ll perhaps take it easy.


Thursday, 2.  Review

Monday 6: Final exam













ITL 312K • Intro Itl Lit: Mid Ages-18th C

36435 • Spring 2009
Meets TTH 930-1100 MEZ 2.122
(also listed as EUS 347)

Introduction to Italian Literature (Middle Ages-Renaissance) Spring 2009


ITL 326K: TTH 9:30-11:00 in Mez 2.122


Douglas Biow, Dept. of French and Italian

Office Hours: TTH 11-12 in HRH 2.110B; phone 471-7267



In this course we will read and discuss works from the Italian Middle Ages and Renaissance, focusing particularly on Dante’s Inferno but also concentrating on Boccaccio’s Decameron and select writings from the Renaissance.


Grading Policy:

Exams (2): 50%

Temi (2): 25%

Preparation and partecipation, which includes daily quizzes: 25%


Regular attendance is required: No student who misses more than 6 classes (3 weeks) can complete the course with a passing grade.


Required texts:

Dante Alighieri, Inferno (Mandelbaum edition)

Course packet (at Speedway eventually)


Daily quizzes:

For the period when we’re reading Dante, you will read all three canti designated for the day, but you must choose one canto that you will concentrate on and be willing to be quizzed on.  To that effect, I'll have three sets of quizzes for the day (very basic questions, with a famous verse in Italian, for example, that you need to gloss, etc.) and you can choose which quiz you wish to take at the beginning of class (not open book…).  Above all this will help you to collect your thoughts, so that you can help lead the discussion. While we are working on Dante, I will also guide you toward certain canti for our class discussions, but I want this to be your class, so that you have a direct investment in the canti you choose to study.  What interests me, needless to say, might not, nor should, interest you.


I will have two dinners for the class at my house, one toward the beginning of the semester, one toward the end.  You will be well fed…


“The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641 TTY."


There will be no final exam 



Helpful links for studying Dante:


1/20 Introduzione: Inferno 1

1/22 Inferno 2-4

1/27 5-7

1/29 5-7

2/3  Raffa 8-10

2/5 Raffa 11-13

2/10 14-16

2/12  17-19

2/17 20-22

2/19  23-25

2/24 26-28

2/26  29-31

3/3  32-33

3/5 34     Ripasso   TEMA will be take-home, due on 3/10

I would like to have a parting Friday evening, 3/6, at my house to celebrate getting out of Hell, beginning at 6 pm.

3/10 Esame 1


Helpful link for studying Boccaccio:




3/12 Eibenstein-Alvisi, Decameron, Madonna Filippa da Prato and Melchisedech giudeo


3/24 Decameron, Ser Ciappelletto

3/26 Decameron, Lisabetta da Messina           

3/31 Decameron, Andreuccio da Perugia

4/2 Decameron, Masetto da Lamporecchio

4/7 Decameron, Frate Cipolla

4/9 Decameron, Nastagio degli Onesti



4/14  Petrarca e il Rinascimento

4/16  Petrarca ed altri

4/21  Machiavelli  (lettera a Vettori, letture dal Principe)

4/23 Castiglione, Il cortegiano (brani)

4/28 Castiglione, Il cortegiano (brani)

4/30 Tema 2

5/5   Ripasso           

5/7  Esame 2


On the Importance of Being an Individual in Renaissance Italy
Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards

(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)

Product Descrription:

"An elegant, erudite, and polemical book that most assuredly makes an important contribution to the literature on Renaissance individuality and male identity."—James R. Farr, Purdue University

"Douglas Biow offers a spirited and refreshing account of the ways Renaissance men carved out space for individuality over against the norms of their professions and communities."—John Jeffries Martin, Duke University

In recent decades, scholars have vigorously revised Jacob Burckhardt's notion that the free, untrammeled, and essentially modern Western individual emerged in Renaissance Italy. Douglas Biow does not deny the strong cultural and historical constraints that placed limits on identity formation in the early modern period. Still, as he contends in this witty, reflective, and generously illustrated book, the category of the individual was important and highly complex for a variety of men in this particular time and place, for both those who belonged to the elite and those who aspired to be part of it.

