The epidemic of the Great Pox had a profound impact on many aspects of early modern Italian society. In contrast to plague, which led to rapid rises in mortality, this new chronic disease led to long drawn-out suffering, poverty, destitution and death, infecting all levels of society, from popes and cardinals to princes, courtesans and the poor.
This paper is part of an on-going project on how the Great Pox was both imagined and received in Renaissance Italy. Building on the approaches and findings of recent studies in early modern England, Germany and Spain, this paper will compare the experience and representation of female and male Pox patients through the examination of both written and visual evidence. These will include contemporary written accounts, such as satirical and moralistic poems and plays, and visual evidence, ranging from broadsheets to medical illustrations. It will be argued, that only by analysing these sources through the prism of contemporary medical treatises on the Pox and their descriptions of symptoms can we begin to understand more clearly how this disease was understood and experienced in renaissance Italy.
John Henderson, Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and Professor of Italian Renaissance History, Birkbeck, University of London (retired), is a social and medical historian of early modern Italy. His most recent books include: Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City (2019; Italian translation: Firenze e la peste (Rome, 2021); Plague and the City, edited with Lukas Engelmann and Christos Lynteris (2019); and Representing Infirmity. Diseased Bodies in Renaissance Italy, edited with Fredrika Jacobs and Jonathan Nelson (2021).
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