Biow explores the individual in light of early modern Italy's new patronage systems, educational programs, and work opportunities in the context of an increased investment in professionalization, the changing status of artisans and artists, and shifting attitudes about the ideology of work, fashion, and etiquette. He turns his attention to figures familiar (Benvenuto Cellini, Baldassare Castiglione, Niccolò Machiavelli, Jacopo Tintoretto, Giorgio Vasari) and somewhat less so (the surgeon-physician Leonardo Fioravanti, the metallurgist Vannoccio Biringuccio). One could excel as an individual, he demonstrates, by possessing an indefinable nescio quid, by acquiring, theorizing, and putting into practice a distinct body of professional knowledge, or by displaying the exclusively male adornment of impressively designed facial hair. Focusing on these and other matters, he reveals how we significantly impoverish our understanding of the past if we dismiss the notion of the individual from our narratives of the Italian and the broader European Renaissance.


In Your Face

Professional Improprieties and the Art of Being Conspicuous in Sixteenth-Century Italy

(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010)

Product Description
In Your Face concentrates on the Renaissance concern with "self-fashioning" by examining how a group of Renaissance artists and writers encoded their own improprieties in their works of art. In the elitist court society of sixteenth-century Italy, where moderation, limitation, and discretion were generally held to be essential virtues, these men consistently sought to stand out and to underplay their conspicuousness at once. The heroes (or anti-heroes) of this book—Michelangelo Buonarroti, Benvenuto Cellini, Pietro Aretino, and Anton Francesco Doni—violated norms of decorum by promoting themselves aggressively and by using writing or artworks to memorialize their assertiveness and intractable delight in parading themselves as transgressive and insubordinate on a grand scale. Focusing on these sorts of writers and visual artists, Biow constructs a version of the Italian Renaissance that is neither the elegant one of Castiglione's and Vasari's courts—so recently favored in scholarly accounts—nor the dark, conspiratorial one of Niccolò Machiavelli's and Francesco Guicciardini's princely states.

"Once again, Douglas Biow gives us a clear, clever, engaging rethinking of a crucial aspect of Italian Renaissance culture and life. This truly unique work is highly intelligent, exciting, and thought-provoking."
—Guido Ruggiero, University of Miami

"Douglas Biow's In Your Face is a fascinating study of the nature of literary and artistic eccentricity in late Renaissance Italy. He reminds us that, in an era in which writers such as Castiglione polished the image of the perfect courtier, many of the most interesting figures were deliberately and provocatively uncouth. This is a terrific, thought-provoking book." —Paula Findlen, Stanford University

The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy

(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006)

Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

Product Description

Concerned about sanitation during a severe bout of plague in Milan, Leonardo da Vinci designed an ideal, clean city. Leonardo was far from alone among his contemporaries in thinking about personal and public hygiene, as Douglas Biow shows in The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy. A concern for cleanliness, he argues, was everywhere in the Renaissance.

Anxieties about cleanliness were expressed in literature from humanist panegyrics to bawdy carnival songs, as well as in the visual arts. Biow surveys them all to explain why the topic so permeated Renaissance culture. At one level, cleanliness, he documents, was a matter of real concern in the Renaissance. At another, he finds, issues such as human dignity, self-respect, self-discipline, social distinction, and originality were rethought as a matter of artistic concern.

The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy moves from the clean to the unclean, from the lofty to the base. Biow first examines the socially elevated, who defined and distinguished themselves as clean, pure, and polite. He then turns to soap, an increasingly common commodity in this period, and the figure of the washerwoman. Finally he focuses on latrines, which were universally scorned yet functioned artistically as figures of baseness, creativity, and fun in the works of Dante and Boccaccio. Paralleling this social stratification is a hierarchy of literary and visual artifacts, from the discourse of high humanism to filthy curses and scatological songs. Deftly bringing together high and low-as well as literary and visual-cultures, this book provides a fresh perspective on the Italian Renaissance and its artistic legacy.

"Douglas Biow is emerging as one of the most original scholars of Renaissance Italy. Transgressive, witty, insightful, The Culture of Cleanliness will appeal to readers immensely. Who thinks of Dante as someone who writes about shit? Who has noticed how important clean clothes are in Renaissance paintings? Who connects Renaissance literary genres-high, medium, and low-with hierarchies of cleanliness? Probing these boundaries with energy and insight, Biow offers up new perspectives on the culture of both humanists and washerwomen. His writing is excellent, and the conceptualization of his material brilliant."- John Jeffries Martin, Trinity University

"In a suggestive way this fascinating book reverses Dante's Divine Comedy--starting with Paradise and its immaculately clean dreams of the divine and the perfect, it drops through the circles of the renaissance world ending literally in the cesspool and latrines of Hell, perverse but also intriguing nightmares of the foul for the period. In doing so it develops a stimulating and challengingly different perspective on the time from the perspective of the clean and the unclean at every level from high culture to quotidian practice. At once witty, erudite and clever, it imaginatively and ironically knocks the crap out of many of the classical visions of the period, by literally returning crap (and its culturally entwined levels of the unclean) to its central place in renaissance life as lived and as imagined. Bakhtin, Elias and Burckhardt here are creatively melded with Dante, Boccaccio, Castiglione, Della Casa and a host of lesser known writers to examine a relatively ignored area of renaissance life and to suggestively rethink the renaissance itself. This is history that is definitely fun to think and rethink."—Guido Ruggiero, University of Miami

Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries

Humanism and Professions in Renaissance Italy

(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Product Description
In this book, Douglas Biow traces the role that humanists played in the development of professions and professionalism in Renaissance Italy, and vice versa. For instance, humanists were initially quite hostile to medicine, viewing it as poorly adapted to their program of study. They much preferred the secretarial profession, which they made their own throughout the Renaissance and eventually defined in treatises in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Examining a wide range of treatises, poems, and other works that humanists wrote both as and about doctors, ambassadors, and secretaries, Biow shows how interactions with these professions forced humanists to make their studies relevant to their own times, uniting theory and practice in a way that strengthened humanism. His detailed analyses of writings by familiar and lesser-known figures, from Petrarch, Machiavelli, and Tasso to Maggi, Fracastoro, and Barbaro, will especially interest students of Renaissance Italy, but also anyone concerned with the rise of professionalism during the early modern period.

"Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries is a formidable accomplishment. Biow traces the interactions of humanist culture with distinct areas of professional expertise and practice. His readings of key historical figures and works are compelling, even brilliant at times. Persuasively written, this work will attract a wide range of readers interested in the intertwined histories of the humanistic Renaissance and early modernity." - Albert Russell Ascoli, University of California, Berkeley

Mirabile Dictu

Mirabile Dictu Representations of the Marvelous in Medieval and Renaissance Epic

(Ann Arbor: University of Michiagn Press, 1996)

Product Description
Mirabile Dictu covers in six separate chapters the works of Virgil, Dante, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser. Its broad aim is to provide a select cross-section of works in the Middle Ages and Renaissance in order systematically to examine and compare for the first time the marvelous in the light of epic genre, of literary and critical theory (both past and present), and of historically and culturally determined representational practices.

Douglas Biow organizes this volume around the literary topos of the bleeding branch through which a metamorphosed person speaks. In each chapter the author takes this "marvellous event" as his starting point for a broad-ranging comparison of the several poets who employed the image; he also investigates the ways in which a period's notion of "history" underpins its representations of the marvelous. This method offers a controlled yet flexible framework within which to develop readings that engage a multiplicity of theories and approaches.

Mirabile Dictu offers not only an insightful survey of the literary connections among this group of important poets, but also a useful point of departure for scholars and students intrigued by the reuse of epic conventions, by the peculiar role of "marvellous" events in dramatic poetry, and by the later history of classical literature.

"[An] engaging comparative study of literature and culture. . . . Biow's analyses are informed and thoughtful, offering insightful close readings of primary texts in connection with various theoretical and cultural lines of critical inquiry. Written in a lively, engaging, and jargon-free style, this study is both accessible and challenging, offering a refreshing lucidity in its attention to detail and method. Scholars, teachers, and students of classical, medieval, and early modern literature and culture will doubtless find much of interest in this study, a welcome addition to comparative medieval and Renaissance studies."
--Sixteenth Century Journal

". . . highly recommended as an engaging and original account of the ways in which that ambiguous concept of the marvelous informs epic poetry of the late-medieval and early-modern eras."
--Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

"Delightful and instructive readings all along the way . . . ."

Current Research

I am currently working on a short book about Vasari's Lives, examining it as a history of ideas.

I am also currently developing two other book-length projects. One is monograph on the history of the individual in European thought from antiquity to the end of the modern period. The other is an edited volume devoted to sociable spaces, beyond the court, in Renaissance Italy.



Academic Honors, Fellowships, and Awards

  • 2013-14: Faculty Research Assignment, University of Texas at Austin
  • 2008-9: Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for Research in Venice and the Veneto (winter)
  • 2008: Fellow of the Humanities Institute, University of Texas at Austin (spring)
  • 2007: Recipient of a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title (The Culture of Cleanliness)
  • 2007: Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for Research in Venice and the Veneto (summer)
  • 2006-7: John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Foundation
  • 2006-7: Faculty Research Assignment, University of Texas at Austin
  • 2006: Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for Research in Venice and the Veneto (summer)
  • 2005: Dean’s Fellowship, University of Texas at Austin (fall semester)
  • 2003: Recipient of a Robert W. Hamilton Book Award (Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries)
  • 2003: Faculty Research Assignment, University of Texas at Austin (spring semester)
  • 1996-97: National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship
  • 1996-97: National Humanities Center Fellowship (declined)
  • 1996-97: Faculty Research Assignment, University of Texas at Austin
  • 1996: Summer Research Assignment, University of Texas at Austin
  • 1992: Summer Research Award, Syracuse University
  • 1988-89: Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program
  • 1986-88: The Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, United States Department of Education


  • 2014-18:    Principal Investigator, Title VI Award for National Resource Center, Department of Education (awarded $1,972,000 over 4 years) for the Center for European Studies
  • 2014-15:   Principal Investigator and Co-Director, EU Center of Excellence, awarded from the EU Delegation (90,000 Euros over 1 year) for the Center for European Studies
  • 2014-15:    Co-Principal Investigator (with Mary Neuburger), $50,000, Office of the Provost, UT-Austin, Course Transformation Grant.
  • 2012-14:    Principal Investigator, French Embassy Award, $37,650: Energy Policies in the US and France ($12,500, conference), Magnum Collection Exhibit ($10,600, symposium), WWI Exhibition ($14,550, lectures and workshops).
  • 2011-14:    Principal Investigator and Co-Director, EU Center of Excellence, awarded from the EU Delegation (300,000 Euros over 3 years) for the Center for European Studies
  • 2010-14:    Principal Investigator, Title VI Award for National Resource Center, Department of Education (awarded $1,622,380 over 4 years) for the Center for European Studies


Biow, D.G. (2015) On the Importance of Being an Individual in Renaissance Italy: Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
Biow, D.G. (2014) Constructing a Maverick Physician in Print: Leonardo Fioravanti, Medical Odors, and the Reconstructed NoseMLN 129: S60-S72.
Biow, D.G. (2010) Beards in Cinquecento Italy. In J. Hairston & W. Stephens (Eds.), The Body in Early Modern Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Biow, D.G. (2010) In Your Face: Professional Improprieties and the Art of Being Conspicuous in Sixteenth-Century Italy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Biow, D.G. (2010, January) Manly Matters: The Theatricality and Sociability of Beards in Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio and Sixteenth-Century Italy. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
Biow, D.G. (2008, September) Diplomacy: Castiglione and the Art of Being Inconspicuously Conspicuous. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 38, 35-55.
Biow, D.G. (2007) Food: Pietro Aretino and the Art of Conspicuous Consumption. In J.J. Martin (Ed.), The Renaissance World. Oxford: Routledge.
Biow, D.G. (2006) The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Biow, D.G. (2003, September) Reflections on Professions and Humanism in Renaissance Italy and the Humanities Today. Rinascimento, 43, 333-353.
Biow, D.G. (2002) Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries: Humanism and Professions in Renaissance Italy. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Biow, D.G. (1999, September) Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Little, Brown and Company.
Biow, D.G. (1998) From Machiavelli to Torquato Accetto: The Secretarial Art of Dissimulation. In G. Patrizi & A. Quondam (Eds.), Educare il corpo, educare la parola (pp.219-238). Rome: Bulzoni.
Biow, D.G. (1996, September) The Politics of Cleanliness in Northern Renaissance Italy. Symposium, 50, 1-13.
Biow, D.G. (1996) Mirabile Dictu: Representations of the Marvelous in Medieval and Renaissance Epic. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Biow, D.G. (1994, September) Epic Performance on Trial: Virgil's Aeneid and the Power of Eros in Song. Arethusa, 27, 223-246.
Biow, D.G. (1992, September) Dido, Pier della Vigna, and the Discourse of Tragedy in the Commedia. Stanford Italian Review, 11, 155-170.
Biow, D.G. (1991) From Ignorance to Knowledge: The Marvelous in Inferno 13. In The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante's (pp.45-61). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Biow, D.G. (1989, September) Psychoanalysis, History, Marginality: A Study of Violence and Disease in Pirandello's Enrico IV. Italica, 66, 158-175.

  • Department of French and Italian

    University of Texas at Austin
    201 W 21st Street STOP B7600
    HRH 2.114A
    Austin, TX 78712-1